by R. Eric Johnson
At 4:30 on Friday, Tadferd pulled his old pickup off Highway 78 in Adamsville. After following a few directions he had scribbled on the back of a Boo Boo cake wrapper, he arrived at Holbrook Farms.
A while back, Tadferd had read in an obscure online newspaper about the advantages of raising meat goats and had decided to jump on the money train. “The food of the future”, the paper had proclaimed. No doubt this proclamation had been plagiarized from the articles touting the incredible allure of emu farming. I have yet to see emu on any menu. Nevertheless, almost a year ago, Tadferd had begun to raise and sell this precious commodity. He had done pretty well, and better than he had expected.
After comparing the address on the wrapper with the address on the mailbox, he shoved the directions in his pocket and piloted his old Ford pick-up truck down the gravel driveway.
He coasted to a stop just short of what appeared to be a loading chute next to an enormous red barn.
He reached out the window to open his door and noticed a cheerful looking older woman walk down the porch steps. The woman stepped quickly around his truck dragging her fingers lightly across the length of the faded hood. She wore baggy jeans and a faded black tee-shirt that in what used to be bold red letters read “WHO’S YOUR DADDY”. The bold phrase crossed her chest where her breasts were 3 decades ago.
“You Mr. Johnson?” she asked.
“Yes Ma’am. You got quite a place here,” Tadferd replied, still pondering the question posed by the empty shirt.
“Well, I appreciate the kind words son. I owe it all to my late husband, Albert. The old coot. He’s buried over there under that dog house if you would like to tell him as well. Albert has been dead nearly a year now,” she said smiling.
” I’m sorry ma’am. If you don’t mind me asking, how did he die?”
A long pause followed, bordering on an uncomfortable silence. The woman looked toward a fence that enclosed what must have been at least an acre and sighed.
The fence bordered the barn and surrounded, in Tadferds estimate, at least a hundred goats. In the center of all the goats, atop an old oil drum, stood the alfa goat (if there is such a thing), surveying his flock with complete disdain.
“Natural causes,” she said plainly looking back in Tadferd’s direction. “My names Edna, Edna Holbrook,” she announced with more enthusiasm.
“Nice to meet you, Edna,” Tadferd said. “I understand you have a goat for sale that I might be interested in.”
“I do. I do,” Edna exclaimed. “He’s right over here,” she motioned with her head to follow, and they walked toward the fence, gravel crumpling under their boots.
Edna reached the fence and propped her elbows on the weathered board that ran along the top. She nodded in the direction of the goat that Tadferd had seen earlier surveying his flock.
“That’s …uh…Peaches,” she said, pointing a thin wrinkled finger toward the animal.
“Peaches,” Tadferd repeated, in disbelief over such a benign name for such a majestic animal.
Peaches was not the name that came to mind when viewing this monster. Fang, Killer, Damian, even Adolph maybe, but not Peaches.
”Yeah, he’s been a good un’ but I got more goats than I can handle and I think it’s time to thin the herd.”
“You sure are selling a strong looking goat for awful cheap, if you don’t mind me saying.”
“Oh, I’m not looking to make any money, son, I just want him to have a good home.”
“Good enough,” Tadferd said with a smile. ”Let’s get him loaded up.”
“About that,” Edna said sheepishly, “I’m not the goat wrangler I once was, and all my boys are in town. Do you think you can get him loaded up by yourself?”
”Not a problem,” Tadfered replied.
“Fine then, just fine,” Edna said and hurriedly walked back to the porch. ”Manson ought to be real happy at your place.”
“Manson?” Tadferd thought. “I thought she called him Peaches. That poor woman must be getting that forgettin’ disease. What’s it called, allminers, amsiners?”
Tadferd’s grandmother had gotten the forgettin disease when he was young and had called him Barbie once while looking him dead in the face, so he knew what the disease could do. This incident was never reported to anyone, at least not by him. He suddenly felt sorry for the woman and wondered if he might be taking advantage of her, but the thought was fleeting at best.
He opened the door of the pickup and slipped in, coaxed the worn out engine to life, grabbed the knobless stick shift and pulled it down to R. He backed the old truck up to the loading chute and stepped back out. Reaching behind the seat he produced a length of rope that was buried under numerous candy wrappers and empty RC bottles.
He slammed the door and leaned against the faded red Ford surveying his new purchase. He pushed his mesh-backed Bass Master’s hat back on his head and saw Peaches shuffle on his perch high atop an old fuel barrel.
The goat glared back at him, apparently aware of the transaction, and the intentions of the man with the rope.
Their gazes tightened, and a cold uneasy wind blew over Tadfered as the rest of the goat community fell silent. Tadfered became aware that the theme from Jaws was faintly creeping through his head. Duh Dum Duh Dum Duh Dum.
“I must be comin’ down with sumthin,” he said to himself.
He unlocked his gaze and took his hat off, wiping his forehead with his sleeve, then swatting the hat against his leg, producing a small cloud of dust.
He put the hat back on, tighter than before, and said, ”Let’s get this over with.” Tadferd reached for the latch on the wooden gate. As it clicked open, Peaches let out a loud snuffle and lowered his head. The goats that had been meandering around the drum began to back slowly away.
Tadfered walked through and closed the gate behind him; he turned back around to find he was standing at the end of a long corridor lined with silent somber goats. The only movement from the herd came from the occasional tail flick or head shake.
At the end of this corridor stood an old rusty oil drum with a faded sticker that read “EXXONS FINEST”. On top of the drum stood a stark white mass of muscle and horns, still glaring, only more intently now.
Tadfered looked toward the porch expecting to see Edna but she was gone. As he turned to face Peaches, he caught a glimpse of Edna in what must have been the kitchen window. She offered a sympathetic smile; then she drew an invisible cross over the red letters emblazoned across her shirt. She slowly closed the curtains and disappeared.
Tadferd turned to Peaches and realized that this was not going to be easy. He remembered something his grandfather used to say, ”Anything handed to you ain’t worth havin’” That was true he guessed, and he supposed it was going to apply here.
Tadfered took a stance reminiscent of the Old West gunslingers, but used a diplomatic tone when he spoke. “Peaches,” he said, smiling. “I don’t want any trouble; I would just like for you to get in the back of that truck over there. If you don’t mind.”
The monster goat shook his head from side to side, causing the large bell fastened around his neck by a rusty chain to clang violently. Goat saliva splashed against the barn wall and the Jaws theme music began to pound.
Peaches exited his perch with a jerk and landed with a thud. A cloud of dust engulfed the goat, then quickly settled. Peaches was standing as still as an oak tree in front of the old drum, looking at Tadferd with obvious disdain. To the goat’s right, the spittle ran slowly down the faded boards of the barn.
“We can do this the easy way, or…” Tadferd hesitated. He began to ask himself how bad he wanted this goat, if at all. Then Peaches pawed the ground with an enormous black hoof and slung some spittle in his direction. “… or, the hard way”.
He looked down and saw spit running off the side of one boot and his face went hot.
”Is that the way you want it?” Tadferd asked, his tone was forceful but still calm. The goat took two steps forward and lowered his head. His nose almost to the ground, the dust pillowed out with every breath.
A small goat broke line and walked attentively toward Peaches, and with quivering little goat lips, gently removed the bell from his neck. The smaller goat backed away slowly into his place in line, then fell over.
“Fainting goat,” Tadferd said to himself.
Peaches shook his head and pawed the ground. Tadferd squatted to the ground and laid the rope over one knee. He reached down and grabbed a handful of dirt and rubbed it between his hands, spit, and then slowly turned his hat around backward.
“Peaches is a girl’s name,” Tadferd said slowly and deliberately, and clapped his hands together with a smile.
Old Ms. Holbrook had reappeared on the porch with a dinner triangle and a large metal spoon. She clanged the spoon around the inside of the triangle signifying Round One, then dropped the items on the porch and scurried back into the house.
Peaches started forward gaining momentum with every thud of his hooves. Tadferd’s muscles tightened and he began to shuffle around like a quarterback whose pocket is collapsing.
The goat hit Tadferd in the midsection and drove him to the ground. They rolled, entangled in a ball of dust and snot, both kicking and grunting until they came to a rest up against the barn. Tadferd wiped the dust from his eyes and stared up at the goat that was standing over him.
”That all you got Peaches?!” he said, now yelling. “You’re gittin’ in that truck, big boy, ohhhhh yeah, you’re gittin’ in that truck,”
Tadferd scrambled to his feet and removed his head from the arm hole of his t-shirt, then walked over to the fence to retrieve his left boot. He put his boot back on and coiled the rope into a loop, muttering things like “truck” and “respect” and the phrase “…while I’m alive”.
Tadferd suddenly straightened up and grinned slightly with an idea. He looked at Peaches and shrugged his shoulders, “You win big boy, I quit. I’m gonna go right now and see if I can’t get my money back. You are way too much goat for me, boy. I’ll tell ya, right here and now.”
Tadferd started walking slowly past Peaches toward the gate. He dropped the rope on the ground. The goat didn’t move. Tadferd turned suddenly and leapt onto the goat’s back. He had one hand clasped on each horn and he was laughing maniacally.
Peaches startled, jumped straight up in the air, and then began to run. He ran straight toward the barn, then veered right into the herd of goats. Goats of all sizes scattered.
Tadferd tried to dig his heels in to slow the momentum, but it was of no use. His boot heels caught on a protruding root and his legs were thrown back behind him. One boot came off and landed in a pile of fainted goats. The poor little things didn’t move.
Tadferd and Peaches jousted and tugged and wrestled for what seemed like hours, each one biting or scratching the other, trying to end up on top. About forty minutes into the fray, Ms. Holbrook looked out the window just in time to see the two disappear behind the barn. When they reemerged they had acquired a garden hose, which was wrapped around both Peaches’ left horn and Tradferd’s left arm.
Peaches headed for the fence. Tadferd suspected that the goat would try to squeeze through the second and third board, and shed his passenger once and for all. He braced himself for impact.
The hose, still connected to the spicket, reached its limit. Their momentum caused them to turn in a wide arc back toward the barn. The hose stretched and the arc was perfectly smooth and controlled. They zipped past the window in slow motion and Ms. Holbrook saw, with great clarity, a look of dismay on both of the passing faces - not 12 inches from her.
Suddenly the hose snapped back and they accelerated toward the barn. They slammed against the side of the barn. Splintered wood, dust, and goats were expelled from the site with fury.
The impact was felt as far away as Harden’s Barber Shop in town. Mr. Hardin later reported, while being interviewed outside his mobile home by the local news crew, ”It sounded like a freight train.”
Dust filled the air, as animals housed in the barn began to crawl from the rubble. Some of the fainting goats came to and began the search for survivors. Ms. Holbrook scanned the yard for signs of the combatants. Seeing none, she walked out on the porch and looked again.
Barely visible through the dust, she saw Tadfered limping, with one boot, toward the truck, dragging an unconscious Peaches, and mumbling to himself.
Tadferd’s arm was still attached to the massive goat’s horns with the garden hose, and he was too tired to cut it loose. He hefted the limp body into the cab of the truck, pushed it down the seat toward the passenger door and crawled in behind it. He closed the door and relaxed against the seat, exhaling a deep breath.
“I’ll expect an apology outa you when you come too big boy,” he said in short bursts to the deep breathing carcass. He rested a few more seconds and then started the truck and wiped his brow. He pulled the shifter down into drive and started up the driveway.
Turning to look over his shoulder, he waved to the lady standing on the porch, and pulled out onto the highway. Settled in for the drive, he passed Mr. Hardin’s Barber Shop and waved.
A few minute later, Peaches opened his eyes.