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Written by Frederico Toscano

Edited by André Colabelli

Translated by Vanessa Guedes

Copyedited by Iana A.

At first the tink­ling, in­sist­ent, open­ing its way through the ears. It came up and went away like the wind—as if the wind it were—sur­round­ing the house, at mo­ments close, at oth­ers, as if it were at the edge of the thorny shrub­bery. That was where Polidoro first saw the goat. Day in, day out that bell clanging on his marbles, and it was on the an­imal’s neck that it rang. He thought it was odd that the an­imal was all col­our­less, without a single dark spot to break its cloudy white­ness. And like a cloud, it came and went, get­ting close and leav­ing whenever it wanted, but never close enough to be touched. Then it was the bell, banging on Polidoro’s head; from afar ir­rit­at­ing and creep­ing, from nearby shouted and mad­den­ing. Quitéria would say, my man, don’t bother, this one has an owner who is mighty, just leave it alone. When he asked who was the col­onel or sher­iff that let the goat freely graze around, she said that it was neither. It be­longed to the King of Thorns.

Polidoro did not be­lieve in God, devil, or king of any rank or kind, much less in one who never showed him­self bey­ond the thorny shrub­bery that was his do­main. He really wanted to put his hardened hands on the white goat. Be­sides the an­noy­ing bell, hun­ger also stalked his house, which was be­com­ing harder and harder to ig­nore, set­tling in that never-end­ing dry­ness, scorch­ing the crops, suck­ing the meat out of the cattle and other an­im­als, un­til it made them skel­et­ons un­der the sun that weighed on their heads. And there was the goat, all fat like a swash­buck­ler, trot­ting up and down, never mak­ing a sound but for the bell on its neck, like a black­smith's ham­mer on the an­vil that was Polidoro's mind. He de­cided to catch it for him­self and his wife, who didn't like the idea. She crossed her­self many times, re­peat­ing my man, don't do it, there's an owner there, it's a tough game. Quitéria had her fears and dis­gusts, but she re­mained si­lent un­der the au­thor­ity of her hus­band's eyes. Polidoro was sat­is­fied and left the house, ma­chete in hand, for he was in­cred­u­lous, but it didn't hurt to be safe.

He set off after the tink­ling bell, fol­low­ing it by ear and by the marks on the cracked floor. He moved and moved around, the sound com­ing and go­ing, as if mock­ing his per­sist­ence. The sun that pun­ished his head was like fuel for the hatred burn­ing Polidoro from in­side. Fi­nally, just when he was about to give up, he saw it. The goat was stand­ing by the edge of the thorny shrub­bery, still and quiet, as if wait­ing. He looked at the horns and no­ticed how strange they were. They weren't the horns he was used to see­ing on that kind of an­imal, which set them­selves apart more by color and size. They were stumpy, black antlers covered with thorns. The breeze caressed the bell now and then, as if beck­on­ing. Polidoro went to­wards it. Only when he was very close did the goat move, bur­row­ing among the dry branches. It went through the bushes and bri­ers, with the man fol­low­ing be­hind. The deeper in­side Polidoro went, the lighter the sun was on his head. The pointy and twis­ted branches seemed to grab the light without let­ting it touch the ground. And the an­imal kept go­ing, who knows where, per­haps to its owner. Polidoro shuddered. He de­cided he had already walked far enough for that meal. He sprin­ted and then jumped at the creature. He took the goat by the horns and screamed as the thorns dug into his hand. An­ger and pain guided the blow, and the ma­chete came down right on the tar­get’s neck. One, two, three times, un­til the goat stopped wrig­gling, without let­ting out a single cry. The bell fell down, ringing one last time.

Polidoro holstered the blade, and with his good hand dragged the car­cass away, his blood ming­ling with the dead goat’s, its fur now stained red. He just wanted to get off that bramble wood. So he did, grunt­ing and huff­ing with the weight he was car­ry­ing. The dry shrubs be­came fewer and the sun came back to beat his senses. He limped pain­fully to the house, out there in the middle of nowhere, shout­ing his wife's name. When she came to the door, he left the still warm corpse at her feet, telling her to take good care of it, for his hun­ger was plenty and killing whetted the ap­pet­ite. Polidoro wanted a buchada[1], the dish, pre­pared with everything he was en­titled to and more. At first, Quitéria shook her head, mak­ing the sign of the cross and look­ing at the caat­inga in the dis­tance, as if ex­pect­ing some­thing to come out of it and make its way to­wards her. But she looked at the hideous fig­ure of her hus­band, his bul­ging eyes, his hand awash with blood, and the dirty ma­chete holstered on his belt. Then she did it. She brought the car­cass in­side and star­ted work­ing on it, tak­ing all the blood that was still there, open­ing the belly and col­lect­ing the vis­cera to make the sar­rab­ulho. She set needle and thread on hand, to then sew the stom­ach into balls. Quitéria boiled the head un­til all the fur fell out, for that buchada would be com­plete.

Polidoro stayed out­side, rolling a ci­gar­ette in his wounded hand, his clothes still soggy with sweat and blood. Blessed si­lence, he thought, look­ing at the toasted ho­ri­zon, through which the sun was fi­nally des­cend­ing. Already the smell of cook­ing waf­ted from in­side the house, and he was now drool­ing in an­ti­cip­a­tion. The owner might come out to com­plain, but if so, Polidoro would in­vite him to sit down and eat, even share a bottle of cachaça. After a shot, friend­ship would blos­som. If not, the ma­chete was still in his waist­band, he hadn’t even cleaned it up just in case he had to make use of it again. He waited and waited, smoking quietly and en­joy­ing his in­creas­ing hun­ger. When the wo­man fi­nally served the food, he threw him­self at it like a cou­gar at its prey. He broke the vis­cera balls and feasted on the sar­rab­ulho, suck­ing the bones, chew­ing the guts, swal­low­ing the innards, and adding a bowl of good cas­sava flour to the mix. Along­side it, the stripped head, droopy tongue between its teeth, with its strange twis­ted horns, seemed to be watch­ing over the feast of its own body. Quitéria had no ap­pet­ite, but Polidoro didn't pre­tend to care, de­term­ined he was to fin­ish the buchada en­tirely by him­self, and that's what he did. Once fin­ished, he went out­side to look at the sky that reddened with twi­light, and fart in peace. Polidoro stayed there, tak­ing small, care­ful sips of cachaça, un­til he felt a twinge.

When poor folks eat they make a mess. He re­membered this, his mother's words, and smiled, feel­ing a warm sen­sa­tion com­ing in waves. Not used to full­ness, Polidoro sweated a thick yel­low sweat. He wiped his fore­head on his shirt sleeves, curs­ing un­der his breath and rub­bing his bul­ging belly. He let out a loud fart, then an­other, sound­ing like bang snaps at a St. John's party. The man couldn't bear his own funk. He fanned him­self and fanned his nose with his hat, a few burps burn­ing his throat and twist­ing his mus­tache. He felt some­thing stir­ring in­side him. He hugged him­self, groan­ing at the shivers that went down from the back of his neck to the bot­tom of his as­shole. From the kit­chen door, Quitéria watched with sus­pi­cion, while her hus­band squirmed. Now he was grunt­ing like a pig, shak­ing from head to toe, his shirt stick­ing to his body with sweat. She saw when he un­buttoned it, as if to give his chest some breath­ing room. Then she looked down at his swollen belly, the flesh rip­pling un­der the skin, which then broke open. The man covered the gash with his hands, as if to con­tain what was com­ing out of him, bawl­ing in agony. Quitéria echoed the scream when she saw the blood flow­ing down, and even more when the thorny horns sprang up from the hole.

Polidoro flailed on the ground as the white goat emerged from his core, quietly, save for the bell on its neck. Slowly he gave birth to the an­imal, howl­ing, its head first, then the front legs and its hooves, half the body and fi­nally the hindquar­ters. Quitéria sank to her knees, ac­know­ledging the creature's au­thor­ity, gran­ted to it by its owner and mas­ter. I ask for­give­ness, my King, I ask for­give­ness, in Our Lady’s name and all the an­gels, I ask for­give­ness for me and for this man who does not know what he does. She re­mained like that for a long time, pros­trated, un­til the goat looked at Polidoro still strug­gling, and then at her. Quitéria un­der­stood. She took needle and thread and began to sew up her hus­band, throw­ing the sprawl­ing guts in­side. The an­imal turned its back and left, the bell ringing on its creamy white neck. Polidoro re­mained among the liv­ing, but never again showed any in­terest in any­thing. He spent his days out in the open, star­ing into noth­ing­ness, hol­low on the in­side, body and soul. Very oc­ca­sion­ally, the breeze would whip up from the woods and he would shiver, listen­ing to the tink­ling of the bell.


[1] Buchada is a dish made from the goat's en­trails—kid­neys, liver and bowels—cooked in pouches made from the an­imal's stom­ach.

Frederico Toscano

Fre­derico To­scano is a his­tor­ian from Re­cife, Per­n­am­buco. His work À Francesa: a Belle Époque do Comer e do Be­ber no Re­cife re­ceived third place for the 2015 Jabuti lit­er­at­ure award in the Gast­ro­nomy cat­egory. He has fantasy, hor­ror and sci­ence fic­tion tales wait­ing in the wings.


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