I wrote this short story for a recent competition. The theme was ‘Journeys’ – I didn’t get shortlisted but I hope you enjoy it.
The Goat Road
Dilwyn knew the neighbours thought he was a silly old goat. He chuckled to himself, it was because of his goat Primrose, he had that reputation. Some even said he let her sleep in his bedroom. He didn’t of course, but he liked to bring her into the kitchen to share his supper now and again. The goat was a lonely creature, much like Dilwyn himself. She’d lost her sister, Bluebell, to a nasty bout of scours the year before and had been glad of Dilwyn’s company and friendship ever since. The two of them spent hours in the meadow staring out at the blue sea beyond, meditating on the beauty of the countryside. While Dilwyn tended his vegetable patch, Primrose stood at the fence bleating the occasional bit of advice, happy to receive the odd carrot or cabbage leaf as thanks.
“Let’s sit here a while, bach,” Dilwyn puffed, “I’m fair tired.” He sat down on a grassy bank where the hedgerow grew thick with tasty titbits for Primrose.
Dilwyn had worried about his retirement from the dairy farm. He’d worked there man and boy as farmhand and milker. He didn’t know any other life or how he would fill his days. It was young Mr Rhys, who took over the farm when old Mr Rhys died, had suggested getting a couple of dairy goats to keep him occupied when the day came for him to leave. He had never regretted following that counsel. Spring primroses and bluebells festooned the lanes the day he brought his two kids home, one tucked under each arm, wriggling and squirming with energy. So that was what he’d decided to call them. When he let them down they had bucked, skipped and jumped all over the paddock. He’d laughed to see them young and full of high spirits. They gave him a fresh interest in life and his own step became sprightly once more.
That had been more than six years ago. The kids had grown into pretty, glossy animals with long coats which Dilwyn enjoyed brushing. They had supplied him with healthy kids he’d sold on for good profit and they were sturdy, excellent milkers providing more than enough for his needs. He was able to sell milk and butter at his gate. More importantly for Dilwyn though, they were friendly, intelligent girls and he loved them. It had broken his heart almost as much as Primrose’s when Bluebell had died. He’d sat up all night in the goat shed, stroking and comforting her in her last moments, tears streaming down his stubbly chin.
Dilwyn took a long swig of nutty, brown ale. He looked across at Primrose contentedly nibbling at the brambles entwining the hedge. The sun shone round and bright sparkling on the fern leaves, precious gems of golden ochre and fiery orange, along the narrow lane.
“We have the weather for it, my girl,” Dilwyn said. From his seat on the bank, he could see a patch of turquoise sea below him, the little village nestled safely in the bay. A surge of love filled his heart, for this place where he’d always lived and had seldom left. He’d been away only twice before – for his cousin’s wedding in the town and when his father was admitted to hospital; poor soul had wanted to die at home but sadly it wasn’t to be.
Dilwyn sighed. He himself had woken that morning with a familiar feeling something was wrong. His chest constricted, like a lead weight pressing him down, and his breath coming in short gasps. Silly fool, Dilwyn had admonished himself, you’re growing old, isn’t it boy? He had lain quietly for a few minutes until the sensation passed, pale light trickling through a gap in his bedroom curtains, Primrose waiting for her morning barley. He’d been getting later these last few days, rising had been effortful. He had gotten out of bed deliberately, carefully sliding his legs into scruffy trousers, pulling on sturdy boots, and hobbling out into the hall. Outside he had found a crisp Autumn morning, clean and damp with dew. He had breathed in slowly, feeling much better for fresh air, ready to see to his beloved goat. Primrose had been lively in her stall, calling for her morning meal. At least these funny turns of his were fleeting.
“You’re a good girl, Primrose,” Dilwyn smiled lovingly at his goat as she snuffled at the juicy black fruits in the hedge, “I’m going to miss you, cariad.” Primrose’s gentle face seemed to smile back at him.
After breakfast, Dilwyn had prepared all he would need for the trip. In a muslin cloth, he’d wrapped two thick slices of bread, a chunk of crumbly cheese, an apple and two carrots for Primrose, then filled a bottle with ale and pushed in the cork stopper. He had put these things in a coarse hessian sack and tied them around his waist, under his coat, with sturdy string. He’d gathered the goat harness and lead from its hook by the door and gone out to collect Primrose. Dilwyn had whistled merrily, determined to enjoy this time with his goat, as they crunched through the fallen leaves up the steep hill leading out of the village. A couple of miles steady climbing later, they had reached the top, ready for a breather.
Primrose nudged and sniffled at his coat.
“Do you want a carrot, my lovely?” Dilwyn scrambled in his rough sack to find her one. Primrose accepted the carrot gratefully, crunching noisily.
“Is she friendly, your goat?”
Dilwyn looked around, startled by the piping voice behind him. There in the gateway stood a small girl, grubbily dressed in a smock and dusty bare feet.
“She is.” Dilwyn replied, “Do you want a cwtch?”
The girl climbed the gate expertly and approached the goat, hands outstretched warily, “She won’t bite me?”
“No.” Dilwyn smiled, “Wouldn’t hurt a fly. Rub her neck, behind her ears, she likes that.”
The little girl stroked Primrose’s neck gently, laughing. “She’s soft…Why you here?”
“Having a rest.”
“Why?” the girl wrinkled her nose.
“We’ve walked up that hill…it’s steep, isn’t it?” Dilwyn pointed back down the lane.
“Why you walking?”
“To take Primrose to her new family.” Dilwyn replied.
“Don’t you want her no more?” the little girl studied Dilwyn curiously.
“Time for me to say goodbye. I’m an old man,” Dilwyn answered sadly. “It’s the best thing for Primrose.”
The girl put her arms around the goat’s neck, “She’ll be happy there, won’t she?”
“Yes,” Dilwyn agreed, “She’ll be happy.” The man and girl locked eyes for a moment.
“What’s your name, cariad bach?” Dilwyn broke the silence.
The girl twiddled her flaxen curls, “Ceinwen.”
“I’m Dilwyn.” He held out his hand and they shook.
“I gotta go!” Ceinwen squealed suddenly, “Mam will be mad at me if I’m late to collect the chook eggs…Ta ra mister, Ta ra Primrose!”
Dilwyn chortled as he watched her retreating back, racing across the field, a bundle of energy. Ceinwen; lovely, fair, white. It suited her. He and Megan had never been blessed with children. He could see his wife, like a bird; full of spirit, not unlike that little lass. They had grown up together in the village and he knew the first moment he saw her she would be his one day. Megan had kept him in order, kept the cottage sparkling like a new pin. He savoured the delicious memory of her bread and cakes baking in the range. It had been many years since he lost her; her tiny body had worn itself out trying to give birth to their stillborn son.
Primrose snorted warm, vinegary breath into his face. Dilwyn lifted her chin to stroke her velvety muzzle. Her clever, inquisitive eyes seemed to stare into his soul as if to say, I know everything you’re thinking, old man.
“I’m a silly sentimental bugger, bach.” Dilwyn patted her belly. He took another sip of ale, “Better be heading off soon.”
Somewhere further up the lane, Dilwyn could hear buzzing, like a giant housefly. He turned his head to make sense of the sound. He had never heard anything like it before.
“Well, what is that dreadful racket, my girl?” he asked Primrose who raised her head in alarm, “It’s alright, bach, come by ‘ere, I’ll look after you.”
Dilwyn held Primrose’s leash tight as a shiny bottle green, box-shaped carriage on four large wheels came beeping and tooting around the corner. Sitting inside was a smart gentleman in eye goggles. Dilwyn had seen the threshing machine at Mr Rhys’s farm, and he’d listened to the young folk describing the railway engines at Cardigan, monstrous great bulls snorting steam from their nostrils. This was something new, like a cart without the horse. It slowed and came to a halt next to Dilwyn.
“Hope I didn’t scare your goat, my man,” the gentleman called.
Primrose was wide-eyed and breathing heavily. Dilwyn reassured her with a gentle pat.
“She doesn’t like the noise, sir,” Dilwyn said, standing up slowly, tipping his cap.
“No. Well, it does take a bit of getting used to,” the gentleman pulled his goggles down, “But isn’t she a beauty? This is the future, don’t you know? I’m taking her for her first outing.”
“But sir…whatever is it?” Dilwyn raised his hands in amazement.
“An automobile, my man. The first in West Wales!” the gentleman patted his vehicle proudly, then he was off again trundling away in a noisy cloud of smoke and dust.
“Good heavens…” Dilwyn shook his head in disbelief, sitting gradually down again, “He’ll kill us all, bach.”
Primrose tossed her head in agreement and settled back to eating the hedge.
Dilwyn thought if the future was going to be automobiles, perhaps it was best he wouldn’t be there to see it. All that noise and nasty smelly fumes spoiling the countryside. Everything moved on so quickly these days. Those scientists and inventors with their new-fangled ideas. He’d been told that in some places in England, where rich folks lived, they had lights inside their houses, not candles or even gas mind, but lights you put on by pressing a switch. He’d even heard stories about two men in America who were trying to build a machine that would fly like a bird. He couldn’t believe it could be true though. People enjoyed their fairy tales.
“What is the world coming to, my girl?” Dilwyn asked Primrose, casting a longing look at the sea, “Well, I suppose we should get going. We’ve a long way yet.”
He stroked Primrose forlornly along her flank. She looked up, nuzzling his chin, breath sweet with fermenting leaves. Her benign, friendly face smiled, I understand, old man, you have to do this. Dilwyn planted a kiss, between her horns, on her knobbly forehead.
It had been the hardest decision of his life, but Dilwyn knew it was the right thing to do. Primrose had several more good years in her. Years when he wouldn’t be fit and able to care for her properly; years when he wouldn’t be around. He knew she needed a new place, somewhere with other goats where she could end her days happily. So, he had arranged for Primrose to go and live with his younger cousin Eleri, on her farm near Newcastle Emlyn. She had a small herd of dairy goats and Dilwyn knew she would care for his beauty. It was almost nine miles from his home in Aberporth to Eleri’s farm. Primrose behaved impeccably on a leash and he wanted to take her there himself. A last journey for them together. He felt well enough to do this; he needed to do this. To say goodbye to Primrose.
Dilwyn rose stiffly from his resting place, “Come on, my cariad. Let’s take you home.”
Thank you for reading