Merle, sleeping on the job

Merle’s Place

My husband and I stood outside the fence watching as our eight-year-old Nigerian dwarf buck, Merle, vigorously rubbed his flank against our La Mancha doe, Willow. Merle grunted and bellowed. He curled his lips and tucked his head down to pee on his beard.

“Go on!” my husband urged.

“You can do it!” I said.

I tried to sound encouraging, reassuring, uplifting. However, it soon became apparent to all of us — to my husband, to me, to Willow — that Merle was having difficulties. Since last mating season, Merle, it turned out, had entered into a new, more subdued season of his life. He still wanted to fulfill his buckly duties, and he did a fine job setting the scene and the mood. However, his actual performance was lackluster. He just couldn’t, well, complete the task.

When I complained later to my hair stylist that I wasn’t going to have any chevre the next summer if Merle didn’t get his act together, he suggested posting a picture of Heather Locklear on the side of the barn. Frankly, the idea was offensive. I mean, here was Willow, resplendent in the early morning light, her coat shiny and sleek, her eyes warm and come-hitherly, her tiny, elf-like ears perfect in every way, and if that wasn’t enough to boost Merle’s morale and all his other things, I certainly did not think the likeness of a nineties television star blazoned on the barn was going to make a difference.

“Is there anything like Viagra for goats?” another friend asked me when I confided in her about Merle’s dilemma.

Well, no. Not that I knew of. And even if I did, I wasn’t going to pump my goat full of chemicals just so I could have cheese. Never mind that every night for the last five years, I had routinely rubbed an ounce of testosterone on my thighs. At age fifty, I found it necessary to sync my body with my mind. I didn’t feel fifty, and the hormones just helped me function at the age I felt, which was, admittedly, not twenty-five but somewhere in the fortyish range. And though in almost every other aspect of my life, I was a crusader for an all-natural, organic lifestyle, in this area, I embraced the synthetic, the chemically compounded.

“You have got to try it,” I told any middle-aged friend who would listen. “It will change your whole life.”

Back in the eighties, I felt this way about Zeppelin and psychedelic mushrooms. In the nineties, I was similarly enthralled with Diaper Genies and those Johnny Jump Up devices you can hang your baby from while you cook dinner. And now, in 2018, we had air fryers and baked kale chips and a cream you could rub between your thighs to improve your libido. It was a fine time to be fifty.

Still, no matter how good I felt, I was pretty sure I looked at least fifty. Exhibit A: I had lines over my mouth — deep lines. Recently, I had met with a skin care consultant at a discreet, tastefully decorated clinic to discuss treatment options for my lines. The consultant could have been anywhere between the ages of twenty-five and ninety. I could not guess her age any more closely than that — which, I suppose, was the point. After I indicated to her the precise lines I was worried about, she leaned in close to my mouth and squinted. Then she eased back into her seat, her lineless lips set in a sympathetic pose.

“Do you smoke?” she asked. “Or drink with a straw?”

No. And no.

“I just purse my lips a lot,” I said. “Like my mother. It’s a family thing.”

“Huh,” she said. “Well, you got here just in time. Some women wait until they’re in their eighties, and then it’s difficult for us to help them.”

I nodded. I needed to do this sooner rather than later. I got that. And so we discussed my treatment options — Botox, a chemical peel, laser treatments. I wanted subtle, natural looking, I told her, only not natural for a fifty-year-old, which is what I currently had, but natural for, say, a thirty-five-year-old. Finally, we settled on Volbella, a filler that would be injected into the wrinkles. A skin care professional would numb my face with cream. The procedure would be completely painless. My wrinkles would be smoother, my lips fuller and more youthful. It would last at least a year. It would look so natural. I would be very pleased. I had gotten here just in time. And the best news of all was that Volbella was on special this month — only $600 per vial.

The consultant paused there, her perfectly shaped brows raised slightly. It was a question. A discreet question. Was the price acceptable? For a moment, I could not speak. I had hoped that my situation was more a $100 situation, a $200 situation at most. How was it that I had let this get so out of hand? Maybe in wanting to look thirty-five, I had aimed too low. Maybe if they just treated every other wrinkle or even every third wrinkle, I could look forty, and they could knock off a couple hundred bucks. However, the consultant patiently explained to me that, unfortunately, this would not be possible. You bought Volbella by the vial. That’s how it worked.

I wavered. Up until this moment, I had been a one-tube-of-mascara-per-year sort of person. I did not have a lot of expendable income, and I was not accustomed to spending what extra income I did have on what one might term self-improvement. Still, my job involved to talking to groups of people — students, writers, readers — and I could not expect people to focus on what I was saying when they were wildly distracted by my wrinkles. In fact, I had good reason to believe that this was already happening. For the past year and a half, I had taught English at a private high school, and even though I was the newest teacher in my division, people with questions about the school often emailed me instead of contacting our department chair or another, more experienced faculty member.

“You know why that is, don’t you?” a thirty-something-year-old male colleague said. “It’s because you look like you’ve been here a while. You know, people see your picture on the website, and they think you’re the most experienced person here.”

At the time, I had thought my candid, young colleague was misguided, that he had spoken out of turn. But now, sitting across from the ageless consultant, I realized, to my horror, that he had been right. Several years ago, I had stopped coloring my hair, and now I had let my face go as well.

“Okay,” I told the consultant. “Let’s do it.”

“Terrific,” she said.

And I followed her down the hallway to make another appointment.

“How much do you think would be reasonable for me to pay for a little cosmetic work?” I asked my husband when I got home.

“None,” he said.

“No, really.”

“None,” he said again.

He could not possibly understand. For one, he had a beard and mustache, so he could have ravines and gorges and entire canyons above his lips and no one would ever know. For another, he didn’t get that I worried that any day now, he might need a photo of Heather Locklear posted on our bedroom wall in order to even consider a romantic interlude with me. Never mind that Heather, too, was now in her fifties — fifty-six, in fact — and rumor had it that she, too, had had a little work done.

I knew it wasn’t exactly rational to compare my marriage to Merle and Willow’s trysts in the pasture, and, of course, Merle’s difficulties sustaining his enthusiasm had nothing to do with Willow’s age and everything to do with his own. In human years, he was in his sixties, and she was still in her thirties. Still, I couldn’t help imagining how it must feel to be the doe from last season, the lover who was no longer as interesting as she had once been. Perhaps, on some level, Willow, too, questioned her ability to hold his attention with so many other young does in the barn. What was it, exactly, that gave her advancing age away? The stray piece of straw jutting unattractively from her coarse fur? The fact that when she chewed her cud, her breath smelled less than minty fresh? The extra little bulge around her rumen area?

It was clear to me that, though a girl could hope that her doey eyes and the way she stared deep into her lover’s eyes might make her endlessly attractive, eternally young, a little extra attention to her appearance might not hurt. Nonetheless, two days before my scheduled Volbella treatment, I cancelled my appointment. One could only do what one could do. If you didn’t have hands, you couldn’t remove straw from your back fur, and if you didn’t have $600 to spare, you couldn’t get face fillers. Those were the cold, hard facts. I would just have to wait for Volbella to go on a bigger sale. In the meantime, perhaps I would post on the barn a tiny photo of Heather, circa 1992. After all, if I couldn’t have sexy, voluptuous lips, at least I might increase my odds of a nice, fresh batch of chevre.