by Maggie Allen


            “What, Chloe?”

            Chloe raised up on one elbow in bed, her waist-length hair spraying out behind her from the static of her flannel nightgown.  “Tell me a story about when you were a little girl,” she said.

            Her mother sighed from where she stood in the doorway, her arms full of dirty clothes she had just scooped from her daughter’s floor.  “Not tonight, Chloe.  It’s late.”

            “Please, mama,” the child begged, “just the one about the goat.”

            “The goat?”  Mama shifted her load of clothes from one arm to the other and kicked a Barbie doll out of the doorway.  “There’s not much to tell, Chloe.  One of the goats chased me through the backyard, that’s all.  Now go to sleep.”

            “Did it chase you past the outhouse?” Chloe asked.

            Mama glanced up and saw an angel’s eager face glowing softly in the pale light of a Care Bears lamp shade.  “I guess just one quick story,” she said.  “After I put this laundry in the hamper.”  She returned to the room and sat on the edge of Chloe’s bed.  “When I was a little girl,” she began.

            “How old were you?” Chloe interrupted.

            “About your age,” Mama answered, “about five.  We lived way out in the country.”

            “Like when we go camping?” Chloe asked.

            “Yup.  Just like that.  It was so far in the country that sometimes a man would come with a big van full of groceries and my mom - your grandma - would pick what we needed.”

            “Why didn’t you go to the store?” Chloe asked.

            “We did once in a while, but not very often because we didn’t have a car,” Mama said.

            “How did you get to gymnastics?”

            “I never went to gymnastics; I just played out in the yard,” Mama answered.

            “Oh.  How did Grandma get to work?” Chloe asked.

            “She didn’t go to work, Chloe.  She had too much to do at home.”

            “I wish you didn’t go to work too, Mama.”

            “Then we wouldn’t have any money,” Mama said.  “And you wouldn’t have your own Care Bears room.  Now do you want to hear about the goats or not?  You’re not staying up all night.”

            “Yeah,” Chloe answered.

            “Well,” Mama began, “we had a bunch of goats.  Let’s see . . . we had Daisy and Maisy and Lazy and Butter.”

            “And Meadow?” Chloe shouted.

            “That’s right,” Mama answered.  “Most of the goats were nice and I even got to help milk them, but Maisy was a mean old goat.”

            “Why?” Chloe asked.

            “I don’t know, honey.  She was just cranky, I guess.  One day I was walking through the backyard, up on the hill near the woods and Maisy got nasty.  She put her head down and ran at me.”

            “What did you do?”

            “I ran as fast as I could down the hill,” Mama said, “but she was coming right behind me.  I thought she was going to knock me over so I started screaming for Mom.”

            “My grandma?”

            “Yes, Grandma Marie in West Virginia.  She came running out of the house with a big broom and scared that mean old goat away.”

            “Was Grandma scared?” Chloe asked.

            “No.  Grandma wasn’t scared of anything.  Only one time I saw her scared.”


            “I’ll tell you another night,” Mama said, rising from the bed.

            “Please, Mama!  Please tell me about Grandma being scared,” Chloe begged.

            “You’ve got school in the morning.”

            “I’m not tired.  Pleeeease, Mom.”

            “Well,” Mama said.  “I’m tired and I’ve got to get up early.”


            “OK.  But this is the last story.  I think it’s a story for older kids; you might have bad dreams.”

            “I’m big enough!” Chloe yelled.

            “Don’t shout, Chloe.  One time late at night, a man drove up the holler and started banging on the door.”

            “Who was it?” Chloe asked.

            “It was too dark to see, but Mom was sure it was my dad.  She didn’t tell me that then, though.”

            Chloe sat straight up in her bed.  “You’re dad?” she asked.  “Was he scary?”

            “I don’t know; I never met him.  He was a stranger to me and sometimes strangers act weird.  I didn’t hear anything because I was asleep, but Mom came up the stairs and woke up me and Kate.”

            “Aunt Kate?” Chloe asked.

            “Yeah,” Mama said.  “But she wasn’t your aunt back then - she wasn’t even a teenager yet.  Anyhow, Mom woke us up.  She had a flashlight and when I looked up at her face I knew she was scared.  She told us to throw some shoes on and run through the woods to Mrs. Milhoan’s house to call the police.  Then we heard the banging.”

            “Were you scared?”

            “Yes,” Mama said.

            “Was Kate scared too?” Chloe asked.

            “She didn’t say so, but I know she was.  I didn’t want to go through the woods in the dark, but I tried to be brave.  We got our shoes on and tiptoed downstairs.  Mom was standing in the dark at the front door, looking out the window.  She was holding her old yellow robe tight around her.  Kate and I peeked out and we saw a man walking around the yard, yelling.”

            “Did you go in the woods?” Chloe whispered.

            “No.  Mom told us to wait a minute and then finally the man walked back to his car and drove away.  That’s the only time I saw Mom being scared.  I was glad I didn’t have to walk through the woods, but I couldn’t get back to sleep for a long time.”

            “What if a stranger came here?” Chloe asked.

            “If a stranger came here we would pick up the phone and call 9-1-1.  But we didn’t even have a phone when I was a little girl.  That’s why we were going to Mrs. Milhoan’s.”

            Chloe leaned forward and cocked her head.  “I think I hear some police now,” she said.

            Mama leaned in the direction of the noise.  “It does sound like a siren, doesn’t it?  That might be an ambulance.  We never heard sirens like that out in the country.”

            Chloe settled into her pillow and pulled the blankets up to her chin.  “Mama?”

            Mama smoothed the blanket over her daughter and patted her chest.  “What?”

            Chloe started giggling.  “Did you have a bathroom when you were little?”

            “You, stinker,” Mama said, giving her a tickle under the chin.  “What do you think?”

            “I wish we had an outhouse,” Chloe said, still giggling.

            “No, you don’t.  You wouldn’t want to go out in the dark to use it.  Or in the rain and snow.  Or,” she leaned down and tousled Chloe’s hair, “in the summer when there might be snakes.  Your Uncle Joe stepped on a snake once when he was little, even littler than you.”

            “Was it in the outhouse?” Chloe asked.

            “No.  It was in the yard and he didn’t see it because he was playing.”

            “Did it bite him?” Chloe asked.

            “Lucky for him, no.  But a snake bit your Aunt Kate once.  One fang went in her sandal and one in her foot.  And once we even had a snake in our kitchen.”

            “How did it get there?”

            “There must’ve been a hole somewhere,” Mama said.  “Snakes can wriggle into really small spaces . . . like this!”  She wiggled her finger and slinked across the covers toward Chloe.

            “Stop!” Chloe screamed.

            “All right.  We’d better quit fooling around.”  Mama glanced at the alarm clock.  “Ohmigosh!  It’s nine o’clock already!  Shove over.”  She gave Chloe a nudge and stretched across the bed, on top of the blankets.

            Chloe yawned.  “Was that snake in Westvirginya?” she asked.

            “Yeah.  All that was in West Virginia.  The outhouse and the snakes and Mrs. Milhoan.”

            “Your friend?” Chloe asked.

            “Yeah.  The one we walked to church with, who always made lemon cookies.  I could smell those lemon cookies all the way from our house.”

            “I want to gobble some up,” Chloe said.

            “Me, too,” Mama said, “but Mrs. Milhoan is dead now.”


            “She got old.”

            “Like Grandma?” Chloe asked.

            “Older than that,” Mama answered.  “Do you remember anything else about Mama being a little girl?”

            “You had wells,” Chloe said.

            “That’s right.  We didn’t have running water in West Virginia.  We had to carry jugs down to the church pump and lug them back home.”

            “Were they heavy?”

            “Mine were only half-full,” Mama said.  “But they were heavy to me.”

            “Grandma has water now,” Chloe said.

            “Yes, she does now,” Mama replied.  “But not when I was little.”

            “Why, Mama?”

            “We just didn’t have a lot of money for a nice house with bathtubs and stuff.”

            “Oh, cause Grandma didn’t work?” Chloe asked.

            “Yeah.  And other stuff.  Grown up stuff,” Mama said.

            “Do we have money now?”

            “A little,” Mama answered.

            “Why don’t we live in Westvirginia now?” Chloe asked.

            “We live in New York now, Chloe.  So Mama and Papa can have good jobs in the city.”

            Chloe turned on her side and nestled against her mom.  “I like Wesvirginya,” she said.

            “Me, too,” Mama said.

            The room was quiet for a moment and then Mama said, “When summer comes we’ll go to West Virginia to visit Grandma Marie.  Maybe we can drive by our old house in the country and see if that old outhouse is still there.  Would you like that, Chloe?”

            Chloe didn’t answer.  Her cherub face was hidden by her hair and her little breaths made the covers rise and fall like a walnut bobbing on a lazy stream.  Or a flashlight’s beam moving through a black night.  Like well water playing on the edge of a bucket.  Like chapters of a book turned by the wind.