It was a beautiful spring morning. My irises and daisies were beginning to bloom. The crepe myrtles had put on their finest display, and pink flowers littered my driveway. It was a perfect day in North Carolina. I stepped out of the house and got into my old truck. Slowly, I drove the few miles to the Carl Sandburg home. On the way up the hill, I met one of my fellow workers, Amy. We chatted together about everything, from baby goats to gardens. We reached the goat barn and went through the gate.
“I’m so excited, Christy,” Amy told me. “You know Jenny?”
I nodded. Jenny was the head worker. “Mmm hmm?”
“Well anyway, she sent me an email this morning saying that a few of the goats gave birth last night!”
“Great!” I exclaimed. We hurried inside the barn.
“Christy, Amy, come over here,” Jenny called. We ran over to her. Jenny was holding Nellie, one of our goats, still. “She’s having trouble with her babies,” she told us solemnly. Amy and I looked at each other. We bent down and struggled with Nellie. An hour later we had a thin baby goat in our laps.
“Only one?” Amy asked. “That’s unusual.”
Jenny gently took the kid from me and examined it. “It’s very weak and sickly,” she noted. “He needs food.” She tried to urge Nellie to nurse her child. The goat turned around and refused to.
“She’s shunning her baby because he’s so sick!” I cried in despair.
“We’ll have to bottle-feed him,” Amy realized.
“Christy, I’m putting you in charge of this little guy,” Jenny said. She handed me the goat.
“But… but,” I stammered.
“I’ve got to go check on the other goats. Come on, Amy.” Amy gave the kid one last glance before following Jenny out of the barn.
I gently adjusted the little fellow and coaxed the nipple of a bottle into his mouth. He finished the milk in a few minutes and then snuggled against me. I smiled and stroked his soft brown back. He had found a new mother.
Two weeks passed since the goat’s birth, and he still had never left the barn. He also still remained without a name. Jenny had left him in my responsibility, so I figured that I was supposed to name him. But none of the names I picked for him suited him. I tried Ginger, but he wasn’t fiery. He was calm and dependent. Fuzzy didn’t quite fit him. I asked visitors for ideas and came up with Little, Quiet, Sam, Cinnamon, and Chocolate.
One day, as I was trying to think of a name, one of the workers, Marla, came in. I had never been very fond of her, as she wasn’t the brightest creature on earth. She stood leaning against the doorway of the barn. Finally she said, “Barney.”
“What?” I looked up.
“Barney. Name him Barney. He’s never left the barn, has he? So name him Barney.” She left the doorway and walked outside.
I pondered the name. It suited him. He had never left the barn. It wasn’t too big or grand. It was tiny and quiet. Like him. “Barney,” I whispered. “Your name is now officially Barney.” Barney gave something in between a squeal and a whinny. “You like it? Huh? You like it?” I laughed, and rolled over in the hay with Barney on top of me.
“What’s goin’ on?” Marla asked.
I smiled. “Thanks for the name, Marla,” I said.
She shrugged. “Sure.” Although she wouldn’t admit it at the time, I knew that we had both found a new friend.
* * *
The weeks passed. Marla and I shared the responsibility of taking care of Barney. He became more curious, and once even ventured out of the barn. However, he still remained sickly. Jenny was afraid that when he grew up, he might pass along these sick genes.
One day, she told me and Marla, “We’re going to have to neuter him. We can’t risk having a herd of sick goats.”
I looked at my feet. “All right.” I couldn’t bear to watch.
“You can take a break,” Jenny said, “both of you. You’ve worked so hard. Let’s give you each a week-long break, all right?” We nodded.
As we walked to the parking lot, Marla said, “I’m really sorry.”
I shook my head. “At least he’ll live,” I said.
The week seemed years to me. Every second of the day, I worried about Barney. At night I tossed and turned. On the morning of the seventh day, I rushed over to the barn. Jenny met me.
“Where’s Barney?” I gasped, seeing that his usual spot was empty.
“I put Kate in charge of him for now.”
My heart sank. “Oh.”
“Don’t worry,” Jenny reassured me. “You’ll get him back soon. I know that you’re doing great with him. For now I need you to take care of Mocha.”
My shoulders sagged. Mocha was a stingy goat, about Barney’s age. She had sprained her ankle a few weeks back, and though it had healed, it still bothered her. She would often stand in the corner and nip anyone who came too close to her. “OK.” I slowly approached Mocha with a handful of grain. I held it out to her. Instead of enjoying this rare treat, she backed away from me and eyed me suspiciously. I sighed. Suddenly I heard a familiar nicker. “Barney!” Kate was holding a squirming Barney in her arms. She brought him to Jenny.
“Barney’s impossible,” she said. “He hasn’t been like this all week!”
Jenny smiled. “He sees Christy. Kate, how ’bout you take care of Mocha and Christy takes care of Barney?” Relieved, Kate handed Barney over to me. I hugged him to my chest. “You’ve been such a good mother to Barney,” Jenny said.
I glowed. “Thank you.”
Jenny continued. “You’ll soon be saying goodbye to him.”
Startled, I looked up. “Why?”
“We sell some of the goats every year. You ought to know that by now.”
“No!” I cried. “Sell Barney?”
Jenny gave me a sad smile. “I see that you’ve gotten as attached to him as I have.” She shook her head. “Yes, I’m afraid so.” I sighed and looked at Barney. I could see a look of innocence in his dark brown eyes. I hugged him again and went to find Marla.
Barney blinked a few times as we stepped out of the barn. He had only been out of the barn once in his life. I found Marla sitting on the ground, getting her daily bath from Natalie. The goat was licking her face playfully.
“Marla?” I asked softly.
She looked up. “Yeah?”
“We’re going to have to sell Barney.”
Marla opened her mouth to say something, and then closed it. Suddenly she burst out, “Christy, this is my last day workin’ here. I’ve got a new job that’ll pay more than this one. I’m sorry ’bout Barney.” She gazed fondly at the young goat in my arms. I set Barney on the ground. He took a few tentative steps towards Marla, warily watching Natalie. Marla enfolded Barney in her arms. “I’ll miss him. Both of you.”
Marla stood up and placed Barney on the ground. Then she threw her arms around me. The sun was setting, and my watch said 4:56.
“I’d better leave,” Marla choked. “Remember to write.” I watched sadly as my friend walked down the steep hill for the last time. Slowly I picked up Barney and tucked him in for bed.
That night, as I lay in bed, I thought about Marla and Barney. Marla had left, and soon Barney would too. It was too much for me to bear, and I cried myself to sleep.
* * *
The big day arrived. I studied the sky. It looked cloudy, and I hoped that the sale would be canceled. But the clouds parted and it proved to be a sunny day. With a heavy heart, I drove over to the Carl Sandburg home. I opened the barn door and saw Barney standing there as usual. A lump settled in my throat as I realized that this would be the last time I would see him there, waiting for me. I bent down and ran my hand along his back. I could see little stumps of horns already beginning to grow. Quickly, I fed all the other goats, so that I would have more time to spend with Barney. Soon, the other workers arrived. As I was hugging Barney, a soft hand touched my shoulder. I looked up and saw Jenny.
“I know how hard this is for you,” she said. “Can I hold him?” I placed Barney in her arms. She rocked him back and forth. “I’m going to miss him.”
I was surprised. “You’ll miss him, too?”
Jenny smiled. “It’s impossible not to miss someone so likeable. Thank you for all you’ve done for him. Without you, he might not have survived.” She gave me back my “child.” “They’ll be arriving soon.” And they did.
People poured in, admiring the goats. For a while, no one seemed interested in Barney because he was so tiny and fragile. I sat on a crate with Barney sitting on the ground next to me and watched a family examine the goats. There were four girls with their parents in this family. They were obviously searching for a young goat, since they kept looking at the kids. I could overhear some of their conversation.
“No, this one’s too wild.”
“This one just sleeps.”
“What about this one?”
They were about to leave empty-handed when the youngest girl cried, “Look!” With a sinking feeling, I realized that she was pointing at Barney.
The family rushed over. They all fawned over him, even the oldest girl, who looked about sixteen years old.
“He’s so little!” exclaimed one girl.
“He’ll be perfect for Daisy.”
“Hello,” I said, managing a smile. “This is Barney.”
“Barney,” mused the mother. “Well, girls, you want him?” They all nodded.
“Please, Father?” the youngest girl begged.
“Autumn,” the mother said in a warning tone, “don’t beg.”
“Of course,” the man said. “Does two hundred sound all right?”
I hesitated. The price was fine, but I couldn’t bear to give Barney up. “Yes.”
The youngest girl’s face lit up, and she gently hugged my little friend. Although I hated to see Barney leave, I knew he would be in good hands. I could tell by the way the girl gently caressed him.
“I’ll bring him over to your truck,” I told them.
“OK,” one of the girls said. “Race you there!” she called to her sisters. I sat quietly, holding Barney for one last time.
“Oh, Barney,” I sighed. I was amazed at how attached I had become to him in the few weeks I had known him. Tenderly, I carried him to the waiting truck. As I walked through the barnyard, Amy flashed me a pitying look.
I placed Barney in the back of the family’s truck and placed in some hay. The youngest girl stuck her head out of the open window.
“Come visit Barney soon!” she called. “Our address is 545 Bernan Road, Harring, North Carolina 58649!”
Her voice was drowned out by the car engine, and the last thing I heard was her sister saying, “Don’t tell strangers our address!” and the girl replying, “She’s not a stranger, she’s Barney’s mommy!”
* * *
A week passed. The next Saturday, I had made up my mind: I would visit Barney. I drove for about ten minutes before I saw the house. It was a white house, and a spacious pasture surrounded it. Two goats stood in the field. I recognized Barney as one of them.
The four girls ran out of the house to meet me. Their parents followed them.
“I’m Christy Bournham,” I said.
“Let me introduce ourselves,” the woman said. “I’m Mandy Coddell, and this is my husband, Jim. These are my daughters, Spring, Summer, Winter, and Autumn. We named them after the seasons.” The girls smiled at me.
“Hi,” said Spring, who looked about sixteen. Summer, probably thirteen, grinned at me, and Winter, age ten, smiled shyly. But Autumn, the youngest, who was eight, looked at me with her eyes shining.
“I play with Barney every morning,” she told me.
“Don’t you have school?” I asked.
“Yes, but we homeschool.”
Winter added, “We need Barney to keep our goat, Daisy, company. She’s been so lonely after our other goat, Anna, died.”
I told the family Barney’s story as the girls led me to the pasture. A different Barney met me. Instead of the skinny, shy Barney I knew, I saw a healthy, adventurous goat. He immediately stopped what he was doing and ran over to me. “He didn’t forget me!” I laughed.
“He’ll never forget you,” Summer said. “You saved his life.” I knew that Barney was fine, so I returned home with a light heart.
The next day at work, I half-expected Barney to be waiting at the door for me, although I knew he wouldn’t be. To my surprise, a small goat stood there. “Barney?” I gasped, not believing my eyes. I knelt down. It was Mocha. “Mocha?” The goat sadly bleated. “You want to be loved, don’t you?” I crouched down and hugged her. “I’ll give you all the love that you could possibly want, Mocha-girl.” Mocha bleated again, but this time it was a joyful one.
Although I had lost two friends, I had found a new one. I knew that Marla and Barney would always love me in their hearts, even though we were separated. I also knew that one day Mocha would leave me, too. And then I would find her a perfect home, just like I had for Barney.