by Maureen Mancini Amaturo
Bo Peep crouched alongside the cracked, grey slats of the feed barn feeling no more in tact than those sorry slats. As she was on every other twice-a-day trip to the field, she was bored, feeling sorry for herself, and angry. Her sister, Mary, had started this whole sheep thing, but Mary never had to tend to them. Bo Peep did. She pressed her hands against her temples and made fists around the bouncy, blond, sausage curls. “If Mary had never let those kids ride her sheep when it followed her to school one day, I’d be a free woman. Damn her.” She stood, folded her arms, and her shoulders slouched. “I get it. We need the money.” She kicked the wood. “I can’t blame my mother for renting out our flock for all these lame school events and county fairs and tourists. I almost can’t blame her for taking better care of those sheep than she does me. But I’m done. Let Mary walk the sheep. She gets to dress up with her layers of eyelet and Dumbo-eared bows and prance those puffy pains-in-the-neck around for the applause. I get the dirty work. It’s not easy keeping an eye on those wooly nightmares. They’re always running off. They could keep going for all I care. Done. I’m done.”
No secret that Bo Peep was always losing the sheep. The secret was, though, that she was the one who wanted to run off, to blow this one-tale town like that cagey Dorothy. When she had heard the news that Dorothy was gone, she said, “A twister? Seriously? Damn, wish I had thought of that.”
Bo Peep threw off her lampshade of a bonnet and pulled that cockamamie bow out of her hair, the one her mother insisted she wear in public. “People expect us to look a certain way. It’s our brand now.” Just thinking of her mother’s words made her feel as if she had just bitten down hard on a fork. She didn’t want to be a brand. She wanted to be a journalist. She wanted to see things and learn things and write about them. She wanted to wear jeans. She wanted to be free. Bo Peep slid down against the slats and rested her head on a haystack. Noticing a white blur bobbing up and down in the distance, she cautiously rose, staying under cover behind the hay. She didn’t want the sheep to see her. Bo Peep squinted. “Good, it’s just the Muffin Man sneaking off with Mrs. Sprat again.” She went back to her haystack content to daydream about places far away, places she’d explore one day and the stories she’d write. While she wallowed in the reality that sitting in the shadow of a hay bale was about all the freedom at her disposal, she heard their call. The baa baa baa sounds had the same effect on her as 500 volts of electricity. “Those damn sheep.” The best part of her day were the hours she hid from the puffy animals. Bo Peep wanted just a few more minutes of solitude, a few more minutes of self-pity. She stretched her neck to look over the hill and spotted them. “I see you, you little rain clouds.” Bo Peep plopped lower again. As long as she knew where they were, she could stay hidden.
She heard scuffling and the sound of leather shoes on gravel, voices, clicks, and flashes. “For the love of fiddles, not another tourist group.” Bo Peep stood and looked in the direction of her sheep. They looked happy. That bothered her.
The group of chattering tourists came closer from one side. The sheep had spotted her and hobbled toward her from the other side. “This is a fine bucket of suds.” Bo Peep sank into the shadow of the haystack, her head in her hands. She kicked the long, satin hair ribbon that lay like a snake in the dry grass. She grabbed her bonnet and put it on, ready to play the game, ready to go to work. As she was tying the bow on her bonnet, she stopped and smiled. Bo Peep had an idea.
Waiting until the tourists were within earshot, she grabbed her staff and called, “Snowy, Fluffy, Blanche!” She put her hands aside her mouth, megaphone style, for dramatic effect. “Oh, there you are!”
The cameras flashed. The tourists believed they had hit the jackpot. The tour guide announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, you are witnessing news as it happens. Bo Peep has just found her sheep, and you were there. Tell your friends. Our tours run daily.”
Bo Peep hugged each sheep around the neck, fluffed up their ribbons, and waved to the tour group. She guided her sheep to the road that led back to their pen. When they were well down the path, she began to drift away from the herd. When she was out of the tourists’ view, she dropped her staff and threw off her bonnet, took a ribbon off one sheep’s neck, and gathered her sausage curls into a lumpy ponytail. Bo Peep untied her white pinafore, crumbled it into a ball, and threw it as far as she could. She sidled up to a haystack. She stayed close to the walls of the barn, hid behind a silo until she was in the clear. Then, she sprinted to the tour bus while the onlookers were still taking pictures of the sheep’s behinds bouncing down the path. She climbed into the bus and buried herself in a rear seat, pushing a discarded book aside. “Whew.” Keeping an eye on the group through the dusty bus window, Bo Peep tried to catch her breath.
The galumphing tourists bobbled back to the bus. She slid lower. An older woman wearing layers of skirts, an apron, and a shawl squeezed by her to plop in a nearby seat. “Dear, girl, why did you stay on the bus? You missed the excitement. We saw the sheep. And wouldn’t you know it, we got there just as Bo Peep found them. Quite the moment.”
Bo Peep pulled her bunched curls forward to hide her face. She lied so easily. “I was feeling a little light-headed. I thought I better stay out of the sun.”
The pudgy woman showed no concern. “Tsk, tsk. Shame you missed it! I got pictures.” She pulled out her cell to show the stowaway who tried to slink lower.
Careful to keep her head down, Bo Peep said, “Well, look at that. Aren’t they the cutest things? And I missed it.”
When the last tourist boarded the bus and the squeaky doors closed, the bus coughed and sputtered and jiggled and began to slowly roll over the grassy hills onto the main road. The driver announced with a rush of static, “Next, Little Jack Horner Café where we’ll stop for lunch. Be sure to try their famous plum pie. We’ll have one hour. Everyone, please return to the bus on time.”
Bo Peep knew the café well, almost as well as she knew Jack Horner. Luckily, the café was on the main road, and she figured that would be her chance to slip away and make it to the next town where she could catch a train to…she didn’t know where. Bo Peep settled in to her bus seat, and the scenes outside the bus window blurred by. Having seen one farm too many, she opened the book she had found on the seat and shoved away earlier, Narnia: The Ultimate Travel Guide. Hmmm, this could be worth a look-see, she thought. Deciding she needed a nap first, she tucked the book under her arm and leaned her head on the window. Suddenly, it struck her funny, this escape. She could see the next headline in the Mother Goose Gazette now: Sheep Lose Bo Peep.