Fiction by B.C. Edwards
Every attempt to venture into the kitchen or deeper ended in a polite but firm herding back to the porch. The unlit living room and dark upstairs remained grey mysteries and whatever secrets were locked in the Landsome cellar, all the unearthed Spanish gold, the nuclear codes, the disembodied murdered vagrants, they all stayed hidden.
Vern still wasn’t having any of the iced tea. For the past ten years at Mrs. Landsome’s parties, the tea was brewed a light amber and spiked hard with fresh mint from the garden and then doused with ice. It was sharp and weak and not sweet enough.
Mrs. Landsome, who Vern still called ‘Mrs. Landsome’ even after all this time, liked her iced tea organic. Mrs. Landsome, whose boy, Eldrich, was in the sixth grade with Vern’s Timothy, and walked home together with Timothy, and spent summers at camp with, and had sleep-overs even at this age with, and every weekday afternoon played in the streets with Timothy; Mrs. Landsome liked her iced tea fresh. Vern enjoyed hers from a canister and stirred with a spoon.
The afternoon’s goats had just arrived and Mrs. Landsome was waiting for them at the arch that divided the front of her house from the rear. And absent anything else to do, Vern was waiting with her. It was hotter than the weatherman predicted and her dress was beginning to stick and ride around her thighs; Vern had bought it a size too tight with hope that the dress would inspire her diet. But the cotton-polyester-stretch-blend simply insisted itself on her, creased at her middle like she was a posable action figure. It was supposed to be cloudy and slightly chilled this afternoon, but instead the sun beat down on the humid lawn so Vern and the other ladies were being steamed like cauliflower. Only all of the other ladies were crisp white and armless dressed, flat and smooth and utterly unstained.
The trailer backed into the driveway. It was aluminum and wood, covered with heavy canvas and a small ramp that doubled as a gate. It beeped as it approached. And when it stopped beeping there was only the cacophony of a dozen mewing goats. Vern pulled on the lemonade and winced at the amount of vodka she’d added.
Mrs. Landsome’s garden parties were always dry affairs, taut uncomfortable gatherings, so Vern and the rest of the ladies all attended with neat little flasks tucked in their purses and pockets. But still, the dryness of the punch made everyone cranky and tight and Vern could never sit on the Landsome’s expertly furnished back yard for more than a few hours until she inevitably snapped and dragged Lacy out with her to the Courtland around the corner where they would round out their Sunday with a healthy series of sugary frozen daiquiris.
But this time Lacey was home. Lacey had been home for months now. People didn’t want to talk about Lacey much. It was depressing. Lacey was a nurse at the emergent-care clinic that shared a parking lot with Vern’s office, so Lacey knew precisely what was happening to her, exactly what to expect, and how little could be done.
The boy with the truck and the goats had trouble getting the gate down. He wore work boots and heavy dungarees stained deeply with grass and caked with mud and whatever else. His shirt was loose in the August heat, an old commemorative thing from their local minor league baseball team, something given out to fans on T-Shirt Day. ‘Mudcats,’ it said in the cursive font that every single sports team in history used. It was as if they’d had a casting call for farm-hands. He kept on with the latch. “Dang it,” he said and Vern smiled. Dang, she thought. Too perfect. Dang.
“Can we help at all,” Mrs. Landsome said, but made no move to step forward.
“No, ma’am, no,” he said over his shoulder. The gate fell and hit the soft grass of the lawn with a thud that stirred the goats into fervor. They huddled and vibrated and squealed. Like a pack of teenagers, Vern thought. They stank. Old hay and clovers and shit. Clumped together like this, they smelled of cooked meat and rendered fat. Like mutton. The lemonade in Vern’s hand was greasy.
“My word,” Mrs. Landsome said. “It’s quite. Pungent.” “It’ll spread out once they’re in the yard.”
“I do hope so.”
The boy with the truck let them down the ramp and into the yard one by one, calling their names out to the now gathered garden party. “Kyle, Harry, Mel, Nathan,” as if he were Santa calling out his reindeer, “Paulie, Angelo, Mark, Jacob.”
Now that they had names and were no longer a solid roiling cloud of musk, the goats were more personable, puppyish. They had sweet eyes full of a delightful mischief. Vern wished that one of them was a Timothy, that her son shared his name with a goat. Because it was so easy to imagine these goats as her son and his friends. They poked around the yard gingerly, bored, uncertain at what was expected of them. If all the ladies had brought their sons they would be doing all these same thing; staring back at the truck that brought them, wishing they could be anywhere else aside from this party surrounded by women in pastel sleeveless summer dresses that didn’t stick to any of them–except Vern–despite the heat and the sun. The goats spread out and a few of them inspected some of the party goers who either squealed or bravely reached out their hands to pet or be licked.
“Are they all boys,” Vern asked.
“No. But they’ve all got boy names,” he said, as though that’s how goats worked.
The yard was as wide as the veranda and deep, a long lawn rolling from the house out and then down like a tongue sloping more and more until the woods picked up. The Landsomes had dotted a few pear and apple trees throughout the lawn. They were randomly placed, row-less and uncollected. None of the trees ever bore fruit. But it was the grass, overgrown to Vern’s knees, that was the point of this afternoon soiree. As soon as the goats got comfortable, they started acting their part and began gnawing the grass around the yard, the shrubs that hid the fencing, the lower branches of the fruitless trees. They were devouring everything.
“It’s an awful lot of goats,” Mrs. Landsome said. “I guess it’s a lot more than I thought.”
“This your whole yard?”
“Then this is about right,” the boy said. “A goat’ll eat anything, ma’am. But one goat can’t eat everything.
They’ve got stomachs just like us. They’ll get full at some point.”
“Of course.” Mrs. Landsome kept her nose wrinkled at the boy. He surveyed the yard while the herd got to work.
“Your pear trees are too far apart,” the boy said.
“They can’t pollinate each other very easily when they’re that spread out.”
Mrs. Landsome pursed her lips.
“See,” the boy said, “it’s bees that do all the ground work making the pears, they bring the pollen from one tree to the other. And it’s too far for a bee to fly, all that way.” He pointed. “They get distracted by the flowers there. By those dandelions too. So, they go to the dandelions instead and all your pear spunk is getting on your weeds, not on the other pear trees.” Mrs. Landsome huffed sharply at the word ‘spunk’ and crossed her arms.
He was something like twenty-two, almost the age Vern had been when she stormed out finally, picked up root and left Timothy’s father. Or stormed out as much as anyone can storm when there’s an eighteen-month-old boy to pack up and his bag for diapers and the other bag with his shitty handed- down toys; as much as someone can storm out when the one who’s leaving and the one who’s being left are both fine with how things have turned out, when the one who’s being left is helping to get the kid in the car seat, is waving in the rear-view as the car pulls away from the apartment complex. Vern stormed out as much as one can when one just leaves, sad and alone and tired, because absolutely nothing is working and there are no other options at hand. The mustache of the boy in the Mudcats shirt still had the downy look that boys’ mustaches have, like the hair doesn’t yet know what it’s being used for. He was too old to have the mustache. Two years, maybe three, and Timothy would have start of it as well. It would come in so slowly that for a time no one would notice it, not Vern, not Mrs. Landsome, not the teachers at school. Timothy would notice, would be hyper aware of each hair and how quickly it was growing. But the rest of his world would be clueless until a visiting grandmother saw him after years and made a whole deal out of the thing. They would say how grown up he was, and how much of a man, and how much like his father he had become and what a thing it was for his mother to allow him to keep something like his mustache. And they would say mustache over and over again until the word lost all meaning. And did he need anyone to help him learn to shave his mustache. And did he need a special soap to take care of his mustache. And they would be talking to Timothy but staring at Vern the whole time, exactly like how Mrs. Landsome was now talking to Vern but staring at the goats.
“Missing your partner in crime?” She said, and Vern started. “Poor Lacey. How is she? You two always are inseparable at these little functions.”
The back of the Landsome house was pristine as usual, the slate blue wide veranda like the deck of an un-sunk ocean-liner, the white sunroom leading into the bleached porcelain kitchen and the rest of the house beyond. These parties were kept to the yard, the veranda and the sunroom. The rest of the house was strictly off limits. Basement, upstairs, living room, none of the ladies had ever set foot in any of them. Every attempt to venture into the kitchen or deeper ended in a polite but firm herding back to the porch. The unlit living room and dark upstairs remained grey mysteries and whatever secrets were locked in the Landsome cellar, all the unearthed Spanish gold, the nuclear codes, the disembodied murdered vagrants, they all stayed hidden.
“Missing Lacey,” Mrs. Landsome said again.
“Oh, not at all, Mrs. Landsome,” Vern said and then had nothing else to say; she kept her mouth open, waiting for words to come out. Mrs. Landsome was also waiting for Vern to finish her thought, but instead they stood there, watching the goats as they meandered around the yard. The mudcat was finished with the herd and made his way back around to the truck in the Landsome driveway.
Mrs. Landsome bobbed along behind him. “You’re not going to watch them?”
“They’re goats, ma’am. They’ll do what goats do. If anything comes up I’ll be here, just fetch me.” Vern liked the mudcat; he off-footed Mrs. Landsome in her own yard. For a kid who should be finishing college and instead opted to drive goats around in the back of a truck, he carried himself like he had everything figured out, conversations with rich housewives, his life, the rest of the world, the whole of it.
Vern wondered if she’d ever held the same grace as this goat herder. She nursed her still-slick-and-not-nearly-strong-enough drink and thought maybe she had. Before Timothy was born she’d had this sort of grace, she thought. Before Timothy’s dad showed up and swept her away, and then years later stood in the middle of the street waving goodbye like he was helping, she’d had grace. She’d had it long before Vern heard he found someone else, heard he was happy; before that killed her. And then it killed her again to know that she was now the sort of person who wished unhappiness on someone she once loved purely and absolutely.
Vern once had a farmhand’s grace, she thought, and now she was nervous that her son would soon start chasing girls around.
Or chasing boys around. Boys were an option.
Lately it seemed more and more likely that her son would opt to chase boys and not girls. But opt, was the wrong word; it didn’t seem like he had much of a choice. It was an inevitability. There had been too many sleep overs at Eldrich Landsome’s. Her son was too typical to be real, too normal, and normal was only an average of everyone in the world. No one was truly normal. So Timothy couldn’t be normal, either. Life would undoubtedly throw some complicated curveball their way. Timothy could be hit by a car and never walk again. He could get a girl pregnant on his first try, he could flunk out of high school his sophomore year, run away, join the circus, all of it would complicate things. But the most likely complication, Vern thought, were boys.
The mudcat sat behind the steering wheel of his truck, leaned his head back, tilted his cap forward with all the pose of a solid impending nap. “If you need anything,” he said again, “just come find me. But don’t worry, those goats’ll be fine doing what they do. Your yard’ll look amazing in no time.”
Mrs. Landsome huffed, but said nothing and returned to the fray to drift effortlessly from friend to friend.
Timothy probably wouldn’t tell her, not ever. It would be too hard at first and then he’d leave home— college or just drift away— and a gulf would stretch between them wide and vast and that would make it only more difficult and they would eventually never speak again.
The afternoon wasn’t the same without Lacey on-hand to keep Vern protected. If Lacey were here Vern wouldn’t be brooding off on this tangent. They would be in their corner making quiet fun of the rest of the party. It was a perfectly pleasant group, she knew them all, but she couldn’t bring herself to wade in.
Vern tipped her flask into the lemonade, but there was barely any left. “God dammit.” She shook the thing empty; she was positive she filled the flask the day before.
Timothy was sneaking drinks.
Thirteen, she thought. Of course, he knew where the liquor was. Vern should be worried and angry—a boy of thirteen drinking! But instead she felt pride at her child’s cleverness. If he drank from the bottles above the sink she would have noticed immediately. A half-empty flask would be paid no mind; It was a perfect plan but for the fact that she definitely topped it off yesterday afternoon and now it was empty after just the one drink. How long had he been doing this? A month? A Year? Four?
She wondered what his favorite drink was. Cranberry juice cape cods, screwdrivers, vodka tonics, all the highball classics. Or probably just the diet coke Vern always kept on hand, she doubted her thirteen-year-old was much of a bartender. She thought she should switch to something with more flavor, the turned taste of dirt scotch, or the astringent juniper of gin. Something he would balk at.
“Thirteen,” she said.
“Sorry?” One of the girls in her sundress turned. “What was that, Vern?”
“Thirteen,” she said again. “That’s how old Timothy is.”
“How nice.” Her face was concrete. “So fast isn’t it? Blink and it’s over.”
“I seem to be out of…” Vern tapped absently at her glass. “Do you…”
“Of course sweetie. Of course.” This was Melanie, Vern remembered. She lived as close to the Landomes as Vern, but in the opposite direction. She passed her flask behind while she continued her conversation. It was a neon strawberry candy gloss with the letters M K F across it in the same athletic font as the man with the goats’ t-shirt.
“Your initials?” Vern said as she passed it back. “MKF.”
“What?” Melanie said. “Oh heavens no.” She recoiled from the thing. “To think I’d intentionally buy something that pink,” To think that Vern of all people wouldn’t know that these weren’t her initials, her face said. “I got it at a trade show last fall. One of those pieces of swag they give everyone.” She laughed despite there being no joke and the ladies around her joined in and Vern felt the well in the pit of her bubble with the same empty chuckle that climbed her throat like heartburn and out; and they all stood there, laughing at nothing.
Mrs. Landsome appeared and started talking immediately. She found the idea in a magazine. A list of ten ways to liven up your next garden party. Number three, wait until your lawn needs mowing, hire a local farm and have some goats delivered. The goats eat the grasses down to a perfect height, and the ladies get to watch the goats work.
“It’s all the rage,” she said. “So much more fun than just having someone come by and mow the lawn. And it scarcely costs much at all. It’s such a hoot! Isn’t it?” She exited the circle as quickly as she joined it and headed to another group the same speech in hand, like she was rehearsing for a number.
Vern still had the pink flask outstretched on offer. “Oh, keep it,” Melanie said. “You look like you could use it, honey.”
“What on earth does that…” but Vern trailed off as Melanie wandered back into her herd and Vern disappeared from the world forever.
Watching goats eat grass wasn’t nearly as dull as Vern thought it would be. It was impressive, the volume and deftness with which they worked. Their efficiency jarred her. She wasn’t as good at anything as these goats were at this. There were as many goats as there were people. By the time they each picked their favorite Vern was tipsy from MKF’s gin. She chose Antonio because it was fun to say while drunk. Elaborate games were created, betting pools established. Antonio won the hedges but lost the race to the farthest pear tree. He was a terrible sprinter but knew his way around a shrub. Winners were awarded with titles and accolades that lasted the afternoon. “I should have a sash,” Vern said and the ladies all clamored for sashes, sashes, sashes. “And tiaras,” someone called. The more punch people drank, the louder and more boisterous the chanting got.
Vern told them how Timothy was doing, which was fine. He was exactly like every other thirteen-year-old. He came home afternoons and watched television until Vern forced him to start his homework. There were soccer practices that Vern never attended and games on Saturdays that she sometimes did.
Timothy had only recently migrated his name. He had been Timmy for a decade and Vern was still getting used to the longer variation. He hated Tim. The only person who called him Tim was his father and he hated his father mostly because Vern had instructed him to hate and the warmth that curled her gut whenever her son corrected someone, whenever he said flatly ‘It’s Timothy, thanks,’ was a perfect revenge for infidelity.
Despite MKF’s liquor she couldn’t say how she was waiting for the inevitable shoe to drop, for the inexorable shift to the direction of his life from a blissful ignorant normalcy to an unearthed tumult. Vern worried constantly about complication. Vern’s life had been uncomplicated right up until the moment it stopped and she was driving away from a man waving in the middle of the street. Since then it was a torrent of panicked mornings and missed appointments and sweated-through sundresses and constant uncertainty. She wanted the opposite for Timothy, for him to stay right where he was on an obvious simple path. But entropy always won; thirteen-year-old-boys attracted chaos and disarray like magnets.
Afternoons, when she picked him up from school she watched the way he walked across the parking lot with the other seventh graders; they hadn’t yet figure out how to strut. They jockeyed each other, pushed each other, they laughed, they had odd intricate handshakes, their own language.
Timothy would occasionally pick on boys that were frailer than he, but not too cruelly. And he was harassed by the older, larger, more brutish of his class, but no more than anyone. Timothy was directly in the middle of his school and his friends. He cut his hair shaggy like everyone else. She started buying him boxer shorts because that was what his friends all wore. He began to smell as the testosterone leaked from his pores, so she quietly bought him deodorant that he quietly started using.
She would have to talk to him about sex soon, but what she would say, what he might say in response, it was all dark. The acre of possible answers and questions that would rise from this was black and void.
When she brought up sex, she would tell him that she didn’t care if he liked boys. Even if it was Eldrich Landsome, she wanted her son to be happy. His happiness was the most important thing. Liking boys was the same as liking girls, she would say.
But it wasn’t. Vern was chilled by the pending queerness of her son. Sometimes it terrified her. If Timothy started chasing boys around, the other half of the coin of this world would turn up its face. Boys were a darker, rowdier, trickier thing to like, Vern knew. Boys created armloads of baggage. Timothy was so often frail and the world would hurt him all the more for it. A whole new dictionary of names and slurs would be thrown at her son.
He would be scarred and hardened and Vern wouldn’t be able to protect him from any of it. Adolescence was terrifying enough. Why did it need to be complicated further with something like this?
Or was all this worry Vern’s own deep seeded bigotry rearing itself? What if it was just simple hatred of an other and blind fear of a body different from her own? Perhaps she had spent too much of her life too comfortably coddled to be able to cope with something as simple as a son who liked kissing boys. She didn’t think so. She was never particularly hateful or fearful. She was a good woman, she thought, she was true. But perhaps this sharp unnerved feeling was the clean, elegant veneer being chipped clear of her to reveal a rotten pine wood core underneath.
But Vern said none of this to the ladies. “Fine,” she told them. “He’s fine.” Exactly like how their children were fine. Everyone was fine and home with their sitters, or their fathers, or just alone. Timothy was watching cartoons, she knew. Building a fort out of couch cushions, or he was mucking around by the stream at the end of the block. Or having a cocktail. They were all fine.
The goats were devouring the lawn and as the afternoon wore on Mrs. Landsome grew more uneasy about the way they tucked into her hedges.
“How is Lacey,” someone asked and everyone looked back at Vern. No one wants to talk about Lacey, she thought.
But what she meant was that she didn’t want to talk about Lacey. She didn’t want to think about Lacey anymore. Didn’t want to think about visiting her, how dark Lacey’s house was, how clammy the air, the smell. She didn’t want to think about the smell. She didn’t want to think about all the casseroles brought over by the infinite condolence of the neighborhood, how they sat on Lacey’s kitchen counter for endless hot summer days while Lacey at the kitchen table stared them down. How Vern spent entire afternoons dumping casseroles into the sink, the grey elbow macaroni sticking to the side of the basin. How Vern used her hand to push it down the drain, how much it felt like a gestating insect, the garbage disposal wetly devouring everything. She didn’t want to think that at some point the neighborhood got the hint and the casseroles stopped coming. She didn’t know how long it was since she last saw Lacey. A week? More? She couldn’t bring herself to go. It was too much weight for Vern to carry by herself. She quietly turned away and poured more of MKF’s gin into her lemonade. Freshly squeezed, of course. As a child Vern’s family always said ‘freshly squozen.’ She liked her way better. She wished she still said it like that.
And the goats continued. There was an order to them now. They had a rhythm to their consumption. They were a regiment.
Vern and the party were growing more inconsolably drunk. Drunker than usual. The ladies were chasing their goats around the lawn, spilling lemonade and tea and punch on themselves. Some still had it in them to hold conversation, but the only thing to talk about was the goats.
“Did you hear?” Someone said, perfectly imitating Mrs. Landsome, “they’re a hoot!”
Vern was mid-sip, but couldn’t not laugh at this. The lemonade stuck in her throat, began to rise. The sweet acid burn of citrus hit the roof of her nose and sprayed out from there, hot and perfectly yellow. It doused the lady across from her and everything stopped.
It was forever since Vern had done this. The first grade, she thought, milk spewing from her nose over the lunch counter. And the doused woman started laughing. And Vern started laughing, really laughing, from the gut. All the women in the circle were, first at her; and then at the moment, and then the whole afternoon. Their laughter rippled outward. They were laughing at the goat party and they were laughing at the whole shitty summer and everything that was going on with Lacey and they were laughing at the shit year and their shit lives and they were all howling uncontrollably. “Hoot!” someone said, and they redoubled again and again. Hoot, and again. And again. And the goats devoured the pear trees.
The ladies were flagrantly drunk now. Darkly drunk. It must be the goats, Vern thought. The laughter subsided and Mrs. Landsome was next to Vern clutching her glass in a tight fist. “I thought. The goats,” she was saying. “I thought they’d be a treat.”
“They are, Mrs. Landsome,” Vern said. “They’re lovely. We’re all having such a great time.”
“They’re goats. They’re just goats. They smell like goats. They’re crapping on my lawn and they’re eating my hedges,” The ship was no longer Mrs. Landsome’s to steer and she was taken aback by this. She peered at the goats as if they might help, but the goats continued to devour her lawn. Some of the ladies began falling over each other.
Some were climbing on the wicker chairs.
“Do you have anything to drink?” Mrs. Landsome said the word ‘drink’ like she was nervous she might not actually get it out. Vern had never seen Mrs. Landsome take a drink of anything.
“I don’t.” Vern nearly produced her two empty flasks as proof before a neighbor in earshot came to her rescue.
“Here,” she slurred and tipped her flask into Mrs. Landsome’s cup of punch. “Here, Betty, here.”
“Betty,” Vern said quietly.
“Beatrice,” Mrs. Landsome said. “It’s Beatrice, thank you.”
Vern took this in like it was vital.
“Our boys,” Mrs. Landsome said. “The pair of them.”
“Yes.” And then a pause. Say it, Vern thought.
“They will be the death of us. Won’t they?”
“That’s all boys, I think,” Vern said. “I thought this would be nice.”
“But it’s not?”
“It’s just a pile of drunk housewives,” Mrs. Landsome said. “And some farm animals. It’s just what you see.
There’s nothing else.”
“I think that’s everything,” Vern said. “That’s every day, right?”
“It’s not what I expected. I thought. I thought that…” “That we would all sit and watch the goats eat your
“We still can. We can do that.”
“It’s too late now. It’s done. They are laughing at me.”
“They are not. Of course not.”
“They are. I heard them. I heard you. I haven’t heard anyone laugh that much since I was a child…”
And then, “I never thought you’d laugh at me like that, Veronica…”
And then, “it’s okay,” when Vern didn’t say anything. “It’s okay. I understand.” She went back inside. She was out of iced tea she said. She would have to bring out the canister with the mix. Vern cheered.
“Vern!” Someone shouted. “Vern your goat is getting away.”
Vern looked and indeed Antonio was trotting down the Landsome lawn, through the Landsome hedges, and squeezing between the pickets of the Landsome fence. He’d been startled by a crashing of trays and glassware and lemonade. Half of the party was on the ground. Some of the other goats thought to follow suit but were so full of the yard they could only wobble slowly side to side. Antonio, now free and with the world at his feet, opted to stay close to the fence and gorge himself on the neighbor’s thistles.
Mrs. Landsome was beside herself, about to burst into tears, to wring the life out of every goat and lady on her lawn, about to collapse under her own ineffectuality. “Someone must do something,” she said quiet so only Vern could hear. “Someone must.” And she looked at Vern and there were real tears in Mrs. Landsome’s eyes now.
“Watch my goat,” she said to the collective and moved up the lawn to the front of the house where everything was disquietingly normal. The trailer and the goat truck were still parked where they ought to be.
Vern crept low to the passenger side of the cab and by the time she got to the window of the truck the goat herder was already leaning across the bench seat and opening the door.
“Hey,” he said. “Need something?”
Vern shook her head. Once they were close Vern noticed the hat the boy was wearing. A baseball cap. The same team as his shirt, The Mudcats, same font.
“Do you mind if I…” Vern said, trailed off, and climbed in. He watched her do this. She was awkward in her dress, hiking it up past her knees to clear the truck’s step. His shirt was worn through bare in the shoulders and translucent across the rest but it looked good on him. It was a loved thing.
He must really like the Mudcats, Vern thought, enough to adorn himself in both their hat and their shirt. Or he used to be a Mudcat himself. He was a pitcher or a hitter or shortstop who rose through the ranks from high school to the minor leagues with his eye on the big time, only to be sidelined by a freak injury, ruining everything. And now he was moving goats across the suburbs with only this hat and shirt to remind him of what might have been. He had arms like a baseball player, although what a baseball player’s arms looked like–as opposed to a goat herder’s, or a sports fan’s, or a normal young man’s–Vern didn’t know. She wondered if boys just naturally had arms like this, if this is just what testosterone did to a body. She remembered her high school boyfriend’s arms. She remembered Timothy’s father’s arms. They were big as well. Timothy’s were pole-vaulting sticks.
“Mudcats” Vern said under her breath but loud enough.
“We’re a good team,” the boy said, but again, Vern couldn’t tell if this was the ‘we’ that all fans use, or the ‘we’ of specific inclusion in something. Maybe he still played for them now, but the scale rate for a mid-ranged minor league baseball player was so low that he needed to supplement his sports career with these goats.
Vern sat for a moment entirely unsure what she was going to do next. From inside the truck everything was simple. Lacey’s uneaten casseroles, Mrs. Landsome and her awful iced tea, the women whose sundresses refused to cling to their thighs, her son, they were all at the party on the other side of the house. There were goats fleeing the garden and the flasks were all empty and the lemonade was bitter and Vern could not hold a conversation; she was incapable and impotent. But in the cab it was almost quiet, Vern could breathe. The goat herder sat the way Timothy’s father sat in his car, like it was fused to him–leather and plastic and steel.
And then he cheated on her and she packed the car. When she left he was so nice about it. They never got to fight. He just said yes, it made sense, she should leave him, she should take the kid, he deserved it, he said. He even helped her pack and she was gone. She didn’t get to cry, they didn’t make up, they didn’t hate-fuck, they didn’t do anything. Vern left, and then Vern was gone, and he was forever standing in the middle of the street waving goodbye. And now, somehow it was Vern’s fault, how her life had turned out. The mudcat’s terrible moustache undulated in the slight breeze from the truck’s air conditioning. He had the longest eyelashes Vern had ever seen; they were Venus Flytraps. Her hands moved and then the rest of her leaned across the truck’s bench and fumbled with his pants. She forgot his name; he’d told it to her a moment ago, but it was gone. He crammed his hand down the back of her dress and wrestled with the clamp on her bra. It was like that, everything happening out of order.
It was over quickly, they both knew that nothing would come of it, but it wasn’t terrible. He enjoyed her breasts more than she remembered boys enjoying them when she was younger.
He smelled like goats once he got going, that same earthy gamey smell, hay and shit and the dark grease under- fur. It didn’t present itself until he was moving and sweating and then it enveloped them both, filled the cab cloying and heavy. She arched her back against the dashboard and tried not to hit the horn on the steering wheel and let the chaotic moment be what it was for as long as it could. But sex in a car is a more complex and awkward act than it would seem on the surface.
They stopped disheveled, nothing accomplished, leaned back into their respective seats and stared through the windshield at the impeccable street with all its houses. They didn’t have to get dressed per-se, but there was a moment after, when she and the boy with the goats adjusted themselves, their clothes, hair, the rest. This was the strange part of sex, Vern suddenly being the only one who was touching her body. It would make more sense if the man with the goats did her touching up, repositioned her bra, made sure the straps weren’t showing, fluffed her hair, fixed her bangs, and at the same time she straightened his pants, zipped his fly, smoothed the curls around his ears. If they closed out the session putting the other back together it would be less odd than this pair of rituals in isolation. The two of them only a foot more separate than they’d been when they were as close as two people could be, now not looking or talking or registering, waiting until they got themselves back into order so they could continue where they left off, like nothing just happened.
Vern glanced over at the boy. Timothy would be doing this a few years from now. Tidying himself in the front of a car right after sex. She wondered who Timothy would have just had sex with. She pointedly did not wonder if Timothy was going to have sex with Eldrich Landsome, but also she didn’t necessarily assume it was a girl. She didn’t know any of the girls in Timothy’s class. Timothy had never mentioned one of them. She didn’t know if that made her son more or less straight.
It would be in her car, probably. This was a vague realization and surreal. Her son would soon have awkward sex in her teal hatchback. The very car that was parked a block down the road that she could see right now through the dirty windshield of the goat truck.
Boy or girl, Vern thought, I’m just sorry it has to be in that piece of shit.
The boy coughed. They were both finished reorganizing themselves. “The goats are probably done almost,” he said rather matter-of-factly. She wasn’t sure if he was making conversation about the only thing they had in common or hinting that she should exit the truck. So she said nothing and did nothing. Vern stared through the windshield at Mrs. Landsome’s front yard and willed him to start the car and peel across the lawn and drive her to wherever goats came from.
“Do you,” the boy with the goats said and the stopped. “I’m sorry this is strange.”
And at once he lost his edge, he was no longer moving as effortlessly through the world as he did when he first arrived. He slumped against the seat’s vinyl.
“What’s strange?” She leaned over, put a hand on his shoulder.
He wanted something from her. It hung in the air along with the stink of the goats and the pair of them. He wanted her to say something. He wanted her to say anything at all. And Vern wanted to tell him everything he needed to hear.
That he didn’t smell so bad. That he didn’t ruin anything. That he’d play ball again. That he would still make the team. He wouldn’t be a farm hand forever. This wasn’t the last thing he’d do. He didn’t have to be a farm hand tomorrow. That he’d meet a girl, a real girl. It wasn’t just lonely mothers in the cabs of trucks for the rest of his life. That even at nineteen he was still a child and allowed to be scared like a child was scared. that his parents loved him. That he would always be welcome back home. they couldn’t help but love him. that this was the power of a child that only a child possessed. That the dirt under his fingernails would wash off. That he looked good in that shirt. That his mustache wasn’t ridiculous. That he needed a haircut. That he was good at his job. That he’d grown into a responsible young man. There was so much laid out ahead of him. He didn’t have to worry. That it was okay to be afraid of the dark sometimes. That he was a good driver. He could do anything he wanted. He could go back to bed. There would be pancakes in the morning. He could sleep late if he wanted to. That he could play ball if he wanted to. That he would definitely still be a Mudcat.
He was now just a boy, awkward and unsure as he’d been all his life. His eyes fluttered open and closed, the lashes capturing the dust that floated between them. He needed something to do.
“Your goats are getting away,” Vern said. “They’re all amok.”
He breathed relief. “I guess I better round them up,” and he was gone.
Vern didn’t go around to the gate at the side of the house. Instead she opened the Landsome’s front door. The living room was grey without the lights on. It was immaculate. There was no television. It felt as if no one had set foot here before, the quiet was dense. She was on the moon, exploring the remotest piece of it; her footprints stayed on the carpet long after she stepped deeper into the room. Vern lifted her arms out to her side and thought she might float right there, just an inch off the ground so as not to disturb any more of the Landsome living room. Gooseflesh poked from her shoulders and neck and the air was cool and still like an unused basement’s. It was as lifeless as Lacey’s house. The smell of goats that filled the cab of the mudcat’s truck was a sour blanket hanging off her shoulders. It seeped into the cool grey room like Vern was built of only goats. Through the door, beyond the sofa upholstered in velvet, was the spotless kitchen and its wide grin of windows over the gleaming sink and beyond that was the yard with the entire neighborhood falling over itself drunk. Past the ladies in their sundresses were the goats and the child trying to catch them. And the goats were devouring everything.
B.C. Edwards is the author of two books,The Aversive Clause and From The Standard Cyclopedia of Recipes. He has written for Mathematics Magazine, The New Guard Review, The New York Times, and others. He was awarded the 2011 Hudson Prize for fiction and was a 2014 Poetry Fellow of the New York Foundation of the Arts. He attended the graduate writing program at The New School in New York and lives in Brooklyn with his husband.