SKY, OCEAN, BLOOD • by Alison Theresa Gibson

The sun was too bright and the sky was too blue. My eyes had nothing to hold on to as we scrabbled along the cliff’s path. You walked faster than me, as though your exertion would make the ordeal more bearable. Stones spun out from under your feet. While I ploughed on in your wake, my boots skidded and threatened to throw me off balance. 

The cliff fell away to our left, a sharp yellow drop into the surrounding blue of ocean and sky. To the right was twisted barbed wire. The wire was flimsy and drooping, the barbs the only way of keeping creatures in or out. 

At the next corner I slipped on your discarded stones and reached out to steady myself, catching only barbs in my skin. The pain made me call out and you stopped, three metres ahead, waiting, until I righted myself. The fence drooped even lower after taking my weight. You turned and kept walking, and I knew the pain I felt had less to do with my wounds and more to do with my need for tenderness. I wiped a smear of blood on my shirt and didn’t ask you to wait.

The next corner was sharper but you were so far ahead that the stones had settled to stillness by the time I reached it. There were sheep shuffling near the fence, pulling grass from earth, their eyes never straying to the blue horizon. The blood on my shirt had dried to a rusted orange, but the dual puncture wound in my skin still throbbed.

At first, I thought the cry on the wind was a sheep bleating. I hurried forward and saw the tangle of woollen limbs in the barbs. It wasn’t the entrapped creature crying out though, it was you. The lamb’s front left hoof had become encased so tightly that the fence looked to be holding it in a close embrace. Barbs pressed against its side, its throat, its cheek. It blinked at you as your fingers fumbled at the wire. 

“You should’ve brought the wire cutters,” you said. “He’s in pain!” The lamb’s

flanks shuddered at the noise. It smelled like dust dripped in grease.

“Maybe the farmer is nearby,” I said, scouring the yellowed field, but no farmhouse was in sight. I had never hiked with wire cutters before, and yet the sharpness of your blame proved I was at fault.   

“These properties are endless,” you said. “Of course he’s not nearby.” Your fingers were wrapped around the lamb’s hoof, lying across and between the wires which entrapped it. Its eyes were dark and still but it blinked at me. The guilt you had fed me sat deep in my stomach, as always.

“I don’t think we can do anything for it,” I said, and your wail was high and piercing. The sound caused a nesting seagull to rise from the cliffs below us, squawking its territorial cry. You pulled at the wire as though sheer force would break it, but the wool was turning pink as the spikes cut deeper. The lamb finally let out a low slow bleat but the sight of blood spurred you on, until you were shaking the fence with such intensity that a wooden post in the distance shuddered. The barbs pressing against the lamb’s wool dug deeper into its flesh, and soon blood began to flow in earnest. Still you shook and yanked and twisted. Your cries merged with the lamb’s until I wasn’t sure who was enraged and who was in pain.

“Stop,” I said. The words had no heat though, since I’ve never had any influence over what you do. While you can force feed me blame that isn’t mine to bear, I’ve never softened you for even a moment. Somehow, miraculously, your fingers escaped the barbs, and as you wailed and shook that creature so its blood mixed with the dust, you remained whole, unpunctured, unbloodied. 

“Find some wire cutters!” you said again, and your eyes were as dark as the lamb’s but full of accusation. 

 The lamb’s bleats ended with a sudden yawp and the silence made me feel like the sky was breaking open around us. You lifted a hand free and stroked the creature’s head. You stared into its dark, still eyes, as though I was absent, despite my boots leaving prints in the dust by your side. Your hand moved in gentle movements across the lamb’s skull, its ears, down its spine. I ran my finger over my puncture wounds, causing my blood to start dripping again, but you didn’t notice.

Your tenderness was reserved for the creature at your feet.

“I’ll find some help,” I said. The wind gathered the empty words and dropped them from the edge of the cliff. 

I walked back along the cliff until your sobs faded into the wind and I forgot the smell of blood mixing with dust. I imagined you wailing over the stiffened creature and wondered if the farmer would find you there, your body curled protectively over wire-wrapped limbs, your skin still, somehow, unbloodied.

 As I walked, I saw how the light dazzled the ocean into cracks of gold, how the cliffs were full of nesting birds whose chicks were raised with a view of fathomless blue. Even the sun’s brightness was no longer painful but warming my neck, the palms of my hands. It softened against the strands of my hair. 

At the corner where I had been punctured, the wire was reddened. I knew you wouldn’t notice it on your way back. Your discarded stones no longer tripped me and I strode along, not stopping, and the fence, still flimsy in places, was soon free of my blood.

Alison Theresa Gibson grew up in Canberra, the illusive capital of Australia, and currently lives in Birmingham, UK. She has words in a number of publications, including Spelk, Litro, Crack the Spine, Meanjin, Sunlight Press, and Every Day Fiction. She was nominated for Best Small Fictions in 2021 and Best of the Net in 2019. She recently completed her MA in Creative Writing at University of Birmingham.

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