Goats and Bugs

by Nick Brady

Chapter 11

The day started off in the usual way. Bobby slipped out of bed and dressed while George fought the urge to pretend he was asleep. "I'm up," he said and stood to join his friend.

Bobby didn't protest, but went into the kitchen to wait for George. They walked to the barn for the daily chores where Pepper and the nameless cats reported for duty. Bonnie and Clyde woke up and danced while waiting for their breakfast. All hands were present and accounted for. There was a touch of fall in the crisp morning air.

Bobby and George went through the usual routine with little conversation. Last night had settled a lot of issues between them. With the milk and eggs stashed, they sat down at the kitchen table and listened to Ely whistle softly as while he cooked their breakfast.

"The weather is turning cooler," Ely said. "I think I might make us some oatmeal tomorrow. Do you like oatmeal, George"

"I like anything you fix, Ely. I'm not a picky eater."

"That wouldn't do out here," Ely laughed. "Is your mother a good cook?"

"When she wants to be," George replied.

"Well, me and Bobby, we make do, don't we Bobby?"

"Yes, sir," Bobby agreed. "We do OK, Dad. What do you have for us today?"

"Let's see now. Those coyotes last weekend got me to thinking. Might be that the barn could be a little tighter. You could try and find where those varmints slipped in and patch up some holes if you like. I'm going to run in to the hardware store for some things so I'll let you be."

With that, the boys and the man went their separate ways. George followed Bobby to the barn where Bobby took a handful of wooden shingles, some nails and a length of baling wire and started inspecting the perimeter of the barn from the outside. The side door passed inspection as did the wide door that slid across the front of the barn from an overhead track.

"I think this is where they got in," Bobby said as he pulled on a loose piece of siding behind the chicken roost. "Look here," He pointed to where a rotting board was open at one corner. He laid a shingle across the loose siding. "Hold this," he told George, then nailed several shingles across the loose board, securing it on both sides. He tested it for tightness, muttering, "Damn foxes are like cats. They can sneak in most anywhere."

Going on around the old barn, they found a broken window pane. "They could get in here too," Bobby said, and nailed another shingle over the hole. "Need to get a piece of glass, but this will do for now," he said to himself. George followed him as they made the rounds, holding things when asked and trying to be helpful.

When Bobby was satisfied that he had found what was to be found, he tossed the tools on the workbench and pointed to a ladder going up the side of the barn. George followed him up to a loft that was not obvious from below. Stacked against one end of the peaked roof were bales of hay put there to provide for the cows during the winter when the grass was scarce.

It was warm up in the top of the barn, and the hay smelled sweet. Several of the bales had come apart, making a soft cushion of hay around the neat stacks. "This is my favorite hiding place when it gets cold," Bobby said, and stretched out on the soft hay. "The cats will be up here in a little while. This is prime mouse territory."

George lay down next to him and imagined what Bobby did up here when he was alone. They were alone with their thoughts. It was very quiet.

George roused when he felt something on his chest. He opened his eyes to see a gray tabby cat sitting there looking at him. He ran his hand over its back and down the long tail, then looked over at Bobby. He was asleep, his lips parted slightly and his face completely relaxed. He felt a wave of affection for his friend. Bobby was at peace with himself. His world was a known quantity. Ely loved and respected him and Bobby knew what was expected of him. He liked where he was and who he was. Bobby had more than his share of challenges and responsibilities but accepted his situation calmly.

For a boy to be raised on a farm by his father was a natural thing. They played no games with each other. To be raised in a small apartment by a single mother was perhaps more of a challenge, even though George did not have nearly as many responsibilities. He felt no jealousy for Bobby's situation, only an appreciation for the differences. It was a different world. Bobby and Ely had allowed him to be a part of that world and he was grateful for their acceptance. For the first time George had a sense of what it was like to have a brother, and a father. He sighed and closed his eyes again. The cat curled up on his stomach and they both went to sleep

George woke up when the cat jumped away. Bobby was standing over him smiling. "You fall asleep? This is a great place for a nap."

George put his arms op over his head and stretched. "You were asleep too."

Bobby shrugged. "You want some lunch?"

"Sure. I'm always ready to eat."

"Let's go back up to the house." Bobby started down the ladder.

Bobby looked in the refrigerator. "How about baloney and cheese?" he asked and pulled some things out without waiting for an answer. He laid out slices of bread, stacked on lunch meat, cheese and some tomato slices. "Mayo or mustard?"

"Mayonnaise," George said.

Bobby set a pair of sandwiches on the table, poured two glasses of cold milk and pulled up a chair. He looked at George as they ate.

"What are you going to do about your bug guy?" he asked.

George chewed his sandwich. "If Mom is there on Wednesday evening I'll get her to take me. If she's not home I'll ride my bike. I cleaned it up a little and Herb isn't that far away."

"Good, good. That'll work," Bobby nodded. "Can you carry everything on your bike?"

"All I need is the mounting board and the pickle jar. I can manage that."

"Let me know how that works out," Bobby asked. "Want a cookie?"

"Sure."

Bobby went to the cupboard and brought back a package of Oreos. "You were expecting homemade?"

"Oreos are fine," George grinned.

"So, you have your bike thing worked out. What else do you need?" Bobby asked.

"Well," George hesitated. "I would really like to have a cell ophone, but I'm not sure how to work that.."

"Does your mom have a cell?"

"Yes, but I have hinted for one before and she tells me we don't have the money. We have a house phone in the kitchen and I'm supposed to use that."

"If she has one it wouldn't cost that much to add another phone to her plan."

"I have no idea what anything costs," George shrugged.

"My dad has a simple plan and he added me for another ten dollars a month. That's pretty cheap. He doesn't mind because that way he can always get ahold of me," Bobby explained. "You got a birthday coming up. Or maybe Christmas?"

"I don't know. I'm not sure it's really about the money. I don't think she wants me to have one."

"Why not?"

"She likes to control things," George made a face.

"You need a source of income," Bobby advised him. "If you had some money of your own, you could pay for a phone."

"I'm thirteen. How do I get a job?"

"Well, you're almost fourteen. What do kids in town do to earn money? Can you get a paper route or something? Sell stuff door to door?"

"I don't know. Maybe. Where do you get your money?"

"Dad gives me part of the milk and egg money. It's not a lot, but I bought my laptop with it. I don't have a lot to spend it on out here," Bobby said. "Do you get an allowance?"

"No. I'm on the beg system. If I want something, I have to beg for it."

Bobby frowned. "You need some way to earn a little money. You don't need much."

George shrugged. "I have chores that I do. Not like you, but I clean my room, do the dishes, clean the bathroom. That's my responsibility because she feeds me, I guess."

"But no allowance."

"Nope. It's the beg system."

Bobby didn't say any more, but he was thinking. There must be a way.

George leaned back in his chair. "Thanks for the sandwich. What else does your father have for us to do?"

"The barn was it," Bobby said. "I know somewhere we can go if you're up for a hike."

"Sure. I'm up for anything."

Bobby filled a jug with water and led the way out through the pasture into the tall pines beyond. Pepper joined them as they passed the barn. As they walked farther into the trees it grew darker. The scent of the pines was heavy and it was very quiet except for the chirp of birds and forest critters. Deep in the woods was a small clearing cushioned by pine needles. Bobby dropped the jug of water and looked around. "I kind of like this spot," he said.

"It's so quiet here," George breathed in the smell of the cool air. "These trees are huge."

"All the land around here was like this when it was settled, I guess. This is virgin forest. Most of it has been cut for timber now. There isn't much of it left like this." Bobby sat down on the soft ground and took a long drink from the jug, then passed it to George.

George took a drink and set it down between them. "You like quiet places, don't you." he remarked.

"Yeah. I guess I do."

"There's always some kind of noise in town – cars, people talking. There is almost no sound in here."

Bobby looked around. "Just the little birdies. You know if you lie back and get still, you can hear the blood in your ears."

"What?"

"Try it."

George stretched out next to bobby, took a deep breath and tried to listen carefully. After a minute he was conscious of the faint rushing sound of the pulse in his head. He had never noticed that before. Above them, the trees merged overhead into a canopy of green with faint sparkles of blue sky beyond. The tops of the pines moved gently in the wind although it was dead calm here on the forest floor. He felt a sense of peace in this quiet place. "This is nice," he said softly.

They lay on the soft ground for several minutes before Bobby broke the silence. "I've been thinking," he began. "Me and Dad were talking about the farm. We get by on the corn and soy beans that we raise out here, and the milk and egg money. That's not a lot of income. We raise some of our own food in the vegetable garden. The green beans in the freezer come out of the garden and during the season we get a lot of tomatoes, squash and like that. Of course we eat the roosters and use some of the milk and eggs ourselves. But it's pretty tight. We really need more income."

George listened and wondered where this was going."What are you thinking?"

"Dad works real hard to keep everything going. I do what I can to help, but I'm in school most of the time. During the summer I can do more, but it's just me and my father. We could use some help."

"I could do more on the weekends if I can get out here," George suggested.

"You could do more if you lived out here," Bobby said. "I wish we could work something out with your mom."

"Really? That would be neat, but I don't think Mom would go for that."

"I was reading up on some ideas in the school library. We have the internet there and I looked at some things. The goats could be a money maker. If we had maybe 20 or 30 Kinders, we could sell the milk, make goat cheese, sell some of them for meat and tan the skins. There's money to be made there. They don't take a lot of room and could forage for most of their food. Dad and I don't really have the time to do much with that, but Bonnie and Clyde could be the start of something."

"I can see that," George was listening.

"Another thing that we have talked about is growing Christmas trees. This is obviously a good place for conifers and we could devote a couple of acres to Scotch pines or whatever. It wouldn't take a lot of work, but would take 7 or 8 years to show a profit. We've talked about that. Or we could raise rabbits, we could raise ducks. There's things we could do, but it all takes time and work."

"OK. That's all sort of long term though. I'm not sure where this is going."

"Your immediate problem is you need a phone. If your mom won't help you with that, we could put you on Dad's plan for ten dollars a month if you could be satisfied with a little flip phone. If you don't have the money for that, I could help you until we came up with a way for you to earn some money of your own."

George looked over at Bobby, "You would do that?"

"Well, sure."

"I'm not sure I can get out here every weekend let alone all the time. I never thought about that."

"It depends on what your mother does. Like I said, I'm just thinking."

George leaned back and took a deep breath, inhaling the cool scented air. "I wish I could live out here with you and Ely. That would be so nice. Would your dad be OK with that?"

"I think so," George said confidently. "He likes you and we could use the help. You'd have to work."

"I know. I'd like that. Living in town is boring."

Bobby laughed. "I would have said that living out here on the farm was boring."

"Not if you're here," George smiled.

"That does have some possibilities," Bobby agreed. "Well, it's something to think about. You ready to go?" He stood to go and Pepper appeared from where she had been sleeping to shake the pine needles from her fur.

"I guess," George was a little disappointed that Bobby didn't seem to be in the mood for some play time.

Bobby took a longer route going back that followed a small stream and went through more of the deep woods. By the time they got back to the farm it was almost time for the evening chores. Living here would keep a person busy.

"Don't you want to find some more bugs while you are here?" Bobby asked. "I have an idea if you do."

"To be honest, catching insects was mainly an excuse to visit, but I could use something new."

As they passed the barn Bobby switched on an overhead light that illuminated the main door. "Ifwe come back out here tonight, I bet you will be surprised at what you will find."

Ely brought back a pizza from town so that Bobby got a break from his kitchen duties. Before they went to bed, Bobby led George out to the barn. "Bring your net," he said.

Batting around the barn light were several large moths. "Wow! Look at that!"George shouted. That big green one is a Luna moth. I've only seen those in pictures." He snagged them both and added them to the jar of acetone. "The other one is a Polyphemus moth. See the big eye spot on its wing. Polyphemus was this one-eyed character from Greek mythology."

George simply smiled and nodded.

The rest of the weekend went by uneventfully. Ely made oatmeal for breakfast on Sunday morning and got ready for church. This time George and Bobby joined him. Ely was happy and introduced George as his new 'hand'. When George returned to school on Monday morning he left the net in Bobby's closet and brought home the killing jar and his new catch of dead insects.

When he got back to his apartment after school on Monday, George got out his mounting board and carefully arranged pins to mount his new treasures. He wanted to show Phyllis that his weekend had been productive. She returned at eight o'clock and hung her coat in the hall closet. "Look what Bobby and I found around the barn light, Mom. The green one with the long tails is a Luna moth. The brown one with the big spot on its wings is a Polyphemus moth. Aren't they beautiful?"

Phyllis nodded, "Very nice dear. Have you done your homework?"

"I only have a couple of things. I'll do that now," George took his mounting board to his bedroom and laid it on his desk, disappointed at his mother's lack of enthusiasm for his treasures. The more he thought about what had just happened, the more he felt angry. He was tempted to smash the moths, mounting board, but thought better of it. He had to control his temper if he was to think clearly.

On Wednesday he calmly told his mother, "I got my old bike out of the shed and cleaned it up. If you get stuck coming home, I can ride my bike over to Herb's house. It's not that far." Phyllis raised her eyebrows but did not respond.

At six-thirty George finished the sandwich he had made for himself and looked down at the parking lot one last time. His mother's car was no in the lot. He placed the mounting board and relaxing jar with his collection of specimens in Ely's box, strapped it behind the seat of his bike and rode off, glancing quickly at the map he had drawn for himself.

George was surprised to find himself in front of Herb's house in twenty minutes. It was closer than he had thought. He unstrapped his box and went to the door to push the bell. In a moment the door opened and Herb said, "You made it. Great! Come on in."

They went straight to Herb's study where George laid his box on the work table and took out a cigar box with his four prise specimens. Standing proudly on their long black pins was the Luna and Polyphemus moths, the walking stick and a large grasshopper with one wing forward and one wing back. "What do you think?" he asked.

Herb looked carefully and smiled. "I'm impressed. These look very nice. Where did you find the moths?"

"Out at my friend Bobby's farm. I caught all these out there. He is the guy who helped me make my mounting board."

"Bobby sounds like a good person to know," Herb said. "Where does he live?"

"He and his father have a little farm south of Magnolia. I go out there every weekend to help him with his chores, then he helps me with my bugs, er, my insect collection."

"That's what friends are for,"Herb smiled. "Now what do you have in that big glass jar?"

"That's my relaxing jar. The book you loaned me showed me how to make that. It's full of other insects that I haven't tried to mount yet. I was hoping you could help me with them."

"I can do that. Let's pour them out on the table and see what we have here," Herb looked very pleased with what George had brought with him. He carefully went through the pile of dead bugs and separated them into several piles. Starting with the largest, he mounted several, doing so quickly but explaining how it was done.

Some of the small specimens he mounted on triangles of stiff white peper with some tiny pins then running a larger pin through the wide part of the triangle. "You will want to mount labels on the bottom part of the large pin with the common name, the scientific name and the date and location when and where it was caught." Herb took some small rectangles of the same stiff white paper and wrote out a sample tag for one of the beetles and put it on the pin. You can cut the tags from the same paper you use for the little triangle. Unlined note cards are what I use." Herb's enthusiasm was obvious. George absorbed every word.

At eight-thirty, Herb's wife Anita tapped on the door and cleared her throat. "Ahem! Do you boys know what time it is?"

Herb looked up from the mounting board. "Gosh, it's half past eight. When do you need to be home, George?"

"I'm not sure, but I probably should go. Thank you for everything Herb. I really appreciate your help. May I keep that book for another week?"

"Of course. Keep it for as long as you like. I know where it is if I need it." Herb took a flat wooden case with a glass lid from the desk behind him. "Here, please take this. You need something better than a cigar box for your specimens."

"That's nice! I can't take that. Let me pay you something for it," George protested.

"No, no. This is an extra. I have plenty of cases. I want you to have it," Herb smiled.

George carefully took the specimens in the new case and laid it in the bottom of Ely's box and placed his mounting board and pickle jar on top of that. He shook Herb's hand and thanked him again.

Herb followed him to the door and watched as he began to strap the box to his bicycle. "Wait a minute! I didn't realize you came over here on a bicycle. Do you have lights on that thing?"

George looked around at the dark streets. "I'm OK. I can find my way home from here."

"I'm sure you can, but it's dark now. Let me take you home. Just a minute." Herb popped open the back of the SUV parked in the driveway and lifted George's bicycle inside. Opening the passenger door, he handed the box to George. "Jump in. It won't take a minute. I wouldn't want to lose my favorite student."

George directed Herb to his apartment building, got out with the box while Herb unloaded his bike. "There you go. Come over agi=ain next Wednesday if you can. I have really enjoyed this."

George thanked him yet again, put his bicycle in the shed then carried his box into the apartment. His mother was still not home. He placed the glass-topped case on the kitchen table and admired it. It had been a long day and he was tired. Spending every weekend with Bobby had gotten him in the habit of going to bed and rising earlier and he was ready for bed. He took a quick shower then went into his bedroom to sleep. He lay still just long enough to hear his mother enter the apartment. He thought about getting up to speak to her, then decided that it would be better to see her in the morning. Tomorrow was another day.

George got up and dressed to find that his mother was still in bed. Thinking that it would be best not to disturb her, he fixed himself a bowl of cereal and left for school. He waited for Bobby's bus to arrive and waved at him when he stepped off. "Hey, it's the bug man," Bobby grinned.

"And you must be goat boy," George laughed.

"That's me. Did you get to see Herb last night? I was looking for you to call me."

"I did and he was very helpful. It was kind of late to call you when I got home, sorry," George said, then described the case Herb had given him and they talked as they walked into the school.

Bobby grinned at George's enthusiasm. "You can tell me more at noon. See you later."

As they ate their lunch Bobby listened as George described the techniques Herb had taught him. Most of this was lost on Bobby but he listened anyway. When George ran out of gas, Bobby asked, "Did your mother give you a ride?"

"Um, no. She didn't come home until after I went to bed. I rode my bike and Herb brought me home."

"Did she tell you why she was so late?"

"She was still in bed when I left for school."

Bobby nodded. "You coming out again this weekend?"

"I hope so. We'll see," George said. They left it at that.

That evening Phyllis was home at six and acted as if nothing had happened. She did not ask about Herb; she did not offer an explanation for being late the night before. George didn't bring it up. He did say that he wanted to go out to Bobby's farm on the weekend,. His mother said she would think about it which was a probable yes. Things could be worse.

George packed up his bag with clean clothes and put the killing and pickle jars inside. Without the net he could travel light. He was ready and optimistic. On Friday morning he took the bag with him as he left for school. "I'll see you Monday," he said to his mother. She told him to behave himself and that was that.

Things went very well that weekend. The chores were done and the clearing in the forest was visited and utilized properly. That evening in the bath they were able to rinse the pine needles out of their underwear. Sunday was church and everybody was happy.

On Sunday afternoon they climbed up to the tree-house in the pines and turned their collars up against the cold breeze that swayed them from side to side. "I talked to Dad about your staying with us," Bobby told George.

"What did he say?"

"He said that would be OK with him. I asked him about the cellphone. He's OK with that too."

"I don't have a way to pay for that right now."

"You will. Besides, you help on the weekends. I reckon you do ten dollars worth of work a month. Don't worry about it." Bobby pulled a black flip phone out of his pocket and handed it to George. "Here. This is yours. The number is on the sticker."

George looked at the phone and flipped it open. The keypad was on the bottom half and a small screen was on the top. "I don't know what to say."

"You can't search the internet on that but you can make phone calls and send text messages," Bobby told him.

"My mother won't want me to have this," George said quietly.

"Keep it in your pocket. If she finds it tell her it's mine, or tell her you found it on the street or something."

"Does it work?" George asked dumbly.

"It does. I already activated it. Try it."

"I forgot your number."

"I'll call you," Bobby pulled a matching phone from his pocket and keyed in the number on the sticker. They was a pause then George's phone rang. "Answer it," Bobby told him.

"Hello?"

"Howdy, it's me. Is George there?" Bobby chuckled into his phone.

George laughed. "Not all here, but sort of. Thanks, Bobby."

"Don't mention it. Bye." He snapped his phone shut. "Now you can save my number in your phone so you don't have to remember it next time you want to call me. And I can save your number in mine. See how that works?"

"Yeah. Yes, I have it now," George smiled broadly. "This is cool."

"Now you're in touch with the universe. Just be careful not to leave it lying around."

"As long as I can get in touch with you," George smiled. "You really are the best friend I ever had."

Bobby shrugged then smiled, "The feeling's mutual."

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