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Authors: Brad Land

Goat (8 page)

BOOK: Goat
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THE BROTHERS GIVE us a party. For being pledges.

On Saturday I sit on the concrete steps outside Daniel Hall and wait for Dave Reed. I know Dave from the town I lived in before Florence, a town called Summerville, and we start hanging out because it’s good to know someone in the pledge class. Across the quad the KA hall is lit up, bodies moving in front of open windows. A Confederate flag is draped over someone’s windowsill and someone’s playing Lynyrd Skynyrd, bellowing the music out into the retreating daylight. Ben Moore says that KA’s are rich-boy fucks. Pretty-boy faggots.

   

DAVE COMES AROUND the corner and slips under the branches of a small oak, brushes his hair back away from his face. The air heavy with leftover heat. Dave’s dressed in khakis and a blue button-up. He stands there fumbling through his pockets.

So, he says. You ready? I look around and stay seated.

Yeah, I say. Sure.

Are you going to get up? I look at him. The sun dropping behind the dorm at my back, making a long shadow stretch behind Dave into the quad. It bends to his left and he shuffles his feet against the concrete, scrapes one heel and then the other like he’s trying to tap-dance.

Nervous? I say.

He turns his head up from the ground. No, he says. No. He’s lying. You?

Kinda. I rub my hands together. Yeah, I’m actually really nervous.

Maybe I am. A little. He scrapes another heel and then he bends to pick up a rock. He throws it toward a metal trash can to my right and it clangs off into the bushes. I pick up a rock at my feet and try the same throw. The bushes shake when it cuts straight through the leaves. Dave looks at me and smiles.

Can’t throw, huh? he says.

Nah, I say. Never could.

I just got lucky. I can’t throw either. He picks up another rock and throws it against the trash can.

Lucky, huh? I say. Still seated.

He shrugs. What do you think’s gonna happen tonight? he says.

I suppose we’ll get drunk.

Well, yeah. Besides that.

What do you mean?

I don’t know. It’s just that Chance used to come home and tell me stuff. Not much. Just stuff that wasn’t good.

I think about Brett and how he’s never really said anything other than I had to make people like me. And even though I’ve heard things from other people who rushed, I haven’t taken it seriously. I’ve always seen it as goofy, like the movies or something—paddles, John Belushi, having to drink beer or take bong hits.

Yeah. I don’t know. Maybe I got it wrong.

Probably, I say. You like all these guys?

Sure. I guess. They seem okay.

Okay or do you like them?

I like them. I guess I just don’t know them that good yet to say whether I really like them. Why, do you? he says.

Sure, I say and turn back toward the ground.

I’m lying but I keep telling myself that I need these guys and that I will like them eventually. I need them to be normal. I need them to be like Brett.

They sure as shit have been nice, he says.

They have.

So, what’s the big deal?

No big deal. I was just wondering. How you felt and all.

I’m cool if you’re cool.

I’m cool.

Yeah?

Yeah.

Me too. I’m cool too.

We leave the quad and start down Main Street. Cars blowing by in the early darkness. We walk up the hills on Main Street and the sweat starts everywhere. I can feel it on my forehead and back. Beneath my arms. My chest tightens and I pull out a cigarette.

Man, Dave says looking over at me. You must have strong lungs.

No, I say. I don’t. I just figure I might as well enjoy myself.

Right, he says. We stop and sit on a bench beside a Methodist church. It’s all dark fat stones, the tall stained-glass window out front lit up, each piece shines with the light behind it. It’s Jesus and he’s standing there with his solemn face and his arms laid at his sides, the hands upturned and pushed out like he’s offering something up. But there’s nothing in his hands. I look at my own hands and they’re empty and small, the kind of hands that girls hold theirs up to and curl the tops of their fingers over. I flick the cigarette onto the church grass and Dave gets up and runs over to it. He picks it up, mashes it on the bottom of his shoe and walks back over to me. He’s still holding the butt.

What in the hell are you doing? he says. You shouldn’t flick cigarettes in a churchyard.

Nobody saw it.

Yeah, but it’s a sin or something. He moves past me and throws the cigarette into the road. Sits back down beside me and rests his forearms against his thighs, leans over and gathers his hands between them.

You should know better, man, he says.

I’m sorry, I say. Look over at him slouched beside me. Really. I’m sorry.

Okay, he says turning up to me. Just don’t do it again.

Sure, I say. I promise.

He crosses his legs and leans back, stretches one arm behind the bench. Reaches forward and brushes his polished brown loafers. We get up and take the sidewalk again and it’s just a ways to the apartment we’re going to and underneath the oak and burning street lamps I light another cigarette.

   

WE GO TO an apartment complex where three sets of brothers live in three different apartments. We round the entrance and start down a steep hill. Hands in our pockets. In the parking lot people swarm around cars, hover beneath doorstep lights. Dave and I see the first brother slouched against a rusted brown Chevette and he’s just standing there, a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. He turns his head when he sees us walking up.

Hello, boys, he says.

We nod. He turns the beer up and sucks the last bit. I wonder why he’s leaning against this beat-up car by himself, sweating and staring at everyone. He wipes his forehead with the back of his palm.

Hot, he says. Hot as a whore in church. Dave laughs.

Go on and get a beer, he says. Points toward a group of people. We’ve still got our hands in our pockets and we both nod and move off.

I follow Dave up the steps into an apartment. People leaning against the stairway railing, nodding when we pass. Inside the apartment the air is clouded in thick smoke. Some brothers playing cards at a table just past the front door, Ben Moore, Chance McInnis, my brother’s roommate, Wes Thompson. They all look up when we come in and my hands are shaking in my pockets. I ball them into tight fists.

Well look here, Ben says. He throws his cards against the table. It’s the fucking golden boys.

Chance drops a cigarette into a beer can, props his elbows against the table, smiles and blows smoke from one corner of his mouth. Wes stands up and drapes an arm over my shoulder.

I was wondering when you’d get here, he says. I look up and his eyes are all red with the smoke.

Brett’s out back, he says. Dave sits down beside Chance. He drops a hand on Dave’s shoulder and Ben slides a bottle across the table. Dave grabs it just before it drops over the edge.

I’ll walk you out, Wes says. I turn back and Dave doesn’t look nervous at all and I’m wondering what bad things Chance used to tell him. Dave’s smiling, bringing the beer up to his mouth. Ben and Chance grinning beside him. The narrow hallway crowded with people. When we pass the bathroom the door is cracked and there’s a big guy sitting on the toilet and a girl with thin red hair straddling him, their mouths all tangled up. He’s got his hands underneath her arms, moving her across his lap like she’s a doll. He cracks an eye, sees me looking in, leans over with one thick arm and slams the door. In the kitchen three of my pledge brothers are talking. They’ve all got beers and when we pass by one points at me and nods seriously. This is all meant to mean yes, we are here, we did something good. I point back and he smiles.

Outside Brett is standing next to a keg, this blue hat pulled down over his eyes, talking to a short guy with long hair. He presses his hand down on a lever to pump beer from the keg. He laughs and looks up. Wes and I walk down the steps and Wes gets two plastic cups from beside the keg, holds the nozzle over one and begins to fill it. When it’s full I reach for the cup but he hands it to a girl who’s come up behind me.

Ladies first, he says and starts to fill the other cup. When he hands the next beer to me I raise it to my lips and pull out a cigarette. Brett lights it for me and we just stand there beside the keg pulling on our smokes. The short guy leaves and Brett nods toward him.

Later, he says.

I brought the man out to see you, Wes says, tilting his head over at me.

Yeah, Brett says. I was waiting on him to get here.

We’re proud of you, Wes says. Real proud. Brett nods.

I’m pretty happy, I say. Scratch the back of my head.

No surprise, Wes says. You were a lock.

Nah, I say.

Damn straight you were, he says, and then I don’t know what else to say about it because I am happy but at the same time everything seems off, somehow, like I don’t belong here. Anywhere.

So, I’ll leave you two to talk, Wes says. I got some shit to attend to. Back in there. He points toward the door.

Wes turns and hikes up the stairs back into the apartment. He looks back while he’s holding the door and raises the red plastic cup into the air like a trophy. Asks Brett where he got the hat from. It says I Love Guam. Brett says he found it in a rickshaw in Charleston.

What? Wes says.

A rickshaw, Brett says. Rode in it.

Oh, Wes says. He turns, lets the door fall shut.

Dumbass, Brett says. Doesn’t even know what a rickshaw is.

What’re rickshaws doing in Charleston? I say.

Hippies pull them, he says. Cheaper than a taxi.

Brett bends the bill of his hat with both hands.

Fun, huh? Brett says. Looks around the backyard.

Yeah, it is, I say.

Fun fun fun, he says and I don’t know what else to say.

Are you happy? he says.

Yeah. Sure. Really happy. I try to make it sound real. He looks at my face.

Nah. He shakes his head. You aren’t.

Yes, I am, I say but I’m not even though I think I should be. I know somehow he’s disappointed and I can’t figure why this isn’t good enough.

He’s staring at me from beneath the hat and I can hear him thinking.

This is for you, all for you, because you are good enough, because you are my brother and you don’t need me.

Brett has been keeping his distance the past week or so and I know it’s because he wants me to do this alone. Because he wants me to know that I can do it.

He sprays beer into a cup. Eyes shaded by the baseball cap. He turns around in the yard and stares past the fence at the knotted trees. Walks toward a group of people gathered at the other apartment, stretches his arm out and flicks the cigarette toward the shrub. It flies like a bottle rocket and disappears in the shadows.

   

I KEEP DRINKING keg beer outside, talking but never really listening to people who wander out, looking over at Brett standing at another apartment talking to people there the way he won’t talk to me. I keep wondering if he’ll come back but he doesn’t. He goes inside and I don’t see him again.

Dave comes out after a while. Looks carefully at the steps walking down, pauses on the third step and takes a breath. He brushes the hair away from his face and it gleams in the overhead light. Comes down and starts filling his cup.

Whew, he says. His eyes are bloodshot. Gettin’ drunk in there.

Yeah, I say. Me too.

He tilts his cup to keep the foam down. Why don’t you come inside? he says.

I don’t know, I say. It’s nice out here.

Hot though.

Yep.

You’re coming to the cabin though, right? It’s part of this whole thing.

Sure. What time?

About an hour.

Come get me.

You sure you don’t wanna come in?

Maybe in a minute.

Okay. He turns and takes the steps cautiously again.

After a few more minutes of waiting for Brett to come back I go inside and walk through all the people slouched against the walls. One girl with black hair smiles at me and I look at her for a moment, think it might be Michelle from the other night. She turns around and starts talking to another girl and I keep walking.

The beer has calmed my hands and I sit down next to Dave at the table with Ben and Chance and Wes. Wes has a girl sitting in his lap. She’s holding a hand of cards and Wes keeps pointing to one. She giggles and drops one in a pile at the middle.

Drink, fucker, Wes says. He points at Ben. Drink you fat fuck, he says.

Ben stares across the table.

Fat? he says. He draws a circle on the table with his index finger. My dick’s fat, he says. He lifts the beer to his mouth. Looks over at Wes again. Don’t call me fat you bony bitch, he says.

Wes and the girl both laugh. Chance rubs his forehead and reaches over into my shirt pocket. Pulls out my cigarettes, shakes one into his mouth, drops them back into my pocket.

Thanks, he says.

It’s nothing, I say.

Chance leans over to me. You remember how I said we’d get you some whores?

Yeah.

Well, you’re in luck, son. There’re plenty here. Plenty more at the cabin.

I nod. Good, I say. Good.

Chance laughs. I look down at my beer and start pulling at one end of the label and then I decide that I’m tired of feeling like something’s not right so I drink until I finish the whole thing. Chance gives me another.

Damn, boy, he says. Thirsty? I nod and do the same with another beer.

I got just the thing for a thirsty pledge, he says. He reaches under the table and brings out a handle of Jim Beam. Unscrews the top and turns the heavy bottle up. His Adam’s apple clicking up and down with the swallows. When he’s done he wipes his mouth and pushes the bottle over toward me.

I want to impress him.

I want to be happy.

I want this all to be right.

The bottle warm in my hands. I run my nose over the top. The smell makes me wince and Chance laughs but I take the bottle and point the bottom straight toward the ceiling. Let my eyes roll back into my head. The swallows burn my throat but I keep going and when I’m done I slam the bottle down, squint my eyes hard and wipe my mouth. Chance looks at my face.

BOOK: Goat
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