I seen Yakov down at the swamp, and went down there, and said, “Baby, you can’t scatter Mr. Patterson’s hamburger plastics all over his yard no more.” Yakov looked up at me, swamp water dripping from his beard. “You hear me?” I said. He nodded, so I snapped my fingers and he followed me to the house. We got inside and Boyl, already into his third beer, said, “I’m’a kill his ass come Sundy. We’ll invite the friends over for a goat roast.”
“Don’t you ever say that,” I said. “You know I don’t want to hear that, Boyl. Don’t you ever say that to me.”
“You think I’m joking? I ain’t joking. That sumbitch has caused me nothing but trouble. Come Sundy I’m’a cut his throat.”
“Not my goat!” I shouted.
That’s when the door knocked, three times hard like the cops like to knock. Gave me a start. Those three knocks were the same what I heard when they come took my daughter away last September. But I looked through the peephole. It was Animal Control. “Yeahp,” I said, and let Sarah, as her nametag said her to be, into the house.
“There’s the culprit,” Sarah said, and did like most do when they see a goat in the house. She laughed.
“He didn’t mean nothing personal,” I said. “Mr. Patterson takes it personal. I told him I’d clean up the garbage myself if Yakov did it again, but he takes it personal.”
“Yakov,” Sarah said, and Yakov hopped onto the coffee table.
“He’s Russian,” I said. “You leave the vodka with the cap off he’ll turn it up and guzzle it down. Sweetest goat you ever saw, am I right?”
“He’s a good looker,” Sarah admitted.
Boyl said, “That goat’s a danged genius. You might not believe this, Sarah, but if you give him a handful of eminems, he’ll roll them around in his mouth, tasting them. He’ll swallow them all but for the yellow ones. The yellow ones he’ll spit out of his mouth one by one. He does it every time.”
Sarah laughed. Right then Yakov let some turds fall out. It just happens. He’s a goat for godsake.
“You going to be able to keep him from roaming the neighborhood and dumping out people’s garbage? This is the second time we’ve been called out on this. Why can’t y’all keep him in the pen?”
“That goat’s a genius, I don’t know how he does it,” Boyl said. “We’ve never seen him get out. Don’t worry though. Most of the time we keep him in the house. I guarantee you that’s the best treated goat you ever saw in your life. How many goats have you seen that get to hang around inside with the air-conditioning going in the middle of summer?”
“He’s the first,” Sarah admitted.
“That goat’s got a fierce thirst for booze,” Boyl said, and did a little demonstration, poured some beer into a bowl. Yakov slopped it down.
“Okay, well, I’ll give y’all a warning this time, but if I have to come back I won’t be able to do nothing. We’ll have to take him and book him.”
“I don’t think you’ll be hearing anymore complaints,” Boyl said. “Thank you for coming out, Sarah.”
“I’m just doing my job,” Sarah said, and I watched her through the blinds get into her vehicle and pull off on down the road. Then I popped a beer. Yakov had come into the kitchen with me.
I said, “Don’t you worry,” in a voice only for Yakov. It was the voice I’d used for my daughter before the Office of Children’s Services ruined my life without the slightest hint of mercy. I said, “You’re my magic goat, aint’cha?” Yakov nodded and scraped his hoof on the linoleum. “That’s my Russian baby,” I said, and scratched his head.
“Are you talking to that goddamn goat?” Boyl said from the couch where he was putting a new guitar string on his hardtop Seagull. That’s the one he broke last night, what ended the partying. After that everybody left and I partied on and passed out. This morning when we left the house to get the day’s beer, that’s when Yakov ran off. I was too tired and hung over to go after him.
“I’m sorry, but it ain’t going to happen,” I told Boyl.
“Bring me a beer, goddamnit!”
I brought Boyl a beer. I said, “It ain’t going to happen. That goat is my goat. He’s a genius Boyl, you said so yourself.”
“That goat is going to be some good eating. His time is long overdue. What do you think we took him in for, so we could make a pet of him? You don’t make a pet out of a goat, you know better than that, Darling. What part of your brain are you missing?”
“The part that allowed me to hook up with you. That’s my goat. You touch one hair on his precious body and you’ll be sorry.”
There was a knock on the door. “She back?” Boyl said.
I looked through the peephole. It was Mr. Patterson. “It’s Mr. Patterson,” I said.
“Open it,” Boyl said.
I opened it. Mr. Patterson was holding a steel pipe, holding it like Moses holds the big stick of his in that TV special, only Mr. Patterson didn’t need no walking stick. Mr. Patterson is a uptight Christian man can’t stand to see other people having fun. Anybody puts a homemade sign in his yard says DEATH TO THE WICKED OF THIS WORLD has got issues on the headscrews. I’ve seen people like him aplenty. In the crazy Jesus talk’s a desperation so thick. They’re hiding something from themselves is all, using Jesus to fill their eyes with enough logs so as not to see didly. I grew up among bible-thumping believers. I know. The belief keeps off the difficult thing to confront. I would not presume to know what Mr. Patterson is trying to protect, but it must be a hot topic. Why else would he arrive at the door with a steel pipe whose purpose looks to be to crush in a man’s brains?
“Mr. Patterson,” I said.
“She give you a ticket?”
“She gave us a—”
“That’s none of your fuckin’ business,” Boyl said, getting up from the couch to stand beside me.
“What I wanna know,” Mr. Patterson said, “is what kind of people live with a goat in the house? Does that goat sleep in the bed with you?”
“Yes he does,” Boyl said. “He takes hot showers with us and eats off the same plates we use. Drinks beer,” Boyl said, and stepped back and filled Yakov’s bowl up.
“If Yakov knocks over my garbage can one more time he’ll be sorry,” Mr. Patterson said, and with that stepped back. Boyl slammed the door so hard that Mr. Patterson had to’ve felt the air brushing against his loose fitting slacks.
That night people came over again to party. Boyl don’t even have a job. It’s me the one to work, get up at 4 a.m. all throughout the week to trudge my ass off to open Burger King while he sleeps in, wakes up, drinks a beer, smokes a cigarette, and plays guitar. Boyl believes musicians ought not to have to work because talent don’t grow on trees. He might be right about talent not growing on trees—last time I looked closely at trees I didn’t see no rednecks hanging in the branches. The trees were treats of dogwood flowers. I’ve always loved live oak trees, and you can be sure the Spanish moss dripping down’s got nothing to do with the beards of poor white trash sorts claiming to have talent. It’s just a truism that in South Tallahassee on into Crawfordville, and in Woodville and Saint Marks and all everywhere else around this part of the country there are enough guitar-playing song-writing men to fill a quarry with. In whatever nook or cranny you care to look in you will find one or two, along with a backwoods redneck philosopher, a redneck spiritualist, a gator wrestler and a peanut boiler—all of them have talent, right?
“Hayl yayuh!” Jimmy said when Boyl finished that song where he sings about how he’s not gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more.
“That was sweet,” Vernon said. “You got your own way of doing it, Boyl. That was a sweet rendition of a great song.”
“Once down in Miami,” Boyl said, “Bob Dylan was playing at the stadium, and I had me a ticket to see him, but I was getting drunk with about fifteen other women and men, and playing Bob Dylan songs all the while to where everybody was getting a Bob Dylan concert for free. Well, I didn’t end up seeing Bob Dylan that night, but all them other folks I was with sure got to see Bob Dylan.”
Oh, everybody laughed and clapped their hands. I’d heard that story a thousand times, but I laughed too. We popped new beers. We smoked and partied hearty and everybody got to talking on Yakov, how he damn sure is a trip. We told everybody the Animal Control officer came over and didn’t give us a ticket because Yakov is the most charmingest goat you ever saw.
“I don’t think he’s charming,” Daniel said. Daniel’s the one to give him to us. He said,
“When I got my daughter a goat I thought he’d be charming too, but then he starts reaching his head down and sucking his own dick.”
“You don’t need to say another word,” I said.
“I’m serious,” Daniel said. “He’d suck his own dick and then shoot off in his beard. That’s why I give him the name Yakov. He used to be regular old Billy but I had to change his name to Yakov.”
“Please don’t talk bad about my Russian baby,” I said.
“I didn’t want my daughter seeing that, I can tell you that,” Daniel said, and he said, “After Yakov splooged all into his beard and all, then he’d start licking it out of his beard. I did not want that goat within a mile of my goddamn daughter! Ha ha! I know you’ve seen that shit, Boyl. Now you know why I give him to ya don’t’cha?”
“That goat’s days are numbered,” Boyl said, and sucked his teeth.
“That’s about the best eating goat I ever seed,” Jimmy said.
“I’m’a cut his throat tomorrow,” Boyl said, and pulled the knife out of the floor and ran it across his own neck to show what he was to do to my Yakov.
I got so drunk. I passed out. Slept till noon. When I got up with my danged hangover I looked for Yakov, but Yakov was not in the house. I looked out the window, didn’t see him. I made coffee. I watched the Mutant Ninja Turtles on TV. I heard shouting going on outside, and thought maybe Yakov was getting himself in trouble again, but when I looked through the blinds, all these light beams pouring through the branches of the trees, all I saw was Mr. Patterson. He was taking condoms out of their wrappers and blowing them into balloons. He had a big old box full of condoms, some kind of party pack, I guess. They were colored blue and green and yellow and red, and some had to be some kind of French tickler because they had knobs on them, what looked to me like the skin on a blowfish. Each time Mr. Patterson had one blown up he’d tie it off, then tape it to the wheels of his van. I watched him blow up three condoms and tie them off. Each time he blew one up he raised his face to the sky to shout, “Don’t forgive them Father God, they don’t know what they are doing!” After taping half a dozen blown up rubbers to the tires of his van, Mr. Patterson got in the cab and released the brakes, let the van roll down the driveway, some of the rubbers popping, others floating off to go bouncing over the yard grass. I was glad to see that Yakov was not the trouble, but I was a bit concerned over Mr. Patterson. I didn’t know Mr. Patterson from didly squat, but I knew something bad had to’ve happened in his life. How else could he go around acting like such a fuckin’ idiot?
Now Boyl, he was throwing up in the bathroom as Mr. Patterson screamed at the sky. That’s not unusual. In the mornings we cough, and we will throw up on occasion. Even the loveliest young couples living pure rich promising lives together will throw up after the celebrating. Everybody celebrates now and then. The prettiest girls will bend over a commode to puke out her guts. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one, that I am in good company.
I said, loud enough for Boyl to hear through the puking he was doing, “Mr. Patterson just blew up a bunch of rubbers and taped them to his tires and popped them!”
Boyl came out from the bathroom in my pink terrycloth robe, some yellow bile in his beard. He said, “What?”
I repeated what I’d said.
Boyl said, “Bitch.”
I said, “I’m serious. I just watched him do it,” and I laughed. Everybody gets to see funny things now and then, but funniest was the look on Boyl’s face when I tried explaining for the third time what I saw. Boyl still had the drippy bile in his beard, and I love him, I don’t say this in passing, I really do love Boyl, but the son of a bitch wanted to slit my goat’s throat. “See for yourself,” I said, presenting the blinds.
“Goddamnit if that guy ain’t about crazier’n shit,” Boyl said.
“He’s got some problems,” I admitted.
“Somebody needs to call Sarah on his ass.”
“Can we call Animal Control on humans?” I said.
“Mr. Pattterson is on his hands and knees now,” Boyl said. “He’s grabbing the popped rubbers with his mouth and pulling them off his tires.”
“Hard to believe but true as fuck,” Boyl said.
I peeked through the blinds. It was true. Now what on earth could make a man degrade himself thataway? We didn’t know. I said, “Boyl, I’m worried about Yakov.”
“That goat’s ass is mine,” Boyl said. “Where is he?”
“You need to go out and find him,” I said. “I’m worried about him, Boyl. You remember what Sarah said. She gave us a warning. Who knows what kind of bad thing could happen if we don’t get him back right this minute.”
Boyl stared at me a full five seconds before he said anything. He said, just like I had lost my nut, “Do you not understand why I had my knife professionally sharpened yesterday afternoon? Do you not remember us going to the flea market so that I could sharpen my knife? What did you think I had my knife sharpened for? Did you think I went to all that trouble just so I could shave patches of hair off my arm to show people how sharp my knife is?”
“Boyl, I’m serious, I’m worried about Yakov,” I said.
“I’m serious too! I don’t like you acting like I ain’t going to slit that motherfucker’s throat just as soon as we get him back! It’s all been arranged, Darling. There’s nothing you can do about it now. Jimmy promised to bring coleslaw, Daniel’s bringing a gallon of his homemade wine, and you, you’re going to make some deviled godamned eggs goddamnit!”
“It ain’t going to happen,” I said.
“Are you pursing your lips at me?”
“I’m just telling it like it is. You touch one hair on his precious body it’s over, Boyl. I won’t stand for it, I told you that.”
Now it was a standoff. We were having us a staring contest, but then from outside came Mr. Patterson’s voice again. “Do not forgive them father, for they know just exactly what they are doing!”
I leaned back over to peek through the blinds. Mr. Patterson was going through the whole thing again of blowing up his rubbers. I was about to pull my eyes away from the sorry sight when I saw Yakov. His little head had poked up behind the windshield of Mr. Patterson’s van. “Oh my God, he’s in there,” I said. “He’s in the van, Boyl, Yakov, he’s in Mr. Patterson’s van!”
“Bullshit!” Boyl said, but when he peeked through the blinds he saw it was true.
“That sonofabitch,” I said.
“I don’t know what he thinks he’s doing,” Boyl said, “but this going too far. Uh-uh. You don’t steal your neighbor’s goat. People get shot to hell for a lot less than that. Mr. Patterson must be got some death wish going on.”
“I can’t believe he put my goat in his van!” I said. “That’s like putting somebody in prison.”
Boyl said he was to put on some clothes and then he was to do something, but hell if I was to wait when my goat was being abused. I busted through the fuckin’ door and ran to the street.
“What the hell you doing to my goddamn goat!” I screamed.
Mr. Patterson let go of the yellow rubber he was blowing up. It made a fart sound as it whipped up into the air and landed on the top of his van where nobody could see it. Mr. Patterson picked up his old Moses pipe and made like if I was to step in his yard he would bash my brains in for me. I said, “Mr. Patterson, please. Yakov didn’t mean no harm.”
“I told you he’d be sorry. Am I a man of my word? If I am a disciple of God, and if what I do is blessed by the Lord, how can I renig on my promise without that a curse be on my own head?”
“It was my fault,” I said. “If I wasn’t so drunk nothing would’ve happened. Last night he would’ve stayed in the house, but he got out because of me. Blame me!” I said
“Goats are creatures of the devil,” Mr. Patterson said.
“Nobody’s perfect,” I said. “Are you perfect?”
Mr. Patterson didn’t answer.
“That’s all I ever do is get drunk,” I said. “They took my daughter away. They said I was a bad mother. Mr. Patterson, won’t you please try and show some compassion for me? He’s all I’ve got. Please give me back my goat.”
Mr. Patterson looked away because I was pleading with him so earnest, and I don’t think any man likes to see a woman distraught such as I was at that moment. He looked to his feet.
“You never did nothing you weren’t proud of?” I said.
Mr. Patterson cleared his throat. I was making headway. He was about to soften up, but Boyl flopped down the steps and made his charge. “You’d best to goddamn let that goat out that van this minute,” he said.
“Looky here,” Mr. Patterson said, flipping his pipe up crosswise to hold in both hands. Looked like he was guarding something valuable, what he might be willing to give his life for. He said, “Mr. Beerman coming to collect his devilgoat, what he sends into the night for to cause trouble on the good folks of the neighborhood.”
“Case you hadn’t noticed,” Boyl said, “the people of this neighborhood hate your guts. They drive an extra three blocks to bypass having to see that obnoxious sign you got planted in the ground. Nobody wants to see that shit. They drive an extra three blocks to avoid passing by your house.”
“Now that’s a laugh,” Mr. Patterson said. “If they do a detour it’s because of all those beer cans in your yard. I never seen the likes of it. You must have a thousand beer cans. You got beer cans under the philodendron leaves and all in the ditch and every single place you look you see a beer can. Why don’t you ever clean it up?”
“I do clean it up. Every three months I haul the cans in and get me a refund.”
“That you spend on beer,” Mr. Patterson said.
“Better than having rubbers hanging everywhere in the yard,” Boyl said. “I won’t even try to guess what’s the matter with you.”
“I’m making up for the sins of my neighbors,” Mr. Patterson said, and Yakov stepped up into the driver’s seat, his pretty little face looking so innocent and pleasing as his luscious beard wiggled below it. Yakov was looking right at me through his glass prison, and I was looking right back at him, trying to give him a look of reassurance. I did not want Yakov losing faith in me as his protectress because Boyl is right that Yakov is a genius. Yakov knows stuff, and understands regular English. Whenever Boyl talks about slitting his throat over a bucket to bleed him, he looks at me. I give him a wink. I got it all under control, I give Yakov to understand.
“Every rubber that I pop is one less rubber that will be used in the prevention of the Lord’s will,” Mr. Patterson said.
“You learn that in Sunday school?” Boyl said.
“I don’t care what you think,” Mr. Patterson said.
“I know you don’t. You don’t care what anybody in this neighborhood thinks. Don’t you even know that when you buy a pound of rubbers, that gives the producers of rubbers the incentive to make more? You didn’t think about that, did you?”
“You’re going to Hell, buddy, that’s all there is to it.”
“You let my goat go right now!” Boyl said, and unfolded his pocket knife.
“Oh, Mr. Beerman’s going to cut me?”
“I sharpened this knife yesterday because we’re having a goat roast today.”
“A goat roast?”
“I’m going to slit that motherfucker’s throat just as soon as you let him out of the van.”
“No he ain’t!” I said.
“You’re going to kill him?”
“We’re going to eat him.”
“Eat the devil?” Mr. Patterson mused.
“Y’all got to shutup,” I said, and was about to say more, but Yakov done popped the van into neutral. As the van rolled down the drive Mr. Patterson dropped his Moses pipe and grabbed hold of the door and was dragged screaming and flailing across the street into our yard. Finally he let go and the van missed the house by a hair and plowed into the Camellia bush, knocking it down. Our landlord was to be none pleased on this, but at least Yakov was in our yard now. I didn’t wait me another second. I went and freed my Russian baby and snapped my fingers for him to follow me inside the house. I snapped open a can of Busch beer and filled his bowl to the brim. As Yakov lapped it up, the beer all in his beard, I sat on the floor beside him and petted him and soothed him and kissed his dear lovely self.
Outside, Boyl and Mr. Patterson were putting their heads together on the best way to get the van out of the yard. They were revving the engine, spinning wheels, and talking to each other just like they were long lost buddies. I said, “See what you did, Yakov, you magic goat you? You made friends out of perfect enemies. Don’t you worry your pretty little heart. They will not take you away from me, not ever.”