Jacob covered his smooth skin with the goatskins as his mother Rebecca told him to do. They were still bloody and sticky from the goats’ slaughter just moments before. His mother had cooked their meat and gave it to Jacob to give to his father Isaac, old and blind and on his deathbed, to eat, so that Jacob could steal the blessing Isaac had promised his twin brother Esau, older than him by only a few seconds and somehow favored for it, while Esau was out hunting for the meat Isaac had asked him for. It was a crafty plan and a stupid one, Jacob thought, one that relied on Isaac’s blindness and his dulled mind–who on earth would confuse the coarse pelt of a goat on top of Jacob’s scrawny arms for Esau’s soft, abundant hair over his hardened muscles?–but the plan worked. Isaac gave Jacob the blessing meant for Esau, a blessing of prosperity and power ending with May those who curse you be cursed and may those who bless you be blessed.
When Esau returned with a cut on his forehead, a bruise on his thigh, and a gazelle over on his shoulders, he saw Jacob walking out of their father’s tent wearing Esau’s clothes over goatskin and looking quite pleased. Esau dropped the gazelle, marched up to his brother, grabbed him by the shoulder, and demanded, “What have you done?” Jacob froze and stammered. His brother was much bigger and stronger than him and his nose was still crooked from when, years before, Esau punched him in the face after Esau had recovered from starvation and realized Jacob had tricked him to trade his birthright for a pot of red beans. What would Esau do now that he had been cheated yet again by Jacob?
But Jacob did not have to wonder long. This is what Esau did: He pushed Jacob back into their father’s tent with a hard shove that made Jacob stumble and fall to the floor on all fours. “Father!” Esau said in his low, gentle voice. “It is me, your son Esau. I’ve just returned from my hunt for you only to find my brother wearing my clothes and covered in goat fur. Did you give your blessing to him already?”
It was a sharp question and Isaac started to cry, his eyes that saw nothing but dark and light glistening and then flooding over onto his cheeks. He realized immediately the mistake he had made. He said, “I am so sorry, son. I am a foolish old man! Please forgive me for giving your blessing to your dishonest, deceitful brother. If I could take it back and give it to you, I would. But I can’t, nor can I offer you another blessing just as good. I have already made Jacob a lord and master.”
Esau, for all his brute strength, was smarter than Jacob gave him credit for, for he did not give into fury or despair, but smiled and said, “I figured as much, father, and I am not asking you for a blessing, but a curse. It seems to me such selfish, disrespectful behavior should not go unpunished.”
Jacob looked down at his hands on the floor, his five fingers digging into the fibers of the rug, and up at his father’s face as its blubbering softness turned stony and resolute. “You are right, Esau,” he said. “Jacob!” his voiced thundered with a strength neither Esau nor Jacob knew he had left.
“Y-y-yes?” Jacob trembled.
“You are a devilish trickster, a shame to our family, and a disgrace to God! It saddens and angers me that you are more than willing to fuck over your brother for your own gain at any chance you get. If you insist on stooping so low and wearing the skin of a goat, with God as my master through which all things are possible, you shall live the life of a goat now until the day you die!”
And God–who had been watching the whole ordeal because it was the juiciest piece of drama they had seen since Abraham told Pharaoh his wife Sarah was his sister and Pharaoh tried to fuck her–enacted Isaac’s curse with pleasure because they lived for the pettiness of it all.
Esau watched in horror as the goatskin Jacob wore became his own, constricting around his muscles and bones; as his arms and legs straightened and stiffened and as his hands and feet became hard hooves; as his belly distended and as his neck stretched and thickened; as his face elongated and as his lips disappeared and as his pupils flattened to two dark rectangles; as two horns grew sharp and curved from his skull; as his protests and pleas for forgiveness gave way to a broken bleating that sounded not unlike shrieking, not unlike pain.
And then, because Isaac’s blessing bid those who cursed Jacob to be cursed in return, God saw it upon themselves to curse Isaac, but the man was so old and so close to death as it was, God simply decided to end his life then by bringing the goat meat in his belly back to life and birthing that baby goat through Isaac’s asshole in one mighty fart.
It was absurd, God knew, but it felt right, poetic almost, though humans were the ones who had invented poetry and were much better at it. A metaphor in God’s hands was not beautiful but terrifying. And terror was what Esau felt then, not satisfaction nor justice nor pleasure. He collapsed to the ground and could not make a sound nor form a thought. His mouth and muscles and mind were useless in comprehending God’s power, leaving his soul to bear all that weight, which it couldn’t, not completely, so it crumpled onto itself, crushed to half its length.
“What happened!” Rebecca shouted as she rushed into the tent after hearing the ruckus, only to find that her husband was dead and her favorite son was a goat and her least favorite son was only speechless and she had another son, born from her now dead husband, and that son was a goat too, so she had two goat sons and no husband and this was not at all what she had planned, what she had hoped and wished for. She had only wanted the best for Jacob–why was that so wrong? She fell to her knees and threw her arms around Jacob’s neck, now far hairier than Esau’s. She wept into his white fur but even though his soul was still the same, Jacob had a new goat mind and goat heart and he could not stand her sudden, confining touch in his state of panic, so he whipped his goat head to break her embrace, gouging her eye with his horn in the process. He leapt through the open slit of the tent and into the orange light of dusk that burned on the fields. From one eye, Rebecca cried tears; from the other, gushed blood.
At last, Esau managed to pull himself together, just enough, just barely, to stand again and say, “This is awful.” He walked over to his father and pulled the newborn goat from between his legs. It was wet and stinking of shit, its fur pitch black, and it was not crying but watching with its calm, amber eyes. Esau cradled it in his arms. “What should we name it?” he asked his mother. His mother stopped sobbing to answer: “Fuck you.”
There are some tragedies that bring families closer together but this was not one of them.
As Esau took charge of the household and raised the baby goat as if it were his own son, loving it with all his damaged heart and hoping that was enough, Jacob the goat roamed the wilderness. Yes, he was cursed to be a goat, but he still had his father’s blessing. Food was abundant and easy to find (though a goat will eat almost anything, as you know) and while he did not rule over a nation of people as his father had promised, little by little, he amassed a herd of followers, a nation of goats, and he was king of the horned and cloven. They went where he went, ate what he ate, slept when he slept. The females offered up their hinds to him so they could bear his sons. The males offered up their lives for him, sacrificing themselves to leopards and lynx to save him from predation. (The males offered their hinds to him too, for the honor and pleasure.) Life was prosperous and easy and good for Jacob, who remembered nothing of his former life, nothing of his former self. He was much better off, God knew, than his brother Esau who cried to himself at random each day with nothing able to comfort him, not even the warm touch of his wives nor the thrill of the hunt. To survive was to be broken, God noted in fascination and pity. Thank goodness no one survives then, they thought, not forever. Can you imagine someone so ruined? If God had a giant bowl of celestial popcorn, they would have been munching on it then, as they could not help but watch as Esau shrank more and more into sorrow and Jacob led a whole, hallowed life as The Happiest Goat In The World.
Carl Napolitano is a writer and ceramicist from Little Rock, Arkansas. He holds a BA in English-Creative Writing and Studio Art from Hendrix College and is currently working toward his MFA in fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His work has appeared in Assaracus and Cicada Magazine and is forthcoming in The Hunger. He is an associate editor for Sibling Rivalry Press.