When Mom and Dad came home from the school conference, I knew I would be in trouble. I usually did my homework, but I was always forgetting it at home or in my locker. What surprised me was when Dad said it was his fault because he hadn't taught me responsibility. His idea of fixing the problem was giving me an animal to tend. I would have loved a dog or a horse - which was probably why Dad bought me that stupid baby goat.
The day he brought it home, he told me to wash it. He had a look in his eye like he figured I couldn't do it. Shoot, that little thing didn't weigh more than ten or fifteen pounds. I was big, even for 15. It planted its feet and pulled back on the rope when I tried to move it. Its eyes were bulged out and its tiny hooves left skid marks on the ground as I tugged it across the yard. I'd teach it who was boss.
It was shivering so Mom insisted I should wash it in the tub where I could use warm water. January wasn't the best time for a frolic under the water hose, so I hefted the little thing into the house and stood it in the tub. It could barely keep its footing on the slick surface when I let go of it. Everything was under control until I turned the water on. The side of the tub was almost over its head but that baby goat jumped it before I could grab the rope. It dashed across the kitchen, leaving little prints and a few nuggets all over the kitchen floor. Mom came in and started howling about the mess. That scared the goat worse and we all spent the next half-hour chasing it around the house. It finally jumped up on an end table in the living room, knocking the lamp on the floor. I cornered the goat there and caught it.
Dad scratched his head and gave me a devilish grin. "I think I remember reading something about goats not liking water."
"Now you tell me," I said.
We had an old shed and I was assigned the job of cleaning it out so the goat would have a place to sleep. Dad helped me put up a fence. I have to admit, it was kind of fun working with him on that project, but I wasn't looking forward to taking care of that stupid goat. I got tired of calling him "that stupid goat" and finally gave him a short name - Jumper.
Over the next few weeks, I took care of Jumper. I made sure I turned my homework in too. I figured this livestock thing was going to get old for my parents. Jumper was always getting out and eating some of Mom's plants.
One day I was feeding Jumper and he started running into me with his head. I pushed him away and he came back for more, like it was some kind of game. I didn't have anything better to do so I finally got down on all fours and started butting heads with him. Finally he backed off a little ways and eyed me. I could see something going on behind those strange eyes, but I sat there like a fool and waited. He danced on his hind feet with his front feet up in the air; then canted his head off to the side. He was putting on quite a show and I was laughing my head off when he came down on all fours and butted me in the head. Who would guess such a little thing could pack such a whollop? He started bleating and dancing around the pen as if laughing at his little prank. I think that was when I started to realize he wasn't so stupid.
After a month, I was beginning to look forward to taking care of Jumper. He met me at the gate every day so eager to see me that he would jump on me just like a dog. I'd teach him a few tricks and he'd teach me a few things. Before long, I was spending most of my time with him. Dad wasn't pleased that I had turned livestock into a pet.
I was still doing my homework - most of the time. I didn't finish my essay on time, though, and Dad was pretty ticked off at me. The teacher gave me one more chance. I was supposed to have it on her desk Monday morning - no excuses. Naturally it turned out to be the best weather in months. Dad & Mom went fishing Sunday, and since I still didn't have my essay completed, I was left behind. I had the entire day to do it, so I decided to consult Jumper for a little inspiration. We played for a few hours and I finally decided I'd better get the essay started before Mom & Dad got back.
I went to my room and sat at the desk, staring at a blank piece of paper for nearly a half-hour. Finally I wrote a title - "Jumper." Not too fancy, but it was a start. I started a sentence, then erased it, wrote some more, then erased it. I opened my bedroom door and sat watching Jumper play. As if in a trance, I began to write. No one needed to tell me it was good. I knew it was. I filled four pages before I finished. No one was there to hear my essay but Jumper, so I decided to read it to him.
Jumper was one intent listener. I sat down in his pen and read all four pages to him. All the while, he never moved. As I finished, I looked up at him, seeking his opinion. But Jumper wasn't watching me. He was watching something behind me.
I turned to find a dog standing beside the fence.
"Now where did you come from", I asked the dog. I rolled up the essay and poked it into the fence so it wouldn't blow away. The dog came up to the fence and licked my fingers. He looked like some kind of retriever.
Mom and Dad drove into the yard about that time. They had a few fish and I helped Dad clean them. The dog ate the scraps and begged for more. Mom said we shouldn't feed him because he'd hang around. I could live with that.
The next morning I got ready for school and ransacked my desk for the essay. Then I remembered leaving it in the fence. It was a good thing it didn't rain last night. I darted out my bedroom door into the early morning light. The paper wasn't in the fence. Figuring it must have blown out; I searched the ground around the fence.
I finally gave up and went in to feed Jumper. In a little while the light would be better and I would find it. I dumped Jumper's grain in his box and headed back for the gate. That was when I saw the little piece of notebook paper. I picked it up and saw my handwriting in one corner. It was part of the essay. I searched the pen for the rest, but only found a few pieces - enough to know that something had been chewing on it. Jumper.
I started back to the house in a near state of panic until I realized something. I wrote it once. I could write it again. I sat down at my desk to write, and that was when Dad walked in. He looked like he was going to blow a gasket.
"Is that your essay?" he asked me. "You were supposed to do it yesterday."
"I did," I said, "but..." no, who would believe it? I started to laugh and Dad looked at me like I was crazy. I laughed so hard I couldn't catch my breath.
"What's so funny?" he asked.
"The goat ate my homework," I said, and keeled over laughing again. I finally managed to tell him the entire story.
Dad started to grin and finally shook his head. "Well, you have exactly one hour to do it again. Let this be a lesson to you. Next time, don't wait until the last minute - and put it where it belongs when you're through with it."
I completed the essay on the bus and got an A. I was thankful for the grade, but I was even more thankful that I didn't have to tell the teacher in front of the entire class that the goat ate my homework.
This story can be purchased in the collection of short youth stories "YOUTH YARNS."