Every year now, they would return to the barn.
It was at that particular time of year that I asked my father, “Dad, why did mom leave?”
My count came a few short for the third day in a row. Father joined me by a fence where I would watch the sheep graze.
“Because we ran out of sheep,” he said.
I couldn’t help but chuckle, and not in the amused way. His simple answer awakened a familiar frustration from earlier years.
He said the missing sheep go inside the barn, something I had to spend multiple nights outside to confirm. He also said that I was not allowed anywhere near it; that he would have to leave if I didn’t listen to him, but not what any of this had to do with mother.
The closest I was allowed was by the fence.
And that would usually conclude my duties for the day.
The following day, I noticed more sheep missing. Father also counted along. The number of missing increased compared to previous days. At that rate, we would fall short on one, a worry that I had long forgotten. We had always been missing one since mother left.
“Dad, we’re running out of sheep…” I reported.
Father pointed around the plains and confirmed with a nod.
“They’ll come back,” he reassured.
“Will mom come back?” I rudely teased, furious at the lack of answers.
Patting my shoulder, he asked, “Do you miss her?”
I sighed, holding back from saying too much.
“She might,” he continued.
I paused and turned a stare at him. Father was not one to joke, but it had been way too long since mother left.
Nevertheless, I began looking forward to when the sheep would disappear. One day, I watched father lead the remainder of the sheep into the barn, giving me a warm look before vanishing inside.
Then, the following day, I saw mother come out of the barn, all the missing sheep in tow. But seeing her did not make me happy in the least.
She hadn’t aged one bit since she left, while father had gone missing in that barn.
I spent the following years with a lock on my heart, believing that she was not my mother no matter how much she resembled her. I never listened to her. And… I had just grown tired and afraid of that barn.
One year, when the number could still keep up with the rate of disappearance, I gathered my courage and jumped the fence. A sheep, startled, tried to tackle me. I retaliated with my heel, convinced that they have strong skulls. However, the sheep immediately collapsed.
I instinctively became even more afraid of the barn…
As mother left for the barn the next morning, I came to find out that long ago, father killed a sheep. They can’t be even one short. What came out of the barn must go back in.
And now I’m short on one again…