He bought us a farmhouse in the country

Jenny Bartoy

From my open window, I spy on the sheep. They roam the nextdoor pasture, one square in the sprawling quilt of fields and meadows in my sight. My bottom balances on the second-floor sill and I wedge my navy Chucks beneath the gaping pane for a sense of safety. But I know that is as futile here as elsewhere in this house. I wonder how long I’ll be stuck here this time, up in my bedroom in the corner with its babyish yellow-striped wallpaper, and pay for the offense of speaking. How long until he remembers and with a snap of his fingers and a nod toward the ceiling dispatches my younger brother to release me. The French called their dungeons “les oubliettes” after the verb oublier—to forget. Forgetting a problem exists is simpler than working to solve it.

In their enclosure the sheep follow one another in circles, each a leader of the one staring at its tail, a chain reaction of obedience. If only they knew the aimless purpose of the first one that meanders. Stupid fucking sheep. The fluffy flock of them ambles toward the corner of the lot where the fence wraps around a post to make an angle—a grass block. They crowd into the corner as if there is an exit there they just can’t see. They are so dumb, I think, and yet I envy their hope as they follow each other toward possibility.

At the end of our yard, cows live behind the barbed wire fence. How easily the herd of them could burst through, I think. Tear it down and roam free. But they don’t. At the end of each day, the farmer leads them out, down the street, back to the hay of their warm stable. He has a stick with which he smacks the haunch of any heifer who lingers or wanders off path. One whack of the stick and the cow gets back in line—sounds familiar. How easily they could ram him and shove him and trample him on their way to freedom but the thought doesn’t occur to them. It’s never been alive.

Across the fields, the red-tiled roof of my gym teacher’s house beckons, the warmth of its brick walls, the white picket fence embracing it. On Wednesdays he drives me home after basketball practice. He teases me about my jump-shot. With a grin that won’t quit, he tells me about his twin baby daughters and his wife. Each Wednesday, he asks me how school is going, but winks that he’s not too worried. On his backseat, stacks of student papers spill from a leather satchel. Gym bags and shoes, food wrappers, and crumpled tissues litter his old sedan. I am acutely aware of how my body occupies his car—my bottom on that torn upholstered seat, my sweaty hand inches from his hairy arm working the gear stick, my personal space buckled inside his personal space. I can smell his deodorant. He is so nice, I think. I’ve never been so uncomfortable. I wonder what goes on in his brick house. Does he know what goes on in mine? Poplars in clumps point their paintbrush tips to the roving clouds and sway gently in the evening breeze.

I look down at the sheep in the pasture because there’s nothing else to do up here. I’ve read every book in my room—I know how this story unfolds. I’m a fairytale princess quartered in my enclosure. I eyeball the distance to the ground. I could knot a set of twin-size sheets, tie them to my dresser, climb down like in gym class. My Chucks hugging the homemade rope, I could slither down to freedom. The thought soothes me, the possibility of it.

The window sill is hard under my hips. This slab of wood beneath my soft parts reminds me I can’t relax here. I never will. But maybe there’s freedom in being forgotten: I can write my escape. I adjust my lanky frame and for a moment the height dizzies me. How easily I could tumble out of this world and crash down, broken, done. The fear of falling jolts my senses—my gut leaps, my ears perk, each hair is alert. The intensity of this reflex thrills me. I’m a fucking animal, keen to danger, keen on it.

Soon the man will come, with that gait and his stick, and lead the cows home. They’ll follow. I look at the sheep below. They’ve quit their pursuit of the corner, and most rest on the grass now, legs curled beneath their wool, prostrate in compliance to the unknown. Twilight bathes them in glorious shades of grapefruit and pink, and I hold a breath of gratitude for this landscape painted in peace, for being witness to it. I know my window faces north. The sun will never shine on me here. No one’s coming to rescue me.

About the Author

Jenny Bartoy is a freelance literary editor based in the Pacific Northwest. She holds a master’s degree in sociocultural anthropology from Columbia University. Her work has been published in Room and WhipUp, and is forthcoming in the anthology Sharp Notions: Essays on the Stitching Life. Jenny is managing editor for Literary Mama magazine, serves on the editorial committee for the literary nonprofit Creative Colloquy, and teaches writing workshops locally. You can connect with her at www.jennybartoy.com or @jbartoywriter on Instagram.