Where to Run When the Lamb Roars
It’s been a year since our last hunt, which is why Fox takes the girl. Right off her front porch. It’s just routine. Me sitting in the front seat of his Corolla, her staring at his cosmetics brochure long enough for him to take her hand and not let go until she’s shoved in the trunk. Her parents aren’t even home (I know this—I picked her for this reason). She’s blonde like the others always were, friendship bracelets noosing her wrists. Some pretty girl, some ordinary girl, mouth puckered so high, it’s difficult to tell when her smile becomes a scream.
Fox is not my father. We are hardly even siblings (twelve years apart, share a mother who is dead). Even though I am barely seventeen, I’m more a father to him, or a mother, technically. It doesn’t matter. We don’t do labels, really. The only thing that matters is that we’re a team, Fox and me. Two people. One goal.
When we reach the cabin and Fox takes the girl inside for her to get some rest (I still don’t understand why he does this; they react the same, sleep-deprived or well-rested), I till the garden. At the cabin, this is my favourite job. When I was a child, Fox first taught me how, as his father had before he died. That was the extent of my involvement in what Fox calls our yearly Giving, until I got big enough and now we do everything together. But the soil? That’s mine. Just me in the heat, forking up mounds of it. With my spade I turn it, again, again, so its newness cracks deep black in the noonday sun. I like the work because it is monotonous. Easy to calculate the outcomes. Penetrating the spade into earth and flicking down equals the dirt springing up. Patting the ground with the butt end means the earth packs down. Impossible to miscalculate. Fox likes the work because since our mother died, he believes the longer we take care of the patch, much bigger than it once was when I started helping him, she’ll eventually grow out of it. Reappear, towheaded, ready to be back, to mother us, or more him. I don’t buy any of it, that there is a grander purpose for the girls. To me, there is no difference in killing a girl and a rabbit when they are both animals, satisfyingly easy to cut.
I’m wrist-deep in loam when Fox bursts from the cabin, grey from the chin up. Fox is tall with mossy brown hair that muffles his ears and strong brows that are always arched even though he is not an angry man. He’s sensitive, really. Needs me to reassure him like a mother would for the silliest things, like if he drives confidently enough, or if his smile is lopsided. And though he stands over ten feet away under the cabin’s awning, I can tell his cheeks are damp. Not sad, but afraid, like a child. Open-faced and terrified.
He says the girl is bleeding everywhere. Dying, even. She’s on the bathroom floor.
“Please fix her,” he says, a wire of sweat beading his forehead in the solar overhang. I dust off my hands.
The girl is not dying. Well, she sort of is. I understand her pains, the ones that lope a girl’s abdomen and don’t shake free for a few days until her period is over. It’s almost funny that this is what Fox has been so scared about, but his reaction makes sense. Fox knows very little besides this cabin, besides the yearly hunt. He’s barely got the education of a boy.
The girl is crouched between the toilet and sink. Her skin is buffed purple from where Fox restrained her—around the wrists, ankles. It’s never to hurt them, he told me when I asked about the markings the first time. They just don’t understand their calling yet. I didn’t bother telling him I wasn’t concerned they were hurt, more interested in knowing how it happened.
I approach her like I would a scared rabbit. Low to the ground. Slow. She looks so young, younger than she looked staring at Fox’s brochures, at least. Maybe twelve or thirteen, which is only a few years younger than me, though living with Fox makes me feel older. I’m never young here, which I like. But she is. A flaxen lamb. Fox told me he and his father used to take older girls. I once joked he shifted to younger ones because he believes I am his mother and wants to sacrifice the thing closest to her. We did not speak for the rest of the day.
“What’s your name?” I ask, a terrycloth towelette I hand-sewed wadded in my palm.
Her knees are pressed together. An arm rings her stomach. Her face is sort of frizzled. Eyes blue and large like robin’s eggs, skin nearly electrified with nerves. The girls are always like this before. Jittery. Moving.
“I’m Astrid,” I say, jut my other hand in her direction. My fingers dangle in the air, limp like dead worms, so I pull them back. A few spots of blood dot the bathroom tile. I trace them like they’re the Great Bear, all the way to the damp jeans tightened over her inner thigh. “Didn’t your mother tell you this time would come?” Her face perks at the word mother which I think is mildly sweet, and also mildly nauseating. I learned to take care of myself on my own. To never bother Fox with these things, not because he is bothered easily, but because I am easily bothered by his inadequacies and have little patience for explanation. I shuffle a step closer, notice a hot pink stripe of hair beaming from the nape of the girl’s neck. Cute. “It’s not scary, you know. None of this is. Fox is a good person.”
“That’s your dad?” she asks.
I nudge the towelette into her hand. Her fingers are cold when we touch briefly. “My father is dead,” I say. Which could be true. I could tell her anything, and she would believe me. She knows so little. She is not like me. She will die unknowing.
“I’m Evelyn,” she says before I’ve turned to give her privacy. “I miss my mother.”
I had a mother once. I will never remember anything about her and don’t care to learn. But Fox remembers things about her—I know this. Sometimes he climbs to the roof and stares into the sun as it sinks back into the ground. In those moments, he thinks of her. Maybe of her hands. I don’t know why I always think he thinks of her hands. But that’s what I think. Her bones long and slender. Her delicate skin that bruises and cuts on something as innocuous as crepe paper. Palms flat on her son’s shoulders as she pushes him on a swing or curved under his eye to jot away tears brought on by a nightmare. He is always young in these memories. Dependent. She is faceless. Once, he told me she had hair as blonde as cornsilk and then I told him I did not want to know any more.
We take Evelyn to the creek. There are a few reasons we use this site yearly, namely that it’s cleanest this way. It’s a five-minute walk from the garden. Evelyn follows us easily, though every minute or so she turns her face to the clearing in the trees and mutters, “The wolf and the lamb shall graze together, the wolf and the lamb shall graze together,” her hands pointed in a neat triangle up at the sky. She is still uncomfortable from before, her thighs smushed as she ambles in front of me, mumbling, “The wolf and the lamb shall graze together.” It’ll be over soon, a mother might say to make her feel better. You know that discomfort won’t last forever. But I don’t. I watch her, palms fused, muttering. She won’t run. I talked her out of it. I told her she was better off here. They are all better off here. I don’t know if she believed me, but she won’t run. I won’t let her.
As we get closer, her mumbling gets louder. “The wolf and the lamb shall graze together,” she goes, over, and over. There were other girls like her, who looked up for some god to be merciful. To transport them back to their beds, safe, sound. It isn’t going to happen for Evelyn. She isn’t going to leave. She is going to die barely a woman and granulate into the dirt I till every day. Fox will be so grateful for her. Tell her she’s helping Mother regrow. And after, he’ll be so at peace, he won’t feel the need to climb to the roof for a while. And then I’ll wait every day for the next year until the next moment I get to sit in the Corolla and pick the next girl. She’s not the only one.
But still, Evelyn mutters, looks to Him, whoever he is, just like the other girls, saying “The wolf and the lamb shall graze together, the wolf and the lamb shall graze together.” I’ve always wanted to say they should look to me. Not to Fox. Not to God. But no. Nothing more holy than a girl begging.
Once, when I was twelve, I tripped on a tree root while running through the forest and burst my lip open. I didn’t make a sound when this happened, like a good rabbit ensnared. I just lay there, my blood washing onto the bark, blooming iron in my mouth. This was just a few days before Fox and I set out for our first hunt together. He didn’t think I was ready. He didn’t want to scare me. I was tired of being alone at the cabin and contributing nothing to the Giving. I thought of what I’d told him, so angry he didn’t trust me to go with him, to help. “Your mother made a coward,” I said. I didn’t really even think that his mother was also my mother. That we shared her, his memories of her also sort of belonging to me. That his cowardice could have also been my own by proxy. I just wanted to insult him. To make him cry. And he did. Wringing his wrists like he does now when he’s anxious, or when he’s on the roof and the memories of her get so overwhelming he can barely sit up straight. I kept saying it. Your mother made a coward. Your mother made a coward. Your mother made a coward. Until he hit me. One blow. Quick. Like a butcher’s kill. “Oh God,” he said, when he realized what he’d done. My lip stung. A tiny bead of blood pooled to the surface. His eyes went huge, sort of like Evelyn’s were in the bathroom. I stayed silent, watching him. He put a hand around my shoulder really slow and then pulled me into him in a moment of realization. He hugged me. He cried harder. He kept apologizing. I don’t even know if I cared. I thought, Your mother made a coward.
He found me lazed over the root hours later, when the sun had dipped, and it was so dark I heard an owl hoot. He rushed to me, propped me up. By then, a scab had formed over my mouth. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you,” he said. “I’ve been calling your name.” This was untrue. If he’d been calling, I would have heard him. I wasn’t that far from the cabin. I knew he was actually on the roof again, watching the sun as it dipped under, thinking about his mother. Ours. Her hands again. Smoothing hair behind his ears. Smudging saliva through the flyaways, like the memories Evelyn probably thinks of as she walks slow through the grass, already like a dead girl. Images to soothe her. Like the injection they give a frightened dog before the true euthanasia
I understood, folded against Fox’s chest, my lip pulsing, that he was not trying to be irresponsible. To hurt me. In fact, I think Fox is incapable of hurting anyone at all, even the girls; they’re all tiny little animals, caught in a trap. I just had this strange desire, huddled there against him, a wish that he’d have scolded me like a mother would. Told me I needed to be more careful. That I should’ve called for him. That I could’ve died just laying out there, been eaten by a bear. It would’ve been nice. Not because I wanted to know someone cared, that they were out there like Evelyn’s parents probably are, like the parents of the other girls were, perhaps like my own mother would be if she were alive, ripping hangnails off with their teeth, pacing police stations, screaming into open spaces, but because I wanted to know that the ultimate power was still mine in being the one someone fears for.
Rachel Lachmansingh is a Guyanese-Canadian writer from Toronto. She was recently shortlisted for The Malahat Review’s Far Horizons Award for Short Fiction and nominated for the 2021 Rhysling Award. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Minola Review, Grain Magazine, The Malahat Review, and The Fiddlehead, among others. She is currently pursuing her degree in creative writing.