by Renee Carter Hall
Sophie wasn't surprised to be a sheep. She'd worn countless itchy, generic costumes for Mrs. Perkins' plays--a tree, a rain cloud, a cornstalk--and the Christmas pageant was no different. Important parts with lines were for the other kids, the ones who had parents smiling from the audience.
Mothers blinked back tears; fathers held up cameras. If she were in any of those pictures, it would be at the edges, as another part of the scenery, part of the blurry background. No one waited to hug her afterward and tell her how wonderful she'd been, the perfect sheep. She could almost hear the whispers flickering through the audience like the fake electric candles. Accident. Orphan. Foster child. She never heard her name.
She took a slow step back, then another. The choir kept singing. Mary and Joseph smiled down at the swaddled doll.
She took another step back. The kid playing the shepherd stared at nothing. Mrs. Perkins beamed at the tableau. No one noticed Sophie move back into the shadows offstage. No one came after her when she pushed the heavy door open and stepped out into the cold night.
Her costume still itched, but at least it was warm. She walked across the playground, across the parking lot, across an empty field. She reached a fence and climbed it, reached a bale of hay and sat, breathing in the frost and the bright spray of stars against the clear black sky.
Something brushed her hand, warm breath and wet. Sophie turned. The ewe looked back at her, eyes mild and patient.
Sophie reached out and sank her fingers into the oatmeal-colored wool. The sheep nuzzled her costume.
"I'm not good at being a person," Sophie whispered. Her breath trailed into the air. She leaned against the ewe's solid body, and the stars blurred into smears of cold light.
Sophie rested her cheek against the ewe's neck, breathing the sweet-sharp scents of lanolin and hay, animal and winter air, warm milk and safety. "I'm pretty good at being a sheep."
The ewe bleated softly.
Sophie wiped her nose on her sleeve. "Baaaaa," she said, trying it out.
The ewe butted her, then turned, and Sophie followed. Somewhere halfway across the field, she stumbled onto all fours, and her costume didn't itch anymore. Ahead was hay and feed, the placid kinship of the flock; behind, a lonely memory fading into the silent night.
This work and all characters (c) 2012 Renee Carter Hall ("Poetigress"). May not be reprinted, redistributed, or reposted without permission.
All Sophie wants is a place to belong and be loved. It just may not be the place one would expect...