ART OF LIVING l 2
A short story
CSince the hurricane, he had heard, the jobs
were there for the taking. The kid who
harlie was headed to the Gulf.
pumped gas at the Shell back in Red Bank had been
down for a week in March and told him all about it.
Places were cheap, the water was warm, and the girls
were looking for action. Good thing for Category Five
hurricanes, he said, and it struck Charlie that this was
a hateful thing to say just as he realized it was exactly
where he needed to go.
Lucy’s farm was only a stopover, a place to hide
out, save up some money, and then get back on the
road. Goats, Charlie >gured. How much work could
they really be? Getting out of Red Bank—that had
been the hard part.
He was wrong, it turned out, on both counts. The
days at Lucy’s felt like a broken record, a never-ending
limbo. He just couldn’t seem to get anything right.
Not to mention the weather, which looked like it was
there to stay. Triple digits for a week, hot as the hinges
of hell, and going on forty->ve days with no rain.
People were saying it was the worst drought in a
century. Charlie, wrestling with the crazy-wheeled
wheelbarrow, already sweating at seven-thirty in the
morning, >gured it had to be the worst drought in a
million years. The pastures were as scorched as a
space shuttle launch site. The low hills in the distance
sizzled in the sun, too much to look at. All across the
state, >elds were going up in ?ame. One spark from
a mower blade hitting a rock and the whole thing
would go. Lucy reminded him several times a week
that the tractor was strictly forbidden.
As he hefted each bale of hay across the >eld to a
hay rack, the goats followed him, ripping o=
mouthfuls with their square little teeth. When they ran, their
heavy udders tangled in their hind legs like big rubber
balls. Sometimes they tripped, landing on top of them
with a bounce, and Charlie would wince, afraid that
one would pop like a balloon, spraying hot milk everywhere. The goats had yellow snake eyes and were the
colors of stones: some brown, some gray, some white,
some striped, sedimentary. They moved as one body.
The kids, miniature versions of their mothers, scrambled to keep up and got punted around in the confusion. When he >nally managed to get each bale forked
into the big slatted hay racks, three or four goats leapt
into each one and bedded down.
Lying in your food while you eat it, Charlie
thought, stopping to catch his breath. Not such a bad
idea. There were plenty of nights he was so exhausted
that he wouldn’t have minded doing it himself. The
goats slit their yellow eyes blissfully, grabbing mouthfuls of whatever was in reach, while at the other end,
their puckered assholes winked turds into it. Smart,
Charlie thought, leaning on the pitchfork, but like
most things the goats did, pretty damn stupid, too.