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  • I got her to the edge of the beach stone. She’d picked her way through the maze of pancake ice that marked the high tide with a few stops to nuzzle into the coffee can of grain. She hadn’t paid any mind to the echoing drips among the dark wharf pilings or the squabble of the old squaws and eider ducks out among the moorings. But when we got to the skiff she stopped. All she had to do was put a hoof up on the rail and skitter aboard but she dug her heels in and wouldn’t go another inch.

    I pulled on the rope . She hunkered down on her haunches and locked her forelegs. The tide was coming and the next wave rocked the skiff enough so she floated for a second and drifted back with the undertow before the wave retreated and left her grounded again. Another one like that and she’d be afloat. I reached back and felt for the bowline to hold the skiff steady but the wave had carried her just out of reach. I glanced down at the length of rope I had through the goats collar. I had the knot at the end in my hand, but only just. I hauled at the goat. She glared right back.

    “Looks like Benjoy’s right between a goat and a hard place.” Dickie was up on the wharf mending trap heads where they’d frayed. Even with his back to me I could see his wrap-around smile.

    “Tide comes in any more and he’ll be stretched out like washing on the line.” Morris tucked the notebook of bait orders in his pants pocket and the stub of a pencil behind an ear. He fished in his jacket pocket for his pack of cigarettes, shook out a Marlboro, hung it from his lip, lit a wooden match with his thumbnail. He took a blue bandana out of his jacket pocket and wiped the damp off an old trap before he sat on it.

    “Jeezum crow Morris, you gonna sit on that trap or dust it?” Mick stomped the bits of herring off his boots as he came out of the baitshed. “Light me a cigarette, why don’t you, my hands are all slimed with that bait you give me. Call that shit fresh?”

    “Looks like your passenger don’t want to get her feet wet, Benjoy. I guess probly you oughta carry her aboard,” Young George set a square of paper towel over the bottom of a five-gallon bucket before he sat down. “You got any more of that dried fish, Morris? Don’t I love a snack when I watch a show.”

    Morris tapped a cigarette out of his pack, lit it off his and stuck it in Mick’s mouth.

    “Jesus Christ what the hell’s old Noah got down there now?” John left the bait cart in the sheds and joined them.

    “You got all that bait off’n the truck John?” Morris asked.

    “Just fifteen bushel left for Johnny here. You got another cigarette Morris, my packs back in the office?”

    “Smoking’ll kill you,” said Morris and passed over the crumpled pack. John tucked it in the roll of his watch cap and trundled the cart out to get his last load.
    “Christ sakes Benjoy you building an ark out there or what. Hear that Jimmy, I asked him was he building an ark out there or…” The bait cart’s wooden wheels rumbled across the rough planks.

    The next wave lifted the skiff and pulled her another foot off the beach.

    I got both hands on the rope and leaned into it. Belle leaned back. By now there was strip of water between the shore and boat. Belle shifted forward just as I tried to surprise her with a quick yank. I staggered back and almost sat in the water.

    Morris leaned forward hands on his knees.

    Dickie set his hammer in his tool box. “You want I should come down there and give you a hand Benjoy?” he called.

    I swear the goat smiled.

    “Fuckin’ goat,” I muttered.

    “Nothing in the world can balk like a goat,” Morris remarked. “Though seems I met some men who’s just as stubborn.”

    “You know,” said Young George. “They got milk up to the store, sell it by the quart, half gallon, you can even get you a full gallon jug. Why the hell you want to get a goat and haul it out to the island and haul her back here to get randy-dandy with a billy. Chrissakes Benjoy, you could probably get Oakridge Dairy to deliver you a friggin case right here and we’d lower her down to you on the block and tackle. Ain’t that right Morris?”

    “Be some old boring though, “ said Morris.

    “What I don’t understand,” said Dickie as he dropped from where the bottom rungs were rotted and weed hung onto the slick beach stone. “Is what ailed you to get a goat in the first place. Whyn’t you get aboard and I’ll pass her over to you. “

    He stooped over Belle and scooped her up. A hundred pounds of stubborn beast on the hoof looked suddenly small and huddled in his arms. He waded out and passed her over the rail to me. I set her down. Her feet skittered on the deck. She squatted and shot a long stream of piss and a rattle of pellets. Dickie wrinkled his nose. “Like I said, I dunno what ailed you in the first place. I mean it’s not like you’re one of those hippies, course you are living out to the island and all, but not like some of them.”

    Young George got up and leaned over the edge for a better view. “You know that bunch up the bay there? Why I heard they don’t believe in taking showers, they want their water pure and natural. Buster said he drove by there one morning and there they were, before the sun was even up, rolling around in the field, sopping wet with dew, just as naked as the day they were born, the whole bunch of them. Getting in touch with nature.” He snorted.

    Dickie brushed the goat hair from his jacket. “Must be quite a sight on a frosty morning,” he said.

    “How you going to manage on the other side Benjoy?” asked Morris.

    Belle and I eyed each other. “I’m thinking by the time we get out there she’ll be more than ready to get back on dry land. I can run right up into the Pool by the ledges there and she can just step right out. “ Belle nosed at one of the sacks of feed under the shelter of the spray hood. “She’ll follow the feed up the hill easy enough. “

    Morris turned and looked out to where the low, dark line of the island broke the horizon. “Be dark by the time you get home won’t it?”

    “Yeah, but I’ll have company.” I grinned and picked up an oar to push off from the shore into deeper water where I could tilt the engine down.

    “Benjoy? “Young George called down.

    I paused and looked up.

    “What’ll you do if you get a billy out of her?” he asked. "That bunch up the bay. I heard they wasn’t too clued up on the milk business. Never figured they might get a billy. Won’t touch meat. My Frannie’s girls go to grammar school with their kids, what those kids bring for lunch would make a chinaman gag. She said one day for morning news, them little girls piped up that their daddy put the billies in a sack and drownded them. Drownded them in a barrel and buried them in pit.”

    “What the hell’s Benjoy got going out to the island now? “ Virgil’s punt scraped ashore beside us. “By god, goats now too. You going to raise me a pig again this year? Jeez, wasn’t that the best bacon. I still got some in the freezer. I dunno what all you fed ‘em but I tell you that was some good eating. Ain’t he some kind of old timer Morris?”

    I gave a last shove out with the oar and looked back.

    The grey day deepened into evening as though it had taken a step. Morris’s face was lit for a moment as he took a last drag on his cigarette. Young George straightened and pulled his coat tighter against the chill. Dickie took one side of Virgil’s punt and Virgil took the other and together they ran her up the beach. Belle and I headed home.
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