The Pesky Goat
translated and retold by Marisa Montes
Copyright © 2001 by Marisa Montes. All rights reserved.
Doña Josefina lived on the outskirts of Ciáles, a small town in the highlands of Puerto Rico. Her tiny house was as spotless as a porcelain teacup. Although she lived alone, except for her dog, Ladrón, and her cat, Misifú, Doña Josefina was too busy to ever be lonely.
She spent all her waking moments tending her beloved garden. Doña Josefina was known throughout the island for her mano santa--the blessed hand that turned all plants she touched into breathtaking specimens of splendrous color and robust good health.
In the garden, she grew prize-winning roses and orchids, hibiscus and hydrangea, and dozens of jewel-colored flowers that grow only in the tropical climate of the lush Caribbean Islands. The garden air was forever perfumed with the scent of roses and honeysuckle.
Since Doña Josefina had no children of her own, she watched over her garden as a mother watches over her children. Each of her flowers was precious to her. She thanked God daily for the gift of being the caretaker of such a delightful paradise.
During the day, her paradise attracted butterflies and hummingbirds, bees and ants, and nightingales whose song was as sweet and pure as the water from a secret spring. At night, the garden attracted worms and toads and coquíes, tiny Puerto Rican tree frogs. One unfortunate night, the garden paradise also attracted a pest.
The next morning, Doña Josefina noticed, much to her distress, that the blossoms and tender branches of several young hydrangea plants had been badly chewed. The following morning, the leaves and flowers at the bottom of the large vine in front of the house had disappeared. On the third morning, Doña Josefina discovered that her begonias were gnawed almost to the root. Only stubby, mangled fingers remained, protruding from the rich, black soil.
On each occasion, Doña Josefina searched the ground for footprints or other signs as to what was destroying her precious garden. But she could find no clue.
That night, Doña Josefina didn't sleep. She stayed up all night watching from her window for the culprit to appear. Just before dawn, something crept into the garden. Doña Josefina held her breath and waited. As she watched, the thing seemed to rise into the air and take the shape of a small white goat. The goat floated toward a hydrangea plant. When it reached the plant, the goat began to feast on the large balls of blossoms.
"Ay, ay, ay!" cried Doña Josefina. "A cabra is destroying my precious darlings!"
Doña Josefina ran through the living room and out the front door. When she raced down the slick, tile-covered steps, her heel slipped, and she twisted her ankle.
"Oh, no!" she cried. "What shall I do?"
Unable to continue into the garden, Doña Josefina hobbled back into the house and called her dog.
"Ladrón, I will give you an extra helping of meat today if you'll go into the garden and chase away that cabra."
"¡Seguro!" Ladrón replied with an enthusiastic bark. "Of course I'll do it!"
Ladrón raced to the garden, his jowls drooling at the thought of an extra helping of meat. He sniffed loudly as he trotted around the flower beds, searching for the goat.
The goat heard him and prepared herself for an attack. She climbed onto a boulder that was hidden behind a bush. Then she took a deep breath to make herself appear larger and said in a deep, loud voice:
"Heed my words
To Ladrón, the tiny goat seemed to have grown ten times its size. He swore that the goat's evil eyes glowed like burning coals. Its teeth would put a crocodile to shame. He didn't want to put those terrible teeth to a test, not for all the delicious meat in Puerto Rico!
Ladrón became a blur of spots and dust. He didn't stop running until he was safely under Doña Josefina's bed. There, he turned into a mass of trembling fur and clattering teeth. He refused to come out until morning, untempted by Doña Josefina's promises of roasted meats and spicy sausages.
"Ay, ay, ay!" cried Doña Josefina. "Now, what shall I do?"
At that moment, Misifú rubbed up against the old woman's leg.
"Ah, Misifú!" said Doña Josefina, stooping to pick up the white cat. "I'll give you two extra helpings of fish tonight if you'll just go into the garden and chase away that pesky cabra."
"Why not?" Misifú replied with flick of her tail. "¿Porqué no? It might be interesting to chase a goat."
In no particular hurry, Misifú sauntered out to the garden. Because she made no effort to hide herself, the goat spotted her strolling down the main garden path.
The pesky little goat prepared herself for battle. She climbed halfway up a sturdy trellis, poking her head between the vines. In a deep, loud voice, the pesky goat said:
"Heed my words
Misifú froze in her tracks. Her luminous eyes widened and searched the darkness like lanterns for the owner of the voice. High above her head, Misifú saw a horrible head, the shape and size of a dragon's. Huge horns stuck out above its eyes. At its sides flapped large, wide wings. Its serpentine body entwined itself around the trellis. Misifú swore that from the creature's nostrils flames escaped and licked the sky.
This was no pesky goat--this was a dragon! And there weren't enough helpings of fish in all of Puerto Rico to tempt Misifú to tangle with a dragon. Misifú became a streak of white in the darkness and didn't stop running until she was safely under Doña Josefina's bed next to Ladrón. No promises of sweet cream and tender giblets could entice her out.
Doña Josefina placed her hands on top of her head. "Ay, ay, ay! ¿Qué haré? What shall I do?"
In the meantime, a bee had flown into the house through an open window. "¿Qué pasa, Doña Josefina? What's the problem?"
"Ah, brave abejita," began Doña Josefina, feeling some hope returning, "I'll give you ten drops of honey if you'll chase that pesky, pesky cabra from my garden."
The bee considered Doña Josefina's proposition, and replied: "¡Seguro! It'll be easy. The pesky goat will be gone in no time."
The bee buzzed out the window and into the garden. He buzzed in and out of the flowers and vines looking for the pesky goat. But the goat heard him and was ready. Rearing up on her hind legs, she said in a deep, loud voice:
"Heed my words
The bee stared at the white phantom that loomed up before him. Never had he seen anything so large and hideous! It had to be the ghost of a dreadful ogre. No amount of honey was worth standing up to a phantom ogre!
In the next instant, the bee zoomed from the garden and didn't stop flying until he had passed two barrios. He had no intention of ever returning to Doña Josefina's garden paradise.
Doña Josefina waited and waited for the bee to announce that the pesky goat was gone for good. When the bee did not return, Doña Josefina began to cry.
"Ay, ay, ay! My beloved garden. That pesky, pesky, pesky cabra is going to destroy it all!"
The elderly woman felt a sting on her ear. "No llores, Doña Josefina. Please, don't cry," said a tiny voice. "Tell me your problem and perhaps I can help."
Doña Josefina flicked her ear and a little black ant dropped onto the palm of her hand. She stared at the little ant in disbelief. If her faithful Ladrón, her irascible Misifú, and a brave little bee could not chase away that pesky goat, how could a tiny little ant?
"Hormiguita," began Doña Josefina, feeling desperate, "are you brave enough to chase that pesky, pesky, pesky cabra from my garden?"
"I'm willing to try," said the little ant.
She crawled off Doña Josefina's hand and into the garden. Because the little ant was so tiny and quiet, she was able to sneak up on the pesky goat. Before the goat realized what was happening, the little ant climbed onto the goat's hind leg. She stung the goat in the leg, then on the stomach, then on the chest, and headed for her ear.
All the while, the pesky goat jumped and kicked and scratched. She rolled and rolled on the ground. But she couldn't make the stinging stop. Suddenly, a voice sang out:
"Heed my words
Believing the garden had been invaded by an army of nasty stinging ants, the pesky goat ran off, never to be heard from again.
Doña Josefina rewarded the spunky little ant with all the sugar and bread crumbs she and her friends could carry to their ant hill. When her ankle healed, Doña Josefina went back to tending her beloved garden. With her help, the flowers and vines that the goat had chewed quickly mended and all traces of the pesky goat disappeared.
Copyright © 2011 by Marisa Montes. All rights reserved.