The Goatman’s Wife; Or, Mackey Rottler’s Grandpa Dirge
Don’t think of her as Dutch’s wife. How many times does she have to explain that the Napoleonic Code was overturned more than a century ago, that femme couverte (watch her lips, woman as that which is owned) was replaced by femme seule (it’s not like you have anything against the idea, woman as that which owns)? For some reason, she has to keep explaining the simplest of things, like, she says, sexual exchange value and self-ownership.
And what about, you want to ask one more time, her full-moon meetings of the DisOrder of the Daughters of Lilith? Something about the first principle being the primacy of self-naming.
Her name’s always been Lucy Brown, she says. She does what she wants when she wants–usually without regret, she adds–and she has a career of her own. Lawyer Lucy can say all of that in three languages that you know of. No doubt about it. Lucy lives large, and if you’re smart, she’ll make you a lot smarter.
So, Lucy asks, what’s your goal tonight? Say: Survival. But think: Atonement.
“Your fingers.” She’s looking at your glass and pointing. You wipe your fingers on your shirt and watch her laugh. Dutch is watching too and tugging at his soul patch. Watch him as he lowers his head. His ball cap has horns on it.
Wonder: Would a goat dance this afternoon have helped Grandpa Rottler, aka Sam or Ram or Sam the Ram, carry your sins away? Don’t answer. Instead: Clear your throat.
Lucy drags on her cigarette and holds, exhales and blows smoke over your head. “I’m hungry. Let’s order something.”
Menu the color of mustard with three columns of food in large black print. Coolly study it. Mounds of golden brown shrimp. T-bones, it says, of a giant pound, thick and juicy. The Dutch Delight, an 8-ounce chopped sirloin charcoal-broiled rare, simmered for two minutes in equal parts goat blood and milk, and spiced lightly. Or the almighty world-famous Hornburger: one pound of 110% pure beef slaughtered and skinned, gutted and ground on the spot, and served between the largest buns in Albers County, garnish of cheddar, swiss, onion, green bell pepper, tomato, pickle, bacon, crisp leaf of lettuce. Jalapeño and secret sauce (yikes) optional. All for the low, low price of on the house. Dutch’s treat.
“I don’t see anything that grabs me,” she says. “How about you?” Shake your head no if you want. Notice that Dutch is pushing thick hair under his horn cap and staring at Lucy. Notice that although she’s looking at you, she knows he’s looking at her. Notice how everyone is looking at everyone else.
Every once in a while, look to the door and pray Jenny Diver, aka Lucy’s law partner, and/or her husband, Dick, doesn’t come through it. Let Lucy order for you.
Try to put yourself in the Goatman’s shoes. The Horn of Plenty’s his place, and it’s very public. The food is his, and the woman sitting across the table from you is a woman he probably considers his wife. Yes, it’s a booth and much of you is hidden, but no one can hide that it’s you, Mackey Rottler, not the Goatman, sitting there and that he’s her husband and you’re not.
Aha, you think. If, as Lucy contends, she’s not his wife, then he can’t be her husband, right? Okay, but remember two things: one, no one else in the joint knows or believes that, and two, he’s still the Goatman, still the guy you and Aggenbite watched walk into the sauna years ago and set what must have been some sort of Inwit Health Club record.
“No one’s hung like a horse,” you insisted.
“A goat then,” said Aggenbite. “A really, really well-endowed, scary goat. The Goat Lord.”
Ask Lucy if he’s Capricorn. Mention the Sanskrit monster Mahara, goat-headed, sea-going. Theme established, share your knowledge of variations: the Babylonian Suhurmas, goat fish; the Persian Vahik, sea goat; the Greek Aigokeros, goat-horned one.
Notice the newspaper by the wait station near the back door. Excuse yourself from the table; then slip over and check Dutch’s horoscope. Dum-de-dum-de-dum. Leave immediately if it says anything about goat-administered goat-understudy ritual sacrifices. Cursed be the man who has no goal. Let the people say amen. You say nothing.
Admit it. You’re nervous. That you agreed to meet Lucy back at your place after the burial made sense. The circle of life. That you have dinner with her here at the Horn this evening was a dare you should never have accepted. It’ll be Dutch’s treat, she said. The Goat Lord giveth.
The heel of your right foot is tapping the floor in Morse Code, something like “Shit shit shit. Shit shit shit shit. Shit shit. Shiiit.” If you knew the International Radio Alphabet, you’d be chanting “Foxtrot Unicorn Charlie Kilo” under your breath until the cows turn blue or you come home. Or something.
Tell Lucy she’s a bigger person than you are and ask if you can be excused. If she asks what your goal for the evening is, tell her it changes by the minute. Look to the door for the Divers.
Let’s play a game. If, in asking to be excused, you are, consciously or unconsciously, thinking of her as your mother, take one step back. Cursed be the enlightened man who turns a lover into his mother. Let the people say amen. You say: Survival. Add: Through ritual sacrifice, burial, atonement. When Lucy says what, say: Nothing. Look at something over her shoulder.
If, in asking to be excused, you are merely being polite and would have asked the same thing of a man, any man, hold your position. Try to maintain this posture throughout life.
If you asked without thinking because you were scared and you can admit it, take a step forward. Such honesty is admirable. Your fear is cute. Either is a potential aphrodisiac.
Vesica piscis: yoni, vulva. Freya, Venus. Siren, mermaid. Hindu Great Goddess, aka Fishy Smell or Truth. Vessel of fish. Pagans considered fish an aphrodisiac and ate it on Friday, aka dies veneris or Day of Venus, to prepare for goddess-centered sex rites. Because sex involved the body and the body was dirty, Christians douched the Virgin Mary of her sea smell. And her power.
Why you denied sleeping with Jenny Diver is a mystery. How many times does Lucy have to tell you sex is pleasure and dishonesty displeasure? How many times does she have to tell you the only thing she expects from you is the thing you seem least able to give, truth?
In nine cases out of ten, “aphrodisiac” is a silly word. Don’t say it unless you mean it. Don’t say stuff like “Like dogs we’re drawn to each other, sniffing, circling, legs raised” unless you do it with a kind of animalistic Romeo-knowing and add, with perfect timing, “Like what you smell, Lucy Brown? I smell you all the way aroun’. Want you all the way through. Coo-cooca-choo.” Don’t bother with what “through” means. Just mean it. Tell her your new goal: To be a fisher of women.
She taps the table with her lighter and tells you you’re funny. You do things that would repulse her in another man. At the funeral this afternoon she watched you poke yourself in the forehead with a pen. Twice. In the same spot, can you believe it, she says, in the same spot. Think of the odds. She laughs and chokes on her beer. Wrong pipe. She coughs and wipes her nose. She takes another swig, then checks your forehead for ink. Pour her some more beer. Her fingers feel good, and she’s a swigger. You have to respect that. Pour yourself the rest of the beer.
She lights a cigarette, her last one, and looks into your eyes. She touches her black sweater, pours salt in her glass. Shake your head no if you don’t want any. Then, if you really mean it, look at her black sweater and feel a little embarrassed by what happened earlier at the burial. Don’t tell her what you’re thinking, but think this: All the friends and relatives clustered under umbrellas and talking quietly, pointing you out as the grandson who found him dead. All the umbrellas and everyone shocked when you stumble in loose gravel not three feet from the hearse and cause your end of the casket to hit the ground. Grandpa Rottler on the rocks.
Shake your head imperceptibly at the thought, the metaphor, a word he wouldn’t have understood, but a joke he’d appreciate. Look at Lucy’s red hair. For embarrassment. You have red in your pockets too, Grandpa’s checkers, and the black, some of them too. For luck, good and bad. And Lucy’s hair and sweater like checkers. Say nothing when she asks you what you’re thinking. Mean what you say, but say nothing.
You notice her look. The long fingers, the full lips. You like that look. Vampiric in the best possible sense. Make a note to find a way to make it sound beautiful. She excuses herself. Dutch smiles and says something you can’t hear as she walks down the hall to the restroom. Lucy’s move. As it should be. Look to the door for the Divers. Look at Dutch without seeming to look at him.
Do your goat homework. Kingdom, animalia. Phylum, chordata. Subphylum, vertebrata. Superclass, tetrapoda. Class, mammalia. Subclass, theria. Infraclass, eutheria. Order, artiodactyla. Family, bovidae. What, you ask, would cause an alpha male–the billiest horn daddy of the bunch–to offer his wife so openly to his goat understudy?
See 1. (Umb-day uck-fay.)
Study up on cuckoos, the bird equivalent of the lecherous goat. Call Carolus Linnaeus if you want at 1-800-CUC-KOOS, but taxonomy, or systematics, isn’t likely to help you with this one. Even though October is five months too late, consider yourself part of a sacred May ritual, a symbol of freedom, a sign for marriage partners to set aside their vows of monogamy and enjoy a month-long debauch.
Cursed be the bird who mocks when everyone’s so willing. Let the people say amen. Let cuckoo mean something else, something more than the Bard’s word of fear to Dutch’s married ear. You protest? Why would you, a nice guy, want to cuckold someone? Good question. Lie back and tell me all about it. Start at the Garden of Eden.
Recall the preacher’s words at the funeral if you can. You can’t. Anything he said was lost on you because of the two old women a few rows back. Did your aunt really mean it when she said Grandpa Rottler, between prison terms, lived with them in “unofficial matrimony”?
Recall the line you would have had the preacher say, the one that kept running through your head: the sins of the father shall repeat themselves in the grandson, goat understudy, year-round cuckoo.
Cursed be he who fornicates and jokes about it. Let the people shout amen. Wonder: Does Leviticus 18 have anything to say about rural three-ways? Notice: Dutch is not at his customary station at the end of the bar. Suppress: Where’s Lucy?
Ichthys. You recall the preacher saying that. Greek for “fish.” Symbol for Jesus Christ, fisher of men, professional son, no grandfather to worry over, under. Add: An earlier Ichthys was the son of a sea goddess, Atargatis, aka Delphine, aka womb or dolphin. She kept her sea smell. If you’re thinking of Lucy as your mother, take one step back.
But understand it’s not all your fault. Start with the Ancients.
Consider the Great Goddess of Ephesus, who wore a belt slung over her hips, an amulet of fish positioned over her genitals. Sea smell suggesting womb, wild original energy. Look at Lucy’s hips when she comes back. If she comes back.
Can you say Oedipus ten times with your tongue sticking out? Try it at home.
Your food’s here. Order another pitcher of beer. Don’t eat with your mouth open. Look to the door for the Divers, either one or both.
Finish this mournful dirge. Add it to the book you’re writing. Tentative title: The Book of Fucking and Dying. Your father’s father, a bad boy most of his life, drunkard, carouser, ex-con, Sam the Ram, was laid to rest after six months in an Inwit old folks’ home, where you spent twenty guilty hours a week taking care of the bastard.
When your aunt could fly in, she put in twelve-hour days. Your aunt’s a good person. If she has a list to work out, it’s short and private. Your agenda, as far as you can tell, is selfish. Each time you combed his hair, played checkers with him, got him a mint, rearranged his dresser, tucked the old man into bed, or watched your aunt do the same, you stored the details and impressions on your cranial hard drive for later use.
One midnight calling: Bourbon splashed over ice like a sacrament. The other: List files, choose one, reinvent yourself.
When you get home, click on Ram. Here are some things you’ll find. Horned god. One of the most popular of the animal incarnations of the Holy Phallus. Like all phallic gods, Ram is a vehicle for atonement, a sacrificial victim that, in dying, carries our sins away with him. Days or festivals of atonement usually mark the turn from one year to the next. Ram is the symbol of the first sign of the zodiac. See Bull, Stag, Goat. See also Jesus Christ. Some speculate that our fascination with the horn as a symbol of virility originates in the horns of Moon-Cow, the Great Mother. See Astarte-Tanit, Io, Keroessa.
On the astrological scene, some speculate that confusion over the linguistic similarity of Aries, aka the Ram, and Ares, aka Greek God of War, might have caused Aries’ association with the planet of Mars, aka Roman God of War. That might explain Aries’ association with the element of fire and tendency toward domestic troubles and shifting fortunes. See Zodiac. See also Sam the Ram Rottler, born on All Fools’ Day.
We are edited by observation. You’re still editing Grandpa Rottler, and he’s in the grave. Observe yourself in the booth. Do you see goat or cuckoo? Fish or ram? Take your time.
Straight up nine o’clock. Cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo–O word of fear. How does it sound in a cuckoo’s ear? Watch the customers watch you. Let the people nod and say amen. What are the chances of the Divers showing up? Calculate the odds.
Pretend you’re back in college taking an essay test. What are the essential differences between the goat and the fish? The cuckoo and the ram? What do you make of the goat fish? Is a ram-fish-goat-cuckoo combination possible? Is there any such thing as an essential difference? Do you really think Grandpa Rottler a ram? If so, do you really think his sacrifice will erase his sins, your sins? If so, how long do you think it will take you to cover your clean slate with new marks, most of them failing? If Christian symbols aren’t working for you, why do you think the ancient ones will? Hint: You don’t.
When Lucy comes back, tell her you’re not sure about the ancient symbols. Tell her you’re confused about your goals. Tell her also the following. Say: Once upon a time, Lucy, boy meets a pearl, aka girl. Expect her to say she’s writing her own version, to be titled something like Wild Woman Who Doesn’t Get The Blues; or, Fishy Smell With The Power To Choose.
Or maybe she’ll say, “If the boy tells the woman the truth, what does he have to lose?” “The girl” tell her, “like in the three-parter written with the boy’s interests in mind.” She’ll smirk and say, “I prefer another story, another role: Independent ho-ho instead of his yo-yo. Or yours.” Which means she directs her own scenes.
In one of them, she asks you if you slept with Jenny Diver and you tell her yes and she asks you how it went and you tell her it was enjoyable. Nothing has to rhyme.
Ask yourself why Lucy, given her sexual liberationist politics, remains married to Dutch. Also ask yourself why you can’t tell the truth. Before you decide what to say, look to the door for the Divers.
Report Card: Mackey Rottler appears to be suffering from an acute inability to understand the concept of open marriage. Does this failure of the imagination have anything to do with his proclivity for sleeping with married women? Does the agreement between Dutch and Lucy, if there is one, hinder in any way Mackey’s proclivity? If everyone’s willing and no one’s anyone’s property, is Mackey breaking one of the commandments? Does lamby Jesus believe in private property? If so, is Mackey a thief? If no, given that he’s given to doing wrong things, how does he sustain his interest? We’ve asked Mackey these questions, but he says nothing. Maybe we can all get together for a conference?
Where’s Lucy? Glance at Dutch’s customary spot at the end of the bar. Look to the door for the Divers. Your food’s getting cold. Clean your plate. Watch your manners. Cursed be the boy who doesn’t pay attention.
Lucy may be teaching you a lesson. Let the people say amen.
If you learn nothing else, Mackey Rottler, learn this: Lucy Brown’s no man’s meat or gift or property or thing to name, she’s not the Goatman’s Wife, and she’s not your mother, though your confusion is understandable.
Some speculate that on a subconscious level men seek the womb, aka dark water, aka primordial deep, because only through immersion can they die their little deaths and be reborn. Isis swallowing Osiris to give birth to him. Moon-Cow spitting out the sun every morning. The circle of life, turning origins into destinations, making blessed mothers of devouring lovers. So, Mackey, you can be excused for the occasional confusion. When Lucy uses the expression petit mort, or little death, to describe orgasm, go ahead and dream of being washed in the salty waters of your beginning, of losing and finding yourself, of being returned whole and clean to the universe.
Questions for group therapy: If rebirth in the vesica piscis, aka vessel of fish, is a type of baptism, is it also a form of ritual sacrifice? If women are not swallowed up in sex, how are they devoured so they might be reborn? At what price to their psyches?
Homework assignment: Trace the historical and cultural transformation of vesica piscis to the Gates of Hell, aka Vagina Dentata. Queries: What does this assignment have to do with your being left here in the booth to eat alone? Exactly who’s abandoned whom?
Go home. Gulp your bourbon. Plunk a dirge on your guitar and slur your words as you sing. Make a fool of yourself in the mirror. Play the clown prince of pathos. Consider applying for membership in the DisOrder of the Daughters of Lilith. Study up on Lilith. Concentrate on what the Christians did to defame her. But know that you’re not a fish. Know that unless you change your ways, you’ll always be goat understudy, little lonely cuckoo, nicens baby tuckoo. Consider calling Jenny Diver and telling Lucy about it.
Consider the song Grandpa Rottler wrote about the ram that gets caught in the thicket. Imagine what the Daughters would say: On his way to the deep, the ram seeks entanglement, encourages the thicket, seeks the path of most resistance. Add: Then one day dies.
Go home and write that in your book.
First published in Berkeley Fiction Review 19 (1999).