Mother didn’t know what to do with her. When she was born, it was clear she’d be different from the rest of us. At first, she lived in the house. I looked after her, like a pet. Over time, she lost the human aspect except in one place: her eyes. They never changed. She was born with blue eyes, and they stayed blue.
When the goat girl turned three, Father placed her in a shed behind the house. She was fully goat by then, and definitely not going to school with us. How would we explain her? What could we say? There were endless conversations about what to do with a goat girl in the family. She grew hooves and wiry gray hair. She couldn’t talk, of course. That was expected from the beginning when we saw she would be a goat.
In Roman times, they sacrificed babies who were different. They left them outside, on the edge of town, exposed. Mother might not have wanted a goat girl, but she’d never do that. It was still a sort of baby, she said. It had come out of her, and it had life in it. Mother could have a strong will about some things.
Father kept quiet about the goat girl. He never once held her in his arms. He didn’t pet her as Mother and I did. Being the youngest boy, I shared a bedroom with the goat girl. Sometimes, she left the little floor pallet, climbed into the bed, and slept with me under the covers. No one else knew.
When Mother died, Father remarried. He had three sons to raise and the goat girl. He never called her our sister. He took her to live in the shed. Secretly, I gave her milk at night and took her a blanket. With her, I was less alone.
Our new stepmother came to live with us. The goat girl excited her. I think she married our father because of her. She would go to the shed and watch her often. But then the goat girl, or Maggie—that was what I named her—would stop whatever she was doing, eating the grass or sitting among the flowers, and stare back, her blue eyes meeting my stepmother’s black ones. This caused my stepmother to tremble. I don’t know why she feared her. There was no malevolence in Maggie. Not once did I believe she could harm anyone.
One morning, I saw my father going out to the shed with a machete. He thought we were already at school. My stepmother had been talking of sacrifices over breakfast. I walked with my brothers to the bus stop but did not go to school that day. I returned through the woods and hid behind the shed.
Before he could make the long walk from the house to the shed, Old Nelson drove up in his pickup and honked the horn. Distracted, Father turned to talk to him. I moved from my hiding place and opened the shed door. Those blue eyes stared at me.
“Run!” I whispered to Maggie as loud as I dared, but she didn’t move. She laid down her head, her eyes still watching me. I flailed my arms, gesturing for her to leave, to get out while she could. Old Nelson kept my father occupied for some time. Father had his back to me. Maggie made no move to go, so I gave up trying to convince her with words. I crept down, cut the rope around her neck, and lifted her in my arms. She shivered, knowing, I guess, what he meant to do, her own father.
I stumbled and nearly dropped her, but I ran with Maggie to the woods. With her warm body against my chest, I remembered the first time I held her as a baby. Her hands had been human once, her fingers wrapped around mine.
Something must have changed my father’s mind. From the trees, I could see the shed, but he was nowhere. Old Nelson was gone too.
I stayed with Maggie and sang a little song she liked. Our mother had sung it to us. Maggie stared at me with her blue eyes, then finally went to sleep in my arms. I laid her down among the leaves and promised to return later that night. I had been in the woods with her all day.
My father eyed me when I returned to the house but said nothing. He knew. He must have seen me leave the shed with her. My stepmother stirred a pot on the stove without once turning in my direction. My brothers filed into the kitchen. We ate our stew in silence. I waited for my punishment. No one said anything, and we went to bed early.
At midnight, I crept outside to the shed. My stepmother stood naked in the middle of a circle, her lips moving furiously in an evening chant beneath the full moon. I hoped Maggie could not hear or see these rituals, that she’d stay deep in the woods.
In the morning, the house was quiet. No one was downstairs. No breakfast made. I ran upstairs, then throughout the empty house, though not yet time to leave for school, no sign of my brothers.
I dashed outside. The shed door stood open, and there was Maggie, peacefully standing in the place where they had tied her up before. She had no rope on her now. I felt relieved. So she had been spared.
I turned, and that is when I saw them, all laid out in a line, my brothers, my stepmother, and my father, dead, sliced with his machete. Slowly, I crept toward Maggie, my hand outstretched, and she lifted her nose to meet my palm.