This extract is from the story: His Grandparents’ House, found in my short story collection, Looking For America: Short stories from the Shetland Islands
The story is about an old crofter (small farmer) and his elderly dog, named Lad, out in the fields during lambing time. The story was inspired by my father, who went on running a croft until he was past eighty and who was still helping out my sister during her lambing time after he had been diagnosed with cancer at eighty-six.
He did it because of love, and had he been able to, I am sure he would have gone on doing it for longer. He was in his seventies when he told me how much he loved the lambing time, and that he was always astonished by the miracle of new life. That he still felt this way after so many years was what inspired me to create Tammy and write this story. This extract begins when Tammy and Lad have been round all the sheep to check on them, and now are heading home. They have been up since 4 am tending to the ewes.
‘Aye Lad, it’s been a hard morning.’Tammy’s throat is dry. He could do with a flask of tea.
He starts the engine.
Bed is getting nearer, the thought of it pressing on his eyelids. He turns the heater down a touch, but he can feel tiredness creeping back round his temples. Lad whimpers from the back, dreaming. A bend in the road, and the sun shines into the van. Tammy raises a hand from the wheel, shading his eyes, and remembers the old house, and the ewe close to lambing. If he’d given up when he got his pension, like he’d always said he would, he could be in Australia now, or in bed. Instead, he’s trudging back up the hill, Lad plodding behind him. The sun gives up, sleet falls. Seven sheep are by the house, but not the one he wants. He finds her inside, lying down, heaving. A lamb lies beside her, its head on the ground, its belly moving slowly out and in as it breathes. Otherwise it is still. There is another lamb, its swollen head sticking out of its mother. Its legs are bent back, and spread like wings inside the ewe when she gives another exhausted push.
‘Good job we came back Lad.’ Tammy is wide awake now. He kneels down and reaches inside the ewe. The first time he saw a sheep like this he panicked, had no clue what to do. He could only watch helplessly as Uncle Wilbert felt for the lamb just as Tammy does now. Uncle Wilbert brought the lamb to safety then, just as Tammy eases this lamb out. He gives the ewe a shot of penicillin, and then he picks up the lambs. The ewe bleats quietly and staggers to her feet. Lad, who has been lying down with his head on his forepaws, leaps up too. Tammy starts down the hill with a lamb under each arm and the ewe totters after him, with Lad bringing up the rear. Tammy opens the back doors of the van and lays the lambs on some empty sheep-feed bags. It is not so easy to lift the sheep, but he manages.
Lad waits until Tammy opens the driver door and then he jumps in, padding over to the passenger seat and settling own. Tammy sits down in his own seat and pats Lad’s head. ‘We might not be so young any more Lad, but we’re far from useless yet, eh boy?’