Pretty much everyone in our neighborhood knows Kanga and Charlotte, the two goats we inherited a while back from Brian’s uncle. In one of my early posts for this blog, I explained the unlikely but true story that Kanga and Charlotte were the perfect goats for us to inherit, because they are racially loaded. What I mean by that is, Charlotte happens to be the fluffy, docile, utterly non-threatening white goat. And Kanga happens to be the hostile, aggressive, apparently troubled black goat, forever trying to jump the fences and escape. Now, there’s a lot one could say here. But this blog post is not about goats, so for now I’ll only say two things. One: The task of explaining to your kids’ friends that they can pet the nice fluffy white goat, but they can’t touch the mean black goat, is just more than what should be asked of a black woman living on Maple Street. Two: Kanga, I feel you.
One of the biggest gulfs we’ve had to bridge in this marriage has to do with animals. I often tell people that over the years, I’ve been conned into living in the animal menagerie that has overtaken our house. It’s not even a very good con, but somehow it always works. “Come on, Francie Pants, the cat won’t bother anybody!” (Hello, allergies.) “Come on, Francie Pants, chickens will be fun!” (Hello, chicken shit in the driveway. Hello, bare feet of three children casually stepping in chicken shit in said driveway. Hello, chicken shit on the living room floor, from chicken wandering inside screen door left wide open.) “Francie Pants, that’s a mother raccoon and her babies. We can’t kick them out of our chimney in the dead of winter!” (Hello, raccoon urine dripping down fireplace. Hello, bullet hole in brand-new cabinet wall from gunshot husband fired when mother raccoon terrorized our kitchen).
I curse the animals, I ignore the animals, I roll my eyes when Brian turns to me and asks, after a long silence, “Francie Pants, what do you think the cat is thinking right now?” The one thing I don’t do — that I can’t do — is feel. I’ve never felt anything for an animal, ever. The animals make my two sons and my daughter giddy with joy, and I’m aware that that happiness is something I have no way of understanding. I’m aware that Brian knows all about it, because of the epic love stories he and his family have shared with the dogs in their lives. Rags. Smiley. Caesar. Sequel. Seeing that love in our kids makes me jealous, but it also makes me feel warm.
One morning a few weeks ago, I was standing in the kitchen and noticed one of our guinea hens on the ledge of the back porch. Guinea hens make the most grating sound known to man. (It’s often the sound that wakes me before 6 am. Again, conned.) I don’t know why, but I started looking at this guinea hen differently on this particular day. It was focused and insistent. It did not move from the ledge. “It’s calling for its mate,” Brian told me as I reached up for the cereal bowl. A few days earlier, one of our guinea hens had wandered onto Maple Street and got run over. The ledge on the back porch looks directly out onto the road.
And for the first time, there it was. A feeling. I listened to that scraping, awful cry and I thought, if the pain of losing someone you loved were a sound, it would be that sound. I kept listening and the more I heard it, the more that cry sounded like two words. Come back. Come back.