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Authors: Brad Land

Goat (9 page)

BOOK: Goat
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Hah, he says, that’s how it’s done. He grabs my shoulder and shakes me back and forth. I clutch his thick shoulder.

Hah, I say and we laugh for no reason and Chance crosses his arms in front of him on the table and lays his head between them. He pulls up all red-eyed, breathes in quickly and laughs again. I lean my chair back and it slips and I topple down beside the table. My face against the carpet and Chance stands and scoops me up beneath the arms like a baby and he laughs and everyone at the table laughs and I stand and hold my arms up like I’ve just won something and Ben pats me on the shoulder and Dave looks up at me and everyone starts clapping. I take a bow and sit back down. Pledges standing on the other side of the table clapping and smiling. My head starts to rock with the beer and the bourbon and the smoke and everything hums like it’s all electric and I forget about Brett, forget about wanting him to be here with me in all the laughter and static and Ben slides the deck toward me and says it’s my turn to deal.

   

I RIDE WITH Chance and Dave to the cabin. The whole way Chance’s pulling from a silver flask with his initials on the front. He turns the radio up for this Kenny Loggins song “Danger Zone” from the movie
Top Gun.

Damn, he says. Holds one hand flat against the air outside. I love that fucking movie.

Dave looks over at him flying his hand like an airplane. The air tosses Dave’s hair all around his face.

Yeah, Dave says, all serious. All those fast airplanes and stuff.

I laugh. Chance looks at Dave and then turns around to me.

What? he says.

Oh, I say. Nothing. Something from earlier. Chance looks back out the window, keeps flying his hand like it’s an airplane. Dave turns around and rolls his eyes, twirls his finger around his head like Chance’s crazy, and I nod.

Chance looks back at me and Dave.

What? Chance says. We can’t stop laughing and Chance starts laughing too. He takes another pull from the flask and passes it back to me. I bring it up and it’s stopped tasting bad, stopped tasting like anything.

We laugh again and the car drifts over the yellow line to the other side of the road. Chance takes the flask from Dave and when he’s back on the right side of the yellow line he turns off the lights and we drive in the dark and he hangs his hand out again to split the air and there’s nothing but the silent and warm darkness rushing inside.

   

THE DIRT PARKING lot at the cabin is choked with cars. It’s a cinder-block building some rich alumni donated to the KA’s, and they rent it out to other fraternities for parties and things. Chance pulls up and blocks two cars in and we don’t say anything, we just get out and start walking and I hope my brother will be here and I think he will because everyone’s supposed to, all the brothers, all the pledges. The gravel is loose and Dave slips once and then I slip right after that. Chance shakes his head at us.

You two know how to walk? he says.

Sure, I say and Dave laughs. Stumbles again. The voices coming from cars, from people slouched against them, the music from inside the cabin, it folds into this one thick hum. My contacts stick to my eyes. I rub them with two fingers, blink hard a few times. There’s a line waiting to get in the front door and a big guy checking ID’s so the fraternity won’t be liable for underage drinking. He stands there all muscles and no neck, a shaved head, arms crossed in front of him between ID’s. But it’s just for show Chance tells us on the way there. No one really cares. All you have to do is show him something. It could say you’re sixty-four and from Kalamazoo. Chance walks straight to the front of the line and Dave and I follow. The bouncer looks down at Chance and nods him in. When Dave walks by he puts a hand on his chest. Dave looks around like he doesn’t know what to do and Chance walks up behind the big guy. Whispers in his ear. He takes the hand off Dave’s chest and cocks his head toward the door.

   

INSIDE THERE’S AN eighties band onstage. Guys in their thirties. The lead singer has long, tightly curled hair. They start this song “Come On Eileen” right when we walk in and the crowd up front starts bouncing up and down. Chance leaves Dave and me, goes over to a crowd of girls. We get canned beers from plastic trash cans full of ice. They taste like water and Dave and I go into the crowd up front, duck below the raised arms and jumping cigarettes. Someone spills a beer down my arm. I look for Brett in the middle of all the jumping bodies. Wes is standing behind a girl, arms around her waist, twisting his crotch into her back. He holds his arms up and cheers when the chorus starts and his beer tips over onto the girl’s head. She reaches up, pats her hair and keeps dancing. A pledge shuffles his feet and rocks his head. Another pledge sees us at the back of the crowd, holds an arm above all the heads and points. I point back and lead us toward Wes and I’m feeling all confident, pushing people aside and brushing past them like I’m someone who’s supposed to be here, like this is for me. I grab Wes’s shoulder and he turns around and smiles, raises his arms again and spills beer onto the girl’s head again. I pat her head and she smiles. Turns back around and starts to dance, arms above her head. Wes doesn’t say anything. Stands behind me and Dave, drops one hand on both our shoulders and screams, because, I guess, he’s happy.

I lose count of the beers I’ve drunk somewhere around sixteen. A pledge leans into a corner of the room, head down against his chest. A girl tugs at his arm and he doesn’t look up he just swats the hand away. Will Fitch stands next to the trash cans full of beer, stares straight ahead, blinks his eyes. The floor is slick with all the dirt from people’s shoes mixing with spilled beer. The band stops playing at two-thirty. The lead singer brushes his greasy bangs away from his forehead and thanks everyone.

You guys know how to rock, he says. Balls one hand into a fist above his head. Everybody cheers, throwing arms up toward the ceiling. Rock and fucking roll, he says. My face feels numb. I sit down in a wooden chair in the middle of the cabin. Dave stands next to me, cocks a hip to the right and puts his hands in his back pockets and we’re there in all the laughter and smoke and shifting bodies wondering why we were nervous at all because we’re rock stars with our snarls and shirts drenched from the sweat and beer.

   

MY HEAD STARTS to drop to my chest and I can’t keep my eyes open. A girl sits in my lap. I look up and she’s there staring at my face. I don’t recognize her but she seems to know me because she keeps saying I knew you’d get in, they had to have you. I give her a cigarette and put my hands around her hips. I can feel the edge where her jeans meet her stomach. I slide one hand around to the groove her spine makes down her back, run two fingers along it and she’s looking at me and I’m looking at her with my numb face and she puts a palm flat against my chest, runs the hand down to my waist, turns around and pulls on the cigarette. Dave leans down to my ear.

Watch it, he says. I look up at him.

That’s a brother’s girlfriend, he says and I shrug like I don’t care.

I’m serious, he says.

Fuck it, I say.

He shakes his head. You better hope nobody sees you, he says and I want to ask him if he’s forgotten what we are, that we are rock stars, that right now we are gods. I keep my hands on the girl’s hips, keep tracing the divot of her spine, the edge of her rib cage and then she’s up and stumbling toward a big guy who’s straining his neck to see all around the room. She puts her arms around his shoulders and he leans down and kisses her. Dave looks down at me.

Told you, he says.

Yeah, I say. Whatever. I get up and go for another beer. Will’s still standing there beside the trash cans blinking his eyes.

Hey man, I say. He looks at me like mine is the first voice he’s heard in a long time.

Oh, he says. What’s up. I reach down into a trash can and all the ice is water. I pull my hand up and look at the others.

No beer, I say. Shake the water onto the floor. He keeps looking straight ahead and raises his arm toward me.

Here, he says. I don’t want this anymore. He holds the beer out to me.

Thanks, I say. You sure? He nods and the beer is warm but my mouth is dry and I take the whole thing down in a few swallows. I crumple the can and throw it.

I saw you with that brother’s girlfriend, he says.

Yeah, I say.

She’s pretty, he says.

I couldn’t really tell.

She is. He swivels his head around and looks at me.

Yeah, he says after a pause, she is. I remember to look for my brother but he’s not anywhere. Will turns his head back toward the crowd like he’s looking for someone. Everyone is slouching into one another full of the beer and the music and the room tilts and Will and I just stand there in the sway and rock of the bodies around us.

6

IN MY DORM room on Monday afternoon, waiting for the phone to ring, I keep thinking about what Brett said, that I had to make people like me, that it was the most important thing. I can’t shake the feeling that I don’t want to make anyone like me.

Pledge season officially starts when my phone rings. The brothers told us that we were going to a picnic with our little sisters, this group of sorority girls who do things with the fraternity. It’s supposed to be a celebratory thing for pledges. My pledge brothers were excited when they heard this, said things like that’s fucking cool of them, but for some reason I didn’t buy it. I asked Brett about the picnic but he wouldn’t elaborate, because it’s this secret thing that he’s not supposed to talk about. But I knew it wasn’t going to be what the brothers told us because all Brett said was this: don’t wear anything nice. I am wearing torn shorts, a green Velocity Girl T-shirt.

The shrill ring of the phone startles me away from my window and I jerk around, peer at the orange plastic rotary dial left over from the sixties. It shakes because the ring is so loud. On the second ring I take a step toward the phone. On the third I let my hand fall down close. On the fourth I force myself to pick it up.

Hello, I say.

Take your fucking goat ass to the hall right fucking now. The voice screaming. I can’t tell who it is. The voice rattles a list of things I am to bring.

Two packs Marlboro Lights.

One
Hustler.

A toothbrush.

I leave my dorm room, stumble down three flights of stairs, start toward the Cricket Mart. I pass through a brick arch that borders the soccer field, my feet crumpling scattered trash and dead leaves. Past the arch two brothers stand cross-armed leaning against a black truck. One winks as I turn and catch his glance. His lips pulled tight across gray teeth. The slight breeze tosses his red hair. I see two of my pledge brothers when I hit Main Street. Cars blaring music move slowly down the road, shirtless students hang from open windows. Dave Reed and Kevin Brehm look both ways, take a step and then jump back as a car blows its horn at them. Kevin punches Dave in the arm. They stumble into the road all smiles, laughing the whole way across. They see me standing. Gauging the traffic.

What’s up, motherfucker? Kevin says. Slaps my back.

Nothing, I say. Look back and forth across the road again. In one hand Dave has Listerine, some Levi Garrett chewing tobacco. Two rolls of toilet paper, a magazine that I assume is porn tucked beneath his other arm. Kevin has everything in one hand, two packs of Camel cigarettes, a cheap disposable lighter. When I ask Kevin about the difference in their loads, he says fuck that, I ain’t buying all that shit. Dave just nods his blond mop back and forth. It catches the light.

I told him he’d regret it, Dave says.

What the fuck are they going to do, beat the shit out of me? Kevin says. Fuck that. I’m fucking broke anyway. He looks back at a girl in a bikini top riding a bicycle. He smacks his lips and turns back to me.

This is pretty crazy shit, huh? he says. Guess we ain’t going to no picnic. I nod. Dave says that they need to hurry and they shuffle off in the opposite direction. Drops his magazine and Kevin kicks him in the ass when he bends over to pick it up. I look back and see the two brothers still waiting by the black truck. When I cross the road I look over my shoulder again. One brother yanking things from Dave and Kevin. The other pushes Dave in the back as he and Kevin start toward the hall. Yells something I cannot make out.

   

I ONLY HAVE eight dollars and I don’t want to blow it all so I only buy one pack of Marlboros and a toothbrush. The
Hustler
is seven dollars by itself. I really don’t want to buy any of these things but the least I can do is get the brother with the gray teeth a toothbrush.

I have two dollars left and I crumple the bills and receipt into my pocket. When I open the double doors at the Cricket Mart I see across the road that the brothers are not waiting anymore and I think that maybe I will be the last pledge to show up at the hall.

——

I PUSH THE gray metal door open on the Kappa Sigma hall and see Dixon Lynch and Patrick Wells. Patrick is short and thick. Wearing sunglasses. Trying to make himself look like a badass. He’s yelling at Will Fitch, who’s taller than he is. He points up toward Will, pokes his stubby ring finger back and forth inches from his face. Will flinches each time. Patrick yells. Flails his arms. Tries to look his meanest. Dixon just smirks. His face is dark with stubble. He pushes Will toward the short stairwell that leads up into the hall. Will catches a foot on the first step, stumbles and then rights himself. Looks back at Dixon, who says that if he looks back again he’ll break his fucking face. Patrick sees me standing with my back to the door. It almost makes me wince to see him turn so quickly toward me, his eyebrows rising, his lip curling slightly. My hands are shaking. I smile. Try to hide the fact that I’m scared. Patrick grabs the front of my T-shirt and pulls me away from the door.

What the fuck are you smiling for? he says. He stares hard at me. I look away.

Huh? he says, cups a palm beneath my chin, spins my head around to face him.

I’m fucking talking to you, he says. I said what the fuck are you smiling for? Dixon comes from my right and slaps the glasses from my face. They spin across the floor and rest beside a trash can.

Take those fucking glasses off, he says. Everything blurs, Patrick and Dixon’s faces, the walls, the light streaming from outside. Patrick says that I am fucking pathetic. His breath hot on my face and it makes me wince. Dixon takes the cigarettes and the toothbrush I’m holding, pulls them from my clenched hand, stuffs the toothbrush into his back pocket like a comb. Patrick moves behind me. Places his hands on my shoulders. Pushes me up three steps. The door leading into the hallway is closed but through it I hear muffled voices. A brother waiting on me at the top of the stairs. He is much taller and much bigger than I am. I feel Patrick’s hands leave my shoulders. The brother at the top of the stairs looks at me. His face scarred from acne, his skin rough from the beginnings of a beard. He does not yell. He does not poke his finger toward me.

When you walk in there, he says, pointing toward the closed door and leaning down, I want you to yell. And what I want you to yell is that you own this fraternity. I mean it. He pauses. Looks at me sincerely.

I want you to look at everyone and scream at the top of your lungs. This is your fraternity. You own it.

I place my hands on the door and push.

   

THERE IS A line of brothers down each side of the hallway and pledges are filing between them. Will somewhere halfway down. A brother pushes him in the back. He spins limply toward the opposite wall, where Chance meets him with another shove. I wonder where Brett is. His door is shut and a brother is leaning against it. Everyone yelling. I throw my hands up. For a moment I can’t remember what I am supposed to say but when a brother catches my eye I remember, say that I own this fraternity. At first it comes out softly but then I see the anger welling up in the brother’s eyes. He clenches his face and then I am screaming, flailing my arms, bouncing toward the gauntlet like a madman.

I own this motherfucker, I say. A brother grabs me. Jerks me by one arm. I am still screaming.

What the fuck did you say? he says. You fucking goat motherfucker I’m gonna fuck you up if you say that again. I do not look at him I just scream. Chance hears me. Another brother’s head spins around after he shoves Will and now all eyes are on me. A brother flings me down the line and now I am being thrown from side to side. My body goes limp and I just let the shoves come. I reach the end of the line. A brother opens the door to the hall lounge and pushes me inside. The door slams behind me. I am still screaming that I own the fraternity. There are composite pictures lining the walls. A large star painted on the back wall. It contains the Greek letters kappa and sigma and a crescent moon with a skull in the middle. Two crossed swords border the star on each side. The star and moon painted in green and red. A television on one wall. Trophies line a cabinet. A pool table in the middle of the room. The brother who is the pledge master grabs me when he hears what I’m saying. He’s big, six-five, and he talks slowly even though he’s trying to sound furious.

Shut your fucking hole, he says, like his mouth is full of novocaine. He puts one large hand behind my neck, his fingers resting against my ears. It feels as if he’s going to hoist me up like a dog hauls her young.

Get on the goddamn floor with your pledge brothers, he says. Shoves me down. I land on my knees, behind the line of pledges sitting cross-legged, their heads bowed toward their legs, their arms locked tightly together. They bob like the pistons of an engine. They are bahing like goats. The sound rises and falls. It fills the room.

I lock arms with Will.

Bah like a goat, motherfucker, someone says.

We bah.

Louder, he says. We bah louder. I push my head closer to my legs. Sweat is pouring down my back and my arms are slick.

Get down, faggot, a brother says. Someone is shoved down next to me. Through a squinted eye I see Dave Reed and his shaggy blond hair. Dave locks arms with me tightly. Someone yanks at Dave’s arm.

You better fucking hold on, faggot, a voice says. I better not be able to tear you off. I am holding tightly but Dave’s arm slips through mine. I will not look up. Dave disappears and then slams back down next to me, sends me teetering into Will and we pull the whole line backward.

Bah, we say.

Bah bah bah.

I feel spit hit the back of my neck. It rolls down into my shirt warm, slips down my back slowly. Someone whispers in my ear. It is soft almost gentle and I can feel hot breath against the side of my face like someone is bending to kiss my cheek.

I fucking hate you, he says, you hear me? I hate every single one of you goat motherfuckers. A hand slaps the back of my head. At each end brothers pull the line, try to loosen us.

Hold on, motherfuckers, you better fucking hold on, someone says. Everything is beginning to blend together and everything sounds like a chant, the goat sounds, the yelling, the sway of the line. Will crying next to me. I can hear him whimpering. I cannot cry. I squeeze my knees around my head until it hurts.

——

GET UP, A brother says. We all rise, heads bowed. Stand clustered together. The whole room still rings. My arms are stiff, my legs throb and my body is soaked in sweat and spit and there’s Vaseline in my hair. Dave has toothpaste in his hair. Will’s hair glistens and it’s slicked down in the back. He smells like flowers. Ben Moore dumped Summer’s Eve on his head. Another pledge is missing one sleeve from his blue oxford button-down, his brown belt fastened around his neck like a noose. Two other pledges, twins, have red splotched faces. Handprints on their cheeks. Eyes bloodshot. Another pledge standing dazed. Squints his eyes tightly. His glasses have been taken. He cannot see.

Another brother lines us up.

Nothing happened, right? he says. We nod. Dixon and Patrick come in. Patrick takes my arm. We walk through an open door and he whispers in my ear.

Just a little more, okay? he says. You’re doing good. Just a little more. He pulls me into the courtyard. The lucid sunlight. I squint my eyes at the glare and brush my hair back from my forehead. The pledges are walking single file. A few brothers walking beside us. Dave in front of me, the blue clumps of toothpaste forming knots, his hair like a bird’s nest. Chance leans in close to his ear. Dave nods and keeps his eyes on the ground. We pile down concrete stairs that lead to the dorm parking lot. It is five spaces wide. Eight cars have pulled in. Five in spaces, three on the grass. I see a brother standing beside a two-door red Corolla. He’s smoking, thick black hair pulled in a sweep across his forehead, his pink skin beaming in the afternoon light. Another brother sitting on the trunk dangling his legs back and forth. Everyone is pushed toward a car. One pledge gets into the back of the red Corolla. Patrick ducks my head and pushes me into the center of the backseat. Kevin Brehm gets in behind me. Patrick leans in when Kevin sits down.

Keep your heads down, he says. Places one hand on each side of the doorframe. He smiles, winks at me, slams the door and then he is gone.

My back is arched and it hurts to bend down so I keep my head raised. I look at the pledge on my right. Staring through the window. On my other side, Kevin is slapping his knees. Nursing this beat. Bobbing his head. The pledge on my right looks at him.

What the fuck are you doing? he says. He was a model in New York before he came to Clemson. Brett told me that even though he’s a Yankee they let him in because he’s a bitch magnet. Because he can pull ass. Kevin turns his head slowly toward the model pledge. Drums his knees.

I don’t know, Kevin says. Just fucking around I guess.

Well fucking quit, he says. I don’t wanna see you bop your skinny fucking neck. Kevin stops slapping his knees. The model pledge turns back toward the window.

Jesus, the pledge says. Rubs his stubbled chin. You think they’d turn on the fucking air-conditioning. Sweat streaming down his forehead. Wearing a yellow Juicy Fruit T-shirt. A large wet spot spread across his chest.

Why would you think that? I say and he just squints at me and shakes his head.

You’re right, he says, turning again toward the window. Why would I think these assholes would turn on the AC? I don’t know. Decency. Something like that.

I wipe my forehead with the bottom of my T-shirt. The driver’s side door opens and a brother gets in.

This brother drinks bourbon in biology class. He gets a Coke in a plastic bottle, pours out half, fills it back up with Jim Beam. His eyes always bloodshot. The first thing he ever asked me was if I liked to eat pussy. You cannot trust a man who doesn’t like to eat pussy, he said. I said, yes, I like to eat pussy. He smiled. Licked his teeth. He is from Sumter, South Carolina. His favorite things are eating pussy and drinking bourbon. Another brother gets in the passenger seat. He is from Hartsville, South Carolina. He turns around.

BOOK: Goat
11.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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