‘Dad, do something. I said DO SOMETHING! I can’t breathe in this house anymore. You’ve got to do something. Dad? DAD..! Nan and Granddad Bob sit watching tele all day. I can’t take much more, Dad. You’ve got to do something, you’ve got to…right? Just do something!’
Young Danny turned on his heels and ran out of the room, slamming the door behind him. The walls shook. Dad stretched out a hand toward a couple of 1970s Leicester City subbuteo players, wobbling on the mantelpiece to stop them falling off. ‘You’re right, son’, he said to himself. ‘I’ve got to do something but I don’t know what? This house is too small for all of us. We’ve no money, so we can’t move.’ He sighed, his head teetering on the edge of his shoulders and started to count his chest hairs.
The next day he went to the park with some of his youngest kids and found himself sitting next to an old man on a bench. The old man was watching his grandchildren, playing on the swings. The young dad let out a long breath. ‘What’s the matter?’, the old man asked. He looked back at him. Should he say something? Maybe, it would help? It couldn’t hurt to talk to someone, he thought finally.
‘Oh, it’s everything at home. It’s all getting on top of me. I’ve only got a small house and it has to fit me, my wife and all the kids. We’ve got six of them and then there’s the wife’s parents staying with us as well. You just can’t move without falling over people. And the heat’s unbearable. We just get on each other’s nerves. I had to get out of the house… Something has got to give. I just hope it’s not me.’
The old man looked back at him as he talked. ‘Maybe, I can help you. I had a problem like that once too. This might seem like a strange question but do you keep any animals at home?’ ‘Animals? Erm, yes, we do. We’ve got a cow, a goat and a few chickens.’ ‘Well, then,’ said the old man, ‘go home and let them all into the house. Then, we’ll see what love can do.’ The younger man nearly laughed at him but thought better of it. He went home and did as the old man had asked him.
In the kitchen, the chickens scattered under their feet, flying onto cupboards and work tops. Mum did her best to cook but she couldn’t keep all the droppings out of the cheese omelette they were having for tea. ‘It’s all good protein’, she told herself, serving it out. While in the living room, the goat fought with Nan and GranddadBob for the remote. The goat won easily. The noise from the motocross and formula one cars – Neeeeeaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrr – blared out across the street.as they roared past. Nan and Granddad Bob glared each other and at the goat. They shouted insults across the room but it didn’t do any good. The goat was too big to argue with.
Upstairs, the cow occupied the kids’ bedroom, laying lay across all the beds. Sue sat crosslegged, facing the cow, her back to the wall. She was trying to protect the only thing she had left between her and the cow, her One Direction posters. It was a terrible struggle. Her eyelids drooped and her head nodded. Everyone complained to Dad. The atmosphere in the home stank.
So, next day, Dad went back to the park and sat on the bench next to the old man. ‘Hello, how’s it going?’ ‘It’s bad, really bad, really, really bad. I mean I haven’t slept a wink. It’s much worse than it was. And my kids all hate me. My wife’s not speaking to me and we can’t move for chickens between our toes. The noise is deafening and the smell, ugh, the smell is unbelievable. It’s just not working. There’s got to be something else I can try?’
‘There is,’ said the old man. ‘When you go home, let the chickens out into the back garden and then we’ll see what love can do.’ And that’s what the man did. Straight away, there seemed more room in the kitchen. He and his wife even managed a faint smile at each other, their first in months. Yet the goat was still bossing everybody around in the living room, even headbutting Granddad Bob and the kids for fun. It had discovered Facebook and was spending hours on the computer, talking with all its new goat friends. The kids scowled behind the goat’s back but dared not say anything. Little Jimmy had fallen down the stairs three times already, trying to keep out of its way. Lucky for him, he was made of rubber, so bounced back.
The next day, the man went back to the park and sat down on the bench. ‘Things are a bit better now. The chickens are back outside but the goat is driving us mental. It is taking over our lives. It’s now started coming up with silly hair styles and makes the kids brush them for ages. Everyone’s fed up but what can we do?’ The old man said to him, ‘Go home, let the goat out of the house and see what love can do.’
So, the man went home and turned the goat out into the garden. Straight away, it felt more peaceful, now the goat was no longer bashing into all the doors. But they still had a cow upstairs.
The next morning, the man returned to the park and sat down on the bench, sighing. ‘Things are definitely getting better with the goat and the chickens outside but the cow is turning our lovely home into a barn. There are cow pats everywhere – under the duvets, on the stairs, even in the bath. You name it…and the worst thing is, it spends half the day mooing on our double bed and the rest sitting in the bath. Nobody can get in and the smell…you’ve got to breathe it to believe it. But what else can we do? There must be something. We can’t carry on like this.’ Well, the old man looked at him for a moment before saying, ‘Go home and let the cow out of the house. We’ll see what love can do then.’
The man looked askance at the old man but did as he was told. As soon as he got home, he showed the cow the back door. The atmosphere lightened up straight away. Some of the kids offered to help with the washing up. They even tidied their bedroom without being asked. To his surprise, two of them started looking after the animals before and after school. And in the bedroom, Sue took down her One Direction posters. In their place, she put a giant one up, proclaiming ‘I love Ermintrude’.
But best of all, Nan and GranddadBob turned off the tele and ditched the remote. They gathered all their grandkids around them in front of the fire and started telling them stories they’d heard when they were growing up from long ago and places far and near. Danny dimmed the lights and snuggled in next to his granddad on the arm of the chair. He loved listening to the stories about kings and queens and warriors and magician and lovers and peacemakers… and they sat rapt with attention in the firelight, taking it all in. Young Danny stared into the fire, shifting only to stirr the coals and that’s how he got his nickname, ‘ Firekeeper’.
The next day, Dad returned to the park and sat down on the bench next to the old man. ‘I can’t thank you enough, old man. With all the animals out of the house, we’re getting on brilliantly. The kids are doing their chores without being asked. They want to do them! And the house feels so calm and peaceful again. We can’t believe how much room there is now. Thank you, old man. Thank you so much. I’m really glad I met you. What a difference you’ve made.’ And the old man smiled back at him, eyes twinkling, remembering.
(adapted from A Goat Too Many, in One Hundred Wisdom Stories from around the World by Margaret Silf, p87)