June 7, 2013

by Liz N. Clift

When the first goat came into Jasper’s — it walked on its hind legs — we thought it was a joke, something we could talk about at our day jobs. When the second one came in, we stopped scattering topping on pizzas, and stared. We watched Tina, the hostess, look flustered and then speak to the goats. We looked at each other, and muttered about the freaks that come in after 10 pm. We wished again that Jasper would put up one of those signs that said “Service Animals Only.”

When a cougar joined the goats a few minutes, we went back to checking on our tables. We wanted to distract our customers — even though most of them had already noticed the animals. A thin man in a pinstripe suit asked, loudly, “Is this one of those places where anything goes?” He didn’t seem angry.

Another man, one of our regulars who always came with a different woman called back, “Indeed man, it is.”

We laughed, and we could hear nervousness in our laughter.

Tina, the hostess, shot the bartender — who doubled as the bouncer — a look. He shook his head and shrugged. According to Jasper, we served anyone who didn’t appear drunk or high.

We gathered in the kitchen area and watched Tina seat them at a corner table – the discrete one we usually used for our significant others if they came in to wait for our shifts to end – then motioned her over to us.

“Did they talk to you?” Lisbeth asked. She looked at the table. Her table, tonight.

Tina nodded. “They’re expecting two more.”

“But they’re animals,” José said. He tossed a crust, and we could see it stretching too thin in the middle. “Fuck,” he said when he noticed. He frisbeed the ruined crust into the corner where we kept all the ruined crusts until someone had time to haul them to the dumpster.

Tina nodded again. “I thought at first that they might be theater kids,” she began. “In really realistic costumes.”

We nodded at Tina, even though we thought costumes that realistic would belong in a CG movie. Even though we’d all seen Intelimals around town over the past month. Together1, the lab in town had issued a press release at New Years. An experiment in intelligent design that took an unexpected turn. We’d heard people complaining that intelligent animals just weren’t natural and speculating angrily that between gay marriage and intelligent animals it wouldn’t be long before bestiality was made legal.

We nodded at Tina’s wish about costumes because you can never tell about the theater kids. Because we didn’t want to lose faith, whatever that amounted to for each us. Because we still didn’t want to believe Intelimals lived among us and even acted like us. Because we didn’t want to talk to animals.

“Anyone want my table?” Lisbeth asked. She smiled, but her voice wavered. She looked each of us in the eyes. We looked away.

“I’ll give you all my tips for the evening,” she bargained.

We continued to look away.

Lisbeth sighed. “Do I even give them water glasses? How will they pick them up?”

“Straws,” the bartended said. He wiped the bar carefully, and we couldn’t tell if he was making a joke.

Lisbeth shot a pleading look at all of us once more, then turned and started filling glasses.

We watched as Lisbeth placed the red glasses in front of each of the animals, and tossed a handful of straws on the table. We watched as they spoke to her, and as she spoke to them. We watched her dark ponytail bob as she spoke, the way she touched her left wrist three times — one of her nervous habits. We’d seen her do the same thing when she flirted.

We couldn’t hear what she said to the Intelimals or what they said to her over the kitchen sounds, and the Grateful Dead music Jasper insisted on playing every day. We all hated Grateful Dead after a couple weeks at Jasper’s. Three of us ignored our own orders as they came up, and we speculated on how many Intelimals existed.

“How’d it go?” José asked as Lisbeth came back. The muscles in his forearms ran patterns as he kneaded dough for tomorrow’s set of crusts.

“The goats want to start with a house salad,” she said. “Surprise, surprise. And the cougar wants to know if we can do a pizza without the crust.”

“Does he want the meat raw, too?” José asked.

“Nope,” Lisbeth replied. “Apparently she is on a low-carb diet.”

“A pizza without the crust is a custom salad,” Katie said without missing a beat. She was Jasper’s niece, and his assistant manager. She’d been at the restaurant since he opened it thirteen years ago. We all liked her because she’d help in the kitchen if we were shorthanded, or hostess, or placate angry customers, or jump in when the waitstaff got busy. She picked up a knife and started slicing red onion paper thin, without looking. “We had that back with the Atkin’s craze too. And the Paleo diet, come to think of it. Such BS.” She shook her head.

Katie never actually swore. She called it a vapid habit, and said if Jasper heard the language most of us used, we’d end up cleaning the grout with a toothbrush. His military persuasion coming through, she told us, even though he’d never served a day. We liked her because she laughed about Jasper too.

We checked on our tables. We’d seen a few people eyeing the Intelimals. We offered one table after another complimentary ice cream sundaes – what we always offered to placate upset customers. We wanted to head off problems before they started. We watched as the last two animals arrived – a small black bear and another cougar. We watched Tina seat them, and as Lisbeth brought them water, and then extra lemons for the bear.

We watched for hands to float to people’s sides — concealed carry laws are a bitch, we all agreed, especially in the service sector – and asked the bartender to call in the three plain clothes cops whose beat included Jasper’s. We didn’t like cops. We didn’t want trouble.


When the cops arrived — as a bro-pod, how they traveled most of the time — we sat them at a table where they’d have a clear view of the restaurant. Three men who looked more like prom kings than cops. We knew them well, because they spent too many hours profiling our clientele. We knew that one of them had an infant son, and that one used to be on the bowling team, and that one spent the better part of eight years marching across middle eastern deserts before getting out of the army. We’d watched one of them eat a whole Jasper’s Jumbo pizza by himself, on a dare from the other two, when all three were off duty. We’d each been offered bribes to inform on customers. All but one of us had turned them down. At least that’s what we told each other.

We knew the next time they saw José on the street, they’d stop-and-frisk him, on the excuse that he had priors — a prior, more specifically, he’d tell anyone who’d listen: a protest in New York, where the NYPD had pulled him off the sidewalk and into the street, and then arrested him after roughing him up pretty bad. He’d spent two nights in jail, under bogus charges, before being released.

The next hour passed and we fell into our normal routines of taking orders, refilling drinks, and running cards. We kept one eye on the corner table, and passed gossip to each other through the kitchen staff. The Intelimals each ate a salad, and then all of them except the first cougar split two Jasper’s Jumbo pizzas — both vegetarian, one with vegan cheese. We watched long tongues clean lips and fur, and the way that even the cougars and bear ate their food daintily, pausing to chew each bite thoroughly before swallowing. Like they felt self-conscious.

After they’d been there an hour, and mostly finished their meals except the bear who’d asked if we could do a fruit plate, Lisbeth told us they were discussing books and indie rock, like any of the twenty- and thirty-somethings that mostly populated the restaurant.

“What books?” José wanted to know.

“Doctor DooLittle?” Katie asked. She stood with a clipboard, taking inventory.

Lisbeth shook her head. “The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” she said. “They’ve even got copies on the table.”

Lisbeth and José started talking about the book. They were English majors, working their way through school. They talked about books whenever business was slow, and sometimes they’d pass books of poetry back and forth, exchanging furtive looks, as though a deal was going down. We speculated that they reserved study rooms in the university library, where they met and fucked. Once, we took Lisbeth out to the bar after work, just to get her drunk, hoping she’d be a talker. She wasn’t.


We kept an eye on the bro-pod, too. They got comped drinks and pizza, Jasper’s rule. He liked to stay on good terms with cops, because then they wouldn’t look too hard into his supply orders and what else was coming in with those supplies. Or at least that’s what we told each other. He didn’t like for any of us to open boxes or put supplies away — one of the only things he came in for regularly. The rest of the time, if we saw him, it was because he’d decided to spot check us — to keep us on our toes, he said.

The bro-pod downed soda like they’d never had it before, and traded slices of ten inch pizzas. We could tell they were bored and agitated. We watched them walk, one at time to the restrooms and linger just a second too long at some tables, on the pretext of letting one of us slide by with food. We watched them repeat the process an hour later. We overheard them talking about the animals — they said the freaks — as we waited on our tables, and two of us mentioned to the bartender that they sounded pretty angry. He shrugged. We wished for closing time.

When the Intelimals finished their meal, cash appeared on the table. Enough to cover the meal, plus a thirty-percent tip for Lisbeth. Juliana said she should’ve taken Lisbeth up on her offer to work the table that night. Juliana only worried about money. We speculated that she had a son with an acid habit who stole from her, or that she was taking care of an elderly parent, or that she was a materialistic bitch, or something worse, depending on how charitable we felt.

Usually we didn’t feel very charitable. Juliana was the newest addition to the wait staff and was the only one of us who never pooled her tips, or passed any off to the kitchen staff. She was the one who took bribes from the bro-pod, and let them know if she thought a customer was nefarious—her word. We’d talked to her about it, and she’d gotten angry and stormed out.

Even after they’d paid, the Intelimals continued to sit. Most of the restaurant had emptied out, and we could tell that the bro-pod was getting restless. In between angry grumbles about how unnatural the animals were, they’d talked loudly about sports and cars, and other things they thought would make them seem like normal men just out for an evening with the guys. One had tried again to get Tina’s number, and again, she said no. This happened whenever that particular cop walked in. We wondered why he couldn’t take the hint.

“Closing time,” Lisbeth finally said to the Intelimals, after midnight. The black bear swung his head around, and we watched Lisbeth take a step backward. One of the bro-podders stood, his hand already reaching for his weapon.

“Of course,” the bear rumbled.

We’d all swung by during our rounds, to refill waters and help Lisbeth bus the table, and we’d heard the goats and cougar speak — which we verified with each other, just wasn’t natural. They were animals, we repeated to each others. Animals. But somehow, we agreed, they sounded just as we’d expected. Especially the billy goat, we decided. He sounded, we agreed, like we’d imagined the biggest billy goat from The Billy Goats Gruff. We kind of liked it, we told ourselves later, when we talked about that night. We weren’t sure this was true.

Even José and the rest of the kitchen staff had managed to create an excuse to go by the table. They’d checked on the quality of the food, offered the animals a complimentary dessert. One of the dishwashers went over on the pretext of replacing a fork for a customer at the next table over, and had lingered long enough to hear the animals complaining about returning to Together1. When the dishwasher came back and told us this—he heard something about cages with electrodes built into the floor — we bit our lips.

We wondered what it was like to live in a lab, whether they were kept in cages all the time, if the scientists were ever kind to them. We figured that it couldn’t be too bad, if the scientists let the animals out for dinner. We told ourselves that the animals probably liked it, or that they didn’t know better. That at least in the lab, they had a safe place to sleep and that they probably got regular meals. Certainly, they looked well-fed. We ignored the way the animals all flinched when someone back in the dishwashing area dropped a pile of plates, and how afterward they’d looked nervous for half an hour. We ignored the scars on the side of the doe-goat’s abdomen, and the way the bear had asked Lisbeth to speak up because he was hard of hearing.

The Intelimals stood, and thanked Lisbeth for her patience. The bro-pod stood too, and acted like they were throwing cash on the table. The animals and the bro-pod were the only ones left in the restaurant. We’d cleaned the rest of the tables, prepped for the next day, and cleaned the kitchen. We’d closed out the register half an hour early, and usually most of us would’ve gone home — Juliana’d left as soon as her tables were gone. Katie didn’t say a word about us clocking out if we were going to stay longer.

But we didn’t want to leave Lisbeth and Katie alone with the bros and the animals. We told each other that wasn’t safe. The fact that the kitchen staff stayed too proved it, we told ourselves. Not safe.

The Intelimals left together, and we watched out the window, as they walked — trudged — in the direction of Together1. We tried not to notice the way they hung their heads. We watched as the bro-pod followed them, until they all disappeared into the darkness.

“Well, at least that’s something to tell my co-workers,” Lisbeth said. She was also work-study at the campus bookstore, about fifteen hours a week.

We nodded, and gathered our things. Maybe fifteen minutes passed, we decided later. We’d just entered the parking lot, after watching Katie lock up, when we heard a scream. It sounded like it came from just a couple of blocks away, in the direction of Together1.

Not a scared scream, or a startled scream, but a pain scream.

We looked at each other. We wished the bartender hadn’t bounced as soon as the bro-pod left. He usually carried a gun. He was trained in jiu-jitsu. He’d spent a year in jail after beating the shit out of someone who harassed his partner, and we knew that if he were around, he’d take off running toward the scream. We wanted someone else to take action.

“You think that’s because of the Intelimals?” someone asked.

We murmured responses. Later, we couldn’t remember what any of us had said for sure.

Another scream.

“What should we do?” Katie asked. She had her cell phone out. “Should I call the cops?”

We nodded, as we heard screams again — two this time, and heard them cut off abruptly. Katie put her phone away as she started walking toward where we’d heard the sounds, like it was a siren’s song.

“I’m going to go see what’s going on,” José said. He postured bravery, but we knew him well enough to know he was scared. He had the same look he’d had six months before when two men had started a fight at the bar. He pointed at one of the dishwashers — a guy in his late-twenties who’d worked for Jasper for longer than anyone but Katie, and one of us. “You and you, come with.”

We all followed. We weren’t sure we wanted to, but we definitely didn’t want to hear about it second-hand.

When we arrived, just outside the costume shop, we saw twin lines of fur in the road, that turned into twin lines of blood. Someone had a flashlight, and we could see the blood was fresh. We followed it from one street light to the next, saw how the fur almost sparkled in the light.

Four of us puked.

Cougar fur, we learned later.

We heard sobbing around the corner, and some of us went to investigate. We found the goats, their eyes swollen shut from OC. We’d seen the affects before, though never on animals. We wrapped our arms around their torsos. We spoke to them gently, tried to get them to tell us their names. We asked what’d happened. They rasped and wheezed and sobbed. We told them to keep crying.

We wondered what’d happened to the bear.


Later, when we talked about it, we couldn’t decide how long it took us to call the cops. We remembered almost deciding not to call the cops. We knew without being told that the bro-pod of cops had done it.

We found out later that we were right, that the cops had stood within inches of the goats and the cougars — the bear’d run off when the bro-pod approached, according to the goats – and OC’d them. Self-defense, the bro-pod countered. They’d been threatened, they said while wearing blue ties and smiles. What could you expect from animals, they implored the judge who heard the case. They said the bear running off was proof that they’d been threatened. They didn’t explain how this was proof.

They claimed the cougars, blinded by pepper spray, had stumbled into the street and been hit by a semi. No one questioned how a semi could’ve dragged their bodies 300 yards while driving 30 mph through town, or if this was true, how their bodies had been ripped from their heads in the process.

The goats’ defense lawyer – someone hired by Together1 – tried to gain access to the security footage from two cameras near where we found the goats. The lawyer learned that the cameras were dummies.

Convenient, we said to each other, when we learned this. People came into Jasper’s and pressed us for details.

“I hear you were there,” the customers would begin.

Or “My cousin/brother/aunt was here the same night as the animals. Is it true they talked?”

Or, “Did you really get called as a witness?”

We didn’t answer questions. We said we’d been ordered not to speak about it while the investigation was active. A lie.

We waited for people to forget, and for the winter rains to come and wash the blood from the street.

We flinched when any one of the bro-pod came in, even when they were off-duty, or when José came in and said that once again they’d stopped him on the street. We asked him not to walk home alone after work anymore, and offered him rides back to his place.

We spit in the bro-pod’s drinks, when we thought we could get away with it. We spoke about that night in low voices, and small groups, at bars after work. A couple of us, including the dishwasher José had tapped to go with him when we heard the screams, started drinking too much. Sometimes we came to work still a little tipsy from the night before.

Four people, including Tina, quit within the month. Just walked out. We hired new people, who, thanks to Katie’s screening, had somehow missed the news that the Intelimals had ever come into Jasper’s. Things started to feel more normal.

Those of us that were left wondered if there were more Intelimals, still at Together1. We thought we’d seen other animals around town – donkeys and kangaroos and sheep – before that night. But after the incident, Together1 declined to comment about any other animals, or about the goats. We wondered if the goats were still alive or if Together1 had terminated the experiment.

We wondered if the bear was still alive, if Together1 knew where he was, if we’d see him again.

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Liz N. Clift holds a MFA in Creative Writing & Environment from Iowa State University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The MacGuffin, WomenArts Quarterly, The Tulane Review, and others. She lives in Oregon. Find her online at Fractals and Frost.

Categories: Animals in the City Tags:
  1. June 9, 2013 at 8:31 am

    Wow. Astonishing play with prejudices, expectations and moral twists. This definitely is my favourite short story of the week, i just posted the link at #storysunday. Looking forward to more of your work!

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