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Bleat / Ernest Gordon Taulbee



The Billy goat ate three beer cans in the morning. By evening, it was on its side bleating in a slow and mournful cadence. It was as if it realized its mistake. The Billy goat was named Jesse, after a character in a sitcom long since canceled but thriving in syndication. During the original airing of the show the character was thought to have good hair, but in the years that passed his hairdo became a thing of ridicule from a time in fashion now terribly out of date.


When the Billy goat Jesse was young, he had an equally impressive tufts on his head and down the back of his neck, so the name was placed in jest. Still: he learned it quickly and would answer to it whenever called. He had a habit of keeping the family company in the years that followed. There was also great utility in his presence as he kept the vegetation on the hillsides cleanly manicured, so the men in the family did not have to engage in the exhaustive labor (not that the family ascribed to traditional male/female roles – the matriarch just made it clear that mowing and other lawn work was not her forte).


As the night progressed, the father and oldest son did what they could to comfort the dying Billy goat. They chided themselves for not being more vigilant about Jesse’s dietary habits. It was a firmly held belief amongst most that goats could, in fact, consume a great deal of odd things in the species’ peculiar pica. This seemed to be false as Jesse overindulged in aluminum, leading to his insides being delicately flayed by the gnawed metal.


They fed him water and found an old morphine vile and syringes they had horded from when the paternal grandmother had withered in cancer. That seemed to bring the goat comfort and his bleating calmed a bit, but as evening surpassed mid-night his brays increased and the father gave him a strong enough dose to bring his suffering to an end.


The father and the eldest let the body lie where it had passed and attempted a few hours of sleep, though slumber alluded them both as the whispers of the sad bleats stayed within their ears. They both leapt from their beds shortly after dawn, determined that a cherished family pet would not linger on the ground. The hurried to the shed for shovels so it could be given a proper burial.


Jesse was prone to perching on the hillside. The father ascended to that same spot. He could see the entirety of the farm that had been in his family’s possession for three generations. It would be proper place for Jesse to rest. He called his son and they began their labor.


It was already hot, and they knew the body had started to decay. The odor was faint, but it was rising. They turned the earth quickly, both highly skilled with a spade.


“I really hate that he’s gone,” said the eldest.


“I do, too,” said the father. “I especially hate how he went out.”


“I know,” the boy said. “It’s awful he was torn up from the inside like that.”


They continued their work until the grave was of substantial enough depth. They rested their shovels and walked to the corpse. They placed their hands on the Billy goat and each of them said a silent prayer. Tears met both their eyes.


“It makes me think about Uncle Daniel.”


“Me too.”


“Do you think he’ll be alright? Do you think he’ll make it?”


“No,” the father said, motioning for his son to lift the hind quarters of the animal. It had grown stiff and was awkward to carry as they crested the hill.


“It’s my fault,” the father said. “Your uncle left those damn beer cans here months ago, and I never picked them up. I knew I should’ve.”


Tears met the boy’s eyes again, “I should’ve too. Why did we leave them there?”

“I guess it was just a reminder that your uncle was here.”


Slowly and respectfully, they lowered Jesse into his final resting place. They covered him with an old blanket. They began returning the earth to the grave, and each shovel load fell like a weeping friend. By the time the sun was meridian high noon, the business was done and the Billy goat was buried.


They collected their tools and walked down the hill.


“We can go visit him,” the father said. “He was a good pet. He was family. We won’t soon forget him.”


“Do you think we’ll see Uncle Daniel again?”


“I don’t. I think he’s gone too.”


The boy remained silent a moment. He looked over his shoulder at the fresh grave, “Should we mark it somehow?”


“I think we will,” the father said. “Just later.”


The sun continued through the sky. The family went about their business. They ate their meals slowly with the father and the eldest leaving great sums on their plates, despite their bodies being depleted from the morning’s industry. They did more work around the farm, as farms demand to be tended no matter the day’s complications. As the sun descended, the eldest found a sturdy stone, and painted two names on it. The next morning he and the family mounted the hill together and placed it at the head of the Billy goat’s grave.


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ERNEST GORDON TAULBEE lives in Louisville, Kentucky with his family. Twitter (X) handle is @gordtaul.

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