Today, you visit deadclassmates.com, see that William Goethe has passed on, a little iconic rose by his name. High school class of 1971. Kids knew him as Billy Goethe, then Billy Goat, then just Goat. In those days, you knew the etymology of Goat far better than Goat himself. He ran with the ruling class, President, in fact, so you actually didn’t know him at all, at least until that fall after graduation, one Saturday afternoon when he knocked on your dorm-room door and let himself in.
“You alone?” he asked, standing in the doorway, thin, leaning in like a comma, looking left, then right.
He looked straight in your eyes. This close up, you hadn’t realized how blue they were, blue like eternity, staring like he wanted you to guess why he was there. You wanted to answer him straight away, but instead watched his Adam’s apple bob a couple times, amazed to see it so close.
“I’m alone,” you said.
Goat stepped through the doorframe, leaned on your desk, and you saw his phantom goatee kids in high school mythologized, said you could only see it under a black light.
“I was thinking,” Goat said. “Why don’t you and I go down to Athens and visit Shirley Fuchs.”
Goat pronounced her name ‘Fooks.’ Of course, the head cheerleader had no end of kids saying it like ‘Fucks.’”
“See her?” they said. “She Shirley Fuchs.”
All through high school you never knew how to say her name correctly. It bothered you because you pride yourself in knowing the names of kids you graduated with, all 108.
“You have wheels?” you asked Goat, though you knew he probably came in the new blue Cougar he got for graduation.
“Nah,” he said, “I wrecked the Cougar. We could hitch. I mean together. It’s safer.”
So you hitched, because you could hitch in those days, and because Goat, of all people, asked you, first a ride in a yellow Karmann Ghia, a guy who called himself Sunburst and who swore you’d get to Athens with his gas gauge on empty. And you did. Along the way, Sunburst tried to sell Goat a lid of sin semilla. Goat stuck his face inside the bag to his ears, like a feedbag.
“Pri-mo,” Goat sighed inside the bag, then turned to you. “Can you score this for us? I’m broke.”
While you didn’t reply, he smiled, and you noticed the perfect spaces in his teeth rendered by the braces he wore freshman year, now the slightest staining on their inner edges.
“No,” you said.
Sunburst dropped you in downtown Athens. You remember the long walk to the university, uphill on narrow brick streets. Gaunt student ghetto houses leaned in at you, their time-washed pale rooftops creating a sharp, angular mountain-scape above smoother Appalachian foothills. You followed a winding road along a drowsy river lined with trees of kaleidoscopic colors, saw high on your right the Athens Lunatic Asylum, its white lacy latticework conjoining twin brick towers. By the time you reached the Oasis, a diner adjoining campus, the sun was setting.
You bought Goat a bowl of fried rice, which he gobbled up hungrily.
“You have any . . . rubbers?” he asked between spoonfuls of the pea and carrot-dotted rice.
You removed your wallet, spied a smidgen of pale yellow rice clinging to his mythological goatee, thinking of the legend, how Siddartha had existed on a single grain of rice each day. You examined your wallet, spotted the telltale ring embossed in the leather, dug out a single, plain Trojan, its packaging curled and cracking.
“It’s really old,” you said and handed the Trojan to Goat.
He smiled and set his spoon neatly alongside his empty bowl.
“Shirley Fuchs,” he laughed, articulating ‘Fucks.’ “Get it?”
“Yeah,” you said, because you thought he wouldn’t stop staring at you with his eternity-blue eyes until you said you got it.
“I’ll be right back,” Goat said.
After Goat left the Oasis, a long time passed. The undulant glow of dim light from the diner pressed against the darkness. When Goat did not return, you left the Oasis. The air outside was cooling fast. You put your collar high against your cheeks, specter-like in your reflection in the windowpanes of the Oasis. You started home, back down dusk-wet brick streets, past the Lunatic Asylum, to the river, where you caught a ride from a woman named Sharon. That’s all, Sharon, who drove her Volvo in silence the whole way home.
William Goethe, you think. Goat. Dead. All these years. And
then there’s Shirley Fuchs, another iconic rose by her name. Fuchs. Dead, too.