Discover more from The Writings of T.R. Hudson
Passage Prize 2 Submission
Another wet and rainy morning in the pasture had Patrick gritting his teeth, cursing under his breath, though there was no one else around and he could yell as loud as he wanted about his shitty life choices, but that would disturb the goats, so he kept to cursing under his breath as another large raindrop found the just large enough hole in his poncho that dripped onto the nape of his neck and sent a shiver coursing through his body. The goats were content, grazing on a small part of Patrick’s property, modest in comparison to most farms, but the largest property he’d ever owned. In fact, it was the first land he’d ever owned, newly purchased from an old couple who wanted to move to Mexico to get away from the rain and stretch their savings as far as possible. He was from Seattle, born and raised. He rooted for the Seahawks and hated Oklahoma City since they took the Sonics away and spent a lot of time at the topless cafes, staring at the baristas while pretending to do work on his laptop, like so many other laptop professionals across the globe. He designed simulated models for the batteries in Tesla's and a knock-off company in China that Elon Musk knew about but could do nothing to stop except maybe tweet about it.
Patrick led the goats back to the barn and noticed a pool of water collecting on some straw in the back right corner. The drips were slow and predictable, but he knew he’d need to patch the roof soon or risk a larger problem down the line. He put down a bucket and figured if they were thirsty, the goats could drink from it, even though he gave them plenty of water, but Wilhelmina was rambunctious and liked to drink from dirty sources.
Thanks for reading The Writings of T.R. Hudson! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
The Airstream was warm and inviting, his wood stove burning, but on it’s last bit of kindling. He put another log and noticed he was running low and would need to chop more when the rain stopped and the wood had a chance to dry a bit. Coffee was ready and he poured himself a cup. It was the one luxury he wouldn’t sacrifice. As long as he had that Colombian blend, he could endure the cold, dreary mornings. The smell wafted in the air and reminded him of the drive-thru café where his college ex-girlfriend worked and once gave him a blowjob on her break. It was the most remarkable sexual experience of his life up until then and was frequently visited in his loneliest moments. She was also topless most of her shift and he pretended it didn’t bother him. It had been ten years since they’d broken up and it still bothered him.
It was 9AM and time to get to work. He ate a hardboiled egg with salt and some greens. If this worked, he would get chickens next year and get the eggs for free instead of from that bastard McCue, who hated him because he was from the city. Patrick opened his laptop and got feedback from the client that his model was great, but needed to run smoother. The guy’s computer was probably the issue, but he wrote back that he’d look over the last few lines he wrote and see if he’d made any mistakes, though he know he hadn’t. There was another job offer in San Francisco, lead engineer at a solar car start up with enough seed money and the likes of Peter Thiel as angel investor. It was mornings like these that made him consider the move, but he thought better of it. Another pandemic could happen and he’d be a prisoner again and that was worse than any cold morning rain.
There was another email from his brother back in Seattle.
Subject: Come Home, Pat
Mom’s worried about you. Come home. You’re not a goat farmer, you’re an engineer. You’re going to blow all your savings on this and have nothing in six months. I’m worried about you.
Typical, Patrick thought. He loved his brother, but knew Will could never understand. He was married with two kids and they owned a nice home and he worked for Dad’s law firm and would probably make partner in a year or so. He had something there that Patrick didn’t and maybe couldn’t. The two years he spent locked up in his apartment, the riots he endured during “The Summer of Love”, the hand waving from his so called elected officials. No. No more. No more lies, no more bullshit. He was now on his own, in the wilderness, like man was always supposed to be. Will was given most everything he had. The job was lined up for him, his wife was a family friend’s niece, their home was a gift from her parents. Patrick could admit he’d been given a lot, too. But not this. This was his to earn or burn.
He went out to tend to the goats again. It was time to do the milking, which he liked least of his responsibilities, but there in lie his dilemma. Goat’s milk was expensive these days and that meant a good profit if he could get good at it. More goats meant more products. Cheese, soap, butter, lotion, etc. He had a friend back home design a cute label and he’d deliver it to the local store in town, who’d in turn sell it at farmer’s markets across the state and they’d split the proceeds 70/30 his way, which wasn’t a bad deal all things considered. He was still getting the hang of the milking machine and Luanne, the most cantankerous of the bunch, demanded he hand milk her so she could get a chance to nip at him while he did it. She was the oldest of his herd and would soon no longer be able to produce milk, but she was smart and kept the others in line somewhat and he’d probably keep her until she passed and he’d have to get a sheepdog or something. There wasn’t much time to think about the future with the present being as difficult as it was.
He finished the milking and the rain stopped for a bit, so he took the chance to patch the hole in the roof. Took him twenty minutes to find the sucker, but after he dried the area, laid down the patch and gave it a generous seal, he was proud of the makeshift job and figured it could hold until the dry season which was several months away. When he got back down, he found he left the gate open and the goats got to his bags of feed. They were all fat and happy and Patrick was almost out of supplies. He kicked over a bucket of goat’s milk which only fueled his fury and after ten minutes of seething, the rain came back, but the seal held and no more water was getting in. He could live that. The food was going to get eaten anyway and he wouldn’t keep crying over spilled milk. He’d have to go to town, as much as he dreaded it.
There was enough hot water for a quick shower. He jumped in after a moment of lather, rinse, repeat, he tried not to think about Krista and the coffee barn and the micro bikini she wore and the feeling of her mouth on his- damn. Water went cold. Probably for the best, he thought. He was out and unsatisfied, cold and wet again, drying off with his towel and ready to head into town. Joffre, Washington didn’t have much, but it did have a Costco, a beacon for the low to middle class denizens within fifty miles who needed their toilet paper in bulk, a new set of winter tires, as much cheap vodka as they could handle and a $1.50 hot dog with a soda. They also carried the Colombian blend that fueled Patrick’s nerve. He picked that and a few other creature comforts before heading to the feed store down the road, which ate up the majority of his conservative budget. He was yet to turn a profit and was eating at his savings, taking on more debt than he was comfortable with since buying the land and a few machines to keep efficient. He traded in his Tesla for a beat up F-150 that still got twenty-five miles to the gallon.
He stopped by Pop’s Shop, the general store he sold his milk to and saw Bethany at the register. She was young and pretty, if not a bit overfed, but considering that he only had the memories of women to go on, he couldn’t find fault in her. But she was married to the store owner, Derek, whose father passed the store down to him and his father passed it to him and it went back far enough that no one was sure who Pop even referred to. Derek had moved to Seattle where he met Bethany and made a good living as a Realtor until his father died of a heart attack. They moved to town shortly after to run the store and look after Derek’s mother, who outlived two children and grew bitter at the prospect of having no grandchildren. His mother, Ruth Ann, would hang out at the store and keep an eye on things, sure that her daughter in law with her liberal, high urban sensibilities would ruin the store and the town itself and that Bethany was much better off getting pregnant and staying home to tend to a family.
“Hey there”, he greeted and she greeted him the same, with bubbly enthusiasm and detected the slightest flirtation from her. Dangerous territory, especially in a town so small. He couldn’t deny his attraction to her, but knew it could never work. She was married. End of discussion. But this wasn’t Seattle, either. The dearth of women was as noticeable as it was frustrating. He maybe could indulge, just a bit. It was harmless, like one potato chip.
“He’s in Spokane for a few days. Something about needing to meet a lawyer. It’s nice having that big, empty house all to myself. I can even walk around naked if I want to.”
There was hunger in her eyes, her teeth were about to pierce through her bottom lip. There was something so intoxicating about a woman who begged for sex. That act that every young boy grew up idolizing as the pinnacle of human experience. Right there in front of him. He undressed her with his eyes. Her breasts were smaller than he thought, I think they call it a bombshell bra. Her thighs were like bags of jelly, covered in a smattering of hair. Her toes were pointed in different directions. Her smile turned from small town girl next door to hillbilly, inbred nightmare with a flash of her not so pearly whites. These were the fantasies he had. This was survival. She was knobby, below average, hideous.
“You there?” she asked.
“Huh- uh, yeah. Sorry. He’s in Spokane?”
“Yeah, like I was saying, it sucks that he’s not here. I miss him a lot. The storms last night were too much for the dog and it just added to my own freak outs. Seattle wasn’t like this. You used to live there, too, right?”
“I did. Haven’t been back in months.”
“I remember that being such a long time. We’ve been here two years. What do you miss most? I think, for me, it’s this little Pho place around the corner from our apartment in Cap Hill. So. Fucking. Good.”
He missed… nothing. If he missed anything, it would take him a long time to admit it. The wounds were too fresh and here was new and exciting, despite the lack of an ethnic flair. He didn’t care about Pho, or Thai food or a new Vegan Ethiopian place that only does standing tables. It was all fake. His gourmet was a bit of salt on his eggs and that tasted better than what any grade the Michelin man could bestow. His was a hunger food could not sustain. He was paid for the raw goat’s milk, and offered to load it in the refrigerator. He was one bucket’s worth short, but the milk didn’t sell as well as it once had. The novelty had worn off and it was only the serious raw milk aficionados who would drive a couple hours even to get as much as they could. Patrick smiled as he finished loading and saw Bethany stressing over a pile of bills. He made himself scarce, sure that he’d made a bad impression. Ruth Ann looked him over as he left, he not having noticed her at all when he walked in. Her long, bony fingers sat on her lap as she rocked back and forth in her four legged chair that looked nailed to the ground. Her hair was white, skin sagging off of her like she was falling off the bone. Patrick wasn’t that desperate as to undress her… yet.
One goat cost him two hundred dollars. Twelve goats equals a $2400 investment, more or less. Plus food and medical, cost of his mortgage, cost of his own survival, he’d need to make $60,000 a year to break even. He could make that in three months as a software engineer with his experience. His first project was a freelance job for a friend’s app “Would You Rather?” The concept being, people asking each other hypothetical questions with the express purpose of hooking up. “Tinder, but more fun” was the pitch to the venture capital firm. It was a beautiful piece of code for a garish purpose. Patrick developed the backbone of it in six months, it wasn’t difficult. UX was the tricky part. How to make the right parts of the brain light up and gamify swiping left or right so the users would keep doing dares, meeting up, fucking, then going back to do it again. The best part was, the app never told them to meet up. Never even told them to do the dares. They did it on their own. They recorded themselves doing it, hoping to go viral, hoping to get famous, hoping to get a good rating. Average Man’s rating was a two out of five stars. Average Woman’s rating was a four and a half. Uber ratings for having sex and doing depraved acts. It all caught up with them in the end. Internet trolls spammed an “Influencer” until her rating was half a star. She live streamed her suicide, highest watched video online by several metrics. Patrick had been long off the team by that time. He’d only done it as a favor to a friend. But the code got him his first job. After that, he left WYR off his resume.
Patrick supplemented his income with a few contracts here and there. Low level candy crush rip-offs for Chinese companies that wanted a piece of the aging boomer woman market. They paid well enough and didn’t know they gave him too much time. What he said would take weeks, he did over a weekend. A six month project done in three weeks. Automated emails of his “progress” sent every Friday. He almost felt bad. Almost.
It was his first time back in Joffre in a couple weeks. Stale rain hung in the air and expressed a lingering smell of lumber and manure, the town’s main exports. He’d not spoken to a live human in all that time and the solitude was getting to him. He went to Woodsman, the local watering hole. He’d have the most teeth of any man there and weighted less than most of the barfly women, but they were people still and he figured if he hated the experience so much, he’d have a reminder the next time he got a case of the moody blues. Patrick sat at the bar and got a Coors Banquet. He didn’t care for it, but knew if he’d asked for a Blue Moon with a wedge of orange, he’d get funny looks and he wasn’t there for trouble. There was enough trouble in Joffre by the looks of the patrons and the quiet that hung across the room. The jukebox played Hank Williams and it could be heard over the quiet murmurs and the clanking of glasses on wooden tables.
Patrick sipped his beer and tried to look natural. Most knew him as the guy who ran a fourth generation farmer off his land. It didn’t matter if it was true, of course. Patrick represented everything they feared and hated. Educated coastal elites coming to raise the prices of everything from homes to meat to milk, even if they butchered their own cattle or milked their own heifers. McCue was at the bar and sauntered over to him like the black hatted villain of every Western Patrick endured in his film class in college.
“What’re you doing here, huh? Come to buy this place, too? Turn it into a Wolfgang Sucks?” he laughed and there were a few chuckles across the room as well.
“Just having a beer is all. Not looking to disturb anyone’s evening.”
“Just our lives. Our livelihoods, right? Turn our sons into daughters and our daughters into whores, right?”
Patrick took another sip. McCue sipped as well and soon, they were drinking the whole glass, never once taking their gazes off one another. McCue finished first and wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his green flannel shirt. Patrick finished and had the remnants of a foam mustache over his lips which made everyone laugh. McCue laughed the loudest. Patrick laughed, too and McCue patted him on the shoulder.
“I’ll get the next one,” Patrick offered and McCue stopped laughing.
“You think I can’t buy my own beer?”
Patrick slapped the hardwood of the bar and gave McCue the meanest look he could muster.
“What’s your fucking problem, McCue? Huh? I bought a plot of land. I’m trying to make my way, same as you. Same as every man in this room. Just because I’ve taken a shower in the last week and I don’t hang nuts off the back of my pickup, you think I’m some kinda trust fund brat with a silver spoon coming out of my ass?”
Patrick turned his back, which he knew was a mistake, and he bent over, another crucial misstep, and he slapped his behind.
“Go ahead and find the spoon and while you’re down there you can kiss my ass.”
Patrick braced for impact, waiting for a kick to the rear or a punch to the back of the head. Instead, he heard more laughter.
“Alright”, McCue got out between chokes for breath, “Alright. You’ve got a set on you. I’ll give you that. Plus, I’m not getting arrested tonight.”
McCue went back to his side of the bar, doing an impression of Patrick to his friends and they lifted their glasses to him and Patrick lifted a fresh glass that had appeared without his asking. The true mark of a good bartender. Steve was a good bartender. He checked every box. He told jokes, he heard your troubles, he even wiped down the bar top with the same towel in a circular motion like on tv. He knew your name right after meeting you and spoke with a slight, fading accent from some Anglo country that no one cared to inquire about.
“What’s their deal, Steve? You know what that was all about?”
“Well, Pat, it’s not you per se, but it’s not not you either. To them, you might not be Bill Gates, but they can tell by looking at you that what you’re doing on that plot you’ve got is more of a hobby than a living. And that’s almost worse than trying to buy up the town and turn everything into a bed and breakfast or a fishing lodge. They think you’re mocking them.”
Patrick sat and thought about what Steve said. He finished his beer, paid the tab and left without another word. He promised himself he’d not return, as a sign of respect, he told himself, but more likely cowardice. He wasn’t there to make trouble, but it seemed that their troubles looked a lot like him.
He stopped by Pop’s and saw Bethany behind the counter. The old woman was missing.
“How’s my milk selling?”
“You’ll have to ask Derek. He’s away selling it in Seattle.”
“He’s away a lot, it seems.”
“Yeah, it sucks. I wish he’d at least bring me with him, but apparently I need to stay here and mind the store. Can’t have our three customers waiting. What I wouldn’t give for a weekend out of Joffre. I feel dead here.”
“My family is still in Seattle. I was supposed to visit for Thanksgiving, but with the farm and everything, I doubt I can get away.”
The lights in the store were dim. It started raining outside. He hadn’t noticed it before, but the top button her her blouse was open and her breasts peaked out the top. Nothing scandalous, but for a lonely man, it was like going to a strip club. She caught him looking, but said nothing.
“Must be lonely on that farm. Just you, right? No wife… No girlfriend.”
“It’s alright. I had a girlfriend back in the city, but it didn’t work out.”
Words fell out of his mouth like molasses, he could barely string together a sentence. He looked down at the floor and by the time his eyes were back on her, another button was unbutton and she looked through him like he was already naked. She was game and he wasn’t going to let a pesky thing like morality get in his way. It was cold and raining outside and he craved for warmth. It had been so long.
They laid together on the floor of the general store, a smattering of clothes around them. They laid on a blanket that was meant to be sold and was now filthened by their juices and excretions. Her legs were toned and hairless, her body was tight and fertile. She was beautiful beyond words and he just wanted to lay there forever with her.
“That was fun” she exhaled, standing up and dressing herself. “We should do that again sometime. Derek’s away all the time and it’s not difficult to get that old bitch home.”
He stood up, perplexed. In his mind, he wanted her to regret, to deny themselves their attraction. He felt bad for Derek, but she didn’t think of him at all. He felt feelings of love for her during and hoped there was conflict in her heart for two men and that he’d win her in the end. She’d live with him on the farm and they’d have this story for their children and grandchildren and it would be the foundation of a long line of farmers like every other man in Joffre had claim to. But instead, she pulled up a Google calendar on her phone and invited him to do the same next week while Derek was away, selling his produce to whoever might want them. Deep disgust ran through him and he went to cover himself with the blanket as she started scrolling through TikTok and taking selfies in front of a stuffed bear they kept in the store.
It went on like this for a few weeks. She texted him cryptic invitations and he was saved in her phone as Becky, an old friend from college. There was never talk of a future or romance or love, not even a hint of amorous feeling between the two. He was from the city and she longed to be back there. She made several references to the space needle, sometimes the obvious innuendo, but most times with the sad longing that widows and refugees speak with, mourning the loss of their lives before tragedy set upon them. Patrick thought himself a vessel for her true desire, to be younger and single again, in one of the largest cities on Earth or at least in America. To go out to bars and clubs with friends and end up in some stranger’s bed. He did not doubt that she was texting her friends about their tryst. That his flaws were hidden and strengths exaggerated, until he was no longer himself, but rather a romance cover Fabio who gave her the tender touch she so missed and deserved, at least in her mind and the minds of her friends. But who was he to judge? He was cucking a man, a good man, whose only crime was moving to the sticks to take care of his elderly mother. Who was away selling the goods of the man who was fucking his wife.
The homestead’s condition worsened these last few weeks. One goat, he called Ophelia, got sick and died, infecting two more before Patrick noticed. His life had gotten so busy all of a sudden; Complicated. He’d tried to leave such complications behind him, but the concrete jungle’s tendrils have moved to even the world’s most obscure locations. Maybe the Unabomber was right. He contemplated Kaczynski more and more as he devoted more time to lines of code to keep money in his wallet, food in his stomach and his remaining flock alive. His brother sent another email, but Patrick dared not to even entertain that maybe this whole idea was a mistake.
Storms rolled in, more harsh than the ten years previous, and the Columbia River was swelling. Patrick was prepared for this, of course. He’d read about living in this part of the state. His Airstream was on stilts, three feet above the ground. He made a humble bachelor’s dinner, macaroni and cheese from the box and set up his laptop for a night of Netflix and maybe porn, if he was feeling the mood. Just as he sat to relax, a thought jolted from his head down the back of his spine. The goats. The fucking goats. He tried to lie to himself. They’d be fine. The water isn’t going to reach us. It’s not even raining that hard. All the lies provided no comfort, until the truth arrived like an oncoming train. ‘I don’t want to be a goat herder anymore. If they die, it would make things much easier.’ Patrick didn’t like that he thought this way, yet there it was. He thought himself so much better, much purer than that.
He was reminded of Noah and the flood. Perhaps God was killing his goats to save him from the mistake he’d made. Sure, there was the financial burden, but then, he could always make more money. These copes, of course, were further lies and though he tried to refuse blame and guilt. ‘McCue wouldn’t just let his livestock die. He’s a good shepherd, but me, I’m just a hired hand it seems.’ He hung his head and awaited the screams of helpless, dumb animals dying, until he forced himself up and like he was compelled, he was eventually in his rubber coveralls, running out the door to his barn, finding his Dependents trying to climb on hay to stay out of the rising tide that had once been his homestead. In this moment, he hated the little smelly bastards, whose only instinct towards self preservation was nipping at him as he picked them up one by one and brought them inside the Airstream. He’d gotten them all, even Petunia, who Patrick thought was too old to make it. He sat in the airstream all night and the next day as the water rose outside around them. They smelled awful and when they grew hungry, he went back out to the barn to fetch food for them. On his return, his furniture was all chewed up, feathers, cotton, and springs strewn about. There was so much shit, he couldn’t believe they’d done all this in the ten minutes he was gone. He’d have to build a permanent house when the waters receded. Plus a rain shelter for them. Far away. Well, not that far, but not within smelling distance, that was for damn sure.
The Goats were back in the Barn as soon as it was safe, the matter of a few days. The storm blown over and the waters receded down past the homestead and most everything on the land was spared, save for some older pines and the extra generator he neglected to put on stilts. Patrick built a large pyre of what was once his life inside the airstream. His gaming chair, his fine silk sheets, now with plenty of holes. Everything that had any trace of goat feces was tossed and then, he still couldn’t get the smell out. He needed gasoline for the fire. Maybe a tent from Costco while he started on the house with lumber from around him. How hard could it be? Plenty, he figured, but it was necessary and that was that.
He ran into town, the air tasting so much better. Maybe it was the residual water in the air. Maybe it was the lack of goat shit filling his nostrils. He ran to the Costco and got his supplies, then filled the jerry can on the back of his truck with gas. He passed by Pop’s, hoping to catch Bethany and see how she’d made out. Inside he found Derek manning the register, to his surprise and relief and surprise at his relief.
“Hey there”, Derek opened. Patrick nodded. “How’d you end up? Farm alright”
“Yeah, we’re making it? Town doesn’t look too bad.”
“Nah, we were lucky”, there was a brief silence, as Derek then felt he needed to qualify his remarks, “Mister McCue’s dead. Hit by lightning of all things. I can’t imagine it.”
“How’s Bethany?” He asked, sounding full of neighborly concern.
“I moved her and Mom back to Seattle before the storm. Might just stay out there, actually. I only ever did this because my Dad loved this place, but I don’t know what I’m doing. And with the baby on the way, I just think it’s the smartest move.
A baby. My baby, Patrick reasoned. He stood still, emotion flooding him, but he dared not reveal the affair.
“I’ll let her know you asked about her”, Derek said. There was a deep sadness on his face that vanished as soon as it appeared. “She’s out with a friend from college, probably. Sorority sisters. Inseparable.”
Patrick left without a goodbye, though he doubted Derek cared for one. The long drive back was all contemplation. He left Pop’s in a different world than he’d entered, that was for sure. He hadn’t heard from Bethany in weeks and now he knew why. He tried to call her, the biggest taboo in their agreement, but his number was blocked. That child would never be his, it seemed. This was the punishment. The culmination of a whole life’s pursuit of hedonism. He was to be a father to a child who’d never know him. Maybe twenty years down the line, he’d get lucky and he or she would seek him out to tell Patrick to go fuck himself. He got home and doused the pile in gasoline, looking over to his barn and thinking about his herd of goats and how easy it would be to just pack up and leave and go back to what he knew best. He wanted a cup of coffee. He wanted to see women half naked and try to bed them. He wanted that baby to call him Dada. He lit the pyre, the smell of burning shit made him regret it in an instant. He was sure to get cancer from it like so many soldiers before him. He grabbed his laptop and threw it in the pyre. It did nothing for him, except bring more complexity to his substandard life. He stood upwind of the flames and watched his old, shit covered life burn away. This farm was his life now. McCue could look at him as an equal if the bastard hadn’t had his own tussle with the almighty. He was a bad man, though he believed he might be a good shepherd. Goat herder. Same thing, he figured. He searched the sky for a rainbow, as if he’d made his own covenant with God. He found none, though kept it as if he’d shook Christ’s hand.
Thanks for reading The Writings of T.R. Hudson! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.