The Goat by Claire McAneny


Pinks and golds streak the sky to signal the end of a successful day weeding between the lavenders. They will be ready to be picked and dried tomorrow. A gentle breeze brings the smell of the lavender wafting to your nose. Your shoulders and arms are covered in the calming scent. You always have a good night’s sleep after working with lavender. Such a friendly and welcoming plant. It doesn’t make you work for its scent. Not like roses. You always have to be careful and wary around roses. As soon as you relax and get confident the thorns get you. They break the skin and the blood appears.

But the birds are singing and the air is full of their song as they settle down for the night. Soon, you too will be settled for the night in front of the fire with a nice cup of tea.

As expected, the goat is in the field. White hair shining out against the lush green of the grass. Your instructions are very straightforward. Get the goat from the field to the shed before it gets dark. Johnnie had emphasised that point alright. The goat could not be out after dark.

There is still a bit of a stretch in the evenings and a nice flat stone in the wall that is just the right shape and height for a seat. There is heat in it too from the sun shining on it all day so you sit for a bit. The goat is still eating grass, or whatever it is that goats do. When the sun dips behind the tall pines at the bottom of the field you stand up and stretch out the aches in your back.

The goat is now down the very end of the field. So you are careful to close the gate behind you, just in case the goat takes a notion and runs out of the field and away up the road.

The sun’s rays have left the field and it is now mostly in shadow. A chill has settled in after the heat of the day. You think of your warm jacket discarded beside the lavender. Once you get the goat into the shed, you can get home and light the fire

The goat is looking at you now. Hard to know what it is thinking behind those odd shaped pupils. The horns curve from between its ears like scimitars. Its teeth flash as its jaw works from side to side.

You cross the line where fading light meets growing shadow. The dark shapes of bats detach from the darker shapes of the pine trees. Insects land, biting at your uncovered skin. The sharp sting of the insect bites is accompanied by goose bumps. They prickle from your exposed wrist and along your arm. A shiver starts at your neck. Flesh ripples as more goose bumps erupt down your spine. You rub your neck to generate heat. The friction of skin against skin quiets the lifting of hairs off the skin.

The wind is making itself heard in the branches of the trees. The pine needles rubbing against each other are creating a wailing sigh. The grass ripples as a furry shadow goes against the wind and moves it in the opposite direction.

Your footsteps are muffled by the soft grass. Sound is disappearing with the light. Could it be that the dew that has landed and moistened the grass is stopping the sound?

You look back and see the dark cat is now sitting on the wall. It has chosen the spot you were sitting on. The cat slits its eyes as it absorbs the body heat from the stone.

The nictitating membrane in the cat’s eyes reflects back the light in a flash of yellow green. Two shining orbs floating in hazy darkness. If eyes are the windows to the soul, what does it mean when they change colour?

An unnatural sound pierces the gloom of the pine trees surrounding the bottom of the field. A coughing screech that could never be made by a human throat. It cuts off suddenly as if the darkness has reached out and silenced even this sound.

The road on the other side of the stone wall is still bright and clear. Free from shade and shadow. A distance of rippling grass away. All that would be required to get to it is a couple of steps and a quick climb and then you would be back in the light. But the goat is watching and the cat is judging.

It would be dangerous, you decide, to approach the goat. The long grass could be hiding uneven ground. A dip in the earth that could result in a sprained ankle, maybe even a broken one. You reverse backwards, slowly, so as not to startle the goat.

As light appears around you and the shade diminishes, you turn. The gate to the field is closer now and so is the heat of the fire at home. Your steps quicken and you can hear the grass as your feet move through it.

You don’t realise that not all the sound is coming from your feet. The sounds of the goat’s hooves striking the earth is an underscore to the lighter sounds of your human footsteps.

The goat’s head lowers as your hand reaches for the gate. But the curved horns make contact first. Your outstretched hand falls past the latch.

The wet crunch sound of your skull connecting with the solid stones of the gate post cause the cat to blink disapprovingly.

The cat watches as the goat dances on the back of your body and uses it to reach the top of the wall. The goat skips and dances across the yard. The cat abandons the cooling stones of the wall and slinks into the ever growing shadows.


Claire McAneny lives in Ireland surrounded by countryside. When she is not writing she can be found in her garden which contains lavender, roses and cats. But no goats.


Published 8/15/19