Pen

The Best of Times Short Story Competition


Spring 2009 Results




Bertram's Greatest Triumph

Copyright © Douglas Pender 2009


He was at the pinnacle of his power. Tottering on the brink of achieving his life’s goal. He stood on the rise above the paddock and looked across a sea of bubbly white, a myriad of little docile faces staring back with great expectations. Pride puffed up his fleece and his nether regions trembled with anticipation.

But then he saw her, off to the side, standing apart from the flock, eyes staring at him with accusation; the hurt, the rejection, the I-just-don’t-understand looks racing like little arrows across the space separating them, stabbing with relentless staccato at his heart.

When he’d won all of his fights with the young rams Esmeralda had looked on with great pride, uttering bleats of encouragement. The fight against Ramrod had been the toughest. He was the youngest and strongest of the rams, cocky and confident but inexperienced, too sure of himself. 

They’d circled each other for some time, bouncing deep, intimidating baa-baas off one another. Then Ramrod lost patience as the young ones do and charged. Bertram anticipated it and swiveled at the last moment, deflecting him with the cushion of his heavy fleece. But Ramrod was quick and agile and recovering, he came again and again. They locked horns and pushed and pulled this way and that, draining each other’s strength, looking for the weakness, a stumble, a step back, but finding none. 

But while the fight raged, Bertram calculated, brought his experience to bear. Bit by bit he manoeuvred Ramrod towards a muddy patch and then, before Ramrod could realize the trap, and when Bertram’s reserves of energy were about to run out, Ramrod’s back legs went into the slippery slime and out from under him and he was down and Bertram rolled him on his back in the mud. 

The baa-ing from the flock was deafening. Bertram did a victory lap of the paddock and Esmeralda joined him with admiring glances and little suggestive bumps as they trotted.

But Bertram could hear the snide whispers from the ewes as they passed.

“Silly bitch, doesn’t she realize what this means now?  Does she think she’ll have him all to herself? Oh, what a laugh!”  

Esmeralda hadn’t seemed to hear; she had eyes only for Bertram.

When farmer Joe came the next day and saw which ram the ewes were all eying he knew who was THE one, the RAM!   He put Bertram in the ewes’ paddock and shut the other rams out. Only then did Bertram fully comprehend his duty, his responsibility. It was now up to him to impregnate the entire flock of 300 ewes. 

Oh, the wonder of it! A life’s dream! So often, with the other vanquished young rams, he had to watch the strongest ram take his spoils and satiate himself with the pleasures of victory. Oh, the jealousy and the determination that next year, or the year after, or the year after that, he too would achieve the greatest triumph available to a ram.

But now as he stood on the rise, proud, arrogant, surveying his kingdom of eager maidens, he could see only the one maiden; the one he really wanted.

Surely he couldn’t betray the one sheep who had been his constant playmate since they’d been lambs together, gambolling across the pastures, bumping heads and noses, rolling their fleeces in the grass together, rescuing each other when they’d rolled on their backs, chasing their mothers and sharing their milk; and, as they grew, laughing at how silly they looked when they’d been fleeced, cuddling up to keep warm until the wool grew again, singing their maa-maa and baa-baa harmonies. How they’d taunted the dogs by running in different directions, and hid together in the long grass when it was round up time. 

Bluey the dog used to get so mad! That time Bertram charged and bumped Bluey full in the midriff when he’d nipped Eve on the back leg. And that kid who came with his father and pestered for a chocolate bar and Esmeralda trotted over and cried maas-baa; the kid just didn’t get it. The memories flooded back and he stood there, torn.

Then a flash came to his slow but wonderful sheep’s brain. Why should he be hidebound by tradition, by the habits of centuries?  Why should he allow himself to be driven by lust and only lust!  He had always been a sharing sheep, hadn’t he?  Well now was the time to take a big step for sheepkind, to plant a hoofprint for the future wellbeing of sheep everywhere.

To everyone’s sudden surprise Bertram bleated a big baa of “Come here, you guys,” to the other five rams locked up in the next paddock. They looked up with startled 'what-on-earth' expressions, bits of grass dribbling unchewed from their jaws, and trotted across with curiosity.  Bertram leaned over the fence by the gate and cried “Rattle yer dags, me hearties!” trying for a bit of jocularity. 

“I have this idea. Why, when all of us blokes are ready, willing and able, should we waste all that energy and put the whole burden on me?”   

The eyes of the young rams began, with another part of their anatomy, to bulge.  He had their full attention. 

“I propose we split the flock into six parts. I will partner Esmeralda and you can each take a fifth of all the rest. Whaddaya say?”  

They were speechless. It took a while to sink in; as they cogitated in their deliberate way, chewing slowly, the remains of the cud still dribbling, staring back without expression, Bertram cried further.

“It’s a new concept called DELEGATION!”  

Their mouths twitched now, folded back, revealed rows of tiny green stained teeth in grimaces of amazed delight.

“But how can we get into your paddock?” asked the bold one, Ramrod. 

“Ah,” baa-ed Bertram, “that’s where you need a woolly old head like mine.” 

He moved to the gate; thrust his nose under the latch and baa-ed to the others.

“Do what I’m doing on your side and when I count to three, heave.” 

They jostled to get their noses into place and Bertram cried, “One, two, and three!”

They heaved together and the latch went flying back and the five burst through, eager and excited.

The ewes by this time had gathered into a tight, suspicious group with the older ones taking the front. The looks on their faces were not encouraging. They demanded to know what was happening. Bertram outlined to them his proposal and appealed to their romantic natures, enlivened by the adoring glances he was getting from Esmeralda, all her earlier doubts and sadness and accusatory looks washed away.

But the old ewes wouldn’t have a baa of it. They didn’t want these young whippersnappers sniffing around their crutches; they only wanted the boss ram to service them, and all the flock, as was his duty! A slow swell of “Baa baa Bertie, baa baa Bertie,” began and rose in crescendo and the mood of the flock became ugly. Even the young rams were cowed by it and held back.

The expression on Esmeralda’s lovely face turned from euphoric to dismayed, then frightened. She moved away from the flock.  Bertram was rooted to the spot.

He did not know what to do; his great revelation was not taking hold and he was losing control of the situation.  The young rams, now loose in the paddock, getting more and more restless; the ewes were rebellious, increasingly vocal in their demands for him and him only; and all he could see was Esmeralda, alone, trembling, needing him. He couldn’t stand it any longer.

On the eve of his greatest triumph Bertram faltered. He went with his heart. He sprang to Esmeralda’s side and together they raced away from the flock to the far side of the paddock, towards the pens. A mighty baa-baa bleat of frustrated fury went up from the ewes and the sea of white surged after them.

They raced together as one, knowing all was lost now, only the one choice left. They reached the pens, raced down the narrow chute with Esmeralda leading, emerged into the open space and then, in a dive which they had so often watched the swallows do, arced their way into the murky, unappetizing depths of the sheep dip.

The following mob screeched to a halt. Horror swept their collective faces when they saw the two surface briefly for one last desperate loving glance, a clasping of hooves, a joining of fleeces, before they took a final baa-th together.

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Bio:
Only when he retired in 2003 was Doug able to focus on a long held dream to be a writer. Many courses later he recently completed his first novel Dark Streets for which he is now seeking an agent. He has also written numerous short stories and poems and another of his stories, Beauty in the Deep, received a Highly Commended certificate in the Port Stephens Examiner Literature Awards for 2009.