Every grueling week I returned to my job at the nature center, and every week I asked myself why I was still working there. All I ever did was clean animal cages: scoop the poop, change the water, feed the critter, and repeat. I wasn’t even getting paid. So why did I insist on returning? This is fun, I told myself. I love animals. Finally, I came to the realization that this was about as fun as giving a platoon of rabid cats a bath. I set my mind on finding a new job; surely by next week I would give them my final notice and sprint towards the freedom of cleaner pastures. However, I did not expect Todd’s folly to come rescue me from my humorless prison.
I spent the morning cleaning the cages of the smaller snakes. I held a docile white snake as I sifted through the woodchips, until I realized that his head was no longer in my line of sight. I followed his long figure and found that he had slithered into my pocket. He had chosen the one pocket where I carried all my money. It seemed the evil genius was trying to rob me.
I moved on to safer tasks until my boss’s voice erupted from her office. She ever so kindly asked my friend and me to clean the goat cage. She only cursed twice in her request, so I assumed she was having a great day. She was even feeling generous enough to assign me to the aggressive goat’s cage, rather than to the eight foot long snake that had a habit of “hugging” my neck. I had a feeling that one day that reptile and I would be great friends. Sure, he hissed whenever I looked at him, but he did refrain from devouring me when I showed up smelling like my pet rats, and if that doesn’t say love I don’t know what does.
My friend and I dropped the escaped crickets that we were herding back into the bin, and we sprinted to the goat’s pen outside. Todd, one of the newer volunteers, met us there with a bag of food. I walked over and distracted the goat with a cluster of leaves that I was almost entirely sure wasn’t poisonous, while my friend took Todd over to the gate and carefully slipped into the matador’s ring that was the cage. Billy the goat’s short attention span soon carried him over towards a bold chipmunk that was munching on his food, so I took the opportunity to sneak into the cage as well.
Todd had already begun to play with Billy. I, on the other hand, stood against the fence as far away as possible from the beast. I had seen many brave volunteers before me make the mistake of “playing” with the goat and leaving the ring with the prize of a bruised rib or a soon-to-be infected gash. Todd either hadn’t received this memo or was just foolishly unobservant. I was betting on the latter. He pushed against Billy’s horns repeatedly as the goat turned its head, reared back, and bucked forward with more force than the frail Todd could ever dream of producing himself. The boy backed away just in time, falling in a pile of Billy’s best work in the process. He got up and giggled, preparing to grab the goat by the horns and initiate round two.
Billy was not amused. He stood up on his hind legs and reminded us that he could easily beat us in a height contest. He flashed his ferocious, nearly toothless gums at us. I mockingly grinned at him. He responded by peering over at his leash in the corner; he knew just as well as I did that if I tried to lasso him now, I’d most likely end up getting tied up myself. Surely he would then trample what was left of my ego. I chose to remain in the comfort of my corner.
“Todd,” I yelled over to him. “Quit goofing around and let’s feed him already.” Todd complied. Billy strolled off away from us, letting his nerves relax. I picked up the bag of food and lugged it toward the food dish. If it hadn’t been for my friend, all would have gone smoothly from that point on.
“Hey Todd!” my friend called unexpectedly. “I bet you can’t ride the goat!”
I chuckled to myself. While some daring souls would willingly roughhouse with Billy, no one would ever actually try to ride him. I waited to hear Todd make some childish, less-than-witty remark. When I heard nothing, I lifted my head just in time to see Todd swinging his stubby leg over the tall goat as if a child mounting a horse. I looked down at the food bag for a split second as I opened it. When my eyes returned to the scene, Todd was cowering in a tree.
“You idiot! He didn’t mean for you to actually try it!” I scolded him. As punishment, my friend and I made no attempt to help him escape from the tree. Billy victoriously shoved his head into the bag of food, but decided that he preferred the plastic bag instead. He looked up and basked in the retreat of his enemy. My desire to quit the job had retreated as well.