Sarah Messer

We got the goats because at first they appeared so friendly and cute, like kittens with hooves. There by the barbed wire fence on the hillside above the stream where we waded with our inflatable rafts and giant pieces of styro-foam. The babies leapt and hopped behind their mothers whose udders swung like the water balloons we dropped on each other from trees that summer. At the end of the summer, we took two of the kids with us, having bought them from the farmer who named his cows "Roast Beef" and "Hamburger." How could we be so lucky?

The goats enjoyed the five-hour car ride from Vermont to Boston in the giant white Suburban. They pooped little pellets onto our sleeping bags that stretched between seat and into the recesses of the door handles. They slept in our rooms until our father finished their stalls in the horse barn. He said his one condition was that we let him name them. Then, as some kind of a joke, he named them both after German food.

For years they followed us like dogs, cried when we left them. They’d come into the kitchen and jump on the table, eat flowers out of vases. We were always putting our fingers in their mouths. We took them ice-skating, and to the grocery store in the back of the Suburban.

Years passed and they had many kids, some we kept and some we gave away. We named them all after German food, by now it was a tradition. From their milk we made all of the cheese for our brother’s wedding, which took place in a giant tent we set up in our yard. At the end of the party, we stole drinks off the empty tables, then ran giddy and drunk to the barn. We thought: how sad that the goats have been kept so long from this great occasion. We let out the goats who ran with us through the half empty tent where we found more abandoned drinks. The goats ate all the swags of flowers. We danced and danced as the goats moved through the tent and out then across the darkening lawn. Later we realized they had gone back to the barn themselves.

Years passed and we were teenagers. By then we had only three goats left. We set out the grain and water the night before so we wouldn’t have to touch them in our school clothes, so we wouldn’t get hay in our hair.

One morning the barn and house were filled with a terrible smell. Somewhere a skunk had let off a good one. As we drew closer to the barn, our eyes watered. Us with the hairspray, eyeliner and pumps. Us with our crop-tops and nail polish and tight jeans. A skunk had crawled into the pen at night and the goats had trampled it. Dead, it didn’t even look real; more like a stuffed animal skunk. The goats looked up at us; we had never seen this side of them before.

Our mother made us get rid of the skunk. Two of us held the goats while another used the pitch-fork and the fourth carried it in a wheel barrow to the woods. All day long in school we stank like goats and skunks. Our friends tried to cover it up with Loves Babysoft perfume, but it didn’t work. Eventually we were all sent home.

From then on we secretly resented the goats. And as if our thoughts had created a curse, two of them died that spring giving birth, and three of the kids also died. We kept the one remaining kid in a basket by our beds for a while, feeding her every four hours with a bottle. But when she was big enough, we gave her away. One morning we found the first goat we ever got, dead. We carried her out of the barn, and our father held her by the legs and swung her into the back of the new Subaru station wagon. "Why are you crying?" he asked.




I wrote this during a class I taught on the lyric essay. Students were in charge for the day and offering prompts. I wanted to write about something that was a big part of my life in a distant and abbreviated way. I also wanted it to be short. I took inspiration from Sarah Manguso's short-shorts (which we were reading that day). Here's [a link] to the McSweeney's box set we read.

As a follow up to the story, I now spend half my time working on a dairy goat farm in Michigan making cheese in their creamery. If you are in Ann Arbor, you should come find us at the Wednesday night farmer's market. Here's [a link] about the herd and creamery. Also [a video] of this year's baby goats.