Tuesday, May 22

The Adventures of William Neil Phaleenkanos (excerpt 1)

The stray goat had come one afternoon when Willy had been quite young. It had knocked over the tin wash tubs, trampled most of the garden, dragged the washing through the mud, torn Willy’s best trousers, chewed open two sacks of sugar, and had stood placidly licking at it until Willy’s mother came home. She had shouted and chased and pushed and pulled, but neither her nor her son nor the neighbors had been able to get rid of the four-legged menace. In the ten years since that day, many sacks of sugar, not to mention quite a few lines of clean washing, have been altogether ruined by that goat. He never seems to be far away.

Willy’s mother turns to her son. Today is his eighteenth birthday. He waits, not looking at her or at the goat. “William,” his mother says. “Some sandwiches. And this is for you. From—”

The goat bleats loudly, and for the first time in ten years, Willy’s mother does not scowl or shout or throw anything at the creature in response. Willy takes the small, heavy case from her and puts it and the sandwiches in his rucksack. The goat bleats again and stamps his hooves on the dirt floor.

“Take that goat.” Willy nods, letting his glance fall briefly on the goat, who looks just the same as always: brown, hairy, and smug. “Go on,” Willy’s mother urges, grabbing a cloth from the sink to wipe sandwich crumbs from the table. She doesn’t look at her son.

Willy lets the door slam behind him. A few yards along the pebbled road Willy names the goat Confetti. When the pair get to the top of the road the boy turns and fixes the little thatched roof, the little crooked chimney, the little wooden fence around the little muddy garden, and the surrounding vine-covered trees where he loves to climb, in his memory. The eighteen years he spent growing up are over now, and by the time Willy and the goat reach the river, the view from the hill has already been forgotten. Willy now has to think about what he is going to do when it gets dark. His mother will not be expecting him back.

Willy walks close to the river. This is still territory he knows, filled with familiar boats, rafts, and children playing in the river’s wide, shallow, sandy curves. Sitting alone on a pier Willy eats one of his sandwiches. He takes out the case his mother has given him and undoes the clasps. The goat nibbles on Willy’s shirt as the boy pulls out a smooth wooden telescope, which sits in Willy’s hands and reads

-William Neil Phaleenkanos 1709 –

in small silver letters. The boy stars at it. After a while he puts it a way without looking through it and eats another sandwich. Then, with one last look across the river, back at the clearing and the town and the hill over which he has come, the boy begins his way into the jungle.

When he was young Willy had been afraid of the deep jungle. The shadows are thick and humid, and the breeze through the canopy is restless. He steps carefully and shushes his goat. Confetti tears at the fronds of a fern with his surprisingly clean set of vegetarian teeth. Willy takes a moment to wonder how big the jungle is before he pushes past the heaviest undergrowth and loses sight of the sky. An afternoon passes with the scenery. Willy leaves behind nothing but footprints and sandwich crumbs in the mud.

The boy watches sunset from high in a tree. From this height the river shines a broken orange between the dark shadows of tangled vines and branches. The telescope remains in his rucksack on the ground. Willy is thinking; he does not notice the mosquitoes or the gnats. He does not know how far he has walked today. Stars appear and Willy is still thinking. He will run out of sandwiches tomorrow.

The boy climbs down and finds a bit of soft ground. Confetti has wandered away somewhere into the warm dusk. Willy tries, but cannot remember a time when the goat had not been around getting shouted at by Willy’s mother for whatever had just gotten knocked over or chewed on or dragged through the mud. Willy doesn’t know about the time his mother took the goat to the river and tied it tightly to the dock. His mother had wired the front gate shut and even mended the few loose boards in the fence, but in the morning the goat had been there in the garden, chewing on the radish tops.

Tonight Willy’s last conscious thought is a tentative hope that maybe the goat won’t come back in the morning, but Confetti’s left horn digs gently into his left shoulder and wakes Willy from a dream about some nameless girl. “Blasted goat,” he mutters, violently pushing the goat away. While Willy yawns and stretches, Confetti chews on the straps of the boy’s rucksack. The few sandwiches left within it are slightly soggy. His father’s telescope is shut in its case. There are bits of card, string, and a rusted corkscrew cluttering the bottom as well. Willy shoos Confetti away, eats two sandwiches, and tries to ignore the way his goat is looking at him.


Confetti appears to have a knack for wandering into the middle of lonely villages. Idle children feel urged to throw sticks and pebbles at the goat. None of them ever succeed in hitting him. Willy walks quickly, ignoring them all; his stride is long and he only slows once to nick the biggest papaya from the corner market stall. He leaves the village and climbs a tree to eat his last sandwich and the fruit. Later he will watch the goat wandering past beneath him and the children playing hide and seek in the ferns and vinery. A frog makes a few small, sticky hops along a tree branch. Willy puts his sandals back on at the base of the tree and walks back through the village, stealing two small coconuts and a handful of berries on his way.

The goat is never far behind. When Willy reclines against a boulder to enjoy his stolen fruit, Confetti breathes into his ear and bits clumsily at his lank hair. Willy pushes the goat’s hairy nose away. Confetti bleats loudly, contemptuously, and spends the rest of the afternoon chomping on various plants. Willy ignores him and licks his fingers, staring sleepily into the green blur of the jungle around him.


(to be continued on an unexpected weekday, next week.)

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