“This is the part of the zoo where you can feed the animals,” mom told us as we walked to the cage. “Only feed them these pellets. Dennis, are you listening?”
My older brother had that smile at just the edges of his mouth, the one that meant trouble. Mom put a hand on each of his shoulders in an attempt to grab his attention. “Did you hear me?” His fake smile appeared and she fell for it. Again.
I was the good one. My brother was always causing my parents trouble, and I hated seeing my mom cry over his ridiculous antics. He always came home with unexplained bruises and cuts, or being chased by older, faster kids. My mom automatically defended him against upset neighbors, teachers, and officers. So I always tried to keep my nose clean. It just seemed fair. She worked so hard around the house, and my dad was always on emergency calls, being the town doctor.
After doling out half of the little pellets she got out of the penny machine to feed animals, she sat down on a nearby bench. It wasn’t even two seconds before Dennis ran out of the pellets, which of course he was throwing at a duck that was more interested in dodging them than eating them, before he came and wrenched my wrist to steal mine. Luckily I knew him well enough to expect this and had pocketed a few as soon as my mom handed them out.
“Hey!” was all I said. I turned to my mother, who heard my cry and looked up, so I just smiled and waved. It just wasn’t worth getting her upset. I turned my attention back to Dennis, who was easy to spot in the crowd considering he was wearing the same red and white-striped shirt as me. I carefully followed behind (he’d caught me following him once and I could still feel phantom bruises from that lesson) and watched as he pelted a little lamb with the rest of the food before he came upon the goat.
He approached the fence where this huge billy goat stood almost eye to eye with Dennis (if memory serves it had a few inches on him, but you know how memories become distorted) and Dennis instantly reached his hand through the large spaces between the wire and yanked the creature’s beard, pulling it closer. I could see from my vantage point that the goat’s eyes widened. I was pretty sure we weren’t supposed to be pulling the animal’s fur. Dennis looked around for something to feed it but only discovered the lid to an aluminum can someone had thoughtlessly discarded from a packed lunch.
“Eat it!” Dennis said to the goat, who kept moving its mouth away from the garbage. “Come on! Goats eat trash, I know it. Eat the can!”
I’d watched Dennis bully people my whole life, including myself, and I couldn’t stand it. Even the boys bigger than him always took the worst of it in a fight. What chance did this goat have?
The goat opened its mouth to make a noise and Dennis’ quick reflexes had the lid in the poor creature’s mouth before a sound came out. The sides of the lid were sharp and may have cut the goat, I have no clue, but it made a screaming sound, lunged at Dennis’ hand and grabbed it between its teeth. Dennis screamed out “Mommy!” and of course she came running. I tried not to laugh when I realized my brother was crying, actually crying, and when my mom ran up and looked at his hand, she saw teeth marks.
“Oh Dennis, come on. Look at your hand! It didn’t even break the skin.”
He was sniffling and snot started running down his face. I never thought I’d see the day that anyone or anything would get the best of my older brother, the terror of our neighborhood.
“Billy,” my mother called to me. “We’re going to sit on the bench. Come find us when you’re ready to go.”
I nodded and reached into my pocket, pulling out the few pellets I’d saved from my brother. The goat backed away, but I used my best soothing voice and said “Come here, boy.” The goat approached and I reached my hand through the fence with the pellets in my hand and fed my new hero.