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Cabe's Goat

by Adrian Bond

Early light, he's tight-lipped, determined. I know him only as Fletcher, Cabe's friend, Fletcher. It's his car and he's driving and Cabe's up front with him and I'm back there with the sandwiches Cabe brought.

I don't know much about it except we're going to see Fletcher's girl. Cabe asked me to come because Fletcher knocked her around before and this looked like it would be his last chance with her.

We're humming down the highway when we see the goat. It's a fresh kill, still has moveable parts. The neck at least, which Cabe turns slowly, side to side.

"Get the camera," he says.

Fletcher wants us to leave now that Cabe's had a good look. But Cabe has indignities to offer. I bring Cabe's camera, from the bag with the sandwiches.

"How's this?" Cabe is squatting behind the goat, making horns out of his fingers. I snap it up. He takes hold of the goat around its middle, tries to heave it onto the legs, which are sticking straight out. It can't support itself and he pinches with his knees when he rides it: "Yee-haw!"

I snap it up.

"Come on Fletch."

Fletch with the goat. Fletch and Cabe with the goat. Cabe holds up his fingers behind Fletcher's head. Fletcher can't see it but I can and I smile. I snap it all up.

"Oh Christ," says Cabe, giddy. "We've just got to get him in the car."

I help Cabe fit the goat into the driver's seat. The front legs stick straight out on either side of the wheel. Cabe tries to turn the head but now it's stuck.

"Camera shy," he says. To get a face-shot we have to take the picture from the window of the passenger's side. The goat is looking over its right shoulder at us, eyes open, light blue. As a finishing touch Fletcher puts his sun glasses on it. "Now can we go?"

We're humming again. I'm up front with Fletcher who isn't talking and Cabe's in the back with the goat. He'd had so much fun he couldn't leave it behind.

It's belly is swollen like a piñata, about to spill out an unending string of blue sausages. Cabe rubs the stomach. "Fat bugger, eh?"

After a while Cabe says we'd better hurry. He asks Fletcher, "how much further?"

"Few miles," says Fletcher, tight-lipped again.

Beside me fields slide back like bedsheets. The sky's getting lighter, the color of cataracts.

"We'd better hurry," says Cabe. In the back the goat's belly is swelling.

"Keep rubbing it," I tell him.

We're riding a crack across the plain. The sun finally rises to the surface of the cloud-cover. I'm still holding the camera.

After leaving Fletcher we drove back into town. He'd leapt out, thrown Cabe the keys, and told us to get lost. We left him sitting on the porch of the house his girl shared with some friends.

I asked Cabe, "You brought the camera because of the girl, didn't you? If he beat her."

"No," he said. "Just the scenery."

We parked and walked through the town. It was past eleven and no one was on the street. "She's been seeing someone else, and this time she means it," Cabe said. "He's here to clarify the situation."

"So why bring you?" which was my way of asking, Why bring me?

"Moral support."

Cabe needed things for the goat but the first store that looked right wasn't. Inside was more like a scrap yard.

"What are you looking for?" asked a man with a large mouth.

"You don't have it," Cabe said.

"If you're looking for a job, I have it."

"Doing what?" I said.

"Selling water purification systems. It's a booming trade. You're on the road. Anywhere. It's up to you."

Gentlemen like us could make 600, who knows, maybe 800 a week. Cabe took his card and said he'd think it over.

Outside he threw away the card. He told me forget it, it's not something you want to get into. "Don't you hate it when someone smiles and they're all teeth?" he said.

Up the road was a probable hardware store, and a tavern beside it. They both had men's names. The noon sun was peeling the signs as we watched.

When we got back to the car the goat hadn't moved. The stomach had stabilized, but flies were gathering.

"We've got to move quickly on this," Cabe said.

"We've got to cover it up."

"He needs our help."

I drove the car up to the hardware store, then around the corner. Cabe held the goat up in the back seat as I parked in a parking lot veined with grass. I sat in the car while Cabe went inside. After a few minutes I decided the goat didn't need my company. I left my door unlocked so Cabe could get at him and I headed for the tavern. Cabe could find me in there.

That's where everyone was.

"We're always here," she said. I asked her if she'd like to dance.

"You don't live around here."

"No," I said. Her hair smelled like soap, and her neck as well.

Men with dark faces were playing pool through a pyramid of smoke. I turned to look when the balls knocked together.

"Who are you looking for?" she said.

Cabe had been gone an hour. Fletcher for two.

"You," I said.

I picked another song but I was out of quarters. Some of my money turned to car keys in my hand. The walls, plastic made to look like wood, spun slowly round us.

"I've got to go," she said, still dancing. "I've just got to go. I hate this place." Her hair smelled like soap. I didn't think she was drunk. I kissed her neck.

"What's that supposed to mean?" she said, but gently.

When I couldn't think of a response we came apart. People at the bar were moving carefully, watching their reflections, waiting for a mistake.

"It's too early to be drinking," she said and she took a last sip of beer. "Come on. I'll show you around."

She led me out the back. No one cared I was with her, whoever I was. I got that movie feeling, like I was behind myself or to the side.

We pushed through the door and through the sunlight. The car was still in the lot. Cabe and the goat were gone. "I shouldn't drive," I said, but I wasn't feeling anything. When we got onto the road she ducked down.

"I skipped parole," she explained. "Does that bother you?"

I told her, No.

She sat up again when we were out of town. "I've got to show you something," she said. Her hair blew across her face and she brushed it back. Her eyes didn't quite see mine. She looked at my cheeks, my chin, at my mouth to see if it would move. "Show me," I said.

The grass was waist high; the car sucked it underneath. We slowed to a door hanging open on loose hinges. Tiles peeled back like itchy scabs and the panes of glass were gone from all the windows. "You're going to tell me you live here."

"I'll show you," she said.

We were breaking the porch steps like a spine with our careful footsteps.

"No one home."

It was cool inside, with the smells of old wood and mildew. A bird fluttered out the window when we pushed back the door - nothing left when we looked but the sound - and now the quiet was returning with a breeze.

"This is the living room," she said. Twigs and leaves covered the floor entirely. She kissed my mouth.

We took off our clothes and lay down and after a while we pulled our clothes out from under us so we could feel it all better. We made noises like rain when we moved and I saw both of us like I was above, or at the window, a face shining like glass.

When I left she was still feigning sleep, lying naked in the rubbish of trees. For a moment she looked like a body, poorly concealed, something children would find on a Sunday hike. I knew then with relief that I wouldn't know her name, or ask her to say mine.

I said nothing about it to Cabe when I found him. He'd been waiting for hours on a bench outside a post office.

"Where's the goat?"

"Wherever you were," he said. The hardware store had been a hardware store and he'd bought the chemicals he needed. It'd been a hurried but professional operation. The goat was recovering in the trunk.

"God almighty."

"He's okay," Cabe said, lugging it out. "He's okay." I helped him put the goat in the back seat and he climbed in after it. He fitted its stiff legs around his body to keep it from moving as we drove. The goat was absolutely rigid. It sat with its stomach against Cabe, but with its face looking out the front window.

"Sure, I'm proud of him," Cabe said. "Ask me." The eyes glistened in the rearview. You could believe it was alive again, but it looked wet.

"Enamelled him, top to bottom. He'll last and last."

When we turned the corner Cabe threw out the bag of sandwiches. Fletcher wasn't on the doorstep where we'd left him. We parked outside. The shades were pulled down.

"What do you think happened?" In there behind the blank windows.

"We should have come back," Cabe said. "You should have come back."

"He wouldn't have let us in."

"She would have wanted us in."

"You could have walked back," I said.

"You had the camera. It's in the trunk."

"Your goat had the camera. What did I know about it?"

What we didn't ask was why we had left him in the first place, and the shades stayed pulled and the door stayed silent and then Fletcher appeared from across the street.

"Let's go," he said and I slid over.

We drove out quickly. The air moved through the car, humid with light from the setting sun. It made us seem slow when we breathed it. I wanted to feel like we weren't moving. With orange blooming through the car, I wanted to tell Cabe that this had been the best day of my life.

When Cabe didn't ask Fletcher, I did:

"Did you see her?"

"No," he said, "She never came."

Cabe said, "Maybe you should try again. Maybe tomorrow." The rushing air made his voice weak.

No, Fletcher said. He said he watched the house from across the street. He said she could be hiding inside or she could be gone, either way she wouldn't show up with him right outside. "Fuck her," he said. "Just fuck her."

Then, after a while, "I told her last night. I told her I was coming so she knew. I think she just fucked off in the morning and didn't come back."

She didn't come back because she was with me.

I was standing at the back with the crutch I didn't need. I kept it for the tragedy's sake. It was something they'd given me at the hospital, like a piece they'd left out when they made me.

I'd missed Cabe's funeral, and I only knew one person at this one. The girl was sitting near the back.

I knew immediately when I saw her again, but it made no difference. How could I have known or cared. I owed Fletcher nothing. She was sitting at the back and she was alone because there'd never been another man. It was just the way Fletcher had treated her, and after all that she had still showed up. I found out her name and we could talk because we could both pretend no one had survived.

Some place else we were still living in an empty house saving up to buy windows and I could forget her name.

If you looked at those pictures you would never suspect I'd been there. I wasn't in any of them and I think that's what saved me.

I happened to walk by a church once when a wedding party came out. It was a small group, and a cheap wedding. They handed me an expensive camera, never asking who I was, and they smiled like corpses when I moved back across the street. To get in the whole church, I told them.

That's how the guilt worked its way in. Not because of Fletcher, forget him. But because of me and my anonymity. Cabe's wife, Ann, needed some explanations.

Why aren't you dead too? She didn't ask it.

I took a drink of tea. Her's was getting cold on the coffee table. Between her giant fingers Cabe was as cheery as a postcard and there beside him was a road-kill goat she would never touch.

"It's so sick." She was crying.

"Just a bit," I said, trying to make it simpler. "The goat really had nothing to do with it." Trying to convince her it was Fletcher's fault because when he first started he said "Boo hoo hoo," just like he was joking, and it never got serious until it was too late.

He was gripping the wheel. Deep convulsions shook his body and then the car. I'd look out and we would be some place else, in the middle of the road, in the on-coming lane, on the shoulder.

I looked back over the seat to see if Cabe had noticed. He and the goat were hugging each other, faces pressed close, looking out the front.

"Do something," I said to him.

"You do something, you're there."

It made sense but I'd already decided I couldn't. Fletcher was too tight, too big, wildly shaking the wheel. He went boo hoo hoo.

"Oh God, oh God," Cabe said against the goat's cheek. There was no comfort for them back there. "Oh God," he said again and his voice grew louder all the time. When it started sounding reverential I decided I couldn't take my eyes away for another image of Fletcher in real life, or of trees shooting past with the whoosh that cleared the car, or of the truck that was readying for us just up ahead. Cabe was studying it and I was trying to assess my own situation from the terror in his face. But as bad as he looked the goat looked worse. He knew this part already. It had happened to him that morning. And now it was going to happen all over again.

Originally published in the February/March 1995 issue of Boston Review

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