Amy Souza and Denise Marois

Amy Souza
Digitally manipulated photograph
of original artwork
(marker, acrylic, and collage on paper)

The Goat Club
By Denise Marois

Inspiration piece

Desiree bends over a copy of a 1926 National Geographic open to a picture of an Indian man crossing a monsoon-swollen river. He is carrying a goat over his head. The man has a resigned look but the goat’s eyes are hopeful.

She is on the porch, the sun warm on the scar that runs from the top of her head to the base of her skull where the hair still refuses to grow.

Behind her, in the house, she can hear her mother crying. Desiree’s lunch, a plate of fried chicken, is beside her untouched. Desiree’s father speaks softly, words she picks out in between her mother’s sobs, “Anita…doctors said…will return.”

Desiree’s brain is wrong, even after five months. The headaches are less frequent, the gaps in her memory closing, but she still cannot eat more than a few bites at a time, cannot put into words that she is starved but the lead inside her makes no room for food. Words whirl inside her head, but she can’t yet give them voice.

The goat looks out from its smudged inkiness. Sometimes, Desiree is convinced that eyes in pictures can see her. She places her hand over the goat’s eyes. In the house, the sobbing goes on and on until at last her mother, weary, quiets, and Desiree feels it’s safe to go inside.

She shuts the magazine, closing the goat’s eyes. She has never seen one in person but she imagines giving it the food on her plate and telling her mother, look, I’ve finished it. She imagines the man and his goat making it across the river and through the rain alive, sees them even now somewhere, almost 30 years after the picture was taken, living on a farm, happy. She carries the plate, sets it down on the table and manages a few bites of congealed chicken.

Her father is in the living room listening to a French jig on the Victrola.  One of her favorite tunes is a song “Mares eat oats and does eat oats, and little lambs eat ivy.” But her sister, Marguerite, stepped on that record one day by accident. Desiree cried for a week, but that was two years ago and she no longer misses it.

A dusty silence has settled over the kitchen. On the table is a glass of milk and Desiree touches it with warm fingers. If Marguerite were here, she would let her have the milk. She would not be angry about the broken record. She would say nothing and her mother would not cry.

Desiree sees that her mother is slowly disintegrating, can barely hold up her own skeleton. Her voice has gone hollow. She drifts through her days with a distant half-alive look. Her face is the face of a porcelain doll that’s been left in the rain to weather and crack. There are days throughout the summer when Desiree watched her at the kitchen sink and saw light passing through her mother’s wrists.

Since Marguerite’s death and her mother’s slow disintegration, Desiree floats through the days, a water-logged thing that can barely open her jaw. Her eyelids are frozen at half-mast like flags signaling mourning. She tries to capture time in the amber recesses of her brain, but they continue to flit by as though she doesn’t exist.

Sometimes she awakens to the impact of her head broken open upon the road. Images burst on her brain, a car, a road, a jolt like a finger in an electrical socket. She sees Marguerite riding on the sideboard of Uncle Laurent’s old Ford, Desiree inside the car holding the handle. The door moves under her hand, flies open. Then Maggie’s startled face, her hand reaching out for the handle that’s jerked away. After then the road, the pain, her eyes opening to confusion.

Her father comes in, places a cool hand on her shoulder. “Desiree,” he says in a voice delicate as glass. “It’s time for bed.”

The day has vanished without her knowing, taking no notice of her at all. Her mother is saying her rosary in the room across the hall. Desiree lies in the double bed, reaches out to Maggie’s empty side and falls into a deep, lonely sleep.

Next morning her cousins, Celeste and Petronille, are at the kitchen table. Petronille says, “How you doing, zipper head?”

Desiree instinctively reaches back to touch the scar, shrugs.

Celeste slaps Petronille’s hand. “Sassy mouth,” she says.

Petronille grins. “Want to come stay with us for a couple of weeks?”

Desiree has not left her own farm since the accident. She’s walked up and down the dirt road, thrown pebbles at the old snapping turtle that lives in the shallow stream by the pipeline, watched the clouds and listened to the river sing over rocks. But she hasn’t left.

Her father folds his hands into a steeple and stares at the interior. Desiree knows that the moment she leaves the farm, it will all vanish.

“I can’t,” she mouths the words slowly.

“Yes, you can,” her father’s tone says he will decide for her.

She is a block of ice. She looks around for some avenue of help but there is nothing, no one to take her side. Maggie would take her side, but Maggie is gone.

“Come,” Celeste leans forward, says in a conspiratorial whisper. “I have something for you. You won’t believe this, but I’ve bought a goat.”

“A goat,” Desiree’s mother almost shrieks. “They’ll eat the side of your house if you’re not looking.”

A portent has entered the room and tapped Desiree on the shoulder. She thinks a goat eating the whole side of a house might be something to see. She imagines the goat after the monsoon, eating the man’s house, all that water behind them, the rising river. But in the next moment the man is losing his strength and letting the goat fall. Then she knows, the goat is dead, and the man, too, drowned in the rain.

Her mother fixes Desiree with a look bordering on desperation and Desiree realizes that she must go, must make a show of healing, or her mother will go on weeping until she, too, drowns.

She nods as something like a bleat escapes her throat.

She fights to keep from screaming when they drive out of the yard next morning. Petronille helped her pack and the suitcase beside her bulges with mismatched shorts and tops, socks, threadbare pajamas. She wears her single pair of shoes, canvas sneakers with the soles coming unglued. She slouches in a fetal position until they leave the dirt road and are on the highway that runs past the lake, the scene of the accident, and the cemetery where Maggie’s body lies. Desiree has not been to her sister’s grave. As they drive past, she turns away until she is sure the cemetery is behind them. In the front seat Petronille eats peanut butter cups and tosses the empty wrappers in the back aiming at Desiree’s head.

Celeste hands her a peanut butter cup. Desiree stares down at the orange wrapper. She bites off a tiny piece and it does not hurt her stomach. Petronille reaches over and pats her knee. Celeste nods into the rearview mirror. “After we get there, if you’re not happy I’ll bring you back,” she says. “Just give it a day or two.”

Desiree looks out the window. She can manage for a day or two and if everything is gone when she returns, she will simply throw herself into the lake where Maggie drowned. She is weak from keeping her world intact. And she is hungry for food, for release. She takes her time eating the single piece of candy, settles back with her legs tucked under her and falls asleep.

She wakes to find they are on the narrow dirt road to Celeste’s house. The road is hemmed in by weeds that rise to the windows. Then they’re passing a field of emerald grass and buttercups. At last Celeste’s house is there. Desiree and Petronille carry her things up to the bedroom and go to see the goat.

It is inside a pen by the house, eating grain. It is small, brown with large eyes and a white blaze down its face. It bleats as they approach. Petronille offers it a carrot but it comes to Desiree’s outstretched hand and licks her palm. She brushes her fingers along the white line of fur that marks its back like the line on a road. She is crying, but does not know why, just knows that the goat is alive and the lead inside her is melting. The goat butts Desiree and she wraps her arms around its head, presses her face to its neck. It leans against her, warm, and she feels its softness against her scar. It rises from the flooded waters and washes her in forgiveness.


  1. Posted February 27, 2011 at 11:54 pm | #

    It’s really interesting to look at the very evocative artwork and to see the connections with the story. What a challenge for Denise to write a story from the point of view of a character without language. Such a richly rendered inner life. Delicate and graceful, this world full of loss and beauty and forgiveness. What a wonderful collaboration.

  2. Posted March 2, 2011 at 4:36 pm | #

    Very sooky and unique in its perspective. Rich in imagery.

  3. Posted March 2, 2011 at 4:36 pm | #

    Woops, I meant spooky.