“Claimed?” one of the others, Randy or Bambino, might ask, rising unsteadily back to his feet. “That’s like calling the front seat before even leaving the house. You can’t do that!”
“Oh, can’t I? I claimed all these weeds. At birth. So they’re mine.”
The second most powerful ram bullies everyone beneath him, as does the third most powerful, and so on. And they’ll all pile on a newcomer. It was into this seething pit of testosterone that the five-month-old ram lamb was released. I was out on the roadsides, picking up trash, when he arrived, and I returned at dusk to hear him wailing for his mother. His voice sounded almost human.
Then we heard the mother bleating back from the other side of the lane: “Son!”
Iknew that by the end of the week the ram lamb would have forgotten her, that in a year’s time he’d have thick, curled horns of his own and would be just as much of a bully as Igor was, but, still, the sound of him and his mother was gut-wrenching. It brought me back to my first day of kindergarten. Had there been cell phones then, the teacher might have called my mom before she even made it to the parking lot. As it was, she had to wait for her to get home. “Can you come and collect him?” she asked. “He won’t stop crying for you.”
I thought of my first summer camp—Camp Cheerio, it was called. We had to write letters home and mine read, “You have to come and get me out of here. I mean it. I will do anything.”
Hugh thought of the time he had to live with strangers after his father took up the post of U.S. chargé d’affaires in Somalia. He’d wanted to be with his family in Mogadishu, but there was no appropriate junior high school there, so his parents left him in Ethiopia with an American couple—the Doigs—who had three kids of their own. E-mail didn’t exist then, and you couldn’t call between the two countries. Letters Hugh wrote had to go to a diplomatic address in America, and then on to his parents in Somalia. It might take a month to reach them, or maybe two. For a year and a half he lived with the Doigs, and every single day he was miserable.
The feelings Hugh had had at fourteen—the longing, the fear, the wondering how those who supposedly loved him could possibly have allowed this to happen—were perfectly expressed by these plaintive, insistent cries we were hearing, and the later it got the louder the ram lamb expressed them. I went for a walk at midnight, and when I returned, at 2 A.M., and entered my office, he was still at it, as was his mother, who was standing, in the moonlight, at the fence across the lane, hoarse and desperate-sounding.
At three, I went to bed wondering how their cries had possibly managed to get louder. I was right in the middle of it. The son’s voice came through an open window on the west-facing side of the room, and the mother’s through the opposite window. “It’s dark. I’m frightened. Why won’t you come and get me?”
“I’m trying, but this fence is in the way!”
At three-thirty, I wondered if I could possibly carry the ram lamb back across the lane—if I could enter our pasture without getting butted by Igor—and at four I was, like, “O.K., you have to shut the fuck up now. Both of you. I mean it.”
Did that make me a monster, or just someone who lives in the country? Either way, I put my pillow over my head, thinking that, come morning, I would talk to Luke, and ask how long we’d have to put up with this. Goddam children crying for their mothers. It’s the kind of thing that keeps you up at night. ♦