The goat boy is dead. But it’s Raffy’s birthday. So cars still head up the dusty track into town early afternoon, roaring back at dusk with crates of cheap Spanish beer. Mandy, Raffy’s girlfriend, turns on the fairy lights she’s draped around the trucks, buses and caravans parked on the terrace. The vehicles light up multi-coloured– pretty as if pixies lived in them – and soon their real occupants emerge; Raffy, Trev, Bones, Mick, Jenny and her tangle of kids – drawn out by the rainbow dancing on their windows.
Dave’s red Citroen pulls up and he hefts an armload of sausages from the passenger seat. He recently cut the roof off the car so his two silver greyhound’s heads poke from the top like cartoon giraffes. I let them out, running my hands over their boney spines as they pass. Underneath them were the crates of beer which I begin dragging to Mandy’s fridge. I help out as much as I can – I’ve not much else to offer in return for a drag of a spliff or a stray line. And I’m grateful to be here, in my little cave by the river below the wide layers of terraces where the travelers live. They call themselves travellers – but most of their wheels haven’t moved in years. This squatted land in the south of Spain is encircled by the great arms of the mountain ranges and gives them no reason to leave.
As I bend to haul over another crate Dave flicks a glance down my dress. He has finally noticed me. One by one they have accepted my presence here without a vehicle or an English accent, but Dave held out the longest. He always charges past me, blindly wielding an axe or a chunk of wood on his missions across site. Tonight as I stack the beer at Mandy’s caravan, I feel his pale green reptilian eyes on my skin.
‘Cheers, darlin.’ Mandy says handing me a spliff.
We watch Trev push his wheelbarrow laden with records across the terrace, depositing them by the decks. Then he stomps up the ridge and pours petrol into the generator. The Specials rear from the speakers, trumpets bursting into the warm night. Mandy pops a bottle of champagne and the kids dash to find the cork in the dark.
‘To Raffy!’ she shrieks. Raffy grabs her round the waist, tilts her back and they kiss as champagne froth cascades down their arms.
It was me who found the goat boy. I’m the only one who goes around the bend in the river, past the sandy beach for swimming and dishwashing, the smooth black rocks for drinking beer. The river gets darker and faster around the bend. Dragonflies buzz along the tangled banks and Eucalyptus leaves drip from the forest into the river and swirl in ferocious eddies. Their smell pulses in the air. I never knew they grew outside Australia, their scent is my portal to home.
At first I thought his body was a branch, with his olive limbs splayed out. It was the rasta friendship band around his wrist that caught my eye. I remembered watching it slide against his hand as he played my guitar. I stared, perhaps for minutes, at the water lapping that band up and down. Then I screamed. Kerry came splashing round the bend, her yellow sundress up around her armpits.
“The goat boy is dead,” I said. “Go get an ambulance. I’ll stay.”
Raffy’s party is getting going now that everyone’s more pissed. We crowd into the back of Bones’ truck and he racks up lines.
“Can’t believe that silly goat bugger had to die in our river,” he says, scratching at the gunja in his black curls. “We’ve never had the pigs down here before.” He looks up at me, a sudden sharpness in his stoner gaze. Then it’s gone. The weed must be making me paranoid.
“They won’t come,” says Trev, his shaved head bent over the twenty-pound note he’s rolling up. “Too scared.” Now the tattooed eyeball on Trev’s head seems to be staring at me accusingly. I pass on Mandy’s spliff without a drag.
“They may be,” says Mick coming in, and putting a bottle of tequila on the table. “But not of us – of this place. Violent history down here. D’you know that Jule’s?” he turns to me, his scraggy face lit with the story. “This was the last bastion of the anarchists in the civil war! This place is full of ghosts.”
“For real?” I raise my eyebrows. He’s told me a million times, but I’m relieved to change the topic.
“Some of them are still around.”
I think of the staunch old fellas in their flat caps. They sit outside the village bars with stuffed birds and guns mounted on the walls and never drink at Jesus’ bar where we go, which now has the signs in English.
“Ironic hey, us rebels living here now,” says Mick snorting his line with gusto and wiping a finger over the crumbs.
“Goat boy is one of their own though, innit?” says Mandy, in the quiet way she has of reeling a rant back in. “He’s a big boy. But his mama’ll still wanna know what the fuck happened down here.” She tucks her red dredlocks behind her ears and dips her face down to her line.
“Well he did my head in with those goats,” says Bones, “always poppin’ up at the wrong moments.” Everyone nods. I don’t say that I was always happy to see their curious faces. “Runnin’ around in my bloody crop,” he adds shaking his curls. “He would’ve had some fuckin’ wasted goats if I weren’t vigilant.”
“Wasted goat boy more like it. He was up for it,” says Mandy. “Did it look like an overdose Jules?” she asks. They all look up at me with their hard, wasted pupils. This time I know it’s not paranoia. They were waiting for the question.
“Dunno,” I say in a voice that comes out small and shrill. Trev passes me the note and I lean over the mirror.
His body disrupted the current. Little rivulets ran from the awkward splay of his legs. It was as if he was stuck in a frozen run, the kind you have in a nightmare. He hadn’t overdosed.
He had found me at the start of summer, passed out by the river where I had tried to wash my face. I’d had too much wine and a bad pill from Bones, which had left me wrenching my guts up. I had woken up in the shade outside my cave. The goat boy sat under the olive tree, watching me as if I were one of his flock lost in sleep and he was waiting for my return. His goats perched in the tree, strange bearded birds, bending the branches down with their weight. They stared at me and chewed in unison. The goat boy smiled and despite what I’d heard about him, I smiled back. His tortoiseshell eyes were slightly crossed and as gentle as his goats. He pointed at the battered guitar I had dragged across Spain, busking along the way for food and beer. But in the village at the top of the track the travelers gave money to the locals, not the other way around. They peeled notes from thick wedges of pounds pulled from their ragged pockets.
When I sat up the goat boy squeezed me a teacup of frothy milk from the white goat standing in my fire pit. As I sipped he plucked lacey flamenco from my guitar. The notes twirled through the olive tree’s branches and bounced over the rocks along the river.
When I stumble out of Bone’s truck, my head is soaring. A few people dance under the camouflage net. Dave has his shirt off and is dragging a huge chunk of firewood across the terrace like a prize kill. Sausages bubble in a huge paella pan on the fire. One of Jenny’s kids swings on a rope; her boys are hard to differentiate with their tumbleweed hair and strange names. It looks like the one who tried to sell me a gun in the bar. I laughed when he pulled it from his jacket, mostly from surprise and a little snarl crossed his freckly face. That was the night Mandy and Raffy had a huge blue in the bar. We had to stop her throwing glasses while Raffy was bundled into a car. I hadn’t thought of the gun again.
I wander out to the edge of the terrace to look up at the moon gliding over the mountains. Footsteps crunch behind me.
“Hey space cadet. Open wide,” Mick places a pill on my tongue and my body shudders as I swallow. He passes me a beer.
“Would the Moroccans ever have guessed Jules?” he says swilling down his drugs, “the goings on on these terraces they built for irrigation?” I laugh. Mick has this way of looking at life like he was an eagle soaring above it. He launches into a tirade about the history of Spain and Africa. I half listen. I perfected the ‘listening look’ while I was hitching. I decided that understanding the words is overrated. All you need to do is smile and nod. But when I think of the night I bumped into the goat boy on the track to the village I wish I had tried to understand more. His fast Spanish blurred into one sound as he ranted between sucks on his bottle of wine. He rubbed his thumb and forefinger together. I nodded – money. He mimed smoking. I smiled –smoking. He banged his chest and pointed over the mountains. The only word I really understood was Morocco. I nodded and smiled. It seemed pretty simple.
“I remember when you first got here,” says Mick flinging an arm around my neck. “You had those cute Spanish girls with you.”
“Yeah, they went to the Rainbow festival.”
“Rainbow festival!” he spits, “you knew where the party was at!” He grins the gap-toothed smile of the homeless man he is back home in Brighton. But it was the empty cave above river that had really kept me.
“Carn Jules, lets dance.” He drags me back into the circle of lights.
The police do come down the next day, but not until afternoon. They drive cautiously along the track avoiding potholes. A mustached one in high boots gets out and guides the cars along the track that traveler’s buses and trucks bounce down merrily everyday. People stand in the doorways of their vehicles enjoying the show. I watch their progress from Dave’s bed, under his bus back window.
“The maths is already done,” Dave says, sliding his sweaty, naked body across me to reach the tobacco. He lies back to roll his cigarette. “Eight of them. Maybe sixty of us. Nothings gonna happen.” He sounds disappointed. I sit up for a better look out the window. Bones’ staffy Lula, is biting at the cops boots. Dave stares at my breasts as he lights up. I scramble for something to say, to bring his eyes back to my face.
“It’s nothing to do with us.” I mutter.
“You what?” a sneer distorts the face of the sleepy man I woke up beside. I had almost forgotten he was Dave. My skin prickles cold in the sweaty bus. “You saying you can vouch for every mother fucker living on this filthy site?”
I pull the sheet up around me. How did I end up here? I remember laughing at Mick trying to juggle fruit. Then the drugs had melted me into the couch in Mandy’s caravan. Dave sat down next to me. Maybe we spoke. I remembered his fingers hard on my thighs, him pulling me out in front of the speakers and twirling me around, floppy as a doll. The stars reeled and fell as he swung me over his shoulder. We fucked on the floor of his bus between wires and car batteries. Rolls of something kept digging into my back. He tasted of metallic dog. I felt nothing but curiosity as my body rocked beneath him.
Dave gets out of bed and drags his jeans on. “You crack me up Jules,” he says, but he isn’t laughing. He lights his cigarette, squints around the bus and frowns.
“Come on then. Up ya get,” he gives me a shove. “I gotta help Trev dig a drop toilet.”
“I might sleep some more,” I say burrowing into the pillow. My body aches and it would be nice to just be in the bus without Dave, watch the world through the dirty window.
“No ya don’t.” he says, flicking his head towards the door. “Out!” He pulls off the sheet. I crawl around looking for my clothes. I find what had been digging into me- big glistening brown eggs. “Hurry up,” snarls Dave, shoving me in the side with his boot. I spot my dress, wriggle it on and stumble down the steps. Dave wrestles to secure the door behind us with a rusty padlock. I have never seen anyone lock a door here before. Bones and Mick are standing over by the remains of the fire. The sun stares down. I wish I had sunnies.
“Want some brekkie love?” calls Mick as Dave strides off with a spade. “We’ve gotta shed-load of sausages left. Thought the cops might like a bite.”
I let myself laugh, imagining the Guardia Civil gingerly biting into a burnt hot dog.
Mandy comes out clutching mugs of tea. I take one gratefully. Her eyes are ringed with glitter.
“Jules, you know a bit of Spanish ‘ay?” I nod. “What does arma mean?”
“Arma. It’s gun.”
“Fuck.” She sits on the old paisley couch by the fire and twirls a dredlock round her finger, she looks yellow, worse than hungover. “So that’s what they’re looking for.”
The goat boy never took his flock to that part of the river. He always walked through the trees in the forest on the other side. Mandy reckoned he went along the river to check out the girls swimming naked. But with his shaggy dark hair and sandals, the stick twitching at his side as he picked his way over the rocks he looked the way his family had for generations and obviously went the way they had gone. It was the valley that had changed around him, as he tried to keep his bearings.
I watch the police leave from high up on the ridge. The terraces look as if they are dotted with toy cars from up there. Anarchist’s ruins lie scattered on the hillside like lost bones. The police half-heartedly search some trucks until Lisa gives them hell and they give up, battering sticks in bushes near the river until the light fades. They seem unsurprised to leave empty handed. From up on the ridge I watch Trev and Dave still digging the drop toilet in a clump of trees halfway down the track. A huge mound of dirt is piled beside them. The last touch of sun picks up the slick of sweat on Dave’s bare back.
The sun slides yolky below the ridge. I head back into the valley but not to the terraces, to my cave.
A man sits propped against the olive tree. Waiting. Electricity shoots through my veins. This place is full of ghosts.
He stands up awkwardly, and shakes his curls. It’s Bones.
“Sorry to bother you love.”
“It’s fine,” I say. But it’s strange. I always go up to theirs. The goat boy was my only visitor. Bones passes me a half-smoked joint.
“I’m doing a little mission to Morocco love, taking a few a the girls. I’ll finance you Jules.”
I see the goat boy, banging his chest, pointing over the mountains. I pass back the joint unsmoked.
“We’ll smuggle some hash to England, in time for the festivals. It’ll be a laugh. And I know you’re skint love.” The churning river has become so loud. It fills my ears. I stare down the bank, willing it to rise up and wash Bones away.
“Not had enough of that bloody river?” The hardness is back in Bones’ voice, making all the words before it crumble to sand. “Why the fuck d’you stay with his body Jules?”
I don’t answer. A dark current fills my throat. Bones grinds the end of his joint into the river bank with his boot and walks away.
When Kerry went for the ambulance I waded in. I tried to lift the goat boy’s head from the water, but it was destroyed, chunks of bone blasted away. Water ran red through my fingers. I tried to scramble away, but the current pushed us together again. As I clawed my way back up, pushing against his sodden limbs, his body dislodged. The river tried to drag him away from the only place he knew. I grabbed his hand, the one with the rasta friendship bracelet. I held on. It was then I heard the rustling, up higher in the banks. The goat boy watched over me once, so I watched over him.