“Edna, get real. It’s just two nights out” A light rain splattered the windshield. I flipped the wipers, smearing bug guts across the glass. “Can’t you give me two nights?”
“I’ll give you eternity if that’s what you want,” she said.
“That’s not it,” I said. “I want you to have fun.”
An eighteen-wheeler flew past us in the left lane, its wake pushing our RV to the shoulder at first, then sucking us back onto the roadway in its slipstream. Moisture from the road spun out from its many wheels and flooded our windshield. I dialed up the wipers to double-time, scrubbing the remaining bug juice free.
“I could get a dog,” she said. “One of those sit-sues or corkies.”
“Whatever. I’d let it ride on the dash, that’s what I’d do. That would make me a happy camper.”
“You know, Edna, I really don’t want a pet. All that dander floating up my nose.”
“They make ‘em hypoallergenic.”
“Still, don’t want a dog.” A line of cars flew past us on the left, the last one blasting its horn.
“This whole life is about you, isn’t it? I get nothing I want. You want an RV; we get an RV. You want golf clubs; we get golf clubs. You want, you get. All I want is a little pet who will love me, keep me company.”
The sun started to peek through the thinning clouds, patches of blue broke open. Two more hours of driving before I could relax, pop a beer, and dive into a bag of corn chips. I didn’t mind this old RV; it was one of those Class C models, built on a small truck chassis with the motor up front and a boxy living area behind. It was open between the cab and the rest. Bought the sucker used for fifteen thousand, new tires, and everything.
“Clyde, honey, I’m sorry. I’ll try to keep my mouth shut.”
“That’s not it. I just don’t want any animals right now.”
“I’d let you name her.” Edna reached over and lowered the temperature setting on the air conditioner and adjusted the vents toward her face. “You hot?”
We were taking the RV out for a long weekend. Actually, not a weekend at all. Because we were both retired, we could go anytime during the week, which was what we were doing now. Less crowded Monday through Thursday. Also, less kids, less noise, less pets.
“How come we’re not staying at the beach?” she asked.
“I don’t know. It was full this week.”
“Clyde, don’t you think Tom Thumb is a dumb name for an RV park?”
“Tom Thumb is the lake. I’m sure that’s where they got the name,” I said.
“Betcha it’s a little lake. Tom Thumb was itty biddy, you know. Probably just a slimy pond. I don’t know why you booked us there.”
“What do you care about the lake? You ain’t swimming.”
“If I had a dog, she’d swim. You need to start thinking about that,” she said.
“You don’t have a dog.” Another eighteen-wheeler passed us in the fast lane and rocked the RV from side to side. Soon we would leave the divided highway and travel south through the sandy pine forests of southern Alabama to our campsite, just north of the Florida state line, the Panhandle, and all the lovely beach resorts.
“Maxine and her husband, you know him, Tom?”
“They’s just got themselves a rear pusher. Maybe we could go with them sometime.”
“A rear pusher?”
“Yeah, that’s what I said, a rear pusher. One of them buses with a big motor in the back, like a Greyhound bus. She sent some photos.” Edna pulled out her phone and scrolled through her gallery. “Look here it’s got a fireplace and recliners. Pullouts for a king-size. We should get one of those.”
When I turned to look at her phone, our RV crossed the rumble strip on the side of the road. “They call ‘em diesel pushers, not rear pushers. Where am I getting a hundred thou?” I pulled our rig back between the lines.
“Just saying, Clyde,” she said. “How about a Maltipoo? Flo says they’re hypo-al.”
“I don’t what a Maltipoo. What is that anyway, one of those mix-n-match mutts?” I glanced at Edna again, wondering when she was going to give it up.
“It’s a designer dog, half Maltese, and half poodle. You should see Flo’s little baby, big brown eyes, smart—might even love someone like you. Flo thinks we should get one.”
“Tell Flo she needs to keep her opinions to herself, you, too. Give it a rest.” I slowed the rig down before navigating a sharp turn onto a two-lane blacktop that extended straight for miles into the Southern savanna dotted with loblolly pine.
We pulled into the Tom Thumb RV Resort just as the evening’s waning glow triggered the automatic security lights. A girl in the registration kiosk slid open a window. She had more freckles than I had ever seen on one face. They were the red type that made her look like she had a bad case of the measles. I lowered my side window.
“Howdy human-size campers,” she said. “Welcome to the Tom Thumb RV Resort.” She stuck her thumb out the window for emphasis.
“We’re not staying long,” Edna said from across the cab.
“I’ve got reservations for two nights.” I handed her my email receipt. Freckle-girl had one of those floppy-brimmed green felt hats with a wide red hatband. Two turkey feathers were stuck in the hat like dual antennae. Red braids hung behind each ear.
“Righto wayfarers. You are all set to bed down on site 23A. Just pull your carriage on through our gatehouse and turn right on King Arthur Lane, halfway down, next to the loch,” the girl said.
“You here that, Edna?” I turned to her. “We are bedding down next to the loch, Loch Tom Thumb. How about that?”
“I can see it from here. It’s a pond,” Edna said.
I bid farewell to the freckled lass, pulled the column shifter into drive, and eased our carriage down to King Arthur Lane. A life-size plywood cutout of the king himself, complete with sword, pointed the way. The pavement was narrow and curved around the campsite full of trees—a veritable Sherwood Forest. Large chunks of pine bark were missing from the trunks crowding the inside curves of the road where big rigs had previously sheared off their side mirrors and awnings. Another plywood cutout, this of a little man, was propped next to a bright yellow speed bump. It held a big sign reading SLOW, LITTLE THUMBKINS AT PLAY. Between the tree hazards and the speed bump, I didn’t think I could go any slower.
“These people live in some kind of creepy fantasyland,” Edna said.
The campground was surprisingly empty. Through the trees, there appeared to be only one other party, a boxy white trailer backed in by the lake. A brick-red dually pickup was also in the site, parked diagonally to get out of the roadway. Site 22A, damn. This whole campground is empty, and freckleface put us right next to the only other camper in the park.
“I’m going back and get another site,” I said to Edna.
“Why? This one’s fine. We’ll have some company. Plus, look it is right next to the lake.”
“I didn’t think you cared about the lake.”
It was late, we were only going to stay a few nights, I was ready for a beer; I backed the RV into the slip until I saw a three-foot plywood frog cutout in the rear backup camera. The green frog held a sign I could read on the screen, STOP HERE, THEN HOP ON OVER TO THE CAMP STORE FOR REFRESHMENTS. I considered backing up another five feet over the frog.
Site 23A was relatively generous and flat. From the right side of our RV, where the awning hung, I could see only trees and the lake. Moonlight reflected off about ten acres of water, giving the impression of tranquility, purity, and freshness. In the morning, in the bright sunlight, I expected a different view.
Like I always do, I struggled with the water hose and 30-amp power cord hookup. Then I pulled out the four-inch-wide sewer hose and attached it to the backwater drain at the back of the RV. The hose took a slight incline along the ground, up to the sewer pipe, producing a downhill sag.
“Ya best prop that up, so it drains right,” said a voice from behind.
“What’s that?” I turned to see a man about my age and build, standing at the roadway, wearing a yellow reflective safety vest, and swinging an eighteen-inch flashlight.
“Your shit can’t flow uphill. It’ll just sit in that low spot and stink,” he said.
I knew this, but I was too damn tired to go constructing a Roman aqueduct to free-flow my shit to the sewer. I was only staying for two nights. A little shit water hanging out in the sewer hose wasn’t going to bother me.
“I’ll fix it tomorrow when it’s light.”
“You didn’t see the sign coming in, did ya, buddy?”
Who was this guy? The shitter patrol? “No, I saw King Arthur, a little man, and a frog. None of them told me I needed adequate shit drainage.”
“It was Thumbelina, she says, ‘Think your stink.’ Catchy, huh? She has a little sign—”
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll prop my poop.”
The man then surprised me by walking off without saying another word or making sure I did what I had promised. I took a board I kept in a locker just for this purpose, placed it under the sewer hose, then balanced it up on stones in such a way that all my shit would flow downhill. Problem solved, time for a beer and corn chips.
“Heavens to Betsy, would you look at that?” Edna said.
I opened my eyes to the soft glow of early morning daylight leaking into our pullout bedroom. I dragged my pillow over my head, covering both eyes and ears. Edna shifted in bed. I peeked from under the covers to see her up on her knees, looking through the vinyl slats, spread at the window top. I pretended to still be sleeping.
“Them are goats. Clyde, them’s goats on that trailer next door.”
I felt like she knew I was awake, and I really wanted this conversation to just stop. “It’s dark, go back to sleep.”
“Did you hear me? I said there are goats on that trailer.”
“Yeah, on the trailer, on top.”
“Two. I can see two.”
“That’s nice, Edna. It can’t be five-o’clock yet.”
“I’ll be damned. Two goats on top of that trailer. You ever seen such a sight?”
“No.” I rolled over toward the wall.
As she ate breakfast, Edna sat at the dinette where she could look through a window and see the trailer next door. She didn’t take her eyes off those goats while she scooped scrambled egg into her mouth, washing it down with sweetened coffee. I did the dishes then made the bed.
“You need to go next door and find out what it is about them goats,” she said, dumping another two spoonsful of white sugar into her mug.
“You do. Go on over and see what is going on.”
I slipped on a light flannel shirt, a pair of jean shorts, and flipflops and climbed down the two steps outside the side door. The morning was surprisingly chilly for early September. I walked back to the edge of the pond, fifteen feet behind our RV. Edna was right; the shoreline was shallow and covered in a grey-green slime that extended a dozen feet, or so, out into the water. I noticed the trailer parked next to ours was backed up all the way to the water’s edge; their frog cutout was uprooted and leaning against a tree.
I walked back to the roadway and peeked around the dually to the opposite side of the trailer. On the ground was a wire mesh pen and a wooded ramp that zig-zagged on two-by-fours up to the top of the trailer. The contraption looked amateurishly made with little slats nailed at intervals along the boards, I presumed, for traction. I knew the goats were up there; I saw them for myself when Edna insisted I did.
A big man appeared from behind the trailer with a big grin and a quick step in my direction. “Morning neighbor, the name is Joseph John Banks, Esquire.” He stuck out his hand several feet too early. “Some call me Jay Jay, others just, Banks.”
“Clyde Cooper, Senior.” I shook his hand. I really wasn’t a senior, didn’t have any kids, it just sounded good at the moment. “Your shitter hose is sagging,” I said, pointing to the flexible pipe dropping out of his trailer in the rear. “Thumbelina will get all over your ass if you don’t prop it up.”
“Hadn’t noticed,” he said, not looking back.
Joseph didn’t seem like a lawyer, at least not a successful one. He wore a faded blue Columbia fishing shirt with the sleeves buttoned up to the elbows and light tan nylon pants, threadbare at the knees. No lawyer I knew drove a dually, and then there were the goats.
“It is none of my damn business, but my wife, Edna, she is of the curious type,” I wanted to say nosey, “and she noticed your goats on top of your trailer. Me, I don’t care what a man brings camping with him, none of my business like I said, but she wants to know.”
“They’s not my goats.”
“Yeah, you don’t strike me as the goat-type,” I said.
“They belong to a girl named Desiré, but she ain’t here no more.”
That was good enough for me. I excused myself from Esquire Banks, told him we should visit again later, and walked back to my RV and Edna.
“They belong to Desiré,” I said to Edna as I climbed into the rig.
“I don’t know. That’s what Joseph Banks, Esquire, said. But she ain’t here no more. That’s all I know.”
“Why are they on the roof? Did you ask?”
“Nope. Fellas can get kinda touchy about their goats. Didn’t ask, don’t want to know.”
“After lunch, you go back and ask about the roof,” she said.
I needed to take a walk. I knew Edna wouldn’t set foot outside the RV for the entire trip. She didn’t seem to mind when I left for long periods. I’d wander the camp roads, check out the lake, and stop by the camp store to kill some time. Maybe measle-girl was working the kiosk. I might consider getting another campsite, without goats.
“Listen, Mr. Banks,” I said as I walked past his campsite on the way back. “Edna, my wife, asked me to ask you what was up with those goats on the roof? If you don’t mind me asking.”
Esquire Banks was sitting in one of two folding camp chairs spread out on a plastic rug between our two rigs. He motioned for me to sit, real friendly-like.
“Whiskey?” Banks held out a shot glass in one hand and a green bottle of Jameson in the other.
I held up two fingers, and he poured a double. It wasn’t yet three in the afternoon, but I had eaten a big lunch.
“Like I said, them goats belong to Desiré.”
“Right, she’s gone.”
Banks nodded his head and refilled his glass.
“Yeah, they’re diving goats, Irish diving goats. I built that ramp and backed my trailer all the way up to the water for them goats. That’s what Desiré wanted, why we came here to the lake.”
None of this was making a lick of sense to me. At this point, I figured Banks had a pretty good headstart on me with the Jameson. “I’m sure there is a story to all of this.” I upended my glass, downed the whiskey, and was about to stand.
“Well, Desiré is a dancer. We met in Memphis. You know where Beale Street is?”
I nodded, and Banks refilled my glass.
“Met her there, fell in love, and we agreed to run off together. My wife had just left me for some Baptist youth director, and it seemed like a good idea to me at the time.”
“Goats?” I asked, letting the warm amber slide down my throat.
“I’m getting there. Well, Desiré was working in this joint across the street from this Irish bar where they had these goats, three or four of them, in the courtyard. They could climb up this little structure-like tower and walk around up there on a platform, maybe ten feet off the ground. Below the tower was this small pool of water. Big sign out front says IRISH DIVING GOATS. I used to sit and watch those goats for hours, sipping whiskey, but I never saw one dive off into the water. I figured it was a hoax.”
Banks was giving me more information than I needed, but it felt rude to stop him.
“Desiré loved them goats. Before her shift, she would sit next to the pen and pet those goats. That’s actually where we met, watching the goats. When it came time to run off together, she wanted to bring those goats. Said it was destiny. She wouldn’t leave without them.”
“Irish diving goats, you say? Never heard of such a thing.”
“I’m not even sure that they’re Irish. Never seen them jump off anything, they don’t even like the water.” Banks lifted the Jameson in my direction. I held out my glass for another splash.
From my vantage point on the plastic rug, I could look up to the roofline of Bank’s trailer and see two goat heads wandering about up there. Every now and again, one would venture near the edge, keeping their little hoofs securely planted, and lean their necks over the side. The big one was brown and white with small horns and a straggly beard coming off its chin; the small one was primarily white.
“How come you only have two?” I knew I should not ask any more questions if I was to ever leave. Maybe it was the Jameson that was asking.
“Desiré wanted to take all four or five; we were only able to catch two.”
“Catch? You didn’t buy them?”
“Nah, just took them. The bar shuts down about six, just before the sun comes up. Nobody stopped us. We just grabbed two and threw them in the back of my truck, and drove off. Who would think to steal goats from a bar?”
“Right, they don’t spend a lot of money on goat security. Desiré and I were in love. I brought her and the goats back to my trailer, where I was living after church-boy moved into my house. I had it parked in Tunica down by the river.”
Banks wagged the bottle again in my direction. I really had to relieve myself, plus I had heard more that I wanted to know. Edna was the one who wished for all the details, not me. “You will have to excuse me, but I’ve got to go use the head,” I said, then followed through by standing up and staggering back to my RV.
“I was counting your drinks, I was,” Edna said when I stumbled into the living area.
“Good, then you can tell me how many I had. Listen, hold that thought.” I navigated with both hands on the wall down the hallway to the bathroom.
“How many?” I asked as I emerged again.
“Never mind. I saw you talking. Where did he get those goats? Why are they on the roof?”
“Memphis. They are Irish diving goats,” I said, then I told her everything else I knew.
“What happened to Desiré? Did you find out what happened to her?”
“No. You’ll have to ask yourself,” I said.
Edna then put on her pouting face—poor little me. I knew I’d have to go back for more Jameson after dinner.
Banks had Tiki torches burning citronella around the perimeter of his plastic rug to keep the evening mosquitos at bay. He invited me to sit again and pulled out a fresh bottle of whiskey.
“I’m only here now because Edna is nosey. She wants to know what happened to Desiré. You don’t have to tell, I’m just the go-between here,” I said as he tipped the bottle into my glass.
“She split a couple of days ago. Not sure where she went. Coming to this RV park was all her idea in the first place, something about some favorite book she had as a kid. Well, things didn’t work out for us, and she left. She’s pretty resourceful, just hopped into the cab of some other guy who was leaving, and she was gone. Don’t reckon she’ll be back.”
“I thought she was all about those goats?”
“No, that was just with us. The goats were part of us, and when us were no longer us, she didn’t want goats.”
“You never saw them dive off your trailer into the lake?”
“Nope, they don’t dive. I told you it is a hoax.”
I held up my glass for another shot. In some way, I was starting to like Esquire Banks, actually feeling a little sorry for him. His wife kicks him out, his dancer girlfriend runs off, and now he is stuck at some shitty RV resort in the flat pine woods of South Alabama next to a slimy lake with two goats on his trailer roof.
“Do they ever come off?”
“Yeah, at night. They sleep in that pen. Good thing, couldn’t sleep with those hoofs banging the aluminum all night.”
“What’s you going to do with them now?” I asked.
“Don’t know. You want goats?”
Edna was still awake when I finally crawled back to our RV. I told her I had found out all about Desiré and the goats, but I was in no condition to talk right then. I’d tell her what I could remember in the morning.
The morning sun slammed into the skylight of our bedroom, igniting a ferocious headache behind my eyes. It felt like there was a vice on my temples, jaws tightened to the point that my dry, swollen tongue was forced out of my mouth. I pulled myself out of bed to find some water and Edna.
Both were at the dinette. Edna held up a glass and a bottle of Motrin. “Tell me about Desiré,” she said.
I didn’t want to talk.
“He’s moved out,” Edna said as she pulled up the window blinds. “Left the goats.”
I turned to look out the window. The trailer and pickup truck were gone. At the campsite there remained a plastic rug, four Tiki lamps, two camp chairs, a wooden ramp, an empty green bottle, and a wire pen containing two goats.
“I’ll be damned,” I said as I tried to focus on what I was seeing. “He even left his shitter hose, pulled clean off the trailer.”
“Somebody’s gotta take care of the goats,” Edna said.
“We can’t just leave them here. I called Flo this morning, and she says they make great pets.”
“But look how cute the little one is,” she said, looking at the goats. “We could take them home with us.”
“No, they belong in Memphis.”
“Okay, if you won’t let me keep ‘em, can we swing by Memphis on our way and drop them off?” Edna shook out three Motrin tablets and held them out for me like it was a bribe. “We can’t just leave them here.”
“You know you ain’t never getting the smell of goat crap out of the RV if we bring ‘em. You’ll never be able to stay in here again.”
Edna smiled at me—thin and subtle, almost demonic, unreadable. I couldn’t tell if I was being played or not. “Okay, Edna, to Memphis.”