Pops

by Alan Zacher

The bus hit another bump in the street, and I looked down again at my car in my hand and shook my head.

I had really, really liked my car, but not now. It’s a ’58 Chevy, and red, with a white top—just like our real car.  My toy car has a spring or something in it that makes the back tires move all on their own. Last night, I turned the car upside down to see if I could see what makes it move, but I didn’t see nothing. My car moves really fast. But, like I said, I don’t like it anymore. My dad gave it to me last night, after he came home from work. It wasn’t my birthday or anything. He just got it for me. He’s always doing things like that. I think it’s because he’s always so tired after getting home from digging ditches all day and doesn’t feel like tossing the softball around and all. When he gets home from work, all he really wants to do is eat supper and watch TV—I Love Lucy and such. He always likes it when Mom and me watch TV with him, but I don’t feel like doing that anymore. I want to be in my room reading my comics or magazines about the Army. Mom never watches TV with him. She likes to be in their bedroom knitting.

Dad bought me a bike last summer and learned me to ride it. It’s not a new bike, but it’s great. I can ride it real fast. Well, Mom won’t let me ride it nowhere but in our crappy backyard. She’s scared I’ll get hurt.  I hate that. She won’t let me do anything. I’m eleven, and she won’t let me do anything. I hate it, and I hate how she sometimes tells me that Dad’s stupid. He’s not. Like last summer, he was cutting the grass in our front yard—it’s a hill, our front yard. Well, he gets tired of going up and down it with the lawnmower. So he goes to Mr. Murphy’s store at the corner and buys two clotheslines. He ties them to both sides of the handle of the lawnmower. This way, he can just stand at the top of our front yard and lower it down and pull it back up. Pretty smart, huh?

They argue all the time, too. I hate it. A couple of nights ago, they were arguing about me going next year to public school. Dad said that he can’t afford it no more for me to keep going to St. Paul’s Elementary, and Mom told him that I wasn’t going to no public school with those rough kids where I might get hurt. I’m not afraid of those kids. Dad—on the hush, hush, you know—showed me some boxing moves. I’ll knock the stuffing out of those kids.

I don’t know why they argue anyway. Mom always wins.

I had soft-pedaled it around Mom all day. Our car needed brakes and after Dad got home and we had supper, he was going to take the car to Mike’s and leave it there. Then, Dad was going to get back home by taking the bus, and I wanted to go with him. He would have just dropped it off after he had gotten off of work, but Mom needed him to drop off a load of wash that she did today for Grandma.

She knew I had wanted to go, because I told her that I wanted to go. She made all the usual excuses of why I couldn’t go: “You got school tomorrow.” “It’s too cold.” I got angry and gave her the ‘silent treatment.’ At least that’s what Dad calls it when he gives it to her.

I didn’t think she’d let me go, but guess what, she did. After Dad had packed away two large baskets with Grandma and Grandpa’s clothes in the car, he comes back into the house and says: “Com-on. If you’re going, let’s go.” So I got to go.

I don’t know if they fought about it. Mom made me put on my winter coat, cap, and earmuffs, though.

It was real dark by the time we got to Mike’s. Grandma and Grandpa kept wanting us to visit; kept wanting Dad to have another cup of coffee, and kept wanting me to have more milk and cookies. I took my car out of my coat pocket and showed it to them. They really liked it; said it was cool.

I like going to Mike’s. Things get fixed there. The place ain’t much to look at. It’s just an old brick building with two large garage doors. The place, like Mike, always smells of grease and oil. One of those doors has a mail slot near the bottom of it, and Dad bent down and tossed the car keys in it.

“There,” he said, getting up, “that takes care of that. Let’s get to that bus stop and get home. I’m cold.”

At the bus stop—which was nothing more than a sign on a pole that said BUS STOP and an old wooden bench painted white years ago—we sat on the bench and waited for the bus to come. I was excited for the bus to come, because I had never rode a bus at night before. We waited and waited, but the bus never came. I got tired of waiting for it and took my car out of my coat pocket and began playing with it on the bench.

Then, suddenly, my dad says: “Here comes the bus. Hurry. Hurry.”

The bus looked like a mean dragon, spitting out smoke from its belly. The two doors opened with a gush of hot air.

Dad dropped some coins in the metal box that was next to the huge steering wheel. Dad then gave a nod to the driver. He was a fat Colored man. He was wearing a gray uniform and matching hat. I had never been that close to a Colored person before. It was kind of scary.

Rocking back and forth, like we was on a rollercoaster, Dad gently pushed me down the narrow path between the seats.

Except for an old man, the bus was empty.

“Let’s sit at the back, Dad,” I said.

We sat in almost the last seat. I was going to sit at the window, but it was so dark outside that I couldn’t see nothing so I changed my mind and let Dad sit there.

The bus moved real fast. I liked that. Then, it came to a sudden stop, almost knocking me against the back of the seat in front of me. Then, I heard the bus driver say, “You boys put them cigarettes out ‘fore you gets in here.”

“Yes, Sir, chiefy,” I heard someone say.

I looked to the front and saw three teenagers getting on. They looked mean. They sat in the seat behind us. Then, they started kicking the back of our seat. They kicked it so hard that I dropped my car out of my hand and it rolled off the seat onto the floor. Then I saw a hand scoop it up.

“Hey!” I yelled after turning around and jumping up on the seat. “That’s mine,” I said to the one in the middle, who had my car.  “Give it back.”

They just laughed, like snakes.

“Dad,” I cried.

Dad got up, real tired-like, turned around and said: “Give him his car.”

The one in the middle got up and says: “Make me—Pops.”

Dad stared at him for a long time, and then he said, like he was real tired, “Just give him back his car, will you.”

“And I said,” the guy said leaning over the back of the seat, “‘make me—Pops.’”

Dad shook his head, like he was real disgusted, and then he grabbed that guy by the throat and screamed: “Just give my boy back his car!”

Then everything moved real fast, like in a dream: the bus came to a STOP that almost threw me off of the seat; the guy on the end of the seat raised his fist and was about to hit Dad; I saw someone grab that guy’s arm and spin him around like a top.

“Who you gonna punch, punk?!” yelled that bus driver, holding him by his shirt and shaking him.

Dad stopped choking that guy and that guy grabbed his own throat and began rubbing it hard like he had a sore throat.

“This is my bus, and you ain’t gonna punch nobody,” that bus driver then said.  “You, punk,” he then said to the one Dad had choked, “give the boy back his toy.” He did. “Now, all three of you, get off of my bus.” They did.

After they left, Dad thanked the bus driver. They shook hands and everything.

Those guys stood outside of the bus next to the curb under a street lamp and, as the bus pulled away, they make gestures to my dad with their fingers and said things like: “I’ll remember you—Pops.”

I saw my dad’s face in the cold, frosted window. It looked old and tired. And something else: scared. I couldn’t believe it. He was scared. I didn’t know him. This wasn’t my dad. My dad was strong and brave. I hated it. I looked down and saw my car in my hand, and I hated it too.

 

Alan Zacher has self-published three novels, A Ghoulish Good Time; Murder, Vampires and Leprechauns; and For They Shall Wait. In 2012, Post Mortem Press published his murder/mystery novel I’M NO P. I.

@CRAFTBREWSNBUDS69

by Thomas Mundt

NSFW asks if there will be snacks so I ask him to take a wild guess. It’s a funeral, I remind him, so it’s probably BYO but almost certainly disrespectful. That doesn’t stop him from taking a Snickers out of the inside pocket of the linen sportcoat I lent him for the occasion. @CRAFTBREWSNBUDS69 would’ve wanted him to look good and keep his blood sugar up for the occasion, for his legacy.

The family seems normal, no visible scars or ankle monitors. Lots of Irish-looking cousins in khakis, checking their phones. Per NSFW, @CRAFTBREWSNBUDS69 was a huge White Sox fan and insists they’re tracking Chris Sale’s pitch count or adding Robin Ventura’s landscaper to their LinkedIns. I watch as the huskiest of the brood shows another a clip of a man on crutches advocating for a U.S. withdrawal from NATO and subsequent invasion of Luxembourg. “Sitting duck,” the hawk proclaims, and before losing his balance and falling face-first into a Weber grill. They proceed to lose their shit and are promptly called a pair of period panties by, presumably, an aunt, who then crosses herself.

“Community meant the world to him,” NSFW offers, the words trudging through nougat and caramel.

***

The priest who delivered the eulogy didn’t delve into his résumé as deeply as NSFW would’ve liked. @CRAFTBREWSNBUDS69 was a ride-sharing pioneer, prepared to take his act to the Chicago River once the investors and Kyrgyzstani strongmen queued up. According to NSFW, humankind is innately drawn to water, will leave no intergalactic stone unturned until we find more with which to cleanse our souls and open our pores.

“He was a still waterbirth,” NSFW explained. “Got revived by a miracle. No one felt that connection closer.”

I asked what he intended to do with the fleet of kayaks bequeathed to him by @CRAFTBREWSNBUDS69’s live-in girlfriend, Bianca, who just wanted them the hell out of her employer’s basement. She was already on thin ice with the salon, didn’t need NSFW’s bullshit during prom season. There were interested parties in Colorado, he insisted, an uncle with a skeleton key to a Mayflower facility in Fort Collins and 13 credit hours shy of a Class A Commercial Driver’s License.

“It’s an exciting time to be in the business,” he confirmed.

***

People were waiting on the cathedral steps to give @CRAFTBREWSNBUDS69’s widow the handshake where you sandwich the aggrieved’s hand between both palms. I yelled for NSFW to join me but he’d been drafted into a pickup volleyball game on the temporary court set up for Vacation Bible School. I watched him demonstrate proper overhand service form for one of the pallbearers, the emphasis on contact with the palmar surface versus the fingertips.

When it was my turn, @CRAFTBREWSNBUDS69’s widow asked if I had anything to mix with Crown Royal Regal Apple, preferably something brown and carbonated. I said I had a sleeve of Caffeine-Free Diet Dr. Pepper in my Wrangler to which she could help herself; the passenger side door doesn’t lock, I explained, so there was no need to click the button afterward. I thought I had a roll of Spree in the glove box, too, if she needed an upper.

There were bees everywhere and @CraftBrewsNBuds69’s widow hit one with one with a program from the service, knocking it to the sidewalk. It sounded like the crunch of cereal when she dug the heel of her pump into its thorax.

“What I need is to be out of this bra and into my whirlpool tub.”

***

His Followers count was 87, down from 94. It was indicative of the times, NSFW submitted, that a man’s online presence could take a hit before the man himself could find peace beneath the soil. There were apps you could run, he insisted; you could track down the Unfollowers and get to the Why? of it, the velocity with which @CRAFTBREWSNBUDS69 and his words were disposed. Sure, NSFW would have to get permission from the estate to serve as the feed’s administrator, perhaps even seek some sort of General Webmaster status with the courts, but wasn’t that owed a friend? Our Monterrey Pizza Dippers arrived, however, so the investigation was tabled indefinitely as our appetizers were served.

I suggested he stand down, recommended the high road or, if still under construction, the path of least resistance. Escalating any web conflict at this juncture would only throw sand in the gears of emotional machinery already replete with moving parts.

“I’ll roundtable it with my people.”

There was tomato basil marinara in NSFW’s goatee but I said nothing. DiMuzio’s had mirrors everywhere you looked and it would be revealed in due time.

***

Thomas Mundt is the author of the short story collection You Have Until Noon To Unlock The Secrets Of The Universe (Lady Lazarus Press). More stories and Twitter tomfoolery can be found at jonathantaylorthomasnathanmundtdds.com and @Jheri_Seinfeld, respectively.

Oscar’s Blues

by Gerald Kamens

The nurse left work at five o’clock. By the time she’d arrived in their driveway, her husband had already started digging, after the July heat had begun to fade.

“I was reading about political prisoners in some godforsaken country,” her husband shouted, when she came into the yard. “Forced to dig their own graves. Then, afterwards, the soldiers would shoot them on the spot. Fell right over into the holes. Jesus Christ!” Carving out a tiny grave for Oscar, her husband muttered snatches of curses and bellows as he sweatily dug down into the hard ground.

As she watched him, Martha thought about Roger’s rough childhood, their rough marriage, the second for both of them. She could barely make out his words, so disconsolate was she about her faithful cat, who’d befriended her, in his own sweet fashion, for going on sixteen years, twice as long as she’d known Roger.

Until yesterday, when she found little Oscar, lying under their bed, silent, barely moving. And this morning, he was dead. She hoped he’d have a better life in the feline hereafter, and wondered if it were true, as she’d heard from a friend, that departed pets came back to this earth as angels.

“I’ll get us some lemonade,” she said to Roger, a smallish, thinnish man, except for his incongruous paunch, which hung over his belt, as he hurled his pickax up and down, to make a big enough dent in the rocky ground out by their back fence. “Least,” he said, “we didn’t have to take him to the vet’s to put him out of his misery!”

She walked up to the kitchen, trying to recall exactly what had drawn them to each other initially, and into what wormhole that attraction must have disappeared a while back.

“Hey, wife, this is hard work. Squirt a little gin in that lemonade!”

Those were the last words she heard from him. When Martha came out from the kitchen and onto the back porch, carrying the tray with the two glasses, she saw one point of the pickax rooted in the earth, and her husband slumped over on that ground. The beginnings of Oscar’s grave could contain only the man’s hand. She walked over to her husband slowly, and, kneeling down, saw that he didn’t seem to be breathing. She took the pulse in his right wrist, the one hanging down in the half-finished grave. In her ER work, she’d taken many pulses.

Knowing for sure, since she was a professional, that he was dead, she walked slowly back up onto the porch, and slumped down in a chair. She sat there, immobile, for what seemed a long time, but probably wasn’t, wondering about mighthavebeens. Martha knew at some level that her customary state of feeling lonely had been replaced by one of being really alone, adrift in the ocean of the world. Finally, moving to the kitchen phone, although she realized it wasn’t really an emergency, she punched in 911.

 

Gerald Kamens has worked in a mental hospital, the White House, the U.S. Senate, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Most of his recent works are children’s stories, essays, and short plays. His last acting role was in Chekhov’s The Seagull.

 

Broken Wrist

by Jiayi Ying

1997.

I am seven years old. Grandma, Grandpa, Dad, and I are standing on the platform at the Gent-Sint-Pieters train station. It’s early—6am—and we’re waiting for the train to arrive to take us to Brussels, from where we’ll connect to another train that will take us to Luxembourg City. The scarves around our necks and the hats on our heads keep us warmed, but there’s something about the fresh coldness of the early morning that leaves us restless, makes our bodies bounce in place to their own beats. We stand under the white glow of moonlight, which seems to dilute just a little more every time I look at it.

Like us, the sky is only just waking up.

“The train must be delayed,” my dad says, in Chinese, to my grandparents. He looks at the schedule, locked inside a plastic case on the wall, to confirm his hunch, but the paper doesn’t return any new information. Our train that’s supposed to leave at 6:18 is still nowhere in sight at 6:16.

Aandacht alsjeblieft,” the voice of a train station operator blares through the overhead announcer. “Voor de trein naar Brussel deze morgen,” he says, a static crinkle stroking his flow of words, “het platform is veranderd naar platform zeven.

Vanwege deze reden, de trein vertrekt om zes vierentwentig nu. Als uw vandaag naar Brussel gaat, ga dan naar platform negen nu. De trein vertrekt in acht minuten.” He pauses before concluding, “Dit is het laatste bericht, dit is het laatste bericht.

I stand on the platform, not sure what to do. When else did he announce this? And how many trains are going to Brussels this morning? My dad, who has lived in Belgium the longest out of all of us, survives without needing to know Dutch. In medical research, he says, everyone knows English. It is on me.

“I think,” I say, in a meek voice in Chinese, “that the train is on a different platform. He,” I point at the concrete above, “just said platform seven.”

“Is it our train?” my grandpa asks.

“He didn’t say a number. Just the train to Brussels.”

“As long as it goes to Brussels,” my dad says. “Are you sure it’s going there?”

His asking makes me doubt. “Yes,” I say hesitantly. A small uncertainty gathered like a dust ball inside me—did I dream it? “He said Brussels.”

We ran to platform 7 and got on the waiting train. It took us where we needed to go. On the ride there, my grandparents boasted with pride and disbelief. Without me, they kept saying, we’d still be standing on that empty platform, waiting for a train that would never come. “Ayah,” my dad said, with a sigh, “None of us can understand.” A streak of amusement and feeble regret lingered in his voice. At once, I felt a sense of age, of respect. Is this how grownups feel? To have people do things by your word.

We spent the day in Luxembourg City, walking around aimlessly and posing for pictures in front of elaborate castles.

That afternoon, on our way to the train station, my grandma slipped on a metal cellar door on the sidewalk. She tried to break her fall and ended up snapping her right wrist. Back home, at the hospital, she had a titanium plate nailed across where the bones disconnected to hold the two pieces together so that they could grow back into one.

2011.

I am twenty-one years old, visiting Xi’an with my mom and sister. It’s summer vacation and, my dad, in the middle of a research project, could not claim, as we could, the time off as his right.

This morning, my fourth great-aunt—Grandma’s youngest sister—called to invite us over to her apartment. Earlier this year, her son had stayed with my family for three days, a detour in his trip through Europe. “Your fourth great-aunt wants to treat you, because your uncle said your mom’s cooking saved him,” Grandma said, with a laugh, as she announced the day’s plans she’d made for us. “He could not get used to any of the food in France.”

I nod, even though I wasn’t there. “Do you remember him?” my grandma asks.

“I don’t,” I say sheepishly, guiltily.

“You were too young,” she says. The last time I saw him was right before I left China, at five years old, and even then it was brief and sporadic, at a big family gathering. He knows what I look like now, Grandma tells me, because of the pictures my mom showed him. I nod and smile. I have no idea what he looks like now. Or before.

“How are we going to get there?” my mom asks. There’s five of us with my grandpa. We’d need two taxis.

“I can take one with Joyce,” I say, confident and eager. At twenty-one and fourteen, neither of us are kids.

My mom dismisses the idea. “You don’t know where Fourth Great-Aunt’s house is,” she shoots back, matter of fact, at me.

“I can write down the address,” my grandma says. She gets up from the couch and walks towards her bedroom. Her voice raised, she tells the story about when she and Grandpa visited us in Belgium and we were going to Luxembourg.

She comes back with a piece of paper, an edge of it raw from being torn off, and a pen. With her left hand, which she trained after her fall, she writes a string of characters and, with her right, she hands the note to me. “This,” she says, pointing to what she wrote, “is your great-aunt’s address. This,” a second line, “is our address.”

I look at it, none of it recognizable. She sees the blank look on my face.

Ayah,” she says, with a sincere smile. “I forget that you can’t read Chinese anymore.”

 

Jiayi Ying lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Psalm

by Sophia Park

The small window of the room brightened as the sun rose over the mountain next door. Even though the light had barely begun to hit the empty bed, the impatient rooster had already begun his piercing morning call to demand that his humans start their day. Down in the quiet sanctuary of the church, Su-jin had started her prayers. Her slightly hunched back was moving softly forward and then back as she confessed her innermost thoughts and desires to the Only One Who Knew It All. The comfortable rhythm that filled the room reflected the many years of prayer and service she had dedicated to the church. Though her husband was the pastor, she had somehow become the exemplary religious figure in their church. The sun’s rise picked up pace and introduced the other parts of the sanctuary to the day. The light traced the piano and the newly acquired electric organ. It dipped and swirled as it highlighted the patterns on the glass podium. As if an alarm that only she could hear went off, the rhythm of her prayer sped down as she moved to a barely audible whisper of repeated thank you, thank you, thank you. Gamsahapnida, Gamsahapnida, Gamsahapnida.

She moved on with her day by greeting the two cats running around the courtyard. They created an orange and white blur around her legs as they purred for their first meal of the day. Their morning menu was the leftover fish from her meal last night. Her slight stature with bowed legs and a wobbly walk betrayed her body’s ability to keep up with her mental desires. Though she complained of knee pain, she never let it actually bother her because it was better than the bout of cancer from five years ago. She continued on to the other animals. They all seemed particularly eager that morning for their meal. All four dogs were yelling, each in a different register. The chickens were the worst.  They pecked each other while screaming nonsense. Unable to understand why they were so restless this morning, she moved more cautiously than normal and carefully removed the lock to enter the chicken pen. The impatient rooster stared at her as she placed the food in their bowl. Amused, she treated him with an equally strong glare. She alone held the key to the rooster’s heart, but even her enticing food never seemed like a fair exchange for his obedience. Obedience was not her objective today, not when she had such a long day ahead of her. She exited the pen. 

As she made her way to the other side of the farm, she stopped by the green house to check on the drying peppers. The valleys of the peppers’ wrinkles were a beautiful deep red color that promised a deep spicy flavor that would be worth the wait. The two cats had silently followed her into the green house. As she scurried them out with a small broom, she noticed some peppers had fallen off of the plastic covering they were drying on. She gently placed them back into the mix of the other hundreds of peppers waiting for the sun to change their flavors as the days passed. She pushed on, as there were other plants and animals waiting for her.

Three goats stared at her from outside their little house. The goat compound was large. The inner space was for sleeping and evading the harsh winters. A fence that came up to her chest marked the outside space. Two large black containers were arbitrarily placed in the outside area because sometimes, every creature enjoys being alone. The female was purposefully marching around as her two small kids were tailing her at a distance barely enough to prevent tripping on each other. She paused thinking about how she had heard the pregnant female’s urgent cries two weeks ago in the middle of the night. She rushed over to assist the birthing but discovered she was powerless. It was up to the female goat’s given innate strength to push the new lives out of her. The kids were small but their fur was bright and shone with good health. What a wondrous sight it had been to witness. She gave thanks.

When she threw their food over the fence, she noticed that the male was missing. Normally, he was the first one stampeding his way towards her. After making sure there was enough food for the female and kids, she walked around the compound. She checked inside each of the containers, but he was nowhere to be seen. Last week, she noticed that he had figured out how to jump over the fence. She had assumed he was too shy to pursue his curiosity because he jumped right back whenever someone walked by him. She wondered if his courage finally got the better of him. She chuckled and told herself she would be wandering too. What fence had limited her fearlessness? Thinking about her granddaughter, she chuckled noting curiosity ran in the family. Hoping he would return soon, she continued with her day.

The sun had fully exposed itself and she decided it was time to eat. It was just herself so she pulled out some banchan and already-cooked rice instead of putting together a new meal. The solitude also meant she had to acquiesce to the lack of a hot, freshly prepared bowl of soup. She transferred a small, one-person sized amount of each banchan into a separate plate. Usually, she preferred a nice color-coordinated arrangement. Today, she placed them in the order of the containers in front of her. The bright red color of the kimchi was clashing with the slightly darker red of the pickled radishes. It would have to do just for today. Out of habit, she arranged the greens from the lightest to the darkest colors.

She sat on the corner seat of the table. She whispered a prayer before starting her meal. Picking up her spoon, she considered where the goat might have gone. The farm was a mountain-locked peninsula with a river in the fourth direction. Maybe he was going through some type of goat mid-life crisis with the birth of the kids. She laughed at the thought of the goat having an existential crisis while climbing the mountains. At least it was the perfect place for such crises. The kimchi had fermented to just the right amount for her taste that day. She muttered a thank you.

The day moved quickly as she tended to the plants. The lettuce was growing in full force this season. Her neighbors and church visitors never failed to comment on their enormous size and always asked for her special formula. Nothing in particular, she would always say, but the soil on this farm is very good. Though full of rocks, the dark brown soil boasted its healthiness when she ran her fingers through it. Rows of garlic peaking through clear plastic, which helped retain their nutrients, grew obviously taller every day. She didn’t have to do much for them. The garlic knew what they were doing. For her age, she was considered very strong and healthy. However, when she had to kneel down to pull the ready garlic from their dirty dens, sometimes she felt her energy draining faster than in the past.

She could breathe up the mountains. Before her husband’s retirement from a large church downtown, she had lived in a small apartment. The church was very close, but everything else was too small. Her only respite was the small patch of plants she had nurtured on the apartment’s balcony. She had been provided with so much, yet the fermented guilt for not thinking that there was enough never fully vacated. The new place allowed her to spread out and occupy the space she desperately needed after a life of meticulous, difficult religious service. She walked around checking in on the farm’s growing life. She was thankful that she no longer lived in an apartment. She wouldn’t have the opportunity to worry about a missing goat. There would be no goat at all.

Around dinnertime, the sun slowly started to make its descent. She still did not see the goat. Slightly more concerned than she was in the morning, she selected a nice walking stick from the ground and started to walk out of the farm. The two cats reappeared at her side as she walked past the main entrance. The goat probably would not enjoy the noisy cars on the main road, but given his long absence she decided to give that direction a chance. Accompanied by the cats, both smelling a spot here and there like the dogs would, she allowed her walking stick to guide her downwards. The setting sun was hugging the top of the mountain in front of her. Had the goat purposely disappeared to the song of an especially beautiful evening?

She continued to walk down but her knees ached for her to stop. Sighing, she turned around. The cats followed her steps. Even though she had not made it too far down the mountain, the uphill was more of a challenge than anticipated. For her, the difficulty of the upward climb was proof of each of her passing years. She reached the house and looked over to see if the goat had returned. He was not there. Unsure of what to do, she decided to wait inside the house. Besides, her show was about to come on.

At ten to eight every night, she watched the daily drama that was on TV. She imagined that her daughter and granddaughter in America had joined her that night. They would have led the search party for the goat. Her granddaughter would make some strange comment about Korean society and how obviously it was the show’s protagonist’s mother-in-law who did it. Two church visitors had brought her fresh apples from their orchard.  She peeled them adeptly with a knife and chopped them into smaller edible pieces. The apple crunched and the juice was sweet. Her granddaughter had taught her some strange saying from America about how an apple tells the doctor to go away. She chuckled.

The preview for the next night’s episode barely finished when she heard a strange thumping noise outside. A black flash swept by the window. She turned the lights on outside. She heard odd clicking noises coming from near the goats. When she walked over, she saw the male goat standing outside of the pen. His beady eyes stared with great concentration. He seemed to be shivering. Why was he just standing there? Did he want her help getting in? When she took one step closer, he quickly turned around and jumped over the fence.

He walked around inspecting whether anything had changed. She told him nothing had changed so he needn’t worry. As if he understood what she said, he looked over at her, snorted, and entered the covered area. She walked around to the gate where she found a stack of hay to perch on. The inspection was still in progress. He bumped into his partner. He eyed the leftover food. She noticed there were apple peels left next to their pen. She poured the peels into the eating area. He pounced on the peels. She watched him fondly as he ate enthusiastically. He reminded her of her daughter and granddaughter when they came back home. They ate like her cooking was the only food left in the world. She smiled. He was home. You can come and go, but try to come home. There are those who thoroughly miss you.

 

Sophia Park is an artist, science educator, and writer born in South Korea and currently living in New York City. She is a co-founder of A Ramen Quest, a ramen review blog.