This morning I had to drag Atticus-the-one-horned-sheep up the long gravel driveway. It was a bad scene all around: me cursing, still in pajamas, suffering from a nasty cold, and the sheep stiff-legged and bleating, convinced he was going to be made into gyros. I’d just untangled his horn from the wire fence for the sixth time in as many days, and was hoping fresh pasture might keep him out of trouble.
Atticus used to be a regular two-horned sheep, before he developed this compulsion to stick his head into things. He lost the right horn when he got his head jammed in a nook between a piece of plywood and the barn wall. The left one keeps getting hung up on the New Zealand fencing, and yesterday there was an unfortunate strangulation incident involving the swing set.
As I yanked on his remaining horn and pulled at the rope around his neck, feeling sweaty and out of sorts, I broke it down for him.
“Listen here, you daft sheep. When you stick your horns through the fence, you get stuck. When you’re stuck, you can’t eat. A side effect of not eating is death.”
This seemed very obvious to me, resident human and superior life form.
Atticus threw himself to the ground and looked up at me as though any mention of eating on my part was heartless.
“Oh for heaven’s sake! Get up. You’re a pet. And no one wants to eat a sheep as old as you.”
I manhandled him up the hill and shoved him into the upper pasture, where the grass was indeed greener. I pushed the gate closed and watched as he wandered right back over to the fence and stuck his head through.
You have got to be kidding. I unhooked him again and chased him into the center of the pasture.
Two hours later I’m at my desk, struggling to plot out a new story. I’ve written the first few paragraphs—it’s a mystery about a young woman who walks away from a bonfire at the beach and disappears—and I’m a little bit in love with the image in my mind. I’ve played with the prose until it’s just so, drafting a picture of the burned-down fire, the gathering rain, the girl dancing away down the beach. I have, too, some hint of realization and a conflict left behind. But that’s it.
I know there must be a story in here somewhere; I just can’t find it. Formulating a logical plot doesn’t come easily to me—I make things too complicated and I struggle to provide readers with adequate insights into my character’s actions.
It happens with every story. I keep banging my head against the same old problems, approaching every writing session with a load of negative baggage about logic and plot. It’s holding me back.
I’m scanning the first paragraph one more time when a thrashing outside draws my attention. Atticus is fighting to get his head loose from the fence again, and as I watch, he twists to one side and his second horn snaps right off. With nothing left to hang him up, he slips between the wires and makes a beeline for the rosebushes. Problem solved.
I laugh, despite the obvious fact that I will soon be spending my days chasing him back into the pasture. I should go catch him now, but I decide to let him be. He’s paid his dues.
Now it’s my turn.