See the two brothers. They sit astride a motorcycle moving slow over a gravel track, checking the mothers with their new lambs. Above them curls the grey expanse of August. The air is thick with moisture. Their faces are wet; it has just been raining.
One is newly fourteen, the other ten years older. The younger brother drives, the motorcycle humming warm and familiar beneath them. He eases them down the track, the two of them staring out over the green spread of the hills.
The older brother has not been home in many months. One thing or another has kept him in the city. He feels good in the open space, and finds he has missed the empty distance of the country. The nights are darker than he remembers. In the early hours, when he cracks the curtains of his childhood bedroom to stare outside, he sees a featureless ocean of black, without depth or definition. The stars are like burning silver out here. He sleeps well, and has a lot of time for books. His are days of tea and languid conversation.
They turn a corner made easy with so many of these trips. New gravel was spread only months ago, but the shards of stone have sunk deep into the soil, and have packed the earth tight and dry. The light around them is beginning to thin itself; soon they will need to start the loop back home. Above them, magpies fly warbling into cabbage trees in bristling handfuls of black and white, settling themselves for evening’s arrival.
A scatter of loping white mothers goes across the track, their lambs following hungrily behind, drifting as easy as water. The brothers see that one lamb has remained behind, sitting in the gravel with its legs tucked beneath it. They pull up a few strides away and cut the motorcycle. Drops of rain begin to dust their jackets, raising tiny clicks to their ears. The younger brother bends to pick up the lamb with quick, sure hands. The lamb lies light in his arms, her head held straight in animal dignity. She does not struggle. The brother checks each of her legs: one, two, three. There. One hind leg hangs awkwardly from the knee, angled sideways, slack where it should be stout. The brothers click their tongues in knowing.
The younger brother sets the lamb in the grass and takes a small knife from his belt. The lamb looks away, saying, I forgive you, my brother. You are good. The younger brother bends and takes the lamb between his knees, holding a hand to her jaw. The knife comes quickly across her throat, back and forth, twice. He pushes her head back with a jerk. There is a snap like the breaking of old bread, discreet and muffled. Then there is blood, a living red where a moment ago there were only the grey-white curls of new wool. The eyes of the lamb shine with slices of molten gold. The knife says, easy, friends. I turn the world.
The younger brother sets the lamb down again, and the older brother moves to stand beside him. The younger brother dries the knife in blades of grass, cleaning it in the loose earth. The older brother watches in silence, marvelling at the knowledge held inside his brother’s movements, the certainty that he carries in his hands. He has been away too long, he realises. He has missed his brother’s gathering of certainties and movements, and is now presented with evidence that he has been comfortably surpassed. The eyes of the lamb swivel broken from their tether, staring with the dimming of departure.
The older brother looks to the younger. He sees the way his eyes move through the thinning light over the hills and valleys, tracing fence lines and waterways, looking for the warm crevasses at risk of casting. He sees the drops of blood tainting the skin of his hands to a deep crimson, almost black. He lifts a hand to his shoulder. You are good, he says. You are my brother.
Tom Baragwanath is a writer originally from Wellington, New Zealand. He completed the short fiction workshop at Victoria University of Wellington’s International Institute of Modern Letters in 2015. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Headland and takahē.