The idea is to get it all off in one go.
Your first attempts were poor. Too shy, too hesitant, without an eye for a starting point. And it takes a certain kind of dexterity to restrain a panicked sheep in the crook of one arm while you train the blades onto its quivering body. The dogs looked on through the bars of the pen and you felt like you were performing for them. The first time you made such a mess. The wool coming off in clumps the size of a child’s fist, blown about by the breeze and trampled underfoot, your feet and the hooves of the sheep as you wrestled it, as it fought back, overcame you a few times and you it. You nicked it with the blades in several places, and more than once it bit you, kicked out and caught you with a force that never stopped surprising you. By the time you finished, an hour or so had passed and not a strand of wool would be useful and the sheep was naked and bloodied and you were bruised and exhausted and you still have a scar where it sank small teeth not made for meat into the soft skin of your forearm. The dogs were barking and it sounded like laughter.
You kept on. You started to shear sheep in your sleep.
You read about hides and skin and skeins, about things that shed skin, about peeling and moulting and exuviation and metamorphosis. This is how serial killers get started, probably. But the knowledge never warped you that far. Just enough to equate the shearing with a purpose that transcended a sack of fibre or a livelihood. Something a little bit more than that, something close to cleanliness, if not quite godliness, because God is not to be found in the whirr of blades that came to make your right arm vibrate constantly, even when you weren’t holding them.
Eventually you got it. Your hands on the animal calmed her into silence. The dogs stayed quiet and respectful. Your blades moved surely across flanks and belly and spine. The shearling peeled away like a heavy shadow, and you felt its weight and smelled the lanolin and sweat and relief. The body underneath was something new, and once you set it free, it moved with new grace. And so did you.
Laura Voivodeship writes poetry and short prose while masquerading as a teacher in the Middle East. Her most recent work has been published in Panoply, Poached Hare, and The Raw Art Review. She can be found posting amateur images and line edits on Instagram @lauravoivodeship.