Directly under the canopied entrance of the Felicity Hotel, the goat stood mute and honey-eyed on the damp sidewalk. Long horns curved neatly behind and above each of the goat’s ears. Something about the way that it stood with its delicate hooves planted on the pavement and its short tail flicking slowly like a cat’s gave the animal a funny attitude of unyielding patience. An observer who could overlook a good serving of absurdity might think that the animal seemed to be waiting. At the moment, however, the only people sharing the street with the goat drove right past it. If they caught the blurry shape of an animal in the corner of their eyes, it was dismissed as a stray dog, an odd-shaped bush, or a large bag of garbage. In the end, Sadie would be the only one to get a good look at the goat. And that was how it was meant to be anyway.
Sadie had moved with a swift and single-minded focus as soon as she left her room that morning. Her hotel room was still dark when she stumbled into the bathroom and brushed her teeth. She’d cleaned them with a fury that left little streaks of blood in the minty froth and scrubbed her face with the same frenzy. Her door’s lock engaged with a small beep and Sadie walked down the hallway fast enough to feel a breeze in her wet hair. She’d text Madeline later. Get her a cup of coffee. Apologize for leaving early.
But like sprinting headfirst into a cement wall, Sadie’s forward momentum through the first couple hours of the morning came to a bone-cracking stop when she saw the animal waiting for her outside the hotel’s wide double doors. Water seeped into Sadie’s shoes as she stood still, a slim finger of generational superstition tracing a line of ice down her back. Sadie remembered Gran’s stories, reflexively scoffed, and then found herself unable to swallow the lump in her throat. She couldn’t meet the creature’s gaze, and couldn’t turn away from it either. A candy wrapper caught in a breeze tumbled past the two animals at last and the goat was the first to move. It cantered away, unbothered, only stopping mid-block to nibble a high scruff of ragweed growing between the cracks in the sidewalk.
Sadie looked back through the doors at the attendant who snoozed against the marble frame and tapped on the glass. She wanted to wake him up, peel his eyes open to make him look at the animal. A bad omen is even worse if you’re the only one to see it. But the doorman only stirred a little in his sleep. Asshole. Sadie hitched her purse higher up on her shoulder, trying to regain the focus she’d had before seeing the beast. She kept her eyes on her feet for a full six blocks.
The bag that Sadie carried slid down her arm as she walked, settling densely around her elbow and tugging at the skin. It was heavy, expensive, and still had the tag attached. She’d tucked the paper slip up into the folds of the leather hand strap two nights before when she sat down at the hotel’s bar. Despite the weight, there were only two things inside of it. A used train ticket and The Abortion of Venus. The statuette was silver, or aluminum, or a copper and sterling alloy, Sadie couldn’t remember. But it was one in a series of twenty-three miniature figure sculptures. At his apartment a few hours after they’d left the hotel together, Lorenzo had led Sadie into his studio. The high ceilinged and brightly lit room reeked of turpentine, oil paint and prodded her fledgling hangover.
“Who’s your inspiration?” Sadie had asked, looking at the army of painted, sculpted, and sketched naked women guarding the studio. Lorenzo took a long time to respond, squinting at his work and draining the last sip of his drink.
“My mom, probably.”
Most of the subjects had their faces turned away, covered with buckets, blankets,
or giant flowers.
Sadie nodded, “She’s got great tits.”
The next morning, Sadie had really only wanted to take a final look at the studio. She wanted to memorize all the parts of it that would make Madeline laugh or roll her eyes. But as Sadie turned to leave, she saw the Venus statutes glinting in the low light of the studio. They seemed to produce an alluring warmth on their own, like a tiny militia of mammarian candles. She walked closer. And wanted. That’s what it all came down to really. Sadie wanted to take one because it was beautiful and she could sell it. She wanted to take one because she didn’t think Lorenzo would notice and because the night before, he said Sadie reminded him of Mama Cass and she’d hated him for it. But all of her various motivations flicked past Sadie’s notice in an eighteenth of a second. Thinking that she was acting on blind impulse, Sadie had plucked a statuette from its ranks and tossed it into the black depths of her purse.
She had set the sculpture on the dresser in her hotel room later and stared at it for the duration of a full cup of coffee. If Sadie felt guilty it was beside the point. The threat of consequence was enough to make her feel sick to her stomach when she looked at the sculpture, but she couldn’t pull her eyes away from it. It reminded Sadie of the first time she’d had seen her father staring at Tamara.
“-So the lady says, ‘We’re closed! Beat it!” Tamara had cackled loudly at her own joke about the hooker and the long haul truck driver and Sadie recalled that it was a strange sound in the large office that was usually only perforated with clipped conversations amid a dizzy mixture of ringing phones and tapping keys. Sadie had laughed. Her father had laughed too.
Sadie never thought that her father’s assistant really looked the part, she was broadly built and more handsome than coquettish. But Tamara’s allure was in her charisma and the slight disfigurement of her eyes. Sadie hadn’t noticed at first, not until that day when Tamara had tilted her head back so that the bright office lights shone into her face. Instead of round pupils, both were stretched into long, horizontal slits. If Sadie’s father ever noticed, he didn’t show it. He’d never taken any stock in the family omen, at least not then. He had laughed at her joke and he gazed at her with his own eyes cast with layers of excitement and awe, fortified with contempt.
Sadie couldn’t see her own face but she knew that it looked exactly the same as her father’s had as she sat in front of The Abortion of Venus hating and loving it. It would have to be returned. Sadie decided it then.
Visiting the city was all Madeline’s idea in the first place. Not that Sadie could blame her.
“Take a few days off work and come and stay at the hotel,” Madeline had said, “Maybe you’ll meet someone,” Sadie heard muted conversation in the background, the sound of a busy lobby, “I mean really, the amount of eligible bachelors that check into this hotel is unbelievable and God knows I’m too old for them. Come on. Being around rich people is good luck anyway. Maybe you’ll restore the family fortune.”
Luck. Madeline knew better than to bait Sadie with that whiff of superstition.
“Don’t you roll your eyes at me,” Madeline said, popping her gum on the other end of the phone, “Anyway, it’s on the house. I owe you one, don’t I.”
“You don’t owe me anything.” Sadie had snorted, but two nights later, she was seated beside her former nanny in a corner booth at the Felicity Hotel. Madeline had owned the Felicity for some seven years and told Sadie and anyone else who would listen that her first alteration to the hotel was to add a Steinway baby grand to the lobby. Sadie could see its black enameled lid gleaming in the warm lights of the lobby from where she sat. The dining room was heady with the sound of chattering guests and the smell of food and wine. Sadie watched a child reach out to touch the piano, and his mother snatched him back.
“How’d you do it, Madeline?” Sadie had asked.
“How’d I do what?” Madeline asked through a bite of a baked potato.
Sadie gestured at the hotel, “All of this. How’d you turn things around like this?”
“Well, you know how it is,” Madeline patted her lips on a cloth napkin, “Probably rage.”
Sadie shook her head.
“You remember when I lost my job. Well no, got fired. Probably not, it was right around when your dad had one of his first trials. Anyway, David left, I got about a million parking tickets, and my Japanese Fighting Fish died. That was when I showed up at your place with that terrible wine, remember?” Madeline almost laughed. “I never thank you enough for letting me stay so long. Anyway, I wasn’t sad. I was furious at absolutely everything in the world,” Madeline chewed, lost in thought, “I’m not saying this to flatter myself. I know how it sounds and I’m ashamed of how angry I was, but truly, it propelled me.”
“Well, it’s worked for you,” Sadie said.
“Maybe. But I don’t think my case is unusual,” Madeline shrugged, “nobody ever says that about women.”
“That we’re angry, no one ever says that.”
Sadie had only smiled then. It was rare in conversations with Madeline, but she hadn’t known what else to say.
The purse digging into Sadie’s elbow as she walked away from the hotel came from a boutique on the corner of Williams and Shrike Street. When Sadie bought it, she’d considered it an investment. If it was part of a costume that didn’t matter. It was good luck. Madeline had said so and maybe it just hadn’t started to work yet. The shop smelled the same way it had when Sadie had first entered. Leather, floor polish, Chanel perfume, and the faintest hint of someone’s microwaved lunch. Sadie smoothed her hair back away from her face and approached the register.
“Here for a return?” The woman at the register was nearly a foot shorter than Sadie and looked up at her with the dark, expectant eyes of a mongoose or some other small, quick predator. She must have remembered Sadie from her first visit. Placing the receipt on the counter, Sadie shuffled, trying to move the sculpture to the pocket of her coat with a grace that her body couldn’t quite orchestrate.
The woman raised an eyebrow, “Since you have used the piece, we may not be able to refund you the full price, just so you’re aware.”
“Oh it’s in perfect condition, don’t worry.”
The woman began a careful inspection. She laced one tiny finger around the handle and revealed the price tag, glancing up at Sadie for a beat. Half of a conspiratorial smile.
The woman sighed, a name tag on her breast read ‘Belinda.’ Bullshit, Sadie thought, bet it’s Ashley. A flick of motion raised Sadie’s eyes to the large mirror behind the register. Sadie’s insides flinched and a hot flush of alarm ran over her skin. Outside on the sidewalk, the goat stopped in front of the store for a beat, just long enough for Sadie to have a glimpse of it before trotting easily out of view.
“What’s this here?”
Sadie jumped, Belinda pointed at a tiny white smudge with the sharpened tip of her blue enameled fingernail.
“I dunno,” Sadie lied with a shrug, “It was there when I bought it.”
“Do you not know what it is or was it there when you bought it? If it was there when you bought it, why would you buy damaged merchandise?”
“I don’t know,” Sadie said, “I thought it was part of the design.”
Belinda raised the bag to her nose and took a deep sniff. Looked Sadie straight in the eye. “Bagel with lox,” she said definitively.
“-Partial refund,” Belinda said, crossing her tiny arms.
“Fine.” Sadie said, “but no less than three hundred dollars.”
“I’ll give you two.”
“Two. We’re not bartering. I’m being nice to you.” Belinda tapped her way smartly through the computer system. Ding, snap, Belinda, set a plastic card on the counter.
“It’s store credit.”
“Can I just have money?”
“Listen to me, I truly – I genuinely wish that I could do that, look at me, I mean it. But you brought in damaged merchandise. It looks like you were using the bag as a napkin for gods’ sake. And, frankly, if I’m being completely honest with you, I have a plate of carbonara waiting for me in the back that’s already gotten cold, so please,” She pushed the bright pink card closer to Sadie, “take the store credit.”
Sadie snatched the credit card and jammed it into her back pocket, face burning.
“That’s very pretty!” the woman said when Sadie reached the door.
“What?” Sadie snapped.
“The little sculpture you have. It’s pretty.”
Sadie could only look at the woman.
“I mean that.” the mongoose said, “really.”
Sadie left the store, rubbing a saliva-dampened finger over the smudge.
Lorenzo lived in a condominium in the same neighborhood of stolid, molasses-colored buildings that Sadie had lived in as a child. If she were to walk past her old house, Sadie was sure it would look the same, four brick stories, with gleaming windows. But Sadie didn’t need to walk past it. She could remember every single day she’d lived in that house, and the memories stood out in clearer definition than some of her more recent years.
Walking up the broad front steps to Lorenzo’s building that were so much like the ones leading up to her old home, Sadie felt her child-self, and her teen-self follow behind her in such vivid memory that time seemed to fold in half, pressing the past and the present tightly against one another. She could smell the life that she’d lived before, hear the sound of red and black checkers pieces being snapped onto the board by her Gran’s knobby fingers. Gran had always introduced the old story in the same way.
“Your great grandfather hadn’t even left Halifax, he didn’t have enough money. So late one night, he snuck over to where his friend lived, a quarter-mile east of his family’s farm. This friend of his was doing much better than your great grandfather was, so he decided that he’d steal just one of his friend’s goats. He planned to sell it, just enough for a train ticket. Just one, it couldn’t hurt, right?”
“How many did his friend have?” Sadie had asked her grandmother
“I don’t know, plenty. More than one. Goats to spare. In any case, Frank creeps into his best friend’s stables and sees a big fat goat laying in a pile of hay just waiting for him. Just so.” Sadie’s grandmother had mimicked a heavy sleep and began snoring.
“Finish the story!” Sadie had always demanded, although she already knew the ending.
“Oh yes, so he grabs the goat and throws it over his shoulder. Now, an important thing to know about goats is that they are herd creatures, they tend to behave the as a collective, so as soon as the fat goat that Frank had tossed onto his shoulder started squealing, the other ones woke up and began to do the same, making an awful noise like hell itself. Now Frank was a gentle man for the rest of his life in most things, but that night, I think something had come over him. He slaughtered all five of those animals with his fishing knife. And when he was done he headed for the woods. But this is the important part.”
“Just before he reached the edge of the forest he looked behind him. And standing there in the middle of the pasture was his friend’s deaf-mute little sister, just standing there watching him. Frank had always liked this girl, and by all accounts, there was nothing peculiar about her besides her being deaf if that even counts. But that night, Frank swore that when he saw her standing in the field a hundred feet behind him, she had a pair of long, curved horns growing out from her little blonde head.”
“Then what happened?”
“Nothing. Frank sold the meat and got on the first train he could find. And you know the rest.”
“Move your piece, It’s your turn.”
Maybe Sadie was about to die, that was usually the way her grandmother’s stories went. The goat. The family harbinger of chaos. The superstition wasn’t old enough to scare Sadie as a child. It felt cartoonish, and not unlike the kind of thing that a very old person would make up to pass the time.
Sadie tapped the key code into the front door to Lorenzo’s building, inside it was cool and quiet and she felt her heartbeat slow for the first time all morning since she’d seen the goat. Suite number eight on the third floor. That was where Lorenzo lived. Jittery, Sadie knocked on the door and adjusted her cleavage. She listened to the quiet shuffling on the other side of the wall. A woman in a Winne the Pooh sweater stood in front of Sadie, she looked about fifty and had one eyebrow drawn on and an eyeliner pencil in her hand.
“Are you looking for Lorenzo?” the woman said.
Sadie looked up in surprise, “Yes, I am.”
“He’s number nine dear,”
“Oh. That’s right. Thank you, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry dear, it happens all the time.”
Lorenzo answered the door in only a towel, but his skin and hair were dry and he had his phone in his hand.
“Hey you!” he said, “what a welcome surprise, come on in”
“Thanks,” Sadie said.
“I was just doing some modeling with Xander. A young man sat in front of a massive canvas and looked at Sadie with drowsy gray eyes. “Xander, this is my new friend.”
“Nice to meet you,” Xander said, “Call me Jasper.”
“Will do,” Sadie said.
“You look so nice!” Lorenzo said, giving Sadie’s arm an affectionate squeeze, “do you want a cup of coffee?”
“I, uh, think I forgot my hairbrush here actually.”
“I could never tell, your hair looks fantastic. Like cornsilk or something.”
“D’you mind if I just take a quick look?” Sadie said.
“Sure, I’ll come with you.”
The bedroom was smaller than Sadie remembered. Alone with Lorenzo and now painfully sober, a self-conscious silence pressed in on them. Sadie noticed things she hadn’t seen before as she feigned a search. A very large, unframed photo hung above the bed. Lorenzo and his family, all dressed in white were pictured in a portrait that took up nearly the entire wall. How had she not noticed it before? Lorenzo was holding a miniature schnauzer in the picture and when she looked closer she had to bite down hard on her lip.
“You like the family portrait?” Lorenzo said. His eyes lost their usual disinterest when he looked at his family, “Annie did that for us.”
“It’s beautiful, you all look so happy. When was it taken?”
“Just a few years ago. I like to keep it here, I don’t get to see my family as much since they moved to the house in San Diego. I miss them.”
There was real longing in Lorenzo’s eyes. It was the first time that Sadie had seen any emotion on his face aside from the polite enthusiasm that he seemed to carry with him everywhere. Sadie wondered why Lorenzo hadn’t gone with his flock to San Diego and it struck her that she would never find out.
“Your dog has an erection,” Sadie offered.
Lorenzo was silent for a moment and Sadie felt sharply like a stranger in a stranger’s home.
“Really?” Lorenzo asked, looking closer. Maybe hoping that she was wrong so he could call security on the pervert who’d stumbled into his bedroom.
“Wow. You’re right. You’re very observant, I never even noticed that. Tin Tin got those sometimes. Was that the first thing you saw?”
Sadie peeked into the bathroom, noticing three toothbrushes by the sink and a long line of orange pill bottles arranged like soldiers above it. She fought the urge to read the labels.
“No,” Sadie responded, “it was the kid with the missing eyebrow.
“Oh, that’s my cousin, Bink. He’s a bit troubled these days.”
“I don’t think my brush is in here.”
“Lorenzo!” the two-named artist bellowed from downstairs.
“What,” Lorenzo roared back, his face red with effort.
“Get back down here, I have an exhibit in a week and this piece isn’t going to model itself!”
Lorenzo rolled his eyes and recovered his pleasant demeanor.
“Sorry,” he said, “he could have picked any other model, but he chose me. Do you want anything? A cup of tea? Do you want to have sex again?”
Bink stared down at Sadie with his small, angry eyes, “no thanks, not in front of the family.”
“Ok, Meet you downstairs, then.”
When Sadie heard Lorenzo’s bare feet hit the last step, she crept into the studio. She placed the sculpture back among its sisters, feeling a nudge of regret as soon as it left her hands.
Downstairs, Xander had begun adding color to his canvas, Lorenzo was looking straight ahead, but Xander looked up at Sadie for an appraising moment. He stretched his arms and yawned, making a show of being at ease and knowing that Sadie wasn’t.
“Have you ever modeled before?” He asked.
Sadie laughed, “No, it’s not for me.”
“Maybe you’re right. You do look familiar though,” he cocked his head, ” what’s your name again?”
Sadie winced. She could lie, she often did when asked that question.
He squinted for what felt like a full thirty seconds. “You’re not related to Dick Johnson-Patterson, are you? The senator?”
Sadie didn’t say anything
“No way,” Lorenzo said, his attention swinging around onto Sadie like a spotlight.
“I remember when all of that happened, and God, his name was too perfect. Dick Johnson. Didn’t he crash his car trying to drive to Tijuana with the other woman? Didn’t you testify or something? I feel like I saw you on TV.” Lorenzo was excited now and he looked at Sadie with something wavering between admiration and disdain. Even through hot discomfort, Sadie felt the dim glow of delight in Lorenzo’s unbroken attention.
“They weren’t driving to Tijuana, just to Philly.” Sadie said, “And I just had to testify that she worked in the office a lot and that they knew each other, not that exciting.”
“Yeah, but it is though! Plus he gave her all that money. And then the video. Oh my god, that must have been so gross for you.”
“I never watched it,” Sadie said, “but I heard it got great reviews.”
“You must have hated her, what was she, like a year older than you?”
“I actually kind of liked Tamara the few times I met her,” Sadie shrugged, “She was really funny.”
“Tamara Tovar,” Lorenzo sighed as if he were lost in a happy memory, “She was fine though. What happened to her?”
“She died. Remember? The car-”
“-Oh. That’s right. The Corvette.” Lorenzo shifted in his towel. “Bet your mom was happy about that.” Lorenzo laughed lightly. Outside a siren wailed.
“You want a glass of water or something before you leave?” Lorenzo asked.
“No. Can I use your bathroom, though?”
Lorenzo gestured upstairs. “Of course. The bathroom’s right next to the studio.”
Sadie woke up earlier than she’d needed to and had left a short note for Madeline on the dresser, promising to see her again soon and really meant it. The fog made the city seem alien as Sadie walked to the station, just a bit unfamiliar and off-center but the streets were crowded again. People hustled out of buildings, spilled drops of coffee on their shoes, they drove by in cars or walked on the sidewalk. Some smiled shyly when eye contact was made. Other people, with their own family curses and red umbrellas and unshaved stubble and secrets and delights and miseries kept their eyes down. Sadie was overwhelmed by so many small universes brushing past her as she made her way inside the train station.
On the platform, it was quieter. A young woman with two children in tow, a hungover businessman shuffled by. The purse sat heavily on Sadie’s thighs as she waited for the train. Sadie’s drowsy stupor was punctured however when she looked toward the far end of the platform. A large, dark brown goat was standing under the shelter, looking straight at her with a pair of yellow eyes. Heart pounding, Sadie met its gaze. Maybe she had lost her mind. If that was true, she wouldn’t find out for certain by sitting a hundred feet away from the animal. She approached the goat, expecting it to disappear into the mist or gallop away. It stayed still, just like it had outside of the hotel the morning before. The goat waited for her under the shelter and its ear twitched slightly when the train announcements blared through the station.
Sadie took a seat on the bench in front of the goat, she could smell hay and fur and dung. Holding her in its long-lashed gaze, Sadie saw some kind of gentleness in its eyes, a still-watered acceptance of its own nonsense and hers. Sadie reached out her hand toward the beast. Maybe her fingers would sink into nothing, like trying to touch the fog itself. Maybe the goat would rear its head back and sink fangs into the fleshy palm of her hand. But Sadie’s hand found the goat’s broad cheek. It was warm and material, coarse and slightly gritty with dander.
Sadie might have kept her hand there indefinitely, wondering at the absolute peculiarity of the moment if the train hadn’t barreled into the platform. The doors opened and people rushed out like blood from a wound. The silence of the platform shattered with countless conversations and the busy threads of the many lives that had hustled out onto it. If anyone saw the goat, they took no notice of it, there wasn’t time. Ambling into the crowd, the goat was soon engulfed, and Sadie could no longer see it
Towards the back of the car, Sadie settled herself into a seat. Outside, buildings flicked by and shrunk down into smaller houses that grew farther and farther apart. Standing on a large rock at the edge of a clearing, just visible in the shrinking distance, Sadie saw it for the last time. The silhouette of a goat with its horns reaching up into the sky. Raising two fingers to her eyebrow, Sadie flicked them away. She saluted the animal. Goodbye, Cutie Pie. Almost out of sight, Sadie could have sworn that the goat ducked its head in response, a nod of acceptance. A patch of early sunlight stuttered through the trees and telephone poles before pouring wholeheartedly into the window as the train crossed an open field. In her lap, the small aluminum sculpture caught the light and reflected it back into her face and Sadie laughed aloud.
Anna Schaeffer is a writer and cartoonist living in Portland, Maine. Anna’s writing is deeply inspired by visual art, particularly the work of painter Rene Magritte. Anna’s writing generally explores collisions between every day life and the bizarre, absurd or otherworldly. Her work can be found online and in-print with Adelaide Literary Magazine, Variant Literature, Driftwood Press, The Santa Clara Review and more. In her free time, Anna is usually running or eating strawberries.