Green Sheep by Gail E. Taylor

Burl: a lump or slub in wool or cloth
-The Oxford Dictionary

Bonnie Peeples dragged two slow steps into her living room and stopped stone still. Something was very wrong. She listened. No sounds. She leaned on her cane with both hands and darted her eyes without turning her head. No movement. The furniture seemed the same, the reading lamps, the paintings on the walls, the dull and mindless ticking of the clock. No, it was something else. Something was missing, something so obvious that its loss struck her like a blow and she crumpled to the floor with a little bleating cry. When she had regained enough strength, she sat up and checked again: yes, the floor was bare, uncarpeted, stripped and naked. Pulling on chair legs and the side of the piano, she crawled to the table and grasped at the phone. She couldn’t quite reach so she raised the crook of her cane and pulled the receiver close.

'Missing Persons Bureau,' she said and the operator put her through, one of the benefits of age to have your numbers dialled for you.

'Your name?'

'Bonnie Peeples. 70 Lakeview Street.'

'Name of the person missing, please. Last name first.'

'Last name, Ram,' said Bonnie.

'First name?'

'Sam.'

'Sam Ram?'

'Yes, Sam the Ram.'

'Gender?'

'Male, of course.'

'Age? And your relationship to said person?'

'He’s been a member of the family since the crossing in 1849.'

'The cross, ma'am?'

'Yes, when the Peeples family came across from Ireland.'

'A cross? The people of Ireland?'

'Sam came with the family.'

'Ma’am, what are you reporting here?'

'Sam is missing.'

'And Sam’s been with your family member since 1849?'

'Yes, that’s what I just said. One hundred years before I was born.'

'Sooooo. That makes Sam, oh, some 160 years old. Are you talking about a stolen urn of ashes, perhaps?'

'No I’m reporting Sam. He’s gone missing.'

'Fine, Miss Peeples. We’ll send an officer over right away.'

The dispatcher switched off and looked at the two uniforms at the counter. 'Sergeant Porter, Officer Burle,' she said, lowering her voice so others in the room could not hear, 'your beat. Sixty-something at 70 Fairview. Dingbat.' The three of them exchanged looks. They knew the Chief was big on community policing, where beat officers made nice in the ’hood and prevented little crimes before they grew to big ones. Porter and Burle, Crime Preventers.

'Soooo, let’s get this straight,' Sergeant Porter said to the little woman folded into the corner of her sofa with a thick wool throw. Soft tones glowed in the room: peach, maybe salmon. Porter didn’t know from paint and fabric, but he knew ugly, and the cane propped beside this lady was ugly--a knobbly black excuse of wood with a crooked question mark for a handle. In fact, the whole thing was much too big for this little lady with the tight curly hair and the bright, sharp eyes.

'Your name is Bonnie, did you say, Bonnie Peeples, spelled P-E-E-P . . .' He winked at his partner. 'And you’ve lost your sheep.'

The partner choked on a giggle, but managed to sputter, 'And you don’t know where to find him.' Then his feeble attempt at composure erupted into a chortle.

'You may find this funny, officers,' said the lady with dignity, 'but that rug is a priceless artefact.'

'Can you describe this rug for us, Miss Peeples?' said the Sergeant, getting out a tablet.

'As true as rain, as white as the clouds, as warm as summer,' she said dreamily.

'Could you please be more specific, ma’am? What’s the material, the color, the size?'

'One hundred percent wool. White, curly wool. Ram-sized.'

Porter made a note.

'With a ram’s head,' she said.

Porter paused before squiggling another note.

'The Eight Wonders, we call them, Sam and his herd.'

Sergeant Porter poked at his tablet.

'Soft as a cloud in spring, the little lambs, soft and cuddly, the softest things you can ever feel,' she went on, 'and then that tragic cry of a lamb when he gets separated from his mother, and then she keens, calling for him. I remember my grandmother had three of the little ones to feed, their mothers gone in birthing. So sad. My grandmother held them near the fireplace and fed them with droppers until they could stand on their own four feet. She saved them, too.'

'Maybe yours wandered off on four feet,' said the Sergeant, looking up from his note taking. 'Meandered, maybe.' He looked at Burle.

'Or rambled,' said Burle, jerking his head at Bonnie, 'and meandered.'

'And Sam, of course, well, he’s just all ram,' Bonnie continued.

'Have you looked in the backyard?' said Sergeant Porter. He gestured to the picture window and beyond. 'That there grass is what I would call lush. What do you think, Officer Burle? Would you call that lush?'

'Oh yes,' said Burle. 'Rich, even. What we have here is something rich.'

'Can I fix you a nice cup of tea?' asked Bonnie. 'Help you think your way through this?'

'No thanks, Miss Peeples,' said Sergeant Porter, 'but I got a good one for you. Didya ever see a green sheep?'

'No of course not. Now if you will just . . . '

'Have you ever wondered why that is?'

'Why what is?'

'Why you never see green sheep?'

'Because it’s not true. I know sheep.'

'Sure, there’s lots of green sheep. You just can’t see them against all that lush green grass.'

'Yuk-yuk,' said Officer Burle.

'You make fun of my lawn, Officer, but that grass takes a lot of tending. When I was a girl, my dad would put the herd wherever the place needed weeding and those sheep cropped everything nice and neat.'

'Roto-weeders,' said Officer Burle. He carefully avoided looking at the Sergeant.

'Look, carpets do not wander,' said Bonnie. 'This is a serious charge I am making. I expect you to write this up and pursue it. This is very upsetting to me.' She lifted her cane a few inches and tapped it on the floor as emphasis.

'We’ll do that, Miss Peeples,' said Officer Porter, rising to full authority with his imposing uniform. 'Meanwhile, if you leave Sam alone,' and here he winked at Burle, who caught it and manage to choke out, 'He’ll probably come home, wagging his tail behind him.'

'You may laugh. Go ahead, Officers, chuckle away, be as cheeky as you may, but sheep are the eight wonders of the farming world. They connected the homesteader to a proud old country. They told the stories of a hardy people.'

'Sheep tell stories?' Burle asked.

'I see you’re wearing a nice warm vest, there Officer,' said Bonnie. 'Probably made of wool. And do you like feta cheese? Well, that’s made from goats. Sheep’s milk cheese is much finer.'

'Sheep cheese,' repeated Burle.

'And there is another aspect,' she said, 'but it’s kind of ominous.'

'Ominous,' said Burle hopefully.
'Yes. Do you like lamb chops?'

'One of my favourites,' said Burle.

'Well, after the weeding and the wool and the cheese, a good rack of lamb is the fourth wonderful thing from a herd. And it doesn’t stop there. This may be indelicate, but the bones from the animals are ground into the fine china that the English factories produce.

'And then there’s the tails.'

'Tails? Sheep have tails?' said Porter.

Bonnie smiled, as if indulging an innocent child. 'Tails are natural,' she said. 'People don’t know that. But yes, lambs are born with tails'

'I never saw a sheep with a tail,' said Burle.

'Oh yes,' said Bonnie, patiently schooling them. 'That’s where the important fat is. The ancient people used it for fuel and for cooking. But the big secret to the tail, is that it’s a delicacy once cooked. My grandfather used to love scooping that straight from the pot with a spoon.'

'The tail?'
'See,' said Bonnie, 'other farmers dock the tails of their flocks. Not the Peeples family. Easier to catch them at shearing time, my grandfather used to say. I watched him at the shearing, pushing the blade through the oily wool and taking it off in one unbroken, milky piece.'

'Is that how Sam came to be a rug for you?' asked Burle?

'Oh no, Officer. That came after.'

'After?'

'After all the other good things. The rugs come at the end of the story. The rugs are the climax of the eight wonders.'

'Uh-huh. The climax,' the officers said in unison, but they did not look at each other.

'So, not that I’m keeping count,' said Porter, tapping away at his notes, 'but that’s seven things so far: the weeding, the wool vest, the cheese, the chops, the bones, the fat and the rug. What’s the eighth wonder?' He poised his stylus.

'Why, company, Officer, they keep us company.'

'Hoo-kay, Miss Peeples,' sing-sang Sergeant Porter and he snapped his tablet into its case. 'I think we get the picture here. No need to go further. We understand. This carpet is important, it means a lot to you, and you need it back.'

They set to work, measuring the floor, dusting the doorknobs for fingerprints, and snapping pictures of the layout of the house. They took a photo of Miss Peeples as she rattled on about heritage and legacy and family history. They bustled about importantly with studious frowns.

'Who was the last person here in your home, Miss Peeples?' Sergeant Porter cut into her little speech about heritage.

'My dear boy, Jeremy.'

'Your son?'

'No, my brother’s son. My dear nephew. He visits on the weekends. He loves that rug. And he loves my sauces. He wanted my chocolate sauce and the butterscotch. Needed whipped cream, too, he said. He has some project at college that needs these sauces. He’s in that program, what’s it called, the cinnamon tropics, or something. He left early this morning before I was up.'

'So this Jeremy noticed the rug when he visited and it, er, I mean, Sam was here at the time?'

'Oh, yes. Jeremy said how soft and rich Sam looked.'

Burle and Porter lumbered down the steps to the cruiser.

'Sam the Ram,' Sergeant Porter said and clapped Burle on the back. 'Sammy. Hoo-yah.'

'So let’s debrief here,' said the sergeant once they were in the car. 'We got here an old lady whose décor is ruined.'

'Her interior design, so to say,' said Burle.

'And the grandfather,' said the Sergeant, not looking at Burle, who finished the sentence anyway, 'ate tail.'

'And the rug, she says, was the climax of the story.'

Burle exploded. 'Hee-haw. Hoo-boy. You gonna let me write this one up, Serge?'

'Never known you to ask to write up a case.'

'Hee-yow. This one I look forward to.'
They swung the cruiser up the main street of the city and leisured their way toward the university. It was a crisp spring morning, bright with brittle sunlight. No reason to hurry; this case would sew itself up easily. They stopped for a take-out coffee.

'You know, Serge,' said Burle, as he peeled back the cap of his cup to dump in some milk, 'that ratty old rug means something to that old woman. Sure, she’s got more wild bats than a Pee-Wee game, but she makes a certain sense. She kept talking about connectin’ to the old country, the link to her past. So, maybe she’s reporting an old rag is gone, but to her that miserable hide is something certain and safe. Remember how she talked about the smell and the feeling of that wool, how it was like saying thanks before a meal, thanks for the animals and the earth, so that her family could eat and thrive and live to conquer and to love. Remember how she talked like that?'

'Yeah. Nuttier than a fruitcake.'

'Battier than a Juniors’ game.'

'One hide short of a coat.'

'One slice short of a sandwich.'

They arrived at the north end of the city, and flashed a wave at the campus-parking attendant. Burle shut off the engine and made no move to open the door, just sat.

'What’s up?' said Porter.

'My dad had something like that, I remember,' Burle said. 'He used to talk about his grandfather’s shalaylee.'

'What’s a shell-lay-lee? Sounds like seafood,' said Porter, 'or a very bad joke. Which of course we wouldn’t know any.'

'I think it’s an Irish word for ¿Â¿Â¿ñwalking stick.’ My dad said that his grandfather promised he would get the shalaylee, being the oldest grandson. But something happened. I don’t know. I think the house burned or the grandfather went strange. Anyhow, right after the grandfather died, the walking stick never made it to our place. Then after about a year, it came in the mail. It was busted in two. My dad barged out of the house and came back smashed. He stayed that way for a week, mean and drunk, and then it was over. He didn’t take the effort to repair it. It could have been, you know. Wood glued or something. He couldn’t take the effort. He never talked about Ireland again. He was a New World person from that day on ’til the day he died.'

'Hmm,' said Porter.

'Which wasn’t long after.'

'What wasn’t?'

'Not long after that my dad died. I was six.'

'Tough blow.'

'Yep. I’d forgotten all about that stupid stick ’til now.'

'That fluffy little old lady’s getting to you.'

'Battier than a pee-wee game.'

'Lumpier than a gravel bin.'

'Looser than a goose.'


Jeremy Peeples was a tall thin lad with the same sharp eyes as his aunt. He wore nothing but a towel around his middle and an expensive camera in his hand. Behind him, a slim girl peeked out wearing a red bikini and he tried to hide her.

'Yes?' He spoke fearlessly, but his face twitched. A towel and a bikini, in the northern half of North America on a cool spring day.

Through the crack in the door, the officers could see a white woolly rug highlighted by Klieg lights. Sergeant Porter showed his badge. 'You Jeremy Peeples?'

'We’re just shooting a student film here, Officer,' the boy said in a defensive tone. 'Nothing off the charts here. Very tame. An ode to art.'

'We have reason to believe you have an article belonging to a Miss Peeples. You are the nephew of Bonnie Peeples?'

'Oh, that’s what this is about.' The young man smirked. 'She’ll never miss it.'

'That’s not what we hear.'

'Look, the home care nurse say she’s not supposed to have throw rugs on the floor. Too dangerous for walking. I’m helping to clear out stuff.'

'That’s not the way Miss Peeples sees it.'

'Gran forgets things all the time. She said I could borrow it.'

'Mr. Peeples, the taxpayer doesn’t hire the police to settle family disputes. The department is willing to treat this as a domestic matter. A misunderstanding, say. Just return the article to your Gran and we’ll be out of your hair and hers.'

'All right. We’ll finish this shoot. You don’t want to crush a budding Cronenberg, do you officers?'

'We’re calling this case closed the minute that rug gets back to Miss Peeples,' said Sergeant Porter.


The police station was slow the next day and into the supper hour. Burle was looking forward to the first night of a four-day furlough. He jangled his car keys as he passed the front desk on the way out. When the phone rang, he picked it up on a lark. It was a quiet night.

'Number 57 station. Officer Burle speaking.'

'Oh, thank goodness it’s you, Officer Burle.'

'Good evening, Miss Peeples.'

'Officer, my carpet has returned and I want to thank you for solving the mystery. My nephew explained everything.'

'Explained? Everything?'

'Yes, Jeremy’s a good boy. He told me everything, how he took that lovely family heirloom to have it cleaned for me.'

'That’s good Miss Peeples. Glad we could help.'

'Well, he’s young. He didn’t exactly pick a reputable dealer. There’s a problem, Officer. A huge problem.'

'What’s that, Miss Peeples?' Burle looked at his watch. Fifteen more minutes and he was off. Leave this mess to the next duty sergeant. He needed a beer or three, a game, and a bucket of pretzels.

'Please, Officer, can you come over?'

'Can you give me some details, ma’am?'

'He’s not wagging his tail.'

'Ma’am?'

'The cleaners. My beautiful carpet. My poor, mutilated animal. I don’t think Jeremy knew. I’m sure he would be horrified.'

Burle was not a jolly man, but he had some capacity for humour. This could be a good tale for the locker room come Monday. Plus, he and Porter were supposed to close these cases, not string them. He told the dispatcher he’d clock out later that night and rolled the cruiser out of the station parking lot.


'Have you ever lost something of value, Officer?' Bonnie Peeples looked even smaller in the front doorway of her tidy house. She wobbled a bit on her cane. Burle loomed before her. 'Something,' she continued, 'something so real and so true that your very life depended on it?'

The officer’s tough face softened and looked in danger of crumpling.
'I wonder, Miss Peeples,' he said softly, 'if that cup of tea is still available?'


Anybody passing by 70 Lakeview that evening and looking in would have seen a burly man in a uniform sitting on the floor beside a small woman, both of them bent in concentration with some project or other.

Imagine creeping in close. The man’s visored hat sits on the floor beside him. A flickering light sugggesting a fireplace flashes on the man’s brass buttons and lingers in the lady’s silvered hair. Her gnarled hands clutch a large needle. The man holds two pieces of white material for her, a small fluffy chunk and a larger one. They are talking and smiling. The lady stops to brush a trail of curly hair from her eyes, and touches the big man on the arm. He throws back his head and laughs. Imagine the timbre of that laugh: baritone in pitch, as rich as caramel, and as lyrical as a lullaby.

END


New Heading

New Text

@The Linnet's Wings 2023--All Rights Reserved