A Pig of Great Importance
by Nancy McCurry
Lucy was the color of a Michelin radial after 40,000 arduous miles. She was bristled, pot-bellied and angry. A pig with issues hard to ignore. She was contemplative yet irascible, sedate yet volatile. When she was at the top of her game I’d lean over the fence to scratch her butt, she’d groan and warble sweet, then with the speed of an asp she’d lurch, mouth wide, intent on savaging my leg.
When Lucy first came to live with us I’d agreed to board her for $50 a month in one of the big open stalls. It was 20 by 25 feet, roofed. All she needed was food and water twice a day. Her owner, Jordan, would buy the feed and all would be fine in piggyland. But as time moved through its seasons the feed and fee agreement slouched. Lucy became our foster hog.
As one year became two, Lucy grew distant. She sunk deep in her wallow. Even the hens couldn’t cheer her. They gathered in her pen, dented the earth, and dusted themselves. But sink she did, and even on Dine-Lite Pig-Chow she gained prodigious weight, soaring well over a hundred pounds. I worried after her thyroid. What concerned me most was her lack of vigor. When she stopped charging at me I knew we had trouble.
The kids and I conferred. Clearly Lucy was depressed. She was overweight and imprisoned. I wanted to let her out of the pen, to stroll, to engage in the world of our busy yard. We were all afraid of Lucy but wanted the best for her. It was decided. We’d let her walk free.
I opened her gate and she grunted. That was all. She lay there, snug in her mud rut, a troll in repose, and watched me. It took days of coaxing, chumming her with food, but finally she came out of her lair. She’d stroll fifteen feet and no farther. Her cool-day position was hunkered in a dry dent she’d made outside her open pen door and there she stay, content.
Slowly her weight sloughed off. She became a wrinkled sow, her mood again recalcitrant, intractable. My heart lifted when she charged at a neighbor kid and scurried him up a fence. Lucy was on the mend. A year went by with little mishap. We gave the pig a wide berth and when I fed and said good morning she’d grump me her daily salute, which sounded exactly like good.
On Valentine’s Day, a cousin came to visit. It was a beautiful day, 76 degrees, sunny, clouds in a soft parade. Toby, then ten, and Ian, eight, were out back with splintered wooden swords and shields, slaying an unfortunate victim who lived invisibly at the tree fort. My husband, Malcom, and I were moving our stuff into the new Master bedroom at long last. He and I were mule and trog, trying to coerce the king-sized mattress around a tight bend and down the hallway when the screen door slammed and Toby came running, breathless. “Mom, Lucy’s having a seizure or something.”
“Yeah, she’s kicking up a ton of dirt and she’s grunting and going crazy.”
“She probably has her foot stuck under the fence again, Honey. She’ll work it out.”
“It’s not good, Mom,” he told me. “I mean it.”
Patting the big Sealy mattress I said, “We’ll check on her after Daddy and I move this thing.” The boys ran off at full-cry. The screen door slammed and I forgot about Lucy.
Fifteen minutes or an hour later the screen door banged again. I looked down the hall as Ian and Toby rounded the turn.
“She’s dead,” the boy said.
“Lucy’s dead. I poked her with my sword. She didn’t move.”
We froze there, face to face. I was caught in a stall and catch up. He searched my face, waiting for my lead one way or the other.
“Well, Honey, she might be sleeping. Did you stand quietly by her and sense the energy had left her body?”
He slumped. “She’s dead, Mom. As in: Dead.”
I moved to the screen door and looked out back. Her stillness was startling. I moved off leading the family in tow, a knotted congregation of apprehension and tip-toes. Both boys and a husband now followed, drifting like lace in creek water.
I knelt by Lucy’s body slunk in her dry dent, and put my hand over her heart. Vacant now. Empty.
Everyone stood around her. Sword tips dragged in the dirt forming letterless words. The kids didn’t know what to say, what to do.
Malcom said, “We should bury her, have a funeral.”
“You’re right,” I agreed, “Why don’t you guys go find a bunch of pretty things for Lucy.” And off they went on an exploration for what a pig might find beautiful. Malcom and I got shovels and began to dig.
The ground is hard here, the first eight or ten inches are sometimes impenetrable, so we figured we’d dig into her wallow, the mud rut that had been her home for so long. The ground was rich and forgiving, dark and full of health. I’d never dug such a big grave before, to watch tears fall into the earth, to shovel and prepare a new home. When we thought we’d gone deep enough we pulled Lucy along the ground and dropped her, with all allowable grace, into the hole. Though we tried to carefully guide her decent, she lay crinked and unright. Immediately our hearts took the same shape. Malcom reached in and gentled the sides of the hole with a trowel until she slid into a natural curve, the shape she’d taken inside her mother. Her head tucked, chin resting on her front legs, curled, again enwombed. Our hearts took a long breath. We brushed the dirt from her face.
The boys brought back hen feathers and a warm brown egg, and into the grave we put a few handfuls of sweet feed from the horses. We put in fine green alfalfa with its small purple blooms. They fanned the feathers and put them over her heart. The egg we put by her feet as we meandered through unguided prayer. We said I love you and some of us cried and we put in our handfuls of dirt, careful not to cover her face. Then the boys filed off and Malcom and I looked at each other, took up our shovels, and whispered good-bye to Lucy.
Later, Toby came and sat by me at the grave, our backs against the fence as the sun went down. Our small world set to the music of retiring hens. We were quiet a long time, holding hands. The boy looked at me and said, “You know, when we sat next to her there, when she was dead, it was the first time I wasn’t afraid of her.”
I smiled at him. “Me too.”
“It was terrible how she died. That fit she had. It was scary.”
“It must have been.” I pet his hair. “I think sometimes it must take a huge effort to lift the sweet spirit out of a body, to shake it loose, set it free again.”
His shoe bumped against my leg. “What do you think she’s doing in there right now?” he asked looking at the soft mound of dirt.
“I imagine she’s turning back into stardust.”
“Do you think she can see us?”
“What does your heart say, Baby?”
“I think she can. She can probably see everything now.”
Toby curled into me there, took that soft curve to his back, pulled his feet up close and we rested by the gate and watched as the earth put the sun to bed one more time.
About Nancy McCurry
Nancy McCurry lives in Phoenix, AZ and teaches research and writing at Paradise Valley Community College. She holds an MFA in Writing from Goddard College, and is a freelance editor specializing in structure and movement. She’s been granted publication and awards in Short Story, Flash Fiction, essay, and others. She has superpowers and lives an enviable life.