Just Above Sunset
Goat Farm

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Goat Farm

Ajax and Caruso wandered into the kitchen, while the percolator burbled on the stove, and Tucker Crowther brushed his snaggly gray teeth, leaning over the kitchen sink to spit.  The faint gray early morning sunlight filtered into the large room, the heart of the house, through frosty panes of glass in the window near the table.  Margo and Lacey were both curled up on the floor, in shadow, sleeping, and oblivious to the break of day.  Tucker zipped his trousers up under his protuberant pot, tucked in the tails of his plaid flannel shirt, and tugged his suspenders over his shoulders with a quick snap.  He rinsed the dregs out of his mug from the day before, and poured a fresh cup of coffee.  Tucker always drank it black.  He picked at the gray stubble on his face, with his yellowed and cracked fingernails, examining his reflection in the toaster, and decided to forgo his shave.  Tucker wasn’t planning to see anyone that day; his meeting with Bob Hensley, the town’s selectman, was scheduled for the following day, so he decided to save the razor until then.  I really need to get cleaned up tomorrow, he thought.  That’s the big day.  He was snagged in a bramble of dread, as he began to worry about the meeting, the second one in as many weeks.  A sudden commotion in the hallway released Tucker from his anxiety—and Sammy, Ulysses, and Boston came galloping into the kitchen, clearly up to some kind of mischief, and nearly knocked Tucker off his feet.  Sammy was a large Nubian goat, but Ulysses and Boston were smaller, black and white pygmy goats.  The little goats were even more dangerous at a run, because they had such a low center of gravity, and their horns were at the perfect height to inflict serious pain in a man’s precious credentials.  They often gave very little warning before they dropped their heads and lunged.  But Tucker knew what to look out for.  He had some experience with goats. 

“Slow down, boys,” Tucker said, with a chuckle, grabbing Boston by his thick black horns.  The goat resisted—violently twisting his neck in a futile attempt to free himself.  Finally, Tucker let go.  “Lemme finish my coffee, okay?”

Tucker surveyed the kitchen while he drank the rest of his coffee.  He thought he should clear out some of the straw on the floor later that morning, and bring in some fresh bales, at least for that room.  The living room, and dining room weren’t so bad, and more of the goats preferred the kitchen anyway, due to its relative warmth.  The fire was blazing in the wood stove in the corner of the kitchen, with nearly half a cord of wood stacked nearby, against the wall.  The thermometer mounted outside the kitchen window was pinned to ten degrees below zero, where it had registered every morning for the past two weeks.  Worries about the goats that remained outdoors began to invade his mind.  Three hundred and fifteen goats were housed on Tucker’s property in a pen and small barn that was attached to the house—a decrepit, two-hundred-year-old farmhouse on a ten-acre plot of land.  A house where he lived alone, ever since Nicole left him, twenty-one years and sixty-eight days ago. 

Tucker yanked his old woolen coat from the hook by the front door, stuffed his thick arms into the sleeves, and plunged into his rubber boots, still damp on the inside from the day before.  He fastened the buttons.  Some were cracked.  His leather gloves were blackened and stiff with grime, and his blue stocking cap, which Nicole had knit for his Christmas present in ‘87, was frayed and full of little burrs and bristles.  He braced himself for the cold air and the work that lay ahead.  His babies were waiting, he could hear them crying and calling out.  “Hang on!” he shouted, and the rusty hinges groaned as he finally met the frigid January air, and pulled the door shut behind him. 

Tucker sat across the kitchen table from Nicole, studying her somber face as she vanished into the morning newspaper.  She’s always so serious, he thought.  Serious, when life is so light.  She pulled the fire of her cigarette deeply into her lungs, and then blew the dingy gray smoke into an ominous cloud that hung above her head.  She released a deep sigh.  Tucker twirled his fork, then stabbed his sausage and waved his prize in the air.  “These are great!” he exclaimed.  “Fabulous sausages!” He loved to tease her, to get her riled up so she’d pay attention to him; make jokes so she’d notice him—how funny he was, how entertaining, how much in love. 

“I have to get ready for work,” she said, standing, and turning away from him. 

“I’ll clean up, hon, if you’re running late,” Tucker volunteered; the higher pitch of his voice betrayed a rare glimmer of worry.  She tramped out of the kitchen—with the newspaper—down the hallway, and into the bathroom.  Tucker heard the quick snap of the lock and tried not to remember that she hadn’t always locked the door.  Mike, their fifteen-year-old son, came galloping through the kitchen with his backpack swinging from his shoulder, grabbed a sausage from his plate, and bolted out the door, saying “
See-ya, Dad.”

“Bye, Mike.” Tucker waved to the empty room.

Tucker resumed carving his sausage into tiny morsels, dipping them into the sticky sweet maple syrup that they always bought from the neighbors.  He listened to the shower running in the bathroom.  He remembered the showers they used to take together, before Mike was born, rubbing each other’s glistening skin, the soap bubbles frothing and popping into brilliant colors—red, blue, purple—in the sunlight that filtered through the glass shower door.  He loved the slippery feeling of her back, the taste of her lips, and the way the water ran down the bridge of her nose and cascaded from her forehead in waterfalls, behind which the light of her green eyes glowed mysteriously and longingly. 

The shower stopped and a moment later, the lock released.  The bathroom door crashed open releasing a cloud of steam into the hall.  Nicole charged across the carpeted passageway to their bedroom, leaving damp footprints behind her and all but slammed the bedroom door. 

Nicole had recently started working in the business office at Conway Ford, the only car dealership in Plainfield.  Before that, she had worked for years along with Tucker at his father’s hardware store in the center of town.  When she announced one night at dinner—between the salad and the meatloaf—that she had taken the new job, Nicole justified her decision by explaining that she’d been offered more money and hours.  It was a job that might lead to something better.  They’d be able to save more for Mike’s college tuition.  Even if he went to the state college, it was still more money than they could easily spare.  (Tucker heard later from his father that Nicole turned down the raise he’d offered her). 

Tucker was grateful that Nicole was always thinking about money, budgets, and the future.  He was happy enough to bring his paycheck home, and let Nicole take care of making the deposits and paying the bills every month.  She was organized—she knew what had to be done.  Everything she said about leaving the hardware store made sense, yet, Tucker regretted the change.  He knew the dealership owner, Frank Conway, a guy he’d gone to school with.  He was a sharp looking, tall, athletic.  He wore starched shirts and a suit.  He never looked rumpled, even in August.  He had a chiseled muscular jaw that he liked to flex when he clenched his teeth.  He drove a new white Crown Victoria, with black leather seats.  Tucker wasn’t sure what he thought about him. 

Tucker squirted thick green soap into the pink plastic tub in the white porcelain sink and filled it with hot water, splashing around with his hand to make bubbles.  As he began tackling the breakfast dishes, he whistled a tune that he’d learned from his dad years ago, then stopped, when he remembered that his chirping notes had lately irritated Nicole.  He scrubbed the grease from the skillet using a rusty Brillo pad, rinsed the plates and juice glasses, and stacked them neatly on the wire rack on the counter to dry.  He was just drying his hands on his favorite kitchen towel—the one with embroidered kittens on it—when Nicole emerged, dressed and ready for work.  Her lips were sharply focused into a bit of a frown that mirrored the eyebrows she had just painstakingly plucked.  He saw that the skin there was even slightly red from the trauma of the tweezers.  She had started using more makeup every day, and Tucker felt queasy about the change in her appearance.  That morning, like many others, he noticed a distinct hint of rouge in her cheeks, along with eye shadow, and mascara.  Her nails were painted soft pink, and gleamed.  She held her head high, which dramatized her slender and delicately arching neck.  She wore a pale blue silk blouse—that was just tight enough to reveal the pink lace trim of her bra in the gap between the top buttons—and a navy blue skirt that fell just above her knees.  It was quite a transformation from the familiar and comfortable old cotton shirts, faded Levis, and dusty sneakers that she had worn at Crowther’s Hardware all those years.  He rubbed his eyes, and blinked.  He thought there might have been some soap in his eyes. 

When Tucker flipped through the fashion magazines that she left stacked on the back of the toilet—in his moments of privacy—he saw Nicole in the photographs.  When he watched the six o’clock news on TV, the anchor, Paula Dupree, looked just like her.  They all had the same hair, clothes and makeup.  It was hard finding Nicole in so many places.  It unsettled him.  He longed for the time when she was content to stay at home in their old farmhouse on Rutland Road.  Now, she seemed to be always out.  Sometimes, he’d try a joke, and call her the “movie-star,” on her way out the door, but she rarely smiled at his attempts at humor.  That only spurred Tucker to try harder to coax a response, and elicit the smile he’d fallen in love with and the laugh that had soothed his soul. 

Before they married, they’d lie in bed together, and she’d smooth his long curly black hair out of his eyes, and say, “you’re funny, Tucker—you make me laugh.” And she’d pamper him with smiles and kisses, and hold his hands—then they’d giggle under the covers like children while they playfully nipped and nibbled.  But of course, when Nicole told him, through tears, and choked sobs, that she was pregnant, he knew what he wanted to do.  He’d wanted that all along, but Nicole had put him off—no, we’re too young…I’m thinking of going back to school…I don’t want to end up like my parents…I’d like to travel…There’s so much I want to do…and so on. 

They were married by a Justice of the Peace in a small civil ceremony and reception at the Lamonts' house, on a chilly November afternoon, when Nicole was three months pregnant.  On their wedding day, he noticed—but did not concern himself with—the fact that Nicole’s family seemed practically grim.  Their mood was infectious.  His own parents—who always enjoyed a good party—were reserved, and spoke softly, under their breath.  It wasn’t exactly how he’d imagined his wedding day—full of laughing, dancing, tender glances, and gentle touches.  The event was quiet—verging on formal.  Nicole had complained that she felt especially ill earlier that day—she’d been having a rough go of it with morning sickness.  She was pale, her eyes flat.  He wanted to take Nicole home, tuck her under his blanket, bring her a soft pillow, and caress her forehead while she slept.  Nevertheless, they stayed at the Lamonts’ house until late that evening, and she fed her bit of cake to the dog. 

The day that she left him, Nicole wrote a few cryptic sentences in her tense scratchy script on the back of that month’s electric bill and taped it to the fridge.  Tucker found it when he came home from work.  Mike was gone too.  He ran into the bedroom, tripped on himself and landed in a heap and out of breath on the floor by the bed.  He had bitten the inside of his lip in the fall, and tasted blood.  Her closet was open and empty.  The only clothes she’d left were her old cotton blouses and a pair of faded jeans, with patches on the back pockets and knees.  Her favorite jeans.  Then something hard jarred inside him, like grinding gears, and he twisted her clothes up in his massive thick hands and threw them violently against the mirror.  He scrambled into the bathroom, and shredded her magazines—tearing into some of them with his bloody teeth—flinging the butchered periodicals all over the house and out the front door, into the yard.  He ran back to the living room, panting and snarling, unplugged the television, kicked it out the front door and off the porch, where it exploded on the cement walk.  He jumped into his old truck—pounded on the horn to get the dog that was sniffing the remains of the TV to move—and drove to Conway Ford with an idea burning in his gut.

It wasn’t long before the officer arrived and had Tucker in handcuffs, flat on his face in the parking lot with the cop’s knee painfully pressed against his spine.  Frank had a bloody nose.  By then, Tucker’s wife and son were already on an airplane bound for Texas.  “As far away as I can get…”

By the time Tucker finished counting, with the frozen vapor from his lungs suspended in the air in front of his grizzled face, there were thirty-seven dead goats in the pen.  A dozen more were in shock.  He struggled to move the frozen animals to a clearing behind the barn, and then fought against the stinging cold and wind to feed the remaining goats.  Their water buckets were solid blocks of ice.  He smashed them against the ground, the ice shattering against his legs, then filled them from the nearby well, pumping hard on the rusty handle.  He was nearly out of hay and grain, and he knew that Gibson’s feed wasn’t going to extend him any more credit, until he made a payment on his bill.  Tucker had cut his own rations, to try to save money.  He was living on beans and rice.  All that he had each month was his social security.  He had no other savings.  No other resources.  Nevertheless, he knew he’d find a way, somehow, to take care of them all.  They were his life now.






Deborah Vatcher is a physician who practices near Boston, and the publisher of the web log GRITTYBITS.COM and you may reach her through that site.




Copyright 2004 – Deborah A. Vatcher, MD   [ used with permission ]



Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

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