Witness

Brianne toddled down the path from the house to the goat pen. She could hear screams like those of a human’s, but she knew Mariah, the goat, was in labor. It was a warm night in June or July. New Hampshire summers seemed warmer then, when she was a young girl and all of time seemed to pass slowly. There were raspberry bushes lining the path, and blackberries too, so Brianne knew to tread carefully so not to get pricked or ruin her clothing. There was lumber all over the place. Brianne’s father, John, took to collecting wood from various projects, hoping to reuse them or save money when it came time to rebuild the decaying effigy of a barn that Brianne could vaguely make out in the dark expanse if she squinted. Her mother, Deborah, was in the goat pen with Mariah, undoubtedly refurbishing her maternal instincts. Brianne wanted to be there with her, so she wasn’t alone in playing nurse. She also wanted to see what it looked like.

The path wasn’t long, but tall, unkempt blades of grass and barley swayed in the warm breeze, tickling Brianne’s arms as she passed the dilapidated “workshop” and garage. She wasn’t afraid of snakes or coyotes, because if she couldn’t see them, they didn’t exist.

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Deborah watched as her youngest child, a curlicue towhead, pulled the sliding wood door aside with vigor. Rather than reminding her it was bedtime, Deborah smiled. She could use the company, and Brianne loved animals as much as she had when she was a little girl growing up in Maryland, Wisconsin, and the undeveloped beaches of Florida. She knew Lauren and Michael would be up in the house, cozying in front of the television or fighting for the phone to talk to their friends.

Anticipation frenzied the air. The other goats, Madeline and Buster, shuffled around in their paddock outside. Brianne could hear them wander, slurping water from their buckets, rubbing their skin against the wire fence.

Mariah’s screaming halted, the farm was still.

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