Wild goats are not so easy to get along with. They are attractive, but these goats are not what Crim expected. It’s not that they don’t believe or understand the way she is a goat. They do. She knows they do. A few male goats tried to mate with her, tried to mount her, had that glint in their eye, but they’ve gone off again to live by themselves. Moody, the male goats. No friendlier than the females. But don’t think Crim wasn’t tempted, though she’d hurt in the past and isn’t ready for that sort of relationship. And she’s new to this goat thing and she’s not sure how that sort of relationship even works. She’d need a diagram, maybe, and some instructions.
Crim can’t really ask for instructions or any sort of help because the goats are shunning her. Sometimes they all wake before she does and they shuffle across the fields, over a hill and down into a valley where Crim cannot see them. She wakes alone, cold, hungry, and wanders around for days looking for them. Her fur is covered in sharp burrs and tar, and underneath the fur where it’s matted to her skin, there is itching. Fleas, ants, or any number of living or non-living things could be wedged in there. She won’t take the goat fur off. That would be a denial of what she’s become. Instead, Crim will wait. The itching turns to burning, but she knows it will subside eventually. Yes, it’ll linger a bit until it’s subsided or it’s become a thing with which she’s grown intensely familiar. All things subside eventually.
There’s also the issue of food. The goats have been stealing her food. They take sandwiches and it’s hard for her to make a new sandwich. Crim is not yet accustomed to her hooves. The bread ends up wadded into balls, stomped, and dropped again and again onto the ground. She can’t make sense of condiments, can’t open bottles, can’t squirt mustard anywhere. She can’t navigate the plastic wrap around the cheese. Please, plastic wrap, she thinks, I implore you, please give me the cheese. She never gets any cheese. But these goats have had hooves all their lives and are adept at sandwich making. It’s cruel of them to leave her alone this way. They share with each other but never with Crim.
That’s my sandwich, Crim says. Two goats split it slanty-ways and clutch it between their hooves. They haven’t even washed their hooves and there’s dirt all over the bread, but they look like they’re enjoying the sandwich.
The goats have been stealing her food. They take sandwiches and it’s hard for her to make a new sandwich. Crim is not yet accustomed to her hooves.
Crim wants them to like her. She knows this is a childish desire, maybe it’s silly. Maybe she doesn’t have to fit in. She has never been one to fit in, but still, she likes these goats and wishes the feeling were mutual.
She spends a few days composing her thoughts and then she drags downed trees onto the flat part of the field where the goats sleep most nights. She piles the trees so they’re parallel to one another and then piles another row on top, perpendicular to the first row. Crim repeats this process until the tree stack is above her head, all criss-crossed and rectangular. It takes all night. She leans one of the larger trees against the tree pile as a ramp and crawls up it to stand on top of the stage she’s created.
She’s a few feet up and can’t see much further than she could from the ground. The goats aren’t anywhere in sight. She tries to wait, but it’s so warm and she’s so tired from her sandwich-making attempt. A few blinks, a nod, a couple upward jerks of the head and she’s asleep. The next morning she crawls down, eats breakfast, does her goat-business and crawls back up. Late afternoon the goats amble toward her. They don’t look at her. They stand around like they always do, not talking, but looking at one another and then the ground.
Hello goats, Crim begins. We have perhaps gotten off on the wrong hoof. I think we can be friends.
None of the goats look at her, but she continues, gives a thirty-minute speech. It’s impassioned, beautiful, lyric, even. There are appropriate hoof-gestures, facial expressions, a clear raising of the eyebrows, a pursing of the lips. Many things play a role in the delivery and effect of her speech. But in spite of her well thought out and well delivered speech, the goats are unimpressed. A few of them look at her, but with glossy disinterested eyes. A glance and then a look away. She wonders if it’s her elevated position. Maybe a simple podium would have been better. She didn’t consider how goats might perceive her elevating herself so far overhead in order to address them. Crim only wanted them to properly see and hear her, but now it seems she’s offended them. It’s too late for podiums now. A more meaningful and immediate gesture is needed.
Crim walks six miles to the nearest house. It takes hours and when she gets there she’s exhausted again, so she naps in some bushes on the side of the house. She wakes the next morning when the burning sensation beneath her fur becomes too much to bear. She shakes herself off, hoofs at her itchy fur and knocks on the front door. An aproned woman answers.
Hello, Crim says.
Yes? the woman says.
I am planning to host a dinner party, Crim says. About six miles from here. I was wondering if I could borrow a few cups of flour?
Flour? the woman asks.
Yes, Crim says. And some yeast, olive oil, salt, sugar, tomato paste, garlic, oregano, basil, rosemary, and some shredded mozzarella?
Shredded mozzarella? the woman asks.
Well, yes, Crim says. It would be hard to shred the mozzarella with hooves. Many things are difficult for me.
The woman looks behind her.
Are the things back there? Crim asks. I can’t pay, but if you can give me these things you are invited to a formal dinner party with about 200 goats. You’ll be the only human there, but you can bring a guest.
The woman doesn’t answer.
If you want, you can bring a couple guests. How many pieces of pizza do you think you can eat?
The woman still doesn’t answer and Crim sighs. The only house for miles and miles and it’s inhabited by this simple woman who seems unable to communicate.
Have a good day, Crim says and trudges away. The six-mile walk back to the goats is lonely. She tries to make a game of the walk and sings songs to herself.
Who’s a good goat?
I’m a good goat.
Who’s a good goat?
I’m a good goat.
Crim knows the lyrics might be simple, but the impact of many a fine song is achieved by melody or musical accompaniment or sometimes an interpretive music video. She imagines herself and all the goats making this music video. Choreographed dancing and lights. Maybe a green screen and some special effects. If they would just give her a chance. She’s likable. Considerate. Willing to go the extra mile. Or the extra six miles, sometimes.
When she returns, she finds the goats have migrated again, no longer in the field with the stage she built. And the left side of her stage is sagging. It looks like some of the lower trees have been pulled out, so the stage is at a tilt, wavering and probably going to completely cave in soon. Crim leaves the stage, if she can still call it that, and walks across the field. It’s a long slow walk. Her hooves drag the dirt. Dust clouds up and stings her eyes. She wipes at them ineffectively with her hooves and rubs the fur of her arm across her face to clean the dust away. She plods up and down a few of the more popular hills, but the hills are bare, picked clean and then abandoned by the goats.
Then. At the top of a less frequented hill she sees them out across another low-lying field. The trees taken from her stage and some other trees and some plywood are lined up on the ground. Several pairs of goats are standing on the trees, their own sort of makeshift stage, and they’re walking in circles while facing one another. They lower their shoulders and heads and then stand upright again and circle in the opposite direction. Other goats stand on the side of the stage and stamp their hooves. One group stamps and then another group stamps, creating a sort of rhythm. The pairs on stage swish their tails and continue to walk sideways in circles.
She imagines herself and all the goats making this music video. Choreographed dancing and lights. Maybe a green screen and some special effects.
One goat scampers up and stands on the middle of the stage, braying, lifting its hooves and gesturing. The other goats all stop their circling and stomping and watch. A few of the goats fall to the ground and roll back and forth, wheezing and braying. The goat on stage makes a motion as if to curtsy and bumbles off the stage, falling a few times as it crosses the stage, finally falling of the stage entirely where it rolls back and forth in the grass.
When the goats finally see Crim, they stop. The groups of stamping and braying goats disperse. Some of the goats begin grazing. Some stare off across the field. None of the goats look at her and they don’t look at each other. They’re just goats. Crim guesses they’re just goats and it doesn’t matter.
Brandi Wells is the managing editor of The Black Warrior Review and web editor at Hobart. She is the author of Please Don’t Be Upset (Tiny Hardcore Press) and Poisonhorse (Nephew, an imprint of Mudluscious Press). Her fiction can be found in Salamander, Mid-American Review, 14 Hills, and many other journals.
Illustrations by Meghan Irwin.