On Island

Charlotte Gross
| Fiction


According to all the usual rules, the goat wasn’t allowed on the mail boat. But the captain would make an exception just this once for the new lighthouse keeper. With more of a show than Zan thought necessary, the man shifted other passengers’ grocery bags and boxes of paint and plywood to clear a square of space. Zan could feel him studying her from under thick brows while she coaxed the goat from mainland dock to ramp.
On board, she stood by the animal nestled at the stern and faced forward. The captain and the other passengers—an elderly woman and middle-aged man sitting beneath the boat’s canopy—were forced to pretend they were more interested in the lapis-blue harbor and the houses perched like cormorants on cliffs above it. Still, Zan could sense questions behind their closed faces.
She knew she should introduce herself. But there would be time for that. Surely, on a one-town island they would hold a meeting where she’d have to stand and wave and hear the sketch of her own story told for her. For now, she could watch the pine-spiked coastline swallow the docks and the ripple of sun on water. One hand clutched a length of rope looped through a dog collar around the goat’s neck. With the other, Zan reached toward the goat’s muzzle to let the animal sniff her. Its amber eyes with their oblong pupils returned her gaze with unsettling sharpness. And yet, there was such warmth in the press of that bony head against her palm.




Zan hadn’t planned to bring a goat to the island. Irremediably turned around amid the fingerling peninsulas and inlets of the coast, she had pulled up to a farm stand to ask directions to the Stone Harbor dock.
“Catching the mail boat to Pesgawan?” the freckled girl arranging tomatoes asked. Zan nodded, pushing back dark curls stuck to her forehead with sweat.
“You’re almost, there, actually. Just follow the main road here until it ends,” the girl said. “And don’t let the name switch from 15 North to 15 South get you.”
“Thanks,” Zan said. She picked up an eggplant, feeling it would be rude to leave without buying anything. When she turned to place it on the counter, something hit the back of her thighs. Her knees buckled.
“Hey!” the girl said. “Stop that!”


Charlotte Gross works outside on traditionally Washoe, Nisenan, and other tribal land. When she’s not watching for fires from a Sierra Nevada lookout, she’s Nordic ski patrolling, mountain bike guiding, leading backpacking trips, and facilitating writing workshops that connect people with their landscapes. She is a fiction finalist in Narrative Magazine’s 30 Below Contest and The Masters Review Flash Fiction Contest. You can read her stories in Whitefish Review, Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, Green Mountains Review, The Hopper, and elsewhere.

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