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What Drips Out of the Cheesecloth

Story by Hailee Nielsen (Read author interview) March 23, 2020

Art by Mladen Borisov

The goat cheese man got stung forty-six times trying to clean out a bees’ nest from his girlfriend’s attic, and I thought it was funny until I realized he died. Among the things he left behind: a wife, a daughter who shares his middle name Casey, a half-eaten nectarine on the wrap-around porch, three measures of E minor hanging between cut-out stars in the nursery, a small collection of exactly two butterflies captured in migration and pinned to a board, new slippers men’s size twelve and a half, a lot of goat cheese.

We met at the farmer’s market the winter I moved to Ohio for a graduate program and the promise that I could get a position to pay for it. His stall was next to mine and his farm was named after a type of flower, or maybe it was a family name. He asked me if I’d been to the Applebee’s yet, which was apparently somehow different from every other Applebee’s, and I said no, they don’t have anything for vegans. He said that all the vegans he had met before were women. He offered me a sample of his goat cheese. I tried to lower my voice an octave when I said no thank you man.

Each week I’d spread my flour and knead my dough until it became a window. Then I’d go to the farmer’s market and sell my bread at my flour stall next to the goat cheese man and his wife and their flower farm stall.

The bees had been in the attic since he met his girlfriend Sarah, who studied psychology at my university. In her dating profile that I swiped right on because she looked like she would be good at sex: “Looking for someone to kill the bugs so I don’t have to!” These are the results of not wanting to pay for exterminators and the results of landlords not wanting to pay for exterminators. The bee incident occurred on Thursday. The goat cheese man died on Friday. Also Friday: Sarah matched with me and said, “hi oliver i’ve seen you at the farmer’s market next to ian’s stall. i don’t want to go out or anything so don’t get the wrong idea (sorry exclamation point exclamation point) but i just wanted to let you know that he actually just died after a horrible accident on thursday so be kind to his wife if you ever see her.” I tried to meld the word “Ian” with the word “goat cheese man,” tried to make them fit, tossed them down when both forms shifted.

Saturday, his wife was there at their booth, framed by photographs of six goats named after winter constellations, and she didn’t look at me but I looked at her and thought that the goat cheese man was an idiot, because she looked like she would be good at sex too. She had set out all the samples at once and was smiling at everyone who walked by, and everyone who walked by swarmed her and stabbed at her samples with their tiny toothpicks and nodded and smiled and left. I looked at her and thought that she was an idiot like the goat cheese man, because by ten o’clock she had run out of samples and everyone stopped stopping. She sat quietly, probably thinking about bees, attics, men, goats. When the farmer’s market closed, she turned to me as I packed up the leftover rye and said, “Hello Ollie I just wanted to tell you that Ian and I so loved getting to know you and we love your rye but this is my last week here. Ian died this week in a horrible accident and I can’t come alone anymore.”

I wanted to ask, then why did you come here today? and, what will you do with the leftover goat cheese?

But instead, I said, “Thank you, I am sorry to hear that he passed, that is very awful, I can’t imagine, my condolences, I mean I can imagine my condolences I just meant that I can’t imagine comma my condolences.” And then I was giving her all my rye bread just to get myself to shut up. I wished it was a bouquet instead.

Then she was telling me about how much Ian had loved sour bread and sour beer and she kept saying that all the goats used to come to his voice and now she’s selling the goats and I don’t want any goats and she was telling me about his eyes and his daughter’s eyes and how they’re both grey and Casey, or they were,


and all I could think was stop telling me about your dead husband.


I didn’t have words I was sick of it I was embarrassed by it and then the goat cheese man’s wife was gone and I watched her walk away.

The goat cheese man got stung forty-six times. Among the things he left behind:

an empty space for yet another apple stand,

six goats of varying colors and constellations sent to slaughter,

me and my dream where I am working at a slaughterhouse and I have to cut the throats of his goats,

me and my dream where I am working at a slaughterhouse and his girlfriend Sarah is bringing me the goats and saying that they came to his voice and I am holding a dull knife and there are three measures of E minor between each goat.

In the end, bees descend on the carcasses, mistaking them for great blossoming flowers.

About the Author

Hailee Nielsen grew up in rural Michigan and currently lives in Ann Arbor. This is Nielsen’s first publication.

About the Artist

Find more of Mladen Borisov’s photography at Unsplash.

This story appeared in Issue Sixty-Seven of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Sixty-Seven

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