Jody hated Halloween more than he hated girls.
Actually, he had recently discovered he was only mildly uncomfortable with girls. But Halloween was still the shits. His mother figured kids loved Halloween, kids loved Christmas, kids loved Easter, kids love Fourth of July because there was candy, fireworks, and toys under the tree. For one, the costumes his mother made, the toys she made, the fireworks she got on the cheap were never quite what she claimed. Halloween costumes, especially, were always heavy, hot, and awkward. And they hid absolutely nothing; everybody knew he was Velma Darnlott’s kid. So the whole thing was just torture.
And that’s another thing. He wasn’t a kid anymore. He was damned near thirteen. When he told his mother this she lost a goose.
“Mom, I’m damned near thirteen,” he had said. It was the ‘damned’ that lost his mother’s goose.
“What did you say!?” she said.
“I’m thirteen, Mom.” His voice squawked out like it did sometimes now when he was nervous. It sounded something like a cross between a sick sheep and a lost duck.
“You said ‘damn’. You cursed at your mother.”
“Mom, it’s a mephistophelian masquerade.” Jody did not have a complete grasp on “mephestophelian” yet, but he was working on it. He understood it meant something perverse because of the way Ms. Brudgditter used it in an example sentence. ‘Mephistophelian’ and ‘masquerade’ were two of the vocabulary words Ms. Brudgditter had put on the blackboard for Halloween.
Jody was only mildly uncomfortable with Ms. Brudgditter. Her first name was Vernie, and she was only twenty, and a student teacher for home room and English. She was only two and a half inches taller than he was (“five-foot two, eyes of blue” was one of the things she said when she introduced herself to the class.) She had a rather full bosom that seemed, sometimes, almost to pop a button or two. She smelled of lavender and cedar. Seven years wasn’t all that much of a difference.
“What? What? excuse me? Don’t you change the subject, young man.”
“I was only saying Halloween is a masquerade.” Jody’s grasp of ‘mephestophelian’ was not sufficient for him to toss it out again.
“Where did you learn that kind of language?”
Jody almost said, “In English Class.” But then, his mother did what she always did when she felt the world had done one more mephistophelian nasty on her. She sagged. He shoulder’s slumped, her mouth slumped, her whole body slumped into the nearest chair. She put her elbows on the kitchen table and slumped her chin on her hands and slumped a look out the slatted window at the trailer house next door. So Jody reconsidered explaining how he knew mephestophelian so that he could keep up the masquerade that he had not said ‘damn’. He also reconsidered noting that ‘damn’ was a fairly common word—and one of the milder ones—that floated around the trailer court, the school, and around their own trailer. He did not want to slump his mother any more than she was.
“Sorry, about the ‘damn,’ Mom.” He put his hand on her soft shoulder and patted her.
She shrugged. “It isn’t ‘damn’, I guess. You’re growing up. And all I got to give you is this.” She waved at the small trailer, the trailer court yard with it’s dead cottonwood sapling, and the beat up trailer house next door. “I just want to cheer things up once in a while.”
Then Jody found himself saying, “What’s the costume this year.”
His mother’s slump unslumped a little. “It’s a goat, Jody. A big gruff goat. I sewed it myself.”
“I know,” Jody said.
“You’ll love it.” She looked at him, her eyes bright and happy.
“Two things,” Jody said, “No head, and I go out alone.” The head was always the worst part because it blocked his view.
“But the head is the best part!”
Jody shrugged. He meant the shrug to mean, “not my problem.” But he knew what it meant to her.
As it turned out the head was not a bad thing. The suit, which his mother had made out of thrift store fake fleece and canvas, was very warm. The head was a bit wobbly, and also very warm. He had a pretty good view through the mouth, if he propped the head just right. But the thing is, nobody recognized him. That is nobody important recognized him. The two gray haired ladies and one bald old fart who answered the door at the three places he actually knocked knew exactly who he was. His mother had not been exactly secretive about her boy’s costume for the year.
Dowd Waskwitz said, “My, My, My, Who’s this?
“Why, big ole Billy Goat Gruff is who this is.” She dropped a double hand-full of last year’s Easter egg jelly beans into his sack.“
The second gray hair Marcy Mclaarican, said. “Hi, Jody.” She gave him two dollars. She was the only sensible one on his route.
Old Baldy (which was his name in Jody’s circle of friends) said, “Gettin’ kinda old for this highway robbery bull shit, ain’cha?”
“Probly,” Jody said. His voice came out through the goat mouth somewhere between an alto bleat and a bass honk. He cleared his throat.
“Well, honesty is a hell-of-a masquarade, anyway,” Old Baldy said. He took two quarters from his jeans, looked at them and dropped them into the sack.
“Thank you,” Jody bleat-honked.
That was the last knock on the door that Jody did for the evening. But he couldn’t go home so early—it was dark, the moon just taking over from daylight, but it was still early. He tossed his sack behind a tree outside Old Baldy’s gate. He’d get it on the way home–maybe.
He walked down down Main Street, past the closed up tackle shop, the hardware store, the bars and the bowling alley. The moon seemed snagged in the limbs of leaf-empty trees. The wind whirled leaves, stray cellophane, and dust along the sidewalk and into the dark allies. It whined around the buildings and through the wires that held up the utility posts. It was a warm night and people were standing outside the bars, holding beer bottles in paper sacks and smoking cigarettes. He knew almost everybody, but nobody recognized him. There was something nice about that. It was very warm in the costume, and Jody was beginning to get sour whiffs of sweat drenched fleece and himself. But he liked the anonymity and he was beginning to think like a goat—or that is he was beginning to think the way he was thought a goat might be thinking.
“Ba-a-a,” he said.
There was a dance going on at the Last Lost Dollar Saloon. It was between sets and couples were standing on the sidewalk, leaning against door jamb and the faux horse hitching rail.
“Hey look at the goat,” Orson Virneen said. Orson ran the poker table at the Last Lost Dollar Saloon. But he was probably drinking tonight instead of dealing. He had a reputation of thinking of himself as a lady’s man.
“Ba-aa-aa,” Jody said. It came out as a squawked honk. He tilted the goat head and looked up at Orson.
“Gawd, that’s the awfullest sounding goat I ever heard,” Orson said.
“Ba-aa-aa,” Jody said again. This time it sound more like what Jody intended.
“Hey, Bo Peep,” Orson said. He leaned over, slipped a hand under a rather ample left bosom and hefted it so that it jounced and almost lifted over the low cotton neckline that covered it. The goat mouth was perfectly focused for Jody to see the whole thing. “Look here, we got us a goat.”
Bo Peep was holding a sheep staff. She swung it around and knocked it against Orson’s arm. “You touch me again, you asshole and I’ll ram (hiccup) this—crook end first—up your narrow little mephistophelian ass.” The voice was hidden and muffled behind a doll-face mask, and it was also a bit slurred. But the “mephistophelian” revealed it all. Bo Peep was Ms. Brudgditter. Bo Peep was Vernie Brudgditter.
Bo Peep turned her doll face mask toward Jody. “Just what I am lookin’ for,” she hiccuped. “A go’damn g(hic). . .goat.”
Jody, over the odor of his own fleece and sweat, smelled the body-burnt alcohol on her breath and the lavender and cedar. And he saw, through the mouth of the goat, the bosom, the ample, lovely bosom, with its two dark dots, swaying across and through the flimsy cotton of the dirndl blouse. The goat was suddenly very warm indeed.
“A goat, come to save me from a life of sin and degradation,” the voice declaimed from behind the doll-face mask. The bosom swayed toward him. Then she took his arm and leaned up toward his goat ear, her ample breast plump against his arm, and whispered. “Get me the hell out of here.” She sounded frightened and lonely.
She turned and dragged Jody, pulling him away from the crowd slumping around the bar. “He thinks he’s God’s prick,” she said. the shepherd’s staff slammed into the sidewalk concrete. “One dance and he thinks he owns these titties,” she said. Jody did not think the goat could get any warmer. But it did. “God, I hate (hic) bastards like that.” The staff slammed into the sidewalk again. “A girl goes looking for a little good time, a (hic) little fun away from all that adolescent goggling and cracking voices, and G(hic)od’s prick thinks she’s after it. Well, she ain’t. And certainly not from that loss of daddy stuff.” the staff seemed to spark on the sidewalk.
Jody thought of his mother and was happy that she was not here to hear where he was learning his language from. For that matter, it was a bit of a shock to Jody as well.
Bo Peep stopped suddenly and let Jody go. He felt the sudden coolness, even through the goat, of where she had been against him. She leaned against wall of Brick’s Hardware, put her head back against the wall. The moon lay on the plastic doll mask and the pale skin of her chin, throat, and shoulders. Jody let the goat mouth direct his eyes toward the bosom again, then turned away.
“Thanks,” Vernie Brudgditter said. She hiccupped. “for getting me away from that. . . .” She waved her staff.
“Sure,” Jody said. He was surprised that his voice did not squawk.
“You wouldn’t take at-vantage of (hic) a drunk little ole gal, would you?” she said.
Jody didn’t say anything.
“Would you?” She hiccuped again. The tinge of fright and uncertainty in her voice shamed Jody.
“‘Course not,” he said.
“Who knows. Who knows what men are thinking. Gaw(hic)d.”
“Good ones think good things,” Jody said. He felt a bit hypocritical at saying this and a bleat-honk in his voice betrayed it. He coughed.
“Well, I guess I’ve done enough damage for one night,” Vernie said. “Guess I better get on back to the ole (hic) tv and solitaire game.”
Somewhere in him, Jody suddenly wanted this Halloween, with its goat costume, its Bo Peep, its warm plump breast on his arm, to go on for a bit longer. “I suppose I should make sure you make it ok,” he said.
Bo Peep shrugged away from the hardware store wall, shrugged, and took his arm.
“This way,” she said. she pointed with the staff.
The walk was much too short. Neither of them spoke. The wind pushed against them and once or twice she stumbled against him. Their shadows walked ahead of them through the shadows of fir trees and the dapple of willow shadows.
“This is the place,” Vernie Brudgditter said. “I don’t suppose I should invite you in for a c(hic)offee.”
Of all the things in Jody’s imagination, this was one of them. But it would mean removing the goat head. It would mean becoming a kid in Ms. Brudgditter’s class tonight rather than Monday morning. And what Jody wanted more than anything was to spend the rest of Friday night and all of Saturday and Sunday, living as if it were still Halloween.
“Actually, I have to get back to the ole lady and the,” he paused because this really implied a lie, “kiddles.”
“Oh, (hic) Well,” Vernie Brudgditter sighed. The disappointment and loniness in this hiccuped sigh practically burned holes in the goat.
Then she stiffened, “None of them are in eighth grade are they?”
“Naw,” Jody said, “They are all just little mites.”
She still didn’t open the door to her apartment, seeming to want as much as Jody for the evening to meander on into a different future than it was going to. She lifted her masked face up at the moon. It shined.
“You wouldn’t sell me down the river if I told you who I was?” she asked “would you?”
“Down the river. Get me fired.”
“Of course not.” As Jody was saying this he thought maybe he had messed up, that he should have asked “how the hell would I get you fired.” But he said again, “Certainly not.”
She lifted the doll-face mask off and shook her hair out of the shadows in the moonlight. It was, of course, Ms. Brudgditter.
“My name is Vernie. I’m doing my student teaching up at the Middle School, and I guess I’ve been (hic) a little naughty. ”
“What happens with the goat, stays with the goat,” Jody said. His voice did not quaver at all.
Ms. Brudgditter leaned up, carefully so as not to touch him with her body, and kissed the goat ear. He heard the little smack of her lips above his own ears. “Thank you, mon cher, (hic)” she said.