We were hungry but rarely starving, or not outside of winter. We grew potatoes, turnips, beans, squash, Swiss chard. Carrots, parsnips, a few other things. We stockpiled what didn’t rot and canned a lot of fruit and vegetables. Beginning in September Cara went into the hills and hunted mushrooms and foraged edible weeds which too often tasted like they looked. We had beehives for honey. The chickens gave us their eggs. Well, we stole them, but they didn’t seem to care. The river had fish in it, and in midwinter we bored through the ice on the lakes and dropped our lines in. When all else failed there was roadkill on the way into town. The one thing we didn’t have was milk for making cheese. I’d almost forgotten about cheese.
It turned out that somebody somewhere had some cows and made cheese and sold it in town. Cara brought a hunk of it home one night. Inside of its cloth wrappings it was sweating like it was alive and very nervous, but it smelled like it was dead. She set it on the table and we looked at it. The thing was having some sort of hot flash. Cara slid her knife out of its sheath, the same implement she used to gut fish in winter, decapitate mushrooms in fall, and skin rabbits in spring and summer. She carefully sliced off a tiny corner. A hunk of it glued itself to the blade. She pointed the knife at me, so I peeled it off and stuck it in my mouth. How something so vile could taste so good was further evidence that God was just toying with us.
Next Cara brought home some sort of pie that looked like it was made out of leather. She cut the skin off the top and the insides smelled like Dan’s feet. This was cheese you could eat with a spoon. Or you could just dip your finger in. It tasted good if you didn’t mind the taste.
These bizarre cheeses made me question what was going on in the world. I’d been holed up in this house for so long. What kind of people were running around out there now? The next time Cara ventured into town I almost tagged along, but I thought I’d better get the wet clothes on the line instead. Unlike some men I’d known, they weren’t going to hang themselves.
Toward the end of summer Cara traded a heap of scrap metal for two goats, a male and a female, which she towed home in a cart on the back of her motorcycle. The goats had never ridden on a cart hitched to the back of a speeding motorcycle, but when Cara stopped in the yard they hopped out and looked around through their ghastly keyhole eyes like they were going to make us an offer on the place. Cara laughed. The female was quivering and looked retarded. The billy urinated and started chewing the grass at its feet.
Dan was wary of them. He could have broken their necks with one hand, but he was afraid. Their small wizened faces made them look capable of speech, but when they opened their mouths all they had in their throats was a strident, braying laughter.
Cara built a little paddock off the shed where she kept her motorcycle and let them sleep in the shed at night. The motorcycle she wheeled up a plank and parked on the back porch exactly where I liked to sit and stare at the hills. When she was in town I wheeled the motorcycle out of the way, but then one day I wheeled it down the plank and took it out for a spin. Then I did it again and again. Only the goats ever saw me ride off and come back an hour later. If Cara knew about it, she didn’t say anything, which I appreciated.
The goats were a nuisance but at least they couldn’t talk. Sometimes the male got his head stuck in the fence and we had to twist his neck and pull him out. This seemed subnormal behavior even for a goat. I didn’t expect him to thank us, but he never seemed angrier than when we were helping him out of a fence. I didn’t understand how such lean, dry beasts could produce such sweet, creamy milk. Cara didn’t know how to turn it into cheese, so we just went ahead and drank it in glasses. Then the female stopped producing and there was nothing we could do about it because it turned out we weren’t goat people.
When it rained the goats retreated into their shed. Sometimes the male hopped up onto the roof and stood there in defiance. Once he rammed Cara with his horns and she flipped him over and put her knee on his neck until he stopped bellowing and just lay there. He never rammed her again.
We never gave them names. They didn’t last long enough for that. By the time winter set in and the coyotes had started to circle, Cara’s dreams of goat cheese dried up completely. One night, after a few glasses of gin, she unsheathed her knife and went out to the shed. I didn’t hear a thing. I dealt myself a hand of solitaire at the kitchen table. If I won, I told myself, it would be an easy winter. But when I saw I was probably going to lose I messed up the cards and dealt them again. I played until I won.
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