The sunshine streaked down upon the loose dirt under the tree, its leaves providing a pockmarked pattern on the purple, open belly of the young goat. My father worked the pocketknife nimbly with his right hand while pulling apart the rib cage with his left, evoking a loud crack.
“Here,” he handed me the mother of pearl pommel stained with blood. My hand gripped the knife loosely, the blood seeping onto my skin, the morning breeze softly drying the red ink. The animal’s glass eyes focused on the clear morning above. Not looking back at me, my father reached for his knife. He spilled the large stomach sack into a tin green basin and the curled the bruised colored tripe over the stomach. I took the basin by the handles. The steam of the organs and the scent of drying blood forced me to breathe the smell of death.
“Hold her tight!” Father told me earlier that morning. The young goat struggled against my grip. “Stretch the neck out.”
At seventeen, I did my best to follow his commands, but the incessant bleating of the terrified animal weakened my resolve. My eyes looked away as the knife searched for the entry point. The tightened skin tore with a muffled pop. The loud bleating broke off into a gurgling sound. The animal twitched a couple times, took one last breath, and fell limply in my hands.
“You should learn,” my father advised, but I said nothing. My mind raced back into the past, thirteen years before, where I sat under the wooden porch of our Reynosa home playing with dirt.
Roooooom! Peep! Peep! Wiuuu! Stubby legs covered in scabs pushed the small yellow steel dump truck I received the Christmas before. The aluminum axles of the toy squeaked and complained under my weight.
The dialogue between different characters carried on seamlessly with the same voice.
“Oh no!” The imaginary driver told his medic.
“What happened?” his partner asked.
“There’s been an accident!”
The sirens blared once more and the imaginary paramedics reached the scene. By the entrance of the house, three small golden chicks in a small wire birdcage went about their daily business. Sure of myself, I took one and laid it down. The confused animal struggled, getting back on its feet time and time again. To play out the imaginary scene, I pushed the dump truck over the fidgeting body of the innocent bird. The tiny creature blinked twice, breathed heavily, and then lay still.
I picked up the limp body; the game continued. “We need to help him!” said the make-believe driver. The delicate bird’s head dangled between my right index finger and thumb. I shook it once, twice, thrice, but his eyes never opened. Confused, I sat on the edge of the porch. I cradled the chick in my hands while my feet etched shapes into the dirt. The fine dust collected until the brown straps of my shoes and the light skin of my feet became indistinguishable from one another. As the sun dipped beyond the horizon and the large mesquite tree threw its shadows on the porch, my mother came and asked why I sat there.
“He’s not moving.” I held the chick up.
“What happened?” She asked, taking the stiff corpse from my hand.
“I was playing and then—” I paused. “I don’t know.” My words caught in my throat without an explanation.
“He’s asleep,” My mother explained.
“Wake him up. Put him with his brothers.”
“No,” she said. “He’s not waking up again.”
I lay in bed that night waiting for the sound of the screen door to announce my father’s homecoming. My parents spoke in hushed voices. After a while, my mother came into the bedroom and sat at my bedside. My father leaned against the doorway. “Sleeping forever” seemed the simplest way to explain death to a four-year-old. I understood the idea, except for the part of no coming back.
“So if I die, do I come back?” I asked while my mother laid the patchwork quilt over me.
“Go to sleep.”
The axe came down on the goat’s carcass with a crack and a thud. As the meat and bone broke apart, I tossed them into the scalding copper saucepan. Immediately, the pink flesh steamed and browned against the hot surface. The blood-red puree of chili, spices, and tomato sauce came after. I thought back on the bleating of the animal and understood my father’s words: “It’s always easier killing a lamb.”
About the Author
Eleazar Zuniga is a native of South Texas and is currently pursuing his MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Being born and raised on both sides of the border between the US and Mexico has sprinkled Eleazar’s writing with the colors, smells, and daily magic of both cultures. He currently resides and teaches high school in Donna, Texas.