You always envied your brother, who had the brighter eyes and shinier coat, the clearer voice and the quicker wit. He was the instigator of mischief—the first through the gap in the fence, the first to greet visiting humans, the first to discover the tasty clover in the neighbor’s lawn, even though the dog always told them no. They say he was the first to clamber atop the haybale, the cows and horses parting to let him through, while he casually nibbled the feed as if this was the most natural thing for a young goat to do—to stand taller than those around him, to look all around as if he was the master of not only the haybale but the endless blue skies and the fat, scudding clouds and the rolling green pastures that surrounded us. He actually posed there, atop the mound of feed that was supposed to be for all of us, lifting his head, while the humans squealed and cried “how cute!” and took his picture.

Climbing up there was actually your idea, your dream, yet he hopped aboard without a “sorry” or even an invitation to join him. He wouldn’t even meet your eye—then, or for a long while after he came down.

Even so, when the truck arrived, and the human and the dog herded him and some of the others inside, you felt bad for him, even worrying about his fate. It was quiet in the field that day, no one yet daring to speculate where the little goats might have been taken, or if they would return.

Except the old billy goat.

He shook his gray-whiskered snout and talked of the ridiculousness of it all. “Playthings for humans,” he grunted. “Little fools. Trading their dignity for…for what? A change of scenery? To stand on some human’s back and pretend they have the upper hand in this life? To have another reminder that we are owned, from horn to hoof, and we have no say in our destinies?”

It was a very long afternoon.

But then the truck returned, and, led by your brother, the little ones fairly bounced out of the back, bleating with joy. He trotted over to you, waggling his stumpy tail, eyes shining brighter, and bumped his forehead against yours. He smelled strongly of human, and you didn’t know if you liked that.

You had many questions, but all you asked was where they had gone. “We played a game with humans,” he said. As if this also was the most natural thing for a little goat to do. “They said I was the best at the game and they want me to come back again to play!”

You were happy for your brother because the joy in him was contagious, but you were sad that he didn’t say “You should come next time.” Maybe you weren’t good enough to play games with humans. You let your snout drop. But he was already off in search of sweet clover.

“Little fool,” the old billy goat muttered, as the two of you watched him nibbling on the neighbor’s lawn for quite a while before the dog barked and trotted out to bring him home. “There is no cause to feel jealousy about your brother’s adventures. Being wanted by humans is a two-sided coin.”

At first the old goat’s speech felt comforting, then not as much. “What does this mean?” you asked. “What is a two-sided coin?”

“It means a thing that is both good and bad. It means finding good-tasting clover that makes you ill. It means cavorting in the roadway until a vehicle hits you.” He took a deep breath. “It means…all is fun and games with humans until they no longer want you, and then… Well, you do not need to know that yet.”

You tried not to think about that. You sensed that the old billy goat didn’t want you to ask. But you couldn’t resist knowing a little more. “Did they ever take you to play with the humans?”

The old billy goat leveled his gaze at you as if deciding how or if to answer. “Once.”

“Was it…was it fun, like they say?”

“For me, not especially, no. I did not care for it. The humans contorted themselves into odd positions while we were made to stand on their backs. As if we were circus performers for their amusement.”

“Is that why you were only taken to play once?” you asked. “Because you didn’t care for it?”

The old billy goat walked away.


On a day when you woke up not feeling especially good—you’d followed your brother into a new patch of clover the previous afternoon and it wasn’t sitting well in your stomach—the truck came, and the human and the dog herded some of the little ones in the back. You watched this happen, and you were of two minds about it: jealous that you weren’t chosen, but grateful because of what the old goat had told you. Then the humans said something about numbers, not enough, and the human who lived in the house rubbed his chin and you were chosen! Avoiding the watchful eyes of the old goat, you trotted up the platform and your brother bonked your forehead, a little harder than usual.

“You will like this, brother, it will be fun!”

“But…but…I don’t know what I am supposed to do!”

“It’s easy,” your brother said. “There’s a nice human with a soft voice who teaches us how to do it. If we do it right, we get a lot of treats and cuddles!”

During the trip, while the other little goats chattered—mostly about the treats and the cuddles, which did sound kind of nice—you tried not to think about what the old billy goat had said. Maybe he was still angry because he wasn’t ever chosen again. Maybe he was jealous because he was no longer a little goat. He didn’t trot over immediately when new feed was put out, and there was a cloudy film over his eyes, and sometimes he smelled—well, much worse than usual. Yes, that had to be it. But there was something else—

“Brother, did you ever notice that there is only one old billy goat at our home?”

Your brother looked at you like you’d said something silly. “Why should we care about that! We are young billy goats, we have fun and play.”

And that was all you said the rest of the trip.


They were greeted by the human with the soft voice, like your brother had said, but the instructions were confusing and didn’t feel fun at all. The tricks the human wanted—your brother demonstrated them, so proud of himself—looked difficult and sometimes made you queasy. You wanted to go home, but it was too late and back of the truck was closed and you didn’t know where you were. Somehow you got through it. Each of the little goats was assigned to a human and they sat together on separate blankets. Your human smelled like spoiled hay and touched you far too hard. The human with the soft voice called out when to do a new trick, and you tried very hard to remember what to do, but your hoof slipped and the human cried out and grabbed you too close to your tender stomach and it hurt and you couldn’t help yourself and you bit down until the pain stopped.

All the fun and the changing positions stopped. The human with the soft voice no longer had a soft voice, and you were taken to the truck and the back door closed. Inside it was hot and dark and you were scared they’d all be mad at you and you cried. It was a very long afternoon.


The next time the truck came, it didn’t take you. The old billy goat raised his eyes to you then shook his head and resumed chewing the bits of hay strewn on the ground—leftovers from those who’d gotten to the new bale first. You watched him for a while, wondering if he too had bitten a human, if that was why he was never taken again. Then you decided it no longer mattered. Let your brother get treats for doing humans’ tricks. Let the old goat shake his gray-bearded muzzle. You were a young goat, and you would enjoy it.

You stared at the haybale, and immediately knew what to do. You trotted over, nosed between two cows, and climbed your way to the top. And there you stood, the master of everything—of the sweet untouched hay, of the sunny afternoon, of being your own goat, even if just for these few minutes—and it was marvelous.