This short story was submitted to Hispanic Lifestyle.
I Killed a Chivo – a Short Story
by Jonathan Rendón
When you’re hanging out in college with your rich white friends, it’s not such a great idea to tell them the story of how you killed a chivo to make birria. Not because they are secretly a little afraid of you now knowing you have taken a life. No, the real reason you shouldn’t tell your rich white friends about killing a chivo in Mexico is because they’ll ask you to tell their rich white families the story of how you did it, fully knowing that they are creating a picture of who you are (and it’s completely wrong).
They’ll invite you over to their house and give you the tour; the foyer, the living room, the study, the office, the game room, the TV room, the kitchen, the backyard, the upstairs bedrooms, the balcony where you have a clear view of the ocean over the hills, and of course the garage. Remember not to go in the garage; it’ll get to you. The house is amazing but you’ll wish you hadn’t seen the garage, because you’ll have to live knowing that your friend can drive a Dodge Viper whenever he feels like it.
Everybody will gather around their recently installed rock fire pit drinking expensive wine and telling stories. They’ll tell you about how they had it rough growing up because they grew up in the windy city where it can be quite cold. You’ll tell them about college (because it’s the nicest thing you know). You’ll tell them how you’re planning to graduate in three years instead of four. They’ll smile and say, “You must be saving a lot of money that way.” It’ll be a blow to your stomach, but remember to smile back (you had already told them you were paying your own way, so they think they’re being nice; just tell them you were on the fence between a double major and early graduation, and decided it would be a better career move. At this point it should be obvious that your friend is going to make you tell the story of the chivo, but that will come as a shock, because now you’re thinking back to having to take the bus to high school (and also wishing you could drive that Viper).
He’ll ask you straight out.
“Tell the story of when you killed the goat.”
Don’t panic. Just look around to assess the situation. Obviously everyone is now looking at you, but focus. What do their faces tell you? What do you see? You look for panic, for fear. You spot it on his auntie. She’s wondering whether or not you can smell her fear. You can. It’s interesting how you can smell fear. Why is it that of all the possible states of mind, fear is the one we can smell?
“What?” you reply, while you continue to assess the situation.
You think about the four-hour ride to your uncle’s house in Mexico. You think about being glad they’re having a party your mom is going to so you can tag along and not have to take the greyhound. You hate the greyhound because all you see are mountains of rocks you know your uncle had to cross to work in the US. You’ve heard the stories, but never from him. Some stories you don’t ask about.
You remember showing up at your uncle’s house. It’s always freezing cold inside because it seems every time you’re in Mexicali, it’s 110°F. You catch a quick glimpse of your friend’s auntie and think to yourself: I don’t eat government cheese, bitch.
“Sorry, I just remembered I have to make a quick call” you’ll say. They’ll buy it. Gullible rich people, they’ll believe anything you tell them. Try pulling that at one of your family’s story time (I mean, borracheras). You get up, look at your phone, pretend to read a text, and say, “Never mind, it’s taken care of.” All a smokescreen that would never fly at your place, but it works here. It’s a different world. Why the smokescreen you ask? You need time to keep the mental movie going. You’re not going to waste a perfectly good memory movie moment just because some rich folks want to hear about your dinner, besides, they’ll wait. They want to hear this.
Movie continues. You never knock, just walk in. Give your uncle a big hug. Give your favorite little cousin a big hug too; she’ll remember if you don’t. Remember you then, thinking about you now (having to tell the story to people that will, as a result, categorize you differently than you think they should). After all the hellos and the eating are done you’re uncle asks if you’re ready to go. Make clear that you have to drive out of the city about an hour to get to the small ranch where they have the goats. You can even tell them that you’re going in a truck (all Mexicans drive trucks, right?) But under no circumstances can you tell them tits name is Dino (short for dinosaur, even though it is). The damn thing really does look like something from the Jurassic period with the rusted old blue frame of the Ford looking almost yellow. Obviously don’t mention that there’s no A/C, radio, or seat belts; just say it’s a truck and move on.
Be careful with the road trip part of the story. Special attention to how far you have to travel is good; tell them you even stopped for a snack along the way. Tell them about the cocos you ate under the palm tree tents. When you get to the part where you tell them about the small farm you stopped at along the way that belonged to your uncle’s friend, you probably shouldn’t tell them about how you wandered into the field and found a black baby goat and brought it back because you thought you were going to take that one. Just skip straight to the part where you show up at the guy’s house that is going to sell you the goat. Explain how your uncle bought two: a big one and a baby one. How much did it cost? You don’t know. But there were other animals for sale, because you are in farm territory. It’s okay to skip the selection process. Just say they were ripe, just kidding. The only real important thing about the ride back, was how funny it was watching the goats in the back of the pick up trying to keep its balance. Act it out for them. Not so they’ll appreciate it because they probably won’t, but because you want to see their face when you tell them you were laughing at the two animals you were about to kill. That look of horrified shock on the old ladies is priceless. After a few moments, remind them that you before you off these goats they will get a drink of beer. A toast if you will, as thanks for giving up their life so your family can feast. Or you can just tell them you went real far bought two goats and brought them back to your uncle’s house.
This part of the story is what they really want to hear. They don’t really care that much about the story leading up to the show, they just want to hear it from your mouth that you killed something so they know whether or not it is true. And of course it is, but they want to hear it. SO, bring them in slowly. You have to climb up into the truck to grab the big goat and jump down to put him on the ground. Call over your little brother to grab the little one. Everyone inside the house knows you’re here and the little kids all come out to play with the Billy and his little brother. You tie up the little one so your cousins can play with him while you go around the side to the back of the house to take care of business, all the while your stomach tingling a little bit. You have that slight feeling of nervousness and adrenaline; kinda like you’re about to give a presentation. And as such you just put it aside and move on. Your uncle is rushing through the whole process and as you’re living it. You think he’s doing it so you won’t feel bad and chicken out, but come to think of it, he probably wants to go through this experience less than you do, because you actually want to do this. Not because you want to take a life, but because you’ll know, proof positive, that you could kill an animal out in the wild if your life depended on it. Plus fresh meat is the best.
So, you’re in the backyard and your uncle is tying a rope around the ankles of the goat and you wonder, “When is he getting the beer?” He strings the rope over a high branch of a tree and pulls the goat up about two feet off the ground. Make sure you tell them that your uncle gave the goat some beer. Even though the goat didn’t really want any so your uncle said forget it. Your little cousin comes back with a knife from the kitchen for the work ahead. You turn to see him and you notice all the guys in the family coming out to see if you’re really gonna do it; and all the women trying to keep the kids inside not really knowing if you’re going to do it either. Of course, you know you’re going to do it. The look of worry on your uncle’s face tells you he’s not really excited to do this (but you know it must be done for the sake of great food and your manhood).
Putting the knife in your hand he says, “Put the knife in all the way through the throat and pull out,” as he motions with his finger and his own throat to illustrate the appropriate execution motion so the animal feels as little pain as possible. He takes a big metal pot and places under the goat’s head to catch the blood, grabs the chivo’s head and gives you the okay. Your blood pumping and your manhood at stake, there is no turning back. You place your right hand on the neck as your uncle holds the goat’s mouth shut to stop the screaming, and with the steak knife in your left hand you push the knife hard through the throat and pull out, cutting through the throat and skin.
As the blood spills into the metal pot and the animal’s crying dies your uncle takes the knife out of your hand and starts cutting around the gaping hole, through which you can see separately his trachea and esophagus. Your uncle takes a bigger knife and chops through the spine, so the head falls into the metal pot and makes small splashes of blood. Don’t tell them that the blood was a brighter red than you imagined and that there didn’t seem to be as much as there should have, they might get queasy. Or you can just say you cut through the throat and your uncle finished getting the head off.
You might as well tell them what happens next to avoid the awkward silence. Tell them that your uncle pulls the goat down and puts it on a table for your other uncle to start gutting him while he goes around the front of the house to get the other goat. Tell them that your uncle notifies you that your job is done and you don’t have to do any more of the work and to call your little brother because it’s his turn. Your brother is right next to you and looks nervous. He asks, “How did you do it?” knowing he has to perform the same job. You tell him the same thing your uncle told you and put the knife in his hand as you tell him, “you’re gonna be a real killer now” with a smile to make him feel better. Explain to your audience that the process is repeated. Don’t tell them that he didn’t push hard enough the first time, just barely piercing the skin and looked to you for guidance to which you replied, “Push harder.”
The wind- up of the story is good for your audience so they can catch up with their hearts. Tell them the rest of the males in your family proceeded to cut off the skin of the goats and chop them into manageable pieces. The legs, shoulders, backs, and ribs in one bucket and the organs into another. Not that the organs aren’t deliciously edible, but the meal being prepared uses just meat. The organs are going into the trash because nobody is going to sit around and wash, who knows how many feet of intestines full of crap, by hand. Tell them about how Edgar, your cousin, grabbed the bladders and started chasing the little kids squirting piss all over the backyard; that should lighten their spirits.
End the whole thing by telling them that some things have to be done in the name of great food.