The Goat Child

I. Signs

A man and a woman had daughters that everyone called the Solstice Twins because one was hot and one was cold, one was angry, the other aloof.

They all lived in a two story house with loose windows, peeling paint, and a leaky roof. 

The man and the woman didn’t want more children, but one thing led to another and soon a baby was born. It was a boy, creative and forlorn. He was born just as a comet crossed the night sky. Births are miraculous with no need of signs or symbols, but stories are another thing altogether. 

  1. II.The Child

“I have your baby,” the nurse said.

“Well, let’s have a look,” the woman said. She was so shocked, she dropped the baby on the bed. It rolled off and skittered underneath.

“Well, that was different,” the nurse said. She left and immediately tendered her resignation.

The man was a goat man, selfish, cunning, and lascivious. He wasn’t made for parenthood. Nevertheless, he came to the hospital that day with visions of father-and-son things dancing in his head. “Where’s my boy?”

“It’s not human,” the woman said.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean it’s a goat,” she said. She thought, Of course, what did I expect. I married a goat man. 

The man looked under the bed. “Or maybe an antelope,” he said.

III. Suspended Animation

The baby was shaped like a human baby with arms and legs in the right place, but he had hooves instead of hands and feet. His body was furry. His horns grew very fast, long and straight, like an antelope’s.

“I told you it was an antelope,” the man said.

“I said it’s a goat.”  

The man was in no mood to argue. He was tired. When he was tired, he dreamed of a boat, the freedom of the sea.

In fact, the woman dreamed, too, of escape. Hers was to a mansion on a California beach.

And the twins. Let’s not leave them out. They dreamed of joining the carnival, and one day they would do just that.

The man and the woman took the Goat Child home. Sensing their shame, the Goat Child crawled under their bed and stayed there.

“That’s convenient,” the woman said.

During the day, the man and the woman forgot about him. At night, they saw him in their dreams, caught in a giant mousetrap or grazing in the front yard.

IV. It’s Alive

Under the bed, the Goat Child heard everything. His body and his intellect grew, as well as his empathy. After six years, he crawled out into the light, stood, and began getting ready for school. However, now he was a skeleton because no one had thought to feed him.

The woman sighed. She thought this goat child business might be behind her. The man was disappointed, too. He thought, Why doesn’t it just die?

The Solstice Twins said, “It’s not going to school with us.”

V. The Yard

Queen Anne’s lace speckled the yard. Its stems disappeared so that the blossoms looked like they hovered above the ground. The brown grass had sent up seed heads. The yard was filling with birds. They kept coming and coming. They landed in the trees. Parts of the sky were dark with them. Some birds waited on electric lines across the street. Then they, too, started flying over. The birds were noisy. Their cries mixed with other sounds, a train passing by, the garbage man on his rounds. It all was like grease boiling. It all spoke of radical transformation.

VI. An Awful Clatter

“It looks hungry,” the man said.

“I’m not cooking it anything,” the woman said. “Look, it doesn’t even have a stomach.” Once she was exciting and magnetic. Now she was restless and resentful.

The Goat Child tried to talk. He wanted to say something kind. But all that came out was an awful clatter. He tried harder. It got worse.

They all threw their hands over their ears. Even the Goat Child was appalled. He raised his hooves to the place where his ears used to be.

“I can’t stand it!” the woman screamed. She hit The Goat Child over the head with a broom handle, breaking off one of his horns.

“You ruined it. An antelope’s little good with a missing horn,” the man said.

The woman threatened the man with a Vaseline jar if he said “antelope” one more time. “I’ll put a knot on your goat head bigger than the state of Vermont,” she said. She was beautiful and that was why he married her, but life with her had become thorny. Also the man next door was an antelope man. What was his wife trying to pull? He wasn’t blind.

The woman looked at the peeling walls and thought, Somebody lived here once.

VII. The Goat Box

On his way to school, The Goat Child found an old wooden box in the curbside trash. He opened the box and decided it was endless. He put his broken horn inside the box. He scratched “The Goat Box” onto the lid with his hoof. This is where he would keep his treasures. 

VIII. School

“You’re not human.”

Even if the Goat Child could make sound other than a clatter, what would he say to this thoughtful little boy? Maybe that people around the world wish for something. They are hoping. They are hoping.

Once, every person had a song. The world was filled with music. Songs of innocence and experience, the Song of Songs, chart buster karaoke. But what was his song?

The school desks were arranged in squares, four desks pushed together. Each square was called a pod. In the Goat Child’s pod were the boy with the probing mind, a girl with cherry-red cheeks, and one empty desk.

The teacher said to the Goat Child, “What is your name?”

The Goat Child held up his goat box.

“I see,” the teacher said. She was kind. Her inner character was radiant. She was ruled by Venus, the planet of love. She believed in justice and ran a harmonious environment. “You’re a goat,” she said

“A goat is not a person,” the boy with the probing mind said.

The girl with the cherry-red cheeks flushed a brighter red.

“This classroom will foster tolerance and acceptance,” the teacher said. She was wise. She kept the world in balance. “Goats have a keen sense of smell,” she stated, “Therefore you will be our bathroom monitor, making sure things are tidy.” As she said this, she thought to herself, He looks like an antelope.

So the Goat Child made hourly visits to the bathroom to sniff the tiles, to make sure little boys were exact in their aim. It added a little excitement to his day.

IX. The Red Sun

The girl with the cherry-red cheeks drew a red sun. The teacher liked it so much she showed it to the whole class. She said, “Look, class, a red sun.”

The Goat Child ached. Not really in his missing heart but where his bowels used to be. He cradled this place with his bony arms and thought, The song of the red sun.

Maybe this was his song. He had never seen a red sun. The sun on this day was yellow. Under the bed, the world was dusty and blue. It was always the night world underneath the bed, the world of sleep, of dreams. We live in a world of many colors, he realized now.

He picked up a red crayon, held it with his hoof. He tried to draw a red sun, but it was difficult. His looked nothing like he had intended. It wasn’t true. He didn’t feel it in his missing bowels. Instead, his body was heavy and felt a little sick. This was not his song. Yet he thought his effort worthy. He folded the drawing and put it into the box with his broken horn.

X. Stability

When the epileptic boy tried to kiss the girls, his face a big moonface, the teacher made him stop. When he fell backwards in his chair, causing a small chaos, the teacher put something into his mouth to keep him from hurting himself. When another boy drew swastikas, the teacher said, “We don’t do that.”

The letters of the alphabet hung above the chalkboard in their proper order. The floor was clean. The teacher was stable, a piece of earth. She had tree trunks for legs. Her dress was made of good things to eat, apples, and beans, and mushrooms, and grapes, and more. Her job was to nurture and to feed and that’s what she did.

Inside desks, crayons waited, all lined up in their yellow-and-green boxes and smelling of wax.

XI. Recess

Recess was a change of pace. The whole class played a game together, holding hands in a circle, singing, “A tisket, a tasket.” One traveler was chosen to skip around the circle, to drop a piece of folded paper behind the person who would become the next traveler. The teacher chose the Goat Child to be the first traveler because none of the children would hold his hoof.

The children chanted and the children sang. The Goat Child skipped around the circle. Around and around. Birds arrived just as before and lit in the trees, this time making thin sounds, high and lonely.

He understood the game, but he couldn’t bring himself to drop the paper. He loved the song too much: “I wrote a letter to my love and on the way I dropped it…” This song was his song. He passed the girl with the cherry-red cheeks again and again. It would be her. He knew it would be her, but he wanted to keep hearing his song.

The whole world was waiting: “I dropped it, I dropped it, I dropped it, I dropped it…,” the children sang.

The song went on, like rattling train cars, into infinity.

“Drop it already,” someone shouted. Someone else said the same thing. And then the melody was broken. The song fell apart. The Goat Child’s life passed before his missing eyes like a spectacle of stars. His missing bowels turned cold, like ice. His teeth chattered. He fell into a heap of bones.

XII. The Poem

Walking home, the Goat Child found a typewriter. A sheet of yellowed paper was rolled into the carriage. Using the tip of his hoof, he struck the keys:

The quick brown fox jumps ober the lazzy dog.

The auick brown foxx humps ober the laxy dog.

The quick brown fox junps over the lazy dog.

Having practiced, the Goat Child wrote his poem of desolation:

Just say this, the world is large.

The world is large and full of ice.

Just say, I was hoping, I was hoping.

Just say this, the world is kind.

He folded the poem and the typewriter. He put them into his box with the drawing of the red sun and his broken horn.

XIII. The Teacher’s Note

Dear Parents,

The Goat Child is intelligent, creative, and conscientious. I know you are proud and want the best for your child.

He needs to work on social skills. Let’s work together to improve his life in this area. To that end, please meet with me at your earliest convenience. I am at your service.

He is such a good boy. I look forward to hearing from you.


XIV. Night Deepens

“I’m not going to any school conference,” the woman said.

“I’m not going to any school conference, either,” the man said.

“How dare she—”

“You said it.”

The woman turned to the Goat Child. “You’re not going back to that school—ever. That’s all there is to it.” 

“Good,” the Solstice Twins chimed. “It can go back to living under the bed again.”

“Well, it’s not going to lie around all day, doing nothing, that’s for sure,” the woman said.

The Goat Child rattled a response.

“You bet you’ll get a job,” the woman said.

The Goat Child put the teacher’s note into his box. He made sounds, a series of gentle clicks and clacks. These were all his treasures, gathered in the space of a single day. He would carry them everywhere and add new things. He would do this for the rest of his life.

The family was sitting outside, around a fire ring. The night was clear. Stars. The man was drunk on Lord Calvert. He said, “You’re getting a paper route.”

The Goat Child clattered.

“So what,” the woman said. “Everybody’s afraid of something.”

“Now you’re a man,” the man said. “Have a drink, son. It will make life more bearable.”

The Goat Child took the glass. He had no tongue, esophagus, or stomach, so the drink splashed against his pelvis, ran through the slats of his chair.

“See,” the woman said, “a wasteful child.”

A moth came and explored the rim of the Goat Child’s glass. It fluttered along the inside wall. The Goat Child clattered to himself. It was once believed that the soul might be transferred into an animal’s body. A shaman, a wizard, or even a god might hide in such a creature as a moth and steal about us, softly and furtively.

Night deepened. The moth left the glass and flew into the fire. A tear ran down the Goat Child’s bony face.

XV. A New Day

Morning broke. Only the man was awake. He had a terrible hangover, not just from whiskey but also from life.

He had spent the night outside, slumped in his chair. He closed his eyes to shut out the rising sun.

We fail at everything, he thought. It starts in autumn. It may start in summer, too, or spring. Winters are also good for the beginner.

We fail at everything. Games, art, love. Behind his eyelids he saw the horizon, a boat sailing over it and disappearing.


Alison Scarpulla

Theresa Williams teaches creative writing at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Her novel, The Secret of Hurricanes was a finalist for the Paterson Fiction Prize. Her poems, stories, and comics have appeared in The Chattahoochee Review, Gargoyle, Hunger Mountain,The Magnolia Review, The Sun, and many more. She is currently working on a Sketchbook Novel, The Diary of Lea Knight.

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