Troll v. Gruff, Case # 29316A
King County Court
A red blaze of sun rises like a trouble light over a green hill. A white-faced goat arcs over a six-foot-high galvanized steel fence. In the goat's dim brain is the promise of dewy grass on a hillside.
In his stomach, pain from a night of being butted away from the feed trough by heavier-hocked goats. Rye! the goat thinks. Dandelions! Alfalfa!
Albert Gruff, owner of Gruff Chevre Farms, drains whey from a bag of curd at the cheese room sink.
At the sight of the airborne goat, Gruff, a large hopeful man of forty with the hang-dog expression of a basset hound, is thinking, Goddammit, how much higher can I make that fence? Like all optimistic men, Farmer Gruff believes insurance is for other people. What can happen on a simple dairy goat farm? The farmer thinks bad things happen in the city and he will soon be surprised to learn that geography has nothing to do with it.
The morning sun pinks Gruff's white sparkling barn, the newly painted sheds, the high-tensile fences surrounding the goat pens. New stainless curd cutters ($125.00 a dozen) in Gruff's cheese room along with Gruff's cheese strainers ($47 apiece) and gleaming steel counters (newly installed) turn roseate and warm. Even Gruff's thermometers stick out pink tongues as heat rises in the cheese room.
For one baby-blanket soft moment, Gruff's pride and joy is bathed in rose until a trick of light burns through the softness and ignites the neat little farm into flame. The sight of his namesake, his altar ego, his business and passion, alight makes Gruff clasp his hand to his chest and gasp, as if he's felt the first clench of a heart attack. But no. It's only the sun on its daily rounds, lighting the rump of the disappearing goat like a spark.
Marjorie Gruff, a dumpling-shaped woman who is as fond of eating goat cheese as she is of making it, is washing a whey strainer. She stops worrying the washrag around the rim to stand at the window beside Gruff, surveying what she and Gruff have built. "Pretty," she says.
Gruff, up most of the night with a hard-birthing doe, scratches the back of his neck. "Pretty hard work," he says. But he squeezes Marjorie's round arm and they smile.
"Better catch that billy." Marjorie says. "If he eats Bean's zinnias, there'll be hell to pay."
Last week, Gruff added yet another high tensile run to the electrified fence to keep his does and bucks from crossing the bridge over the creek to graze on the hillside that belongs to his neighbor, Bean's Organic Farms. Jack Bean has recently branched out beyond organic legumes to capitalize on the craze for arugula and lemon verbena and basil while Gruff is still betting his farm on goat cheese. The neighbors have been having friendly, over-the-fence arguments about the future of ostrich and emu but have so far been unwilling to extend to third mortgages on these fads. Who knows if they'll pan out?
The little goat trots down the gravel drive. Gambols over the wooden planks of the bridge. Sharp bootblack hooves tap a low flamenco of hunger on the boards. The aphrodisiac smell of blue borage on the hillside quickens the saliva of the goat. Cowslips nod in the breeze like dinner bells.
Under the goat's rat-a-tatting hooves sits a fisherman in a lawn chair. The fisherman - an overweight dentist named Ray Troll who is playing hooky from a bite adjustment and phase two of a crown- is smoking an Ocorillo cigar and morosely contemplating shooting Mrs. Larson, a dental patient with gingivitis, for refusing to floss.
Troll's rod tips toward the sparkling water before him. A large fish flickers in the current and a skein of fifty-pound test line whizzes off Troll's new graphite reel. Troll waves off thoughts of a wasted lifetime peering into the mouths of people too lazy to brush. Bass! Open wide! he thinks. More test line zips off the reel, the gunmetal gray rod bends to the eddy, sharp hooves bang like a tom-tom on the planks. At the strange booming noise, amplified by the concrete bridge, the fish (a wily crappy) tears the lightweight hook through its lip and skitters off. Ray Troll drops his cigar, leaps out of his lawn chair and shouts, "Who the fuck is tripping over my bridge?"
Albert Gruff is shrugging on a red flannel jacket on his way down his porch stairs by the time a second goat launches his heavy haunches over the topmost wire of the goat pen. Billy # 66 is one of a small herd of bucks Gruff keeps specifically for breeding. He's a brown Toggenburg, with white splotches on his thurls, and soft, pink-lined ears. He's larger and firmer in the hindquarters than the first goat - a Saanen, Doe # 641, according to her ear tag --who now happily grazes alone on the hill. Like all goats locked in the goat pen with too many goats, Billy #66 is thinking, Turnips!!! Timothy grass!!" He trots up the road just as Farmer Gruff slams the door of the feed truck, considering whether to sell the billy or butcher him.
Billy #66's hooves sound on the bridge planks like the unsmiling IRS agent who's been pounding on Troll's door at eight a.m. for the past three weeks. Troll drops his second Ocorillo cigar of the day. Where's my gun, he's thinking, until he remembers he locked it in the glove box of his SUV along with his high blood pressure pills. The billy goat rap-rap-raps across the bridge and Ray screams, "Hey!!! Who the fuck is tripping over my bridge?!" Billy #66 tosses his head. Flee! Wolf! Bear! he thinks. Billy #66 bolts up the hillside, white tail a-bob like a road flare. Ray Troll, 55, balding, heavy in the gut, red-eyed and bleary from the better part of last night's bourbon bottle, scrambles up the embankment, heart pumping like a piston.
At the moment Ray's face balloons over the concrete abutment like a blood vessel, Farmer Gruff's feed-truck rockets onto the wooden planks in hot pursuit of two run-away goats. Gruff is fumbling with a CD disc -- "Stress Reduction Made Easy-Part I" -- just as he bumps onto the bridge. A thump. The front end of the pick-up shudders, shakes, shimmies. Out of the corner of Gruff's eye, a large, dark object -- A deer? A cow? - bounces and disappears over the railing. Gruff grips the wheel, wrestling to keep the half-ton feed-truck on the roadway.
"Whooaaa!" he cries. Gruff is halfway across the bridge before the truck judders to a stop.
A very large billy goat - Billy #99, the largest buck in Gruff's herd, with a three year growth of horns Gruff has been meaning to shear - ambles onto the bridge just as Gruff's cowboy boots descend from the truck cab to the planks. Gruff is scratching his chin. What the hay? He strides back along the bridge. A riffle of aspen leaves. The sigh of the stream. Gruff steps to the railing and looks down. Nothing but water, white-rilled and luffing. He starts to head back to the truck. Hesitates. Turns and goes to the opposite side of the bridge and clambers up on the rail to get a better look.
Billy #99, now mid-way across the bridge, sniffs over Gruff's head at the two goats on the green hill above him. The randy billy smells the littlest goat who has just come into estrus. Whatever thoughts the goat might have had now transfer with a pulsing blood flow to his loins. His penis streaks from his sheath in a crisp, pink salute. Obliquely, the goat registers the sight of the farmer's wide flat ass perched on the railing.
Nature calls. Farmer Gruff presents a nearer target for Billy #99's hormones. 83 pounds of aroused goat leaps in the air and tries to mount Farmer Gruff from behind. Gruff's head and half of his torso extend far out above the creek. He has just caught sight of splayed legs fifteen feet below him, jutting at odd angles over a boulder in the stream, the head and back of perhaps an L.L. Bean vest obscured by a piling.
"Ooohhhh!" The farmer teeters. The goat - taking Gruff's exclamation for encouragement - bleats and thrusts hard at the back of Farmer Gruff's coveralls, and kaboom! Gruff tumbles head first into the burbling steam.
Billy #99's hoofs clatter against the steel railing as the goat falls back to the wooden planks. The billy tosses his head, sniffling the smell of milo and corn in the morning air, wondering what happened to the farmer. Barley? Oats? The goat hoovers up a gum wrapper from the planks with his tongue. Huffs. Trots on toward the neon-green timothy grass and the estrus perfume of the nanny. His penis is hot. Rosy in the sun.
Below, in water only a foot deep, Ray Troll is dreaming face down, arms akimbo, neck tilted at an angle that gives him a quizzical, half-hopeful expression. Underwater, the knocking of the billy goat's hoofs sound like the arrival of the nitrous oxide deliveryman. Ray Troll's last blood cell pumps out an aneurysm. He breathes in one last molecule of water.
Farmer Gruff lies about twenty feet away, blinking up at the startling blue of the sky. One leg, which will have to be pinned with three stainless steel pins and will cause the ex-farmer to limp for the rest of his life, lies crumpled beneath him. A long white tibia bone protrudes, jagged and red-tipped, through his pants leg. And looming far above the bucolic stream, in the not-so-distant future, beyond the neat white farm house, beyond Farmer Gruff's wide, talkative wife who is hanging up a curd cutter to dry, beyond Billy #99 who is covering Doe #641 and hammering home the seed of the truly littlest, but usually unmentioned billy goat of the story, is the dark cloud of the wrongful death suit brought by Ray Troll's heirs, along with a brighter promise of Gruff's book contract, the magazine serialization and the world movie rights.
Cynthia Hartwig lives in Seattle, Washington. Her stories have been published in Zoetrope: All Story as well as Zoetrope "All Story Extra," Francis Ford Coppolašs on-line magazine. She was a finalist in Inkwell/Manhattanville College of NY short fiction contest, a finalist in Toyon/Humboldt State College short fiction contest, and received an honorable mention in Writeršs Digest 200 writing competition. She's currently working on her first novel.