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I Swear

2014 Short Fiction Contest - Third Place Winner

by

YOUNG KWAK
  • Young Kwak

A tequila-fueled stream of consciousness about loss and expectation set around a visit to the Garbage Goat to deposit some precious cargo. The narrator's fuzzy childhood memories blend with gritty adult realities in this story full of melancholy and humor. — DAN NAILEN


I swear, I swear I saw the Trash Goat talk once, or maybe not talk but move his mouth around, chewing on that trash like it was cud, but there's a little room for doubt in my mind because that was also the night I drank all of Johnny's mom's tequila, even the bloated worm floating above the silty bottom. When I heard the Trash Goat sing I started crying, just a tear but still, and Kissy hip-checked me hard enough to land me squarely back in reality, ass-on-pavement style.

We spent a lot of time in the park that winter, feeding the Trash Goat crumpled Styrofoam cups that Johnny lifted from work; also joint roaches, taking pictures of the goat toking up before letting him inhale the embers. The night Johnny brought the tequila, handing it to me in a brown paper bag like a bouquet, I knew he meant for me to get drunk; I also knew I would, knew the night would end with me puking or f---ing, maybe both, and either way the next morning was going to feel different than all the others.

Everyone made fun of me but I swear, I swear I saw that statue's head lift, the scruff of his billy goat beard moving in time to his chewing, and I saw him wink at me, like this was our little secret. Those nights in the park we'd take turns mounting him, hands up like we were riding a roller coaster, but I wasn't really there, I was remembering being little and holding up my arms for my Papa to hoist me up onto the goat's cold metal back where I held on tight to its stubby horns and tried to breathe through my bunched-up snowsuit. When we went to the park my Papa carried bread crumbs in his pockets for the ducks and geese, and he taught me not to be afraid of the big goose when he toddled over to me, his puffed-up chest meeting me at eye level. I don't think that was exactly sound advice but somehow it never failed.

It feels like every memory I have of being a kid takes place in this park with my Papa, and of course that's crazy and not true, but it feels true and that's what matters, especially half a bottle of tequila in with a dead worm waiting for you. I knew in my limited drinking experience that taking a bunch of shots all in a row meant getting the liquor down fast, letting the burn run hot, so reality would not fade into drunkenness but slam into me like a brick to the head, a smashed-open pumpkin feeling that would let me unclench this earth and drift up over the park, maybe to the roof of the clock tower. Maybe higher still, up and over the falls.

But I swear, I swear it wasn't just the tequila or the slimy worm that torpedoed down my throat, bypassing my stomach and going straight for my veins, wriggling through my bloodstream making everything shimmer and dance: my blood, my head, the sky, that goat. It wasn't just the liquor or knowing I'd f--- Johnny and Kissy would be mad because I'd been first. That Trash Goat saw me and I saw him, and in that moment we both knew. I wanted to give him the worm, spit it back up and feed it to him like his cud, like the trash, so he could feel its shimmery dance. Maybe his hooves would unbolt from the ground and his twisted metal body would buck into life and everyone else would be too drunk to notice or care when we flew up and over, away from it all.

My Papa told me he wanted some of his ashes fed to the goat when he died, but the night we lifted up the tiny urn and poured him out over the falls that didn't roar quite so fierce in the icy December eve, I forgot to save some so I opened my mouth and stuck out my tongue like I was waiting for snow. When I tasted him I ran from the bridge, to the Trash Goat, and I kissed his frozen snout, opened my mouth and let my tongue press against his iron face. I hoped this would be enough. When my tongue didn't stick to the freezing metal, I took it as a sign.

But tonight, tonight with the moon high and full and Kissy dancing alone in her beautiful way and Johnny laughing as he looked at me holding that tequila bottle by its neck, I swear, I swear the goat stared directly into my eyes and winked, maybe even serenaded me. So Papa, I think it probably, definitely, maybe worked okay. ♦


About the Author

Casey Guerin is a second-year MFA candidate at the EWU Inland Northwest Center for Writers, where she also teaches English composition and creative writing. She received her BA in English and Communications at Boston College, and now lives in Spokane.