A DAY WITH FRIENDS

10/31/2020 3:22:55 PM
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A Native New Yorker, born in Harlem and raised in The Bronx. I spent a great deal of time visiting, living in and working in Virginia. As a result, many of my short stories are in the vein of Zora Neale Hurston, with extensive use of southern black dialect.
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The collar around goat’s neck was loosely tied by a short rope to an outer section of a fence surrounding the yard of a moderately-sized house belonging to Arthur and Delores Shiflett. Arthur was the owner of a small trucking company, Creston Transports in Creston, Virginia. A portion of the house’s yard had been covered with gravel and used as a parking area for company trucks.

Anxiously awaiting for the two young boys, the goat hoped the dog which sat on the house's front porch would not scare them away. The goat had heard one boy call the other “Wayne” and Wayne called the other “Ron”.

On this particular late, hot and humid Tuesday summer morning, the boys, Ron Lacey, who was fourteen years old and his cousin, Wayne Morton, who was thirteen, were coming down a narrow, dirt path.  They and others used the path as a shortcut between two of Creston’s residential subsections, Harrisontown and Marble City.

As the goat had seen before and expected, the dog ran down from the front porch and began barking at the boys. Much to the goat’s relief, however, as the dog was behind a closed and locked gate, the boys weren’t frightened by the growling and pacing canine.

The goat concealed a smile as the light-brown skinned Ron made a face at the dog and stuck his tongue out at it. 

From the corner of his eye, the goat watched as Wayne took his black afro pick out of the back pocket of his shorts, grabbed it by its Black Power fist-shaped handle, pointed it at the dog and yelled, “En garde!”, as he had seen in movies about Zorro and The Three Musketeers.

Both boys laughed.

"Ya thank Billy wants ta go for a walk?" asked Ron, as he pushed his eyeglasses back up on the bridge of his nose. It only seemed appropriate to them that the goat should be named “Billy”, as that was how they heard people refer to goats. Although the goat’s name was Chester, he didn’t mind that the boys called him “Billy”.

"Maybe," replied Wayne. "He might be tired of bein' tied to dis fence alla time."

“Cain ya see anybody uppair on de porch?” asked Ron, reaching down to tie the lace on one his sneakers.

“Naw, an’ Ah thank de trucks already lef’ out fo’ de day,” replied Wayne

Ron clapped his hands and rubbed them together. “Great! Les take Billy fo’ a walk up de track.”

“The track,” as most of Creston’s residents referred to it, was a commercial railroad track that was used three times per week, and ran approximately ninety-three miles from Richmond north to Creston.  Its starting/ending point in Creston was just below Main Street. Residents walked on it when they went back and forth to the commercial area referred to as “town,” as well as other points along the way.

Wayne and Ron walked to where Billy was tied to the fence. The goat stood still and watched as one boy held him by the head and stroked his torso, and the other undid the rope. Chester/Billy liked how gentle the boy’s arm felt on his back.

As Wayne was untying the rope, he said, “Dis rope’s kinda wet. Did it rain or sumfin las’ night?”

Upon hearing this, Billy once again regretted not having upper teeth. In tying the rope the rope to the fence, he had to use lower teeth, tongue and lips. This made it wet and it didn't have enough time to dry.

“Naw,” replied Ron. “Maybe it’s dew.”

“Yeah, you’re prob’ly right,” said Wayne. “Does feel kinda slick an’ slippery.”

After Wayne finished untying the rope, Ron grabbed it and the three of them began their trek towards the railroad track. The goat, walking between the boys, occasionally stopped to smell and lick at something he saw peeking out of the bushes and weeds alongside the narrow dirt path. When he felt the gentle tug of the rope on its neck, he began walking again.

As the cousins reached the first part of the fence beyond sight of the house, Ron turned to Wayne and said, “Waita minute. Ah got an idea.”

“What?”

“If we cut down through dat paf behine Paul Jones’ house, we cain make it ta de track wifout anybody seein’ us. Dat way we can take Billy fo’ a walk all de way up de track ta Lake Bristol.”

Wayne laughed. “But ya know we caint keep Billy out wifout somebody thankin’ we stole ‘im. Plus we gotta feed ‘im sumfin.”

“C’mon we won’t keep ‘im out too long,” said Ron. “We’ll git ‘im back ‘fore it gits dark.”

Wayne looked at Billy. The goat anxiously hoped he would agree.

“Alright, but yo’ ass is the blackest if we git caught wif ‘im,” said a smiling Wayne.

 As planned, the trio walked down behind Paul Jones’ house and ambled slowly and covertly under several large deadwood trees until they reached the railroad track. With only a bit of minor difficulty, they were able to scale the eight-foot high, dirt, grass and gravel embankment adjacent to the track’s rail bed.

“Okay,” said Wayne. “We’ll see how it goes wif Billy. But, he might need sumfin ta eat and drank firs’.”

“Ah thank Ah heard somewhere dat goats eat hay,” said Ron. “We cain stop by Bradford Marshall’s house an’ git some hay and water from him. Dey got dem horses in de bottom of dere yard an’ he won’t squeal on us.”

With Billy in tow, the two boys began walking up the railroad track in the direction of Bradford Marshall’s house. As they turned a bend, a large dog came charging out of the bushes and up the track’s embankment towards them.

“Shit!” yelled Wayne, as he, Ron and Billy began running.

When the dog finally caught up with them, the boys reached down to grab some large, black and gray railroad track rocks. But, as they lifted their arms to throw them at the canine, Billy turned and headbutted it down the embankment. The dog yelped and struggled to regain its footing, as on its back, it slid head over paws down over gravel, dirt and grass. Quickly recuperating, the dog charged back up the hill again. Billy stood fixed into position and when the dog reached the tracks, it headbutted it in its side, sending it tumbling down the embankment again. This time, when it reached the bottom, it slammed into a tree and yelped. Feeling disoriented and angry, the dog attempted to climb back up the embankment, but to no avail. It barked once and then ran off unsteadily into the bushes.

Wayne and Ron looked at Billy with amazement.

Billy stood still, as he unblinkingly watched the area where the dog had been. He wasn’t going to let that mean dog come back and bite his friends. He’d headbutt that dog to death before he’d let that happen.

“Damn,” said a smiling Ron. “Billy looks like angrier den ten people.”

Wayne laughed. “Ah hope he never gits mad at me like’at.”

Ron shook his head. “C’mon let’s git ‘im sumfin ta eat an’ drink. Cool ‘im off a bit.”

As the boys began walking again, Billy, using the pretense of looking for something to eat, continually looked back over his shoulder. “Nasty dog,” he thought to himself. “Don’t you come back up here!”

When they arrived at the Marshall house, the trio saw two teenaged girls playing in the yard. From previous conversations he’d heard between his two friends, Billy knew that one of the girls was Kim Baxter, on whom Wayne had a crush, the other was her friend, Zelda Evans. The girls looked up and ran down to where the boys and he were standing.

“What ch’all doin’ wif de Shifletts' goat?” asked Kim.

“We jus’ takin’ ‘im out fo’ a little walk,” replied a smiling Wayne, as he loosened the rope a bit.

“He’s cute,” said the Zelda approaching the goat. She began petting him. “Didju name ‘im?”

The goat was licking her hand.

Ron said, “We call ‘im Billy.”

Kim, with some trepidation, strolled over to the goat. “Billy don’t bite, do he?” She began petting it.

“Naw,” said Ron. “But, he does like ta headbutt now and den.”

The girls quickly moved away from the goat. Billy fought hard to conceal a smile.

The boys laughed and then told the girls about their encounter with the dog on the railroad track.

            Kim and Zelda laughed.

            Zelda then said, “Musta been de Smiths' dog. He’s mean as hell.”

“You ain’t lyin’,” Kim agreed.

“But, Billy was time enough fo’ his ass,” said Wayne.

Billy was happy that his hair hid his prideful blushing.

“Cain we git ‘im some hay an’ water?” asked Ron.

“Yeah,” said Kim. “It’s a buncha hay down by de pony shed an’ y’all can git water from de well.

Zelda, who knew about the mutual crushes shared by Kim and Wayne, said, “Me an’ Ron cain git it. C’mon Ron.” She and Ron began walking towards the pony shed.

Kim walked to where Wayne was standing. Billy had an idea.

            As Kim and Wayne began talking, Billy sneakily and casually began walking in circles around the two of them, as if he were grazing. The rope began to wrap around Kim’s and Wayne’s legs and thighs; they were too pre-occupied with one another to pay attention to it. When Billy was certain he could do it without hurting either of them, he pulled the rope with his neck. A surprised Kim and Wayne fell to the ground with their legs and arms touching. Both were startled and a bit embarrassed, but began laughing.

            “Dat damn goat is crazy,” said Wayne.

            “Maybe he was readin’ our minds,” said Kim.

            Wayne, who had begun disentangling himself and Kim from the rope, blushed.

            Kim leaned and gave him a kiss on the lips.   

            Billy looked away and smiled.

            Wayne and Kim were still sitting on the ground. Just as he was about the return Kim’s kiss, Zelda and Ron emerged from the pony shed.

“What’s goin’ on hair, y’all?” asked a grinning Zelda, as she and Ron walked towards them.

“Nuffin,” replied a blushing Wayne. “Me an’ Kim got tangled up in Billy’s rope.”

Wayne and Kim stood and began brushing dirt and grass off their clothes.

Ron winked at his cousin, who pretended not to notice.

“Alright, y’all nevermind all dat, let’s git our friend hair sumfin ta eat an’ drank,” said Wayne.

The quartet and Billy walked down to the fence surrounding the shed. After Wayne tied Billy to the fence, all of them grabbed a few handfuls of hay. Ron put water in a bucket from the Marshalls’ hand-operated well pump. Each teenager carefully fed Billy, as the goat occasionally stopped eating to take a few laps of water and lick their hands.

“Damn, if he wasn’t hungry and thirsty,” said Wayne.

“Speakin’ uh bein’ hungry,” said Kim. “We havin’ a cookout tomorra fo’ my little bruvver’s birfday. You and Ron should come.”

The boys began smiling.

The goat pretended to drink water, as he also smiled.

“Alright, Roger Wilco, will do,” replied Ron.

“Ah hope so,” said a grinning Zelda looking in Ron's direction.

They stared at each other for a moment until Wayne said, "Aw shucks now."

A blushing Ron said, "Shut up Wayne wif no brain."

They all laughed.

“Well, we’d betta git on de way,” said Wayne.

The girls petted the goat once more and then bid them farewell. “See y’all tommorra,” said Kim.

Both boys and the goat began walking back towards the railroad track.  After walking the track for another half a mile, they finally reached Lake Bristol and decided to go for a swim. They reasoned that their bodies and shorts could air dry in the warm summer breeze. Wayne tied Billy to a bush, then he and Ron removed items from the pockets of their shorts, took off their socks, sneakers and shirts, and walked down to the lake.

Ron entered the water first.

“Damn if it ain’t cold,” said Ron in a quivering voice.

Wayne joined him at the water’s edge and touched it with his toes. “Damn sho is.”

“Oh, well, Ah ain’t no fraidy cat,” said Ron as he dived into the water.

“Here Ah come! Geronimo!” yelled Wayne, as he jumped into the water.

Both boys were splashing and swimming in the lake when they heard the sound of another splash. When they looked in the direction from where it had come, they noticed that Billy had joined them in the water and was now swimming, as well. Billy enjoyed swimming.

“Damn if Ah knew goats could swim,” said Ron.

Wayne stared at the goat in amazement. “Well, you learn sumfin new evraday, Ah guess.”

Ron laughed and said, “He’s a betta swimmer den you.”

"Shut up," said Wayne, as he splashed water in Ron’s direction. He laughed.

The goat moved back and forth smoothly and agilely in the lake. He was enjoying its coolness on its hair and head.

The boys and beast swam for approximately a half-an-hour. Finally, Ron said, “Ah thank we oughta head on out. Ah still wanna go down ta Jeffrey’s an’ play some basketball.”

“You’re right,” replied Wayne. He moved to grab Billy’s rope.

The boys and Billy waded to the lake’s edge and then walked out of the water.

After getting dressed, they walked onto the track and began heading back towards the Shifletts' yard. Once there, Ron re-tied Billy to the fence.

“Okay,” said Wayne. “We’ll see ya agin soon, Billy. The goat licked his arm.

Ron then added, “Yep an’ behave yo’self. Don’t go ‘round headbuttin’ dogs. Or people fo’ dat matter.”

The boys were laughing as they headed down the path to Harrisontown.

Later that evening, Delores Shiflett was standing on the front porch of her house when she saw something out of the corner of her eye. She called out to her husband, "He's back again!" She laughed and went inside.

Arthur Shiflett walked out onto the porch and smiled. He called out to one of his drivers standing at a gasoline pump re-filling a truck, as he pointed in the goat’s direction. "Tommy did y'all evva fine out who dat goat belongs ta?"

Tommy looked to where Arthur was pointing and walked towards him. “Naw, boss. Me an’ de uvver fellas axed around, but nobody knows.”

"Ah sho would like ta know who keeps tyin' 'im ta dat fence," said Arthur.

“Ya want me ta get rid of it?”

"Well, he don't bahva nobody, so it don't make me no nevermind if dey put 'im dere. Ya cain leave ‘im alone fo’ de time bein’."

Both men were laughing, as Arthur reentered the house and Tommy walked back to the gasoline pump.

As evening became night, the skies darkened and porchlights in the surrounding area were turned off, the goat stared up at the sky and smiled. He then walked to where his rope was tied, undid it and slowly strolled into the underbrush about five yards from the fence. He then entered a tunnel that led him to a series of other tunnels beneath Creston. His natural instincts made the need for light irrelevant, so it was easy to find his way around in the darkness. He found his resting place and laid down on a collection of hay and grass.

While waiting for sleep to overtake him, the goat thought that despite the run in with the dog, he had shared a wonderful day with his friends. He was glad they let him take them on a walk and swimming. After all, he rarely got a chance to spend any real time with them. Maybe next time they could show him the thing they called “basketball”.

Then the goat thought about seeing those girls earlier. He knew Wayne was shy around Kim, so he was glad he helped break the ice for him, without breaking anything else. The goat smiled at his own stupid joke.

Additionally, seeing those girls made him think about the female nanny he liked in Culpeper. She was part of a herd of goats on the Jolley family farm. Aside from being nice to him, sharing her food and water, her beard was just like his. And, speaking of beards, his two human female friends, Sharon and Penny, did a great job of braiding his beard. It had been almost two weeks since he'd seen them, He decided to travel down to Gainesville tomorrow to visit and maybe take them for a walk.

Finally, the smiling goat drifted off into a peaceful sleep.

 

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