Here is a story about someone trying to become a better person.
Here is a carnival and a summertime of any year and lights and people and joyful screaming. Look at the sturgeon moon stamped onto the black sky. Now, if you would, walk out of the crowd and into a darker part of the carnival. You can come back later.
After a silent walk along slick, dark grass- yes, I know, a carnival in the dark? You're too bound by habit. Have a little imagination. Anyway. After your walk here is a single booth.
Here is a man in a dark suit, standing in his single booth. And here are the lamb heads stuck to the walls, eyes crusted with blood, definitely alive once and definitely not now. Now we have the pieces.
Watch. Here is a young woman, young by her own standards, anyway, with dark hair and a blue silk scarf. Watch her steps, focused and measured. Here is the wet grass of the carnival field and the man's raised head and small, ugly smile as she approaches the booth with practiced shyness.
"It's twenty-five tokens to try." he says quietly.
Here comes her nod.
Twenty-five tokens to try. Tale as old as time.
Here is the purse and the plastic coins and the hands briefly touching, no not like that, she is married and he is not that kind of man, and here is the dagger, silver and angry.
See how the woman looks at the knife, like it could kill her itself without her intervention. Remember that this is a story about someone trying to become a better person, if you can.
Now, if you will, watch the man as he turns into the darkness of the booth. He's walking out in his polished black shoes to the backyard. It’s quieter back here, away from the noise of the carnival. There’s a reason he chose to put his stand a little ways away. This needs silence. He comes to a stop in front of the tall wooden fence.
See, and I am sorry about this, but see the agitated lambs behind the backer rails. He's picking one of them up at random. He's a businessman, not a monster. He doesn't care which one dies.
The lamb, of course, is bleating and kicking and screaming, and the woman is waiting patiently outside, the way young women with dark hair and blue scarves are wont to do, and the man is walking steadfastly back to the booth as the lamb screams, for, what, its mother? The fence?
See her fingers run over the hilt of the dagger. Watch as she bites her lip; she has a question.
"Is it very painful?"
A pause. Remember what this story is about. Always remember. Watch as the man puffs his chest as he answers.
"No! As long as you do it well."
(He means to encourage her to hit the heart. Many other patrons hit the stomach, and you know how that goes.)
Pay attention now. She is tensing her arm and clenching her jaw. He is doing the same. Who is more frightened?
Anyway. An adult sheep is tied up a hundred yards away, straining at her rope. Look at her panic, not a slaughterhouse panic but a motherly one. A panic of runningto rather than runningaway.
He closes his eyes, and she steadies something snakelike writhing inside herself. He lets go of the lamb and whistles in an entirely nonmusical way.
Here! Here, watch! The lamb is running across the fairground and her mother is bleating in joy, and the lamb's dark animal eyes are shining and catching the light of the stars! This is deeply joyous, but you want to see the woman and the knife and the man, I know.
Well, fine. Here she is throwing the dagger, something in her face dying as she lets go of the hilt with a practiced flick of the wrist. Here is the dagger spinning out! And here is the lamb stumbling on its long lamb legs, almost to its big sheep mother who will keep it warm forever!
She misses! The knife hits the ground, piercing the soil. The woman’s hair looks a little less dark as she retrieves it and throws it again at the hesitant lamb.
Daggers are faster than carnival-dwelling lambs, so watch, if you can, as the blade slices through the air for a second time. The lamb keeps its little lamb face on its mothers soft sheep body. The dark-haired woman averts her eyes and swallows down something dark before it can reach her lips or the cool night air.
But wait: she begins to shout in confusion and anger, but the lamb’s white wool remains unstained with blood, so what can be the reason?
Well, you were watching the lamb and the knife and the woman, and you have forgotten to watch the man, haven’t you?
Here he is running as the woman shouts angrily. Here is the man running, running, running across the slick grass trying to catch the knife as it draws closer to the inside the caverns of the lamb’s chest.
Here is the look of terror on his face, of regret and speed and trying-to-make-up-for-it-all. Here is the knife and the man and the man and the knife and the woman and the lamb and the knife and the night and the ferris wheel and the booth and the mother sheep straining at her rope! Here is the man and the woman colliding as he uses his manbody to stop her from taking up the dagger for a third time, and here she is in understandable shock, after all, he said twenty five tokens to try, and she’s paid her twenty five tokens, so what’s this?
Here is hand grazing dagger hilt and woman falling silent.
Men, as a rule, can’t run faster than daggers any more than lambs can, and this particular man can’t run faster than dark haired women with blue scarves. So, here is the dagger thrown for the third time as the lamb stands by its mother.
Nobody can quite believe what’s happened. Then.
Here is a screaming, screaming lamb and an agitated silent mother stomping at the wet carnival grass. Here is a lamb that isn’t screaming anymore, but, oh, a man that is.
Watch him as he falls to his knees in his expensive carnival suit, wailing to nothing, kneeling outside his out-of-the-way booth. The woman’s lips form a thin line as she stands up. He is screaming and screaming and crying and the lamb is twitching and the knife is completely silent in a rather self-satisfied way.
“What the hell was that?”
He won’t stop yelling and kissing the lamb’s face and grabbing its hooves and holding his hand over its bleeding stomach. He won’t stop shouting thick apologies to the silent sheep standing over him.
Just watch for a second. Don’t forget who opened the booth.
He stops screaming and grabs at the mother sheep’s wool. Silence. The woman with dark hair and a blue scarf can’t decide whether to stay or go. She’s young enough to stay.
Have you noticed the man’s eyes? He doesn’t have spectacles, by the way. They’re big and brown and dark, and so are the mother sheep’s. He takes the dagger from the lamb’s stomach, which makes its body shiver.
Here are two pairs of eyes. Here is one set of hooves and one set of manhands. Here is a thud of impact. Here is a perfectly placed wound. Here is puncturing vein and sheep’s eyes dying and a second scream, third scream, fourth scream because now the woman is screaming. She should have been old enough to leave.
The man recovers quicker this time, watch. Now both a mother and her daughter are dead, not just one, and things seem more in balance. Wretched mirrors and all that.
He stands up and brushes the carnival dew off his carnival suit.
“You can take them both if you’d like.”
The woman is shocked. Watch her face in the moonlight; she’s older than she’ll tell you. Blame society, if you’d like. But, then, she’s not that old, so blame her histrionic personality, if that suits you better.
“But I didn’t want you to do that!” she says, almost a wail.
“The sheep told you-”
“I was trying to be better.”
You’ve remembered the point of all of this, haven’t you?
The dark-haired woman purses her lips.
“You probably shouldn’t run this stand, then.”
He wasn’t expecting this. He drops his voice.
“I know. I-”
“Actually, I will take both. The lamb and the sheep. Please.”
He falls silent, looks at her as a betrayer.
“I’m under no obligation to be better myself.” she says, impatient.
“It’ll be ten extra-”
“I can bag them myself.” says the woman.
She’s not really asking but she’s not really telling. I don’t know. You decide, but remember it’s not terribly important.
He nods and they walk over to the booth together, both trying very hard not to look back at the two white bodies lying in the grass that is rapidly becoming crusted, not dripping, with blood.
“Do you mind if I leave you to it?” he says eventually, sticking a fork through the porridgey silence.
“Not at all.”
A few more paces from both of them.
“There are plastic bags in the cupboard under the cash register. Don’t, um, take any money.”
This man is remarkably tactless.
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Well, they’re my wages.”
“Don’t leave me alone with your cash register, then.”
Here is a woman with a point.
Here is a man averting his eyes as she walks behind the booth.
“I’m leaving now.” he says, darkly serious. He looks at her with deep distrust. The woman remembers her mother and she also remembers the opened but uneaten bag of granola she has at home, which is going to go stale if she doesn’t do something with it, maybe trail mix or cookies or just breakfast.
“Okay. I’ll get the bags, then I’ll leave too.”
She knows he wants to hear that she understands. It helps with trusting sometimes. You understand.
Here is a man turning away. Here is a man passing the bodies of a mother and a daughter and trying not to slip on the wet grass. Here is a man walking towards the lights of a carnival, and getting on a ferris wheel, and watching a woman as she does exactly as promised. She’s quick and neat bagging the sheep. Her blue scarf blows in the wind. Her skin is golden in the infant sunrise. He feels nothing.
Here is a man who is thinking about sailing to France, and the sheep in the fields of Old England, and not working in a carnival for the rest of his life.
Here is a story about someone trying to become a better person.