Long ago I had the bittersweet pleasure of briefly sharing my domicile with an unforgettable being. I had cohabited with cats all my life, yet I never would have envisioned myself the owner of a goat. The word owner doesn’t exactly apply. Not regarding these recalcitrant ruminants. Nor perhaps is it valid for any living creature, unruly or otherwise. Whatever the case, no one really owned Gilbert, apart from himself.
“The Americanism ‘to get one’s goat’ means to reduce a person to frustration and rage,” as well as “to annoy to the point of provoking an action or outburst.” How true that appropriate proverb was to prove!
Getting back to Gilbert, he had smooth sleek hair of a lovely shade of brown that took on a copper tone when shone on in the sun. There were discreet white markings extending over his lean body all the way to his short perky tail. His angular countenance often bore a dewy, contemplative, deceptively docile expression. Thus his appearance could lull one into a dangerous state of relaxed trust, an attitude that turned out time and again to be disastrous. Ah, with such a persuasive visage as Gilbert’s a human could quite likely conquer the universe!
Crowning this noble demeanor were delicately curved horns, alas and alack, for like all members of his particular mammal family he had indomitable impulses to butt with them from behind, not to mention in front— there would be the warning, if one knew him, of that espiègle look in his eyes and the set of his posture, after which, following in speedy succession, would come the charge.
As for his distinctive smell, apropos of its mephitic reputation, I did not find this pungent odor offensive. In all honesty, I came to love Gilbert. And his aroma was part and parcel of his nature— a nature bedevilingly full of contradictions— both beautiful and beastly, endearing and infuriating, also wise, quick-witted, shrewd (a genius at getting his way), as well as exhibiting obtuseness to the point of absurdity (or did he just play dumb, as I always suspected?)— all at the same time.
Anyhow, I shall leave such half-grokked analyses for scholars of these matters and proceed to relate some of his peculiarities and the incidents that marked that epoch of his and my shared history.
On the subject of diet, Gilbert had definite preferences for specific foods. He had a special fondness for flowers, and several times when there were fascicles of posies in vases on the dining room table he could be observed eyeing these enticements through the window as some sort of delicacy, or so I fancied. As a matter of fact, obtaining such attractive tidbits appeared to turn into a kind of obsession for Gilbert, who would finally enter forcibly, leap onto the table, and snatch as many flowers as he could, before being thrown out the door.
There is a quote by Fran Lebowitz which maintains, “No animal should ever jump up on the dining-room furniture unless absolutely certain that he can hold his own in the conversation.” Well, whether or not Gilbert could have proven himself an adept deipnosophist, that goat would undoubtedly have been the commanding presence at anyone’s dinner table.
He could always find his way into the house, when the notion hit, by simply ramming the windows, which opened inward. One morning I came downstairs to discover him in the living room, apparently quite at ease, well-manneredly munching and crunching on walnuts, shell and all, from a wooden bowl on the coffee table… speaking of which, when I was refinishing that piece of furniture, hand-fashioned painstakingly from an old ship’s door, Gilbert went along behind, licking the portions I had just worked on, until I shouted at him, at which point he sprang onto my lap.
The rustic back area of that abode was terraced up a steep woodsy hill, culminating in spectacular views of the surroundings. Our front yard was a verdant setting with a white latticed gazebo in the center that lent a charming quaintness to the nemorous environs. Curious passersby, peeking through the dense growth for glimpses of these pastoral sights, often got more than they had bargained for and could be witnessed spending quite a spell gazing on our goat as he went about his idyllic doings. Discerning percipients gaped in admiration, while those otherwise disposed tended rather to gawk at him somewhat disdainfully. For, regrettably, not everyone who traversed our drive had been properly initiated into the joys and marvels of these fabulous faunae.
Gilbert was an expert at getting out of the yard, though we knew not how, since it was fenced all around. Even so, on returning from his goat excursions, he could not get back in and would stand bleating at the gate until it was opened for him. Sometimes, when I realized he had disappeared, I would forthwith go out into the street and call at the top of my lungs, “Gilbert, Gilbert, where are you, Gilbert?!” And keep it up until my persistence paid off and I heard the recognizable sound of his galloping hoofbeats thundering down the pavement.
Yet, withal, when dusk descended and the trials and tribulations of our common perils that morning and afternoon were over, inasmuch as Gilbert did not stay up past nightfall, the scene shifted dramatically to one of utmost tranquility. He habitually turned in early every sundown, positioning himself gracefully on a little ledge just outside the back door— such a joy he was to behold at those times!— and drifted off into goat slumber land, giving me a respite till the next day. Reclined, his head bowed in sleep, Gilbert looked for all the world like the sublime, lowly, though far from simple, satyr angel quadruped, he was.
Yes, consternating as Gilbert could be, he was also pure magic—to me, having qualities of epic dimensions, as might any creature when held to the light.