Like suede, the grass combed over the Irish hills of the Flinn Family Farm in a natural way, which looked inviting and warm. It was late in the day, which was one that had been drizzled upon four five hours prior to the boy’s chores. Both of the Flinn boys looked like their father – skinny like steam and pastoral like a chimney stack – and they would stand beside each other at times and people would comment on the resemblance. In the field of dark greens the boys walked with wooden pails and staffs at their sides, and a dozen sheep at their heels. The youngest of the two, who stood below his brother’s chest, liked the chore of leading the Reyland flock to the stream and woods for the night, and would wish them a good night with a whisper each time. He was like his father in that he would talk to the sheep.
As the crowd of talking animals wandered further away from the boys, the youngest stopped by his brother, who would click with his tongue at the sheep who would linger at his side.
“Stephan?” The youngest was looking up at his brother.
“Hep!” His brother spit. “Yes?”
“Why haven’t we taken the ram in yet?”
“Because Father hasn’t said to.”
“But isn’t this the time of year we take the ram in? We did at this time last year.”
“Yes, this is the time. Chick! Ha, ha!”
“You see that one over there?” The little Flinn pointed to a young ewe, who stood off to one side of the social flock, licking at her knee. “I named her Megan.”
Stephan looked with wrinkled eyes at the young sheep, her eyes sunk deep into her wool and cheeks.
“She looks ill. They’re all ill, I think.”
“She isn’t ill. I like her. I like them all. Don’t you like them?”
Stephan walked toward the rain-darkened trees. The backs of his legs were wet, and the wool jacket he wore was short. The youngest brother remembered his father wearing that jacket, and he remembered how it would smell like the air when it hung on the rack inside the door when it was dark outside and the fire made snapping sounds in the back room. His father would sing on those nights and Stephan and his brother would play cards on the floor.
Stephan took out a rolled cigarette from his pocket as he kicked and spit at the tail of a fat ewe. He lit the bundle of tobacco with a match and a cloud of gray-white smoke hung in the thick air. The little one hurried up beside his brother. The air smelled like autumn and like the taste of bitter tea.
“Stephan? Don’t you like our sheep?”
“Yeah, I like them. I love them.”
“Do you know what papa said to me?” He stood beside Stephan and set his pale down by his brother’s, looking into the woods.
In the woods, the dirty-white of the sheep’s coats moved around the trees in a motion the little Flinn thought would make a man sleepy, as their hushed calls ambled out of the pines.
“No, brother, what did Father say to you?” He looked at his brother and raised his eyebrows.
“Papa said that I remind him of our sheep. He said that I’m a ‘rare breed,’ and that I’m ‘dignified.’”
“You don’t even know what dignified means.”
“No, but papa said that I’m dignified and he must know what it means. Do you know what it means?”
“Do you think I’m dignified?”
“You’re too young to be dignified. Besides…”
“But papa said that I’m…”
“Yeah, well he says a lot of things. Like that we were going to go on holiday this past summer.” Stephan spit again and smoked his cigarette.
“But we went to Aunt Marie’s for that week, remember?”
“Hep! Get! Yeah, but we go to Aunt Marie’s ever summer. And father didn’t go – he stayed and worked, so it wasn’t a holiday at all.”
“But we didn’t have to work that week and we got chocolate and we went fishing.”
“Yes, but father stayed and worked.”
The boys both looked at each other and back to the woods again. It was getting dark and Stephan took from his pack a small lantern.
“But he said that he had that family of gypsies stay with him and that they taught him how to speak to the sheep and they worked for him. And about the old gypsy who didn’t have any eyes and traded papa a star for Grandfather’s watch. That must have been like a holiday. And when we came back Aunt Marie said to papa how nice the house looked with the old stuff out of the yard and asked about the new irons. We got new irons that week.”
Stephan lit the lamp and held it above his head, toward the trees. From the flicker of yellow light, which struggled as if with fear to reach the open areas, they could see a small male in the water of the moving stream. His head was pulled back in a strain, with his eyes and mouth open. It cried out a noise that made the little Flinn step back. Its coat was heavy with water and it touched its flanks. The male moved in a fit with the current and sunk lower – the fangs of the rippled water licking at its eyes.
Stephan stood, looking with the lamp held up. “Yes, I do think you’re dignified.”