‘It’s time, Jesse,’ he says, and I know just what he means.
Wellingtons. Blue bucket red bucket bottles. The metal contraption that holds four bottles at once because lord knows we can’t very well ask the goats to form an orderly line. The Lassie dogs look up with hope, see the equipment, and bow their heads. We climb the hill. The herd charges the gates.
The oldest one’s tats hang heavy, one shorter than the other, the nub done in by a case of gangrene that nearly killed her last year. The five kids, all white as clouds, nuzzle together by the latch. They learn quickly, these. The one spotted like a brown cow watches us with one eye. The farmer swears- no, he thinks- that the brown one can watch the hill with the one eye and us with the other.
‘They get mad when we’re late,’ he grumbles at me.
Over coffee at the restaurant in the hippy town on the way to the farm I told him that I like goats. ‘They’re ornery, have a real mind of their own, and I like that,’ I said.
‘We’ll get along just fine then,’ he returned, earnestly.
We do the high knee dance through the gates to keep the girls from barging through to the two boys next door. 'What will happen if we let them through?'
'They'll fuck, and it's not time for that.' It's not season and plus, they haven't consumed enough of the apple cider vinegar the farmer has been mixing into their feed to produce more (profitable) female offspring. Apparently, the Y sperm hate acid, they shudder from the taste of it.
But now: it's time. The farmer drags the old one into the barn by the ears. They hate having their ears pulled. The young ones don’t like it when you mess with the pubescent pile of bones spilling out between their eyes.
‘What’s a rookie mistake?’ I ask as the farmer settles down for the evening milking.
The goat’s neck is strapped with a leather dog collar to the post. The farmer squeezes and I’m shocked by the force with which the milk shoots out. Tsssssss! It is foamy and warm. Thick grey cobwebs that look as strong as uneven bars hang between the rafters. I dip the plastic cup I snuck out from the kitchen into the blue bucket. It tastes good. Goat milk is the healthiest for babies, country doctors say. Both to get babies to grow and to get them to sleep. Milk just like this: unpasteurized, unfiltered, not from an animal to a tank to a truck to a refrigerator to a back seat to a smaller refrigerator to a bottle.
Like this: Tsssssssss! From pink flesh to pink lips.
Parker and I feed the kids first. They bully and fight. We keep the bottles waist high to emulate their mothers’ tats. I swear that Number 26 looks at me with genuine longing as I feed him.
Later. It’s so dark I can’t see the road and for reasons uncrystallized, ungraspable at the moment I want to cry.
I am running and something of the darkness overtakes me. Thoughts spill out ungoverned. Most pass. One sticks: eternal sunshine of my spotty mind.
My lungs beat their desperate cadence against my ribs. Still here, motherfucker. We’re not going to let you die, motherfucker.
I still dream about my dad every night and I want to cry.
I had to leave my boys in Cape Town before I was ready. Days after my best friend told me he was Positive and I promised I would be there for him but my sister, when I told her I was going to miss the funeral she wouldn’t stop crying, she could barely get the words out:
‘Dad needs you,’ she said. Even though dad was dead she said it again in the thin space between heaves.
‘Dad needs you.’
We don’t talk anymore, my sister and I, and I don’t know why.
I speak more to my dad, in my dreams, than I did the six months before he died. In my dreams I hold him every chance I get. I hold his hands, I rest my head on his shoulder. I tell him I’m sorry so many times and I grip him so hard that I wake myself up.
I’m on a ship on the lake that spills from the North Sea. I’m on a train past the sheep fields with my mouth wide open. I’m in Amsterdam on the floor of a hotel, tucked between the bed and the wall, stoned and shaking. I am nowhere. I am in bed with a Hungarian whose boyfriend is in Barcelona. I fall asleep next to a Swede and she snores against my neck and she must be lonely, she’s holding me so.
I am nowhere and he is everywhere.
I like the second one better and I believe the second one.
‘Where should I run?’ I asked the farmer.
‘Run the lights,’ he said.
So I do. Down the dark dirt road. Past the grocery store that has no blueberries and the bar next door and the bridge that is the end of the farmer’s world. I run until there are no more lights and it is no longer safe.
Finally- and if I said this before I was lying- but I am finally falling. The buried me is rising from eggshells and compost and fresh dirt and is meeting the me to whom the gift of gravity has been returned. The zombie me, the version you’ve known of me since February (or long before? since we met? since the beginning?) cannot fight both fronts. I am forced to love myself and I do.
While the farmer was still milking I dropped to my knees on the flakes of red sandstone. One-two-threefourfive the kids formed a semi-circle around me. I lifted my hood and I butted their heads. I could feel their back legs straining as they pressed. None of us moved- the balance of opposing forces- and I knew that, some day, I would be a goat man too.