This a brief excerpt from the author’s novel-in-progress, Guatemalan Rhapsody
A few days later, while sitting on the rocks that served as the front steps, avoiding work, Arturo, Leo, and Adriana saw their father coming up the mountain, and on his shoulders was a goat. Adriana let out a shriek that Arturo was sure had startled the goat, because he could see it jerking and thrashing on his father’s shoulders, attempting to get free.
“¡Ay!” Leo exclaimed, putting his finger in his ear. He tsked and swatted Adriana’s shoulder saying, “You’re going to make me go deaf.”
“He got it, he got it,” Adriana said, not listening to him, jumping up and down.
“He’s going to give it back if you don’t calm down,” Leo said.
In that moment, it became clear that, in their excitement, they had forgotten to pretend to be doing housework. All at once, they ran under the tin roof and grabbed buckets of dirty dishes, soap water, the broom, and Leo went so far as to grab a rag to polish the plates. As they all pretended to clean, Arturo watched Adriana hold the broom, going back and forth over the same spot, shaking with excitement she was trying to contain, like electricity was traveling through her body.
When their father opened the gate that divided their property from the communal road, Arturo heard the goat let out a bleat, as though it were announcing royalty returning home after a tiresome journey.
“Papa,” Adriana shouted, and ran out of the kitchen with Leo and Arturo on her heels. Arturo stopped at the top of the steps and watched his father set down the goat—its legs tied with yellow rope, the same kind they used to hold the door shut in the outhouse.
Their father pulled a knife from the sheath in his belt, held the animal steady by placing his hand on the goat’s side, and undid the front and back legs. The animal jumped up and steadied itself, then cautiously walked in the opposite direction of where they were standing.
“He is your responsibility,” Amadeo said, listing all of the things that would need to be done to care for it, adding, “and you will milk it. We will drink some and sell the rest, if there’s enough.”
With tears in her eyes, Adriana said, “Thank you, Papa.”
“¿Where are we going to keep it?” Arturo asked, still standing at the top of the steps.
His father turned to look at him. “That’s something you’re going to have to figure out,” he said, then brushed by Arturo, the smell of his sweat lingering in the doorway. “Tie him up for the night,” their father called out to them, “and start preparing dinner.”
Arturo walked down the steps and joined his siblings, who were staring at the goat. It was mostly brown with white across its face and dark brown on both sides like continents on either side of an ocean. It wasn’t very big yet, either—Arturo thought that if he got next to it, its head would be near his belly button. Its horns were small, no bigger than its tail, and it had splotches of white across its legs, as if it had crossed a river of milk.
Adriana tried to approach it, extending her hand, tentatively, but the goat scooted away from her. She stooped down and pulled up some grass, holding it out to the goat, making small, nonsensical sounds, trying to entice it towards her. When it didn’t work, she stood up and tried to approach it again, circling around so she could do it head on. She extended her hand, but the goat bleated and turned away, walking a few paces toward the road.
“Help me,” Adriana said to Arturo and Leo, getting in front of the goat to cut it off and keep it from going over the fence.
“I’m getting a rope,” Leo said, and jogged up the steps to the house.
“It’s so cool,” Adriana said, from a semi-crouch, hands on either side of her like a goalie keeping a football from going into the net.
“I guess,” Arturo said, taking a step forward. The goat must have sensed it or seen Arturo, because it shimmied to the left, and Adriana followed it, still crouching.
“Don’t scare it,” Adriana instructed, shooting Arturo a you-know-better look, as if either of them had ever been around a goat before.
Leo ran back to where Arturo was and tied one end of the rope into a loop. Arturo watched him swing the rope around his head a few times and then toss it at the goat. It missed it by a good four meters, so far away that the goat didn’t even move, just ducked its head to sniff at the ground.
Arturo laughed so hard, he thought he would break his rib cage.
“It slipped,” Leo said, pulling the loop back to him. “Shut up, or I’m going to use it to tie you up,” Leo said, swinging the rope over his head.
Arturo watched Leo—face scrunched up in concentration like he was going to use his mind to guide the rope—as he swung the rope above his head again, then released it. This time, it landed perfectly around the goat’s neck, and Leo pulled, tightening it so that the goat wouldn’t get out. The goat must have gotten startled because it kicked and jumped and tried to run away, but Leo had a firm grip on the rope and used it to pull the goat closer to him, even as it dug its hooves into the ground. When the goat was close enough for him to touch, Leo told Arturo to grab the rope, then threw his arms around the goat in a body hold. With one hand around the goat’s chest, Leo pressed it close against himself, then used his other arm to steady its neck and pet its head, whispering for it to calm down, take it easy.
Slowly, the goat stopped resisting and stood still, letting all three of them pet its back and rub under its chin.
“¿Where do you think Dad got it from?” Leo asked.
Arturo and Adriana shrugged their shoulders. “¿But what should we name it?” Adriana said.
“We don’t even know if it’s a boy or a girl,” Arturo said.
“Dinner better be ready as usual,” their father called from inside the house. His booming voice startling Arturo, his siblings, and the goat.
“Let’s go,” Leo said, leading the goat towards the fence. “For now,” he said, turning back to look at Arturo and Adriana. They all nodded in agreement, understanding that they would get to work on building it a pen after dinner and use the limited free time they had after their daily chores to work on it until it was finished.
And so they did. They spent the next week chopping down trees, stripping away the bark, clearing out a small place not far from the front of the house, but far enough so their father wouldn’t have to hear or smell the goat, as he’d told them to do. They tied pieces together and dug holes deep enough into the ground to set up the posts, working whenever they got the chance. They tied the goat to a tree near where they worked, petting it as they did, and saying things like, “¿You like your new house?”
One morning, about a week after they had gotten the goat, Arturo followed Leo and his father into the jungle, like he always did. But something was different. Arturo looked over to the tree where the goat had been tied up since they started working on its pen, and noticed that it wasn’t there. He walked towards it, but his father called after him asking what he was doing.
“I don’t see it,” Arturo said, picking up his pace. He didn’t take the route to and through the house but rather ran straight through the trees and brush until he reached the clearing with Leo right behind him. The rope had been snapped but was still tied around the trunk. There was blood in the dirt—a wet pool of it with a long streak leading into the thicket, as well as drops and sprays dried on the leaves.
Arturo followed the trail—the blood thinning—until he found a patch of fur, then some pieces of things that should have been inside of the goat’s body. Not much further ahead, Arturo finally spotted the goat—what was left of it. It laid on its side, ripped open down the middle—its insides gathered around where its hind legs should have been. Its head faced the opposite direction, as though it were checking for danger, but finding it too late. Most of the fur had turned from brown and white to red where the claw marks ran down its body. One of its eyes, with its rectangular pupils, hung out of its head, as though attached by bubble gum.
“My god,” Leo said.
“Jaguar,” Amadeo said, coming up behind them and looking around, as though it might still be nearby. He spat in the direction of the house and said, “Go get your sister.”
“¿Why?” Arturo asked.
“She needs to see this,” Amadeo said, then walked up next to the goat and prodded at it with his shoe, as if checking if there was anything salvageable they could use for dinner. “And you’ll need her help cleaning it up.”
Arturo and Leo exchanged looks of fear. Arturo didn’t want to go anywhere near the carcass, and Leo’s look of nausea confirmed that he didn’t either.
“¿Why do we have to clean it all the way out here?” Leo asked, a slight quiver in his voice.
“It’s close enough to the house to attract other animals,” their father said, then walked back the way they’d come without another word. “Join me when you’re done,” he called back at them. “You can’t let this set us behind,” he said, leaving Arturo and Leo to listen to his footsteps get further away.
A few minutes later, with tears in her eyes, Adriana helped them pick up pieces of the animal—a piece of a leg here, a bone there. The blood stained their clothes and hands, got under their fingernails and on their foreheads and in their hair as they wiped the sweat from their brows. They put the pieces of the animal they could find into one of the wheelbarrows and took it further into the Jungle, where they dug a hole deep enough to keep animals from getting to it. When they were finished putting the dirt back into the ground, they took the wheelbarrow down to the lake and washed the blood off of it, then off themselves.
None of them spoke the rest of the day—not while Arturo and Leo helped their father, not while Adriana cleaned the house, nor while they ate dinner. That night, as they all lay in their hammocks, Arturo couldn’t get the image of the dismembered goat out his mind—the way its rib cage shone white as teeth with pieces of meat in them, the way its only remaining leg looked shredded, like patches of dirt where the grass had been raked clean.
While it was alive, Arturo hadn’t found much in common with the goat—it stood around idly, ate whenever it felt like, used the bathroom wherever it wanted, never went for wanting or needing anything, since Arturo and his siblings cared for it as if it were a member of the family.
Now, years later, with the memory of the goat coming back to him as he gets ready to lie down in the same hammock he’s been using since he was a kid, Arturo feels more connected to the body of the dead goat. He feels as though they had more in common once it was no longer breathing, making its own decision, or able to wander the land if it had managed to escape. Yes, Arturo thinks, just like me.