I held the baby goat to my chest like you might hold an infant, explaining to toddler Kai that the goat was dead, but without quite knowing if I believed it myself. Did her eye move? I blew on her nose. Her head rested in the crook of my elbow like she was just very, very tired. Fluid dripped from her rear end; I re-wrapped the towel.
Should I put her in a bucket of hot water? I asked Joe.
She’s gone, he said.
And so she was. Perfect, that two-day-old furry body was, except there was nobody home. Her joints still had their bounce, but her eyes were milky and dry and no breath came in or out.
There’s no time to get sentimental, or hold a funeral like we did with the first goat we lost, was it two years ago now or three? But time or no, sadness will come at times like these and stay awhile. It especially hurts, on a farm, when it’s a girl. Girls produce more life; milk.
Was it our fault? It’s hard to know. We’d noticed she was shivering, and not standing as well as her brother, but I had heard that girls take longer to get up on all fours. When we saw she was cold, should we have taken her inside sooner? Or maybe it would have turned out better if we’d left her with her mother?
Husband Joe had brought her inside, eventually, and tried to bottle-feed her with colostrum that he had milked from her mother, but she wasn’t interested. He had put her in a blanket in a cardboard box by the heater. She didn’t make it through the night. I wasn’t there. I was delivering eggs to the city, which I now do on Monday nights. Had I been, might it have gone differently?
Joe closed the cardboard box and left it in the foyer, so I could see her, say goodbye. When I opened the box and lifted the baby, I couldn’t shake the feeling that if I could warm her cold little body, which never could get warm after it emerged from the womb in a snowstorm, maybe she’d have one of those miraculous recoveries.
No. Like exiting an airport terminal, once you go out you cannot come back in. The ground was too snow-covered for a burial, so I placed the cardboard shroud on top of the snowy compost and whispered the same few words – the only words – that come to me in these moments, whether I am beholding the corpse of my grandfather or a chicken. “Lie down with the ash heap, rise up with the corn.”
Then I trudged through the wet snow to the outbuilding to check on the little boy, the twin brother of the lost girl. It was nearly dark, and I wanted to make sure he was cozy enough to get through another cold night.
Our three grown goats were there, his mother included, but the baby wasn’t in the wooden box filled with sweaters. He wasn’t with his mother. Could he have wandered off into the snow?
“Where’s your baby?” I asked Rebeca, the dam. From seeing her rear her young last year, I knew that she’d be bellowing if she didn’t know where her baby was, although it was also true that she seemed to have made her peace, or else forgotten, about the missing girl.
I rushed inside to ask Joe when and where he’d last seen the baby boy? In the warming box, a few hours ago, he said. I rushed back and dug through the sweaters, half fearing to find another limp body. Nothing.
Then I saw a little black and white form wedged between the warming box and the wall, in such a narrow slot that not even a chicken could squeeze in there to bother him.
Such a good spot, but was he stuck, unable to wriggle out to nurse? I reached in and pet him, and felt a warm ball of fur. I fortified his sleeping nook by leaning a slab of wood against the wall, to block any drafts from blowing in the crack between the ground and the wall.
I pet him one more time. He wasn’t shivering. He was perfect, and very much home.
Becca Tucker is a former Manhattanite now living on a farm upstate and writing about the rural life.