The Goat In Love

One woman’s husband was a cheater. He did it with the traveling gypsy, the miller’s daughter, the green-eyed spinster down the street, the shepherdess, the milkmaid with a dark braid, the woman that swept the church floor, the wife of the officer, and the son of the shoemaker. The man’s wife both knew and didn’t know about these things. A part of her knew, another one didn’t. Sometimes the former ruled the heart, sometimes the latter.

The man loved his wife. But another part of him became frustrated with her for not being able to contain within her the multitudes of life’s details he had found so interesting: the flecks of individual red hairs in the dark braid of the milkmaid, or the way the son of the shoemaker had a soft-spot for all beggars and petty criminals and wouldn’t admit it. And one part ruled sometimes, but the other part ruled more often.

He didn’t think of it as unfaithfulness. He was only living his life.

But the cheating husband once ran across the wrong kind of woman. She was and wasn’t beautiful, and, even more curiously, she didn’t seem at all interested in him – which made him desire her intensely. The woman was a traveler, passing through, or so she claimed. He had to beg her to do it, and even though she relented, she said, cryptically, that if he didn’t pleasure her exactly the way she wanted, he would come to regret it. He didn’t pay attention to her words, busy as he was undoing his trousers.

He tried with all of his might, but the woman had a strange, insatiable appetite. He had never met such a woman before, and soon found himself completely exhausted. Shortly thereafter, he found himself a goat. The woman wasn’t joking when she had challenged him.

The Goat

The man had only himself to blame for his troubles, and so he didn’t even protest all that much when he found himself being rounded up by irate goatherds that very same night.

“This one looks like it might be old Limpy,” one said.

“But he doesn’t limp!” The other replied.

“Nobody’s perfect,” the first goatherd winked, and the man’s fate was sealed.

(Rumours abound as to what happened to the real Limpy – some versions of the story say he was eaten by wolves, and others, more charitable ones, insist that he sits at the right hand of the Underground King, and that the King has taught him how to play the fiddle)

The man’s wife missed him. She thought he had left her at last, and though some days it made her feel free and inspired her to weave a red ribbon into her hair, more often she just felt lonely. Solitude was a garment she wore. She could never get warm in it.

One evening, the woman joined the goatherds at their fire. One of the goatherds was good-looking, and put his arm around the woman. She liked the weight of his arm there, but not enough to do anything about it.

Out of the dark, another woman came to join them by the fire. She said she was a traveler and wandered here and there. The stranger had a face that looked beautiful and ordinary at the same time – the lonely wife wondered how that could be so – and thought it had something to do with the fire: what it chose to illuminate, and what it chose to keep in shadow.

“You two make a good pair,” said the stranger, and the lonely wife and the goatherd both blushed. “I’ve never met my match,” the stranger continued sadly. “I fear my greatest lover will be death.”

The lonely wife shivered. She didn’t like to be envied by this stranger’s with her ugly-pretty face. She got up and walked away from the fire, and the goatherd followed her, but she slammed the door in his face.

That night, the lonely wife began to pray. She prayed to forgive her husband, believing that this would bring him back to her. And in the days that followed, the goatherd came to her home and tried to help with her housework. Or sing to her. Or attempt to put his arms around her. Or sit and watch her go about her business. One night, finally, she gave him her attention, and that night he asked her to marry him. “I have a husband,” she replied, still breathless from the pleasure she had taken from him. “And what is this, then?” He asked, and stroked her breast for emphasis. “This is our life,” she said, as if that made any sense at all!

That morning, the wife crept out of bed early and stared at the fading stars and did not say anything for a long time. Out of nowhere, warm hands embraced her from behind. “Let me be, boy,” she said sternly.

“You must be a fool,” the stranger, for it was she, said. “Your husband isn’t coming back.”

“And yet I have faith in the faithless,” the lonely wife replied. “It’s in my nature. It was the reason why he and I were joined in the first place. I see that now, very clearly.”

“Fine,” the stranger sighed and waved her hand. Muttering something about how other people never knew what was good for them, she wandered off.

When the lonely wife came home, the goatherd was gone, but her husband was waiting for her. He was naked, and covered in grime, but he was her husband. The woman helped him bathe himself and clothed him in clean clothes and kissed his forehead. She saw that wherever he had been, he had a hard time of it. She also noted that he now walked with a limp. It didn’t stop her from making him get to work on the house with her, once he was clean and rested and tolerable.

Later, the tired wife and her tired husband sat by the door and smoked their pipes. The night was so quiet that the man could hear the beating of his wife’s heart. When he listened closely – he could hear how each beat contained within it a great harmony: the creaking of the mill, the church-bells, the sounds that filled the bedrooms of the neighbours… He hadn’t minded being a goat as much as he thought he would – something about it had appealed to his character – but being away from his wife had been too much to bear, and, before he was turned back, he had sincerely fantasized about being killed for his meat and released from being alive without her.

“Tell me, what did you come back for?” Asked the wife.

“Oh,” he said. “I am not used to words anymore. Let me describe my reasons to you in another way.”

And so the description went on until the morning, and went on every day until their deaths.

And the young goatherd who could have made the wife a good pair, but didn’t, left that village in the spring and was never seen again. Rumours abounded: some said he had tried to ford the river and was carried away by the stream, but others claim that he had his run-in with the Underground King, and came out quite unscathed, and managed to get his hands on half the King’s gold on top of it all.

    Copyright: Natalia Antonova

18 thoughts on “The Goat In Love

  1. Your style makes me think of Calvino, a little bit.

    One small note, take it or leave it: given the story up till then, I first read “he found himself a goat” as…something else. maybe rephrase?

  2. “Carla,” honey (or whatever your real name is, somehow I doubt that this is it) – not everything is about porn, OK sweetie? I know you’re probably super-duper obsessed with the matter, but really, there is more between heaven and earth that is dreamt of in your philosophy.

    Buh bye now.

  3. Since Carla and Belledame have put in their two cents, I thought I’d thrown in mine. The only problem that I have with the so-called “dirty jokes” is that, at least so far as I can tell, these “jokes” neither enhance their context nor are enhanced by their context (i.e., made even funnier by their context), nor do they refer to an obvious context likely to be known to the audience. At least as I understand it, the entertainment value of “dirty jokes” outside their context is that uttering them supposedly violates a cultural boundary — i.e., they publicize acts or attitudes that are otherwise forbidden to be revealed. By 2007, the boundaries of permissible sexual innuendo have expanded considerably, especially on the Internet, and, at least for me, jokes about bestiality or what-have-you, if they’re simply dropped into the narrative out of nowhere, as it were, without reference to the narrative context or to some other context likely to be known to me, generally don’t have much entertainment value. They’re not so much shocking as superfluous. They don’t add anything to the entertainment value of the rest of the narrative, and if they’re too distracting, they might reduce the entertainment value of the rest of the story. That’s my take on it, anyway. Maybe I’m missing something, and other commenters can correct me.

    The other point I would bring up is to urge writers to be cautious in employing the narrative persona of the “storyteller.” Writers, at least in classical antiquity, when telling bawdy stories, would employ the narrative persona of the storyteller so as to effectively distance themselves as authors from anything in the story that might offend the audience, as though to say, “I’m not endorsing the (im)morality in the story, I’m just retelling a story I heard from someone else.” The narrative persona and style of the “storyteller” have been used so often since antiquity that they have become signals that a “bawdy” or otherwise offensive story is about to be told — and thus have been used signal a story as “bawdy” that is in fact not very risque or nonconformist at all in its substance. Belledame referred to Italo Calvino, and I remember that nearly a generation ago I read some stories by Calvino in an Italian class in which Calvino did, if I recall correctly, use the narrative persona/style of the “storyteller” as though to raise the reader’s expectation that something out-of-the-ordinary was about to be told, which frequently turned out to be absurd but not so out-of-the-ordinary after all. I think my Italian professor had mixed views of Calvino’s stories. At any rate, the use of narrative persona/style of the “storyteller” has become so frequent as to be too “cute” or downright cloying for my taste. But other readers might respond differently, and I would be interested in hearing their views.

    “The Goat in Love” was an interesting story. I hope to read more stories by the same author.

  4. This one was my favorite so far, Natalia. Your sense of humor keeps it from being sentimental. Too much of fiction written by women strikes me as sentimental, although I am willing to admit that I have a habit of generalizing. Is it perhaps that women such as yourself are expected to write sentimentally in order for the books to sell? For what it is worth, Angela Carter was a fine scribe. You remind me of her, though you are more playful. A kitten, disarming and yet in possession of a set of fine rhetorical claws (for the assembled jury, this last comment is not meant to be derisive).

  5. why do’t you go back to posting pictures of “hot” women? your writing is so predictable. like porn.

    This is a terrible piece of writing. It implies so much about the audience – for example, she tells us that Natalia’s writing is predictable, but she doesn’t really offer any suggestion of why this might be or whether it’s a bad thing. For example, one could easily argue that fairy tales tend toward a certain, predictable pattern. I wouldn’t, because it would require me to ignore most fairy tales, but the argument could be made.

    But then that’s not really a criticism of Natalia’s writing, but rather the genre she’s chosen to work in, and she handles the genre well. She has the tropes and the imagery well in hand.

    As for comparing fairy tales to porn, that just betrays the poster’s puerile obsessions. Clearly, she spends enough time thinking about porn to compare it to a random short story on the internet. Maybe she’d be less frustrated if she watched more pornography.

    Now, as a lesbian, I can’t argue with the suggestion to post more pictures of hot women. But I don’t understand how this could possibly take the place of Natalia’s writing. Gathering and posting pictures is childishly easy, like writing a two-sentence anonymous flame in a blog. Sure, it’d take a bit longer to assemble the pictures, but the principle remains. On the other hand, writing a story takes creativity (for the story’s germination), time, and effort (to write it down). I don’t know how anyone could possibly be ignorant enough to believe that gathering pictures and writing a story requires remotely the same amount of work.

    Given the critic’s conflation of text and pictures, I’d suggest moving back to something a bit more her speed, like The Little Engine That Could or Hop on Pop. Both have copious illustrations and minimal text.

  6. Natalia, this is a question posed rather late in the day for this story, and it may be a very stupid question on my part, but it only just occurred to me, and the question is regarding the “strange woman” in the story who has an insatiable appetite (for telling stories?) and whose face is “beautiful and ordinary at the same time” which might be due to what the goatherds’ campfire “chose to illuminate and what it chose to keep in shadow.” Does that “strange woman” represent the author of this story as a character in the author’s own story? An author has the power to transform her own created characters (e.g., into a goat), especially when those characters “disappoint” her (e.g., when the author decides not to develop a character any further; or perhaps if the author decides she simply dislikes a character, for example, one who is, here, a compulsive adulterer) and she needs to remove them from her story. Also, the beauty of the “strange woman” is due at least partly to what the goatherds’ campfire “chose to illuminate and what it chose to keep in shadow.” In real life, campfires don’t “choose” to illuminate anything, but the minds of storytellers do choose what to illuminate and what to keep in shadow. In connection to that, your self-portrait in your blog’s banner keeps your own face both partly in shadow and partly concealed (by being cut off). If the “strange woman” in this story does represent the author as a character in her own story, then it is amazing and interesting that, in your stories, the author keeps appearing as a character. In “The Goat in Love,” this may have been obvious to other readers, but it has taken me nearly a month to figure out. Your stories are hard, hard, hard. I will keep trying to get through them.

  7. James, you seem to be keen on identifying which particular character in a particular story represents me. I have to say that I don’t think about it this way when I sit down and write something. I’m sure that there is a lot of myself in any given number of characters – that’s the way I think fiction tends to work, even this kind of fiction. But there isn’t a specific character that I consciously choose as a “stand-in” for myself. How you interpret any given character, however, is entirely up to you. I think it’s interesting how you would draw the connection between my banner and the witch in this story – it makes me glad that I am blogging these drafts here, because blogging is obviously a cool medium for this sort of thing.

    Supernatural beings in fiction do represent writers to some degree – I would imagine. Because a writer is the creator of that particular world, and can do almost anything he or she wants, and, well, have supernatural powers. So you may be onto something there.

    Personally, I’ve always thought that writing about magic is like writing about writing – only more fun.

  8. What a delight! I am so glad I’ve found this blog… looking forward to reading all your stories Natalia!

  9. I loved that so much! I wish I could say things as Expressively (or spell!) as other commentors here:I can’t say I’ll just say again how wonderful your writing is.

  10. I’ll read them both together tonite. Thanks so much for the insight. Its such a joy to read these stories.

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