[ToC]

 

GOAT

Shane Jones

 

 

When we were little my brother earned the nickname the Mad Mouse and when he grew older he became Wildcat. He was always moving. He was always talking. He had a mind like no other, and if my mother's eyes were always wet, my brother's eyes were always on fire. On his birthday the kids from rainbow farm dared him to fly. They didn't expect him to accept the challenge. Mom was wrapping presents in the bedroom when she felt, through her feet, his head hit the floor. My brother smiled the entire way because he really thought he could make it. The longer I was at home the more I wanted to know he was safe. The idea that he had turned to the deep woods as a place to live, to preach his theories on sky law, made me shake with anxiety. Now I had a chance to help him, not the other way around. My earliest memories with my brother are the tree fort excursions, but the most memorable and touching, this coming back to me as I walked the woods of my childhood in the first quiet details of morning with my father pointing and naming each tree—birch, cedar, maple, pine, dogwood, willow—was the rope swing my father had always promised would one day harm us. At dinner he would go into great detail, showing us on illustrations of the human body he had drawn on construction paper, what bones would break if we fell from the rope swing. He pointed to our ankles, shins, and kneecaps, and taking a pen from his chest pocket scribbled blue circles on the bone until the circles became an opening void, memorable and terrifying in their wild size of our guaranteed future pain. Mom never said a word when he did this, but afterward, in the bath, wetting our heads with our choice of heaven cloth (I always picked square) she would tell me and my brother bathing next to me (he always picked triangle, also her favorite) we could play on the rope swing as much as we wanted, that it wouldn't last forever, physically, or mentally. The rope swing was easily three hundred feet high. Which is impossible and true. The tree was decorated with a ladder, each step a different color, built as the mystery climber had climbed. You had to ride out the rope swing, it was too far down to let go at the other side, so your body would swing over the green valley of the woods and come back to the hill you had just ran up, rope swing in hand. Once, on another dare, my brother took a shit, mid-air, and we applauded. On the way back I always crashed, so my brother would wait, would somehow know exactly where I would come flying back to on the hill and he would absorb my body, this great collision, and he would hold me as we slipped, and grin, and say I did a good job swinging. I was a good swinger. After walking for miles, my father following the words of what rainbow farm and completely unreliable forest recluses had told him on my brother's whereabouts, the woods broke into a circular clearing. The entire forest floor was swept clean of brush and green. The dirt was hard-packed by footprints with a pathway designated by white rocks connecting a garbage pit, three tents, chopped firewood, tree branches built to hang clothes off, and a central living place—a white yurt. I had never seen a yurt before. I was next to my brother but I couldn't see him. My father appeared emotionless but his eyes were wet, and I wasn't sure he could handle the situation, but I told myself he was, not because he truly was, but to prepare myself in order to move forward and into the yurt, the rescue of my brother. I made sure not to step on a leaf or stick as we approached, my eyes darting from my feet and to the yurt, back-and-forth, my breathing intense. My father crouched, bouncing a little, as he moved toward the yurt. I did an odd side-step, sliding my feet together, to which my father looked at and appeared puzzled. Then I began to crouch too, stepping on the dirt in hyper-aware movements. We looked a little nuts. On the door hung gold necklaces. There were instructions written on the yurt in what appeared to be charcoal to place ones hand into the necklaces and to shake until someone answered. My father nodded aggressively at me, a near head-butting motion. My heart was pounding so hard in my chest I couldn't talk, I thought my bone was going to snap, so I nodded back with the my father's level of aggression and felt a little better. Then I placed my hand into the center of the necklaces and noticed my fingers were trembling. Before returning home and searching for my brother I had moments, while sitting in an office cubicle, where I didn't necessarily miss my brother, but missed my brother as a child, and myself as a child. I would work myself up inside this nostalgia until I trembled. I'd compose myself by looking out the bathroom windows because in my cubicle I had no windows, just carpeted walls the cleaning woman washed with a stiff mop, a task she called "the big momma dry rub special," which oddly, worked very well. Seeing the roofs of tall buildings from an even taller building in a seemingly never ending pattern of black, gray, and white, made me feel better. Because I was so nervous I circled my hand in a timid way that didn't move the necklaces at all, my father sighed, and then, I moved my hand in a violent, but comical way, nearly sending the necklaces from their hook. The chiming sent birds from branches, squirrels up trees, and a young woman appeared from an opening in the yurt. Her face was soft and lovely, heart shaped, like mom's, or maybe I wanted to see her face in her face, I'm not sure, regardless, her appearance, even with pants sequined in flowers on the thighs, calmed us. The woman stepped back into the yurt and told us to come inside, she was making tea. Quite the arm you have there, she said from inside the yurt. I was surprised how modern the yurt was. There was a leather couch and glass table, and wooden cabinets in a full kitchen, and hanging lamps, and a radio placed on a table as a kind of entertainment area circled in blankets, and even some pets: five or so kittens sat next to little ceramic dishes at the far back wall of the yurt. Everywhere I looked candles burned on tables only wide enough for the candle itself. We're looking for someone, I said. The woman crushed leaves with a spoon and then dropped the dust into a glass beaker. She said her name was Pyramid Flower, but to call her Goat, her recent studies required her to be named a different animal each season and this was the season of the goat. Goat, I replied. Nice to meet you. I am his father, said my father. I looked at my feet, wishing I could handle the situation alone, but he continued: I need to know where he is. He isn't right. Time is running out. We know he's here. Dramatic personality, said Goat. Capricorn? He needs help, said my father. Can you help us? I asked while smiling. I was pleading with her, through my eye contact with her, for her to understand the situation, my father. Goat said my brother had left yesterday. He told her the reason for going even deeper into the woods, into areas with no name, was because my father knew where he was, my brother had seen Charlie from rainbow farm spying on him even though Charlie thought he was hidden, and my brother's devotion to sky law would be ruined by father's arrival and disapproval. He had told Goat he didn't want to go back to the farm ever again, and in hearing the news I selfishly wondered if my brother ever talked about me, us in the tree forts, playing in the hiding cabinets, swimming in the lake, the rope swing, anything to give me a further pull to find him, and eventually, reconnect the family. Goat brought the glass beaker to the center of the yurt and told us to shut up. Just kidding, she said. You can keep talking because I like words. Then she excused herself to feed the kittens. My father stared into the bubbling liquid, tilting his head from side to side, while I listened to the clinking of dry cat food hitting the ceramic bowls and looked around the yurt, impressed by the design of my brother's doing, most likely, influenced by our father. I could tell my father was attracted to Goat because she looked exactly like mom from decades ago, from the pictures father had hung in the bedroom, every inch of wall consumed by a picture, moving around the room by year from birth to the final picture, taken hours before she locked herself in the bathroom with the vase of flowers. That picture, I needed to see it and study it for signs of trouble, but remembering it in the yurt, I remembered it was a boring picture with mom outside digging holes where she had recently found shards of buried glass, my father saying it was from the 1930's, most of it would stay buried, but she was worried the glass would cut our feet. He said it wouldn't cut our feet so she stopped. I clearly remember, the day after, cutting my feet. Had she seen her reflection in the glass she had dug up, and had the image been so brutal, her age departed, that it sparked the idea of leaving, or was the ritual planned for weeks, months, maybe years, maybe even a childhood destiny to leave at that age, that future moment. Which means mom wasn't technically gone after she did what she did, but gone weeks, months, maybe years before, living a kind of half-life. But maybe, knowing she was going to do what she finally did, it allowed her to possess a sort of heightened life of compacted years, a sort of wild and blissful happiness running in the trees, knowing that falling wouldn't matter, knowing that moments held meaning until the date she had selected in her mind, some time, previously. Goat told us to stick our tongues out and tilt our heads back which we didn't do. My father said she had to answer four questions before we consumed the tea. Goat said it was a deal. Good, said my father.

The Four Questions:

1) How was my brother's health?

2) What direction did he walk?

3) Where did Goat come from?

4) How did Goat meet my brother?

Goat drank from the beaker and then sat back and into the blankets with her legs folded to the right, her body also leaning right, close to falling over, but somehow she stayed upright. She said she was a Russian art student, recently on leave to explore the architecture of American trees, explore sky landscapes—she mentioned her interest in sky law—and overall, to lose herself in a new environment before departing back to St. Petersburg where she would collect her illustrations and findings into her thesis. She had dreams of teaching art history, and also, dreams of practicing sky law, what my brother did, once back home. There, she said. One question down. We nodded. Before the next question I caught my father starring at her breasts and felt embarrassed, not because he was a sexual predator, but because I had never thought of him ever before as a sexual being capable of the act. Sitting so close to my father that our knees touched for the first time since the cow in the lake incident, and before that, since childhood, when the only way I could fall asleep was to have him lay next to me in bed, not talking, until I fell asleep, many times him falling asleep too and waking hours later, waking me, admiring his dark figure leaving my bedroom, I wondered, if my brother would even recognize me, and the only images of him I could recall was when we were children, before mom did what she did, which yes, was the point of our separate adulthoods. Goat said she had met my brother in a landfill, picking garbage, which my father said he didn't believe because it was impossible, and he laughed, but neither me nor Goat laughed. She said he was collecting materials for the yurt and she was collecting materials for an art project that was now outside the yurt at the bottom of the garbage pit. She was impressed with my brother's knowledge of sky law and how he could name every tree. There, she said, another question down. Again, we both nodded. This time, she laughed. My brother was in good health, had grown a beard, was thin, had chipped a tooth jumping from one tree to another, but spent at least an hour per day doing pull-ups on tree branches and practiced climbing the most difficult trees. She said he had brought with him a handgun, two knives, and several notebooks where he wrote his theories on sky law. She grabbed the glass beaker. He didn't bring any food? asked my father. No, said Goat. It was apparent, from her facial expression, it was the first time she had realized that he didn't bring any food. He didn't, she said. People can't live without food, I said. I expected the tea to burn, but it was cool and thick, difficult to swallow, and an invisible wetness covered my legs. I thought I had pissed myself, and with both hands patted my crotch several times trying to feel the piss. I couldn't find any piss. A warmth covered me from feet to chest. I felt happy and alive. A yellow radiance spiraled outward in my vision. Then the perspective of the room shifted and I saw myself, from the ceiling, at the door of the yurt as the childhood version of myself. I waved at myself. I don't know how long my father and I were out of our minds, but we accepted more of the tea from Goat, she answered more questions, and we spent what felt like hours, maybe days, which was impossible, but felt true, moving our perspectives around the yurt and outside the yurt, several times myself becoming my father and able to feel his confusion toward me, who he had known as a baby and now saw aging toward his age of sixty five. How strange to lose your hair, but then have your son lose his hair and be old enough, have him be old enough, to witness it. When I returned to my thoughts I felt depressed because I was returning to my reality, something flat and strange without my mother or my brother. I would never have my mother back, and in this thought, realized finding my brother and re-connecting him to the family, to me, our childhood, was more important than anything else. Goat told us my brother had left behind a book he was writing, possibly it held answers, and she said we could have it if we had more tea, and before I could answer my father had tilted his head back.


 

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This is the third section (the other two sections can be found in past issues of DIAGRAM) of an ongoing piece.