Above All, and with Great Pride, a Pig
by G. K. Wuori
This is a story about how a pig came to own her own house – a real pig, not a cartoon pig or an imaginary pig. This was a real pig.
By the way, there is a good chance that this story is not suitable for children.
She was not quite an ordinary sow, though a good-looking one, a Yorkshire with a swag to her mouth that gave her a perpetual smile. Nor was she a factory pig, one of those anonymous producers living a life and dying within the smelly confines of a long steel house with big fans to carry away the heavy air.
Her farmer often took her to schools and various social groups – Girl Scouts, Rotary, and Altrusa – to foster an understanding of meat production. In the many years since he’d graduated from college, too, he’d taken her to numerous meetings of his alumni association. They made a sweater for her one time with the university logo on it, and everyone agreed she just knocked your socks off.
She made friends easily, and all who met her thought her extremely sweet. Her farmer had named her Mrs. Higgins.
What made Mrs. Higgins special, though, was a certain sense of territory, an almost human imperative to lay claim to certain points in space and time. Bear in mind, however, that no one ever mistook Mrs. Higgins for a human, especially Mrs. Higgins. If it has ever been good to be a pig, the secret of that goodness had been given to Mrs. Higgins, and Mrs. Higgins did not tell her secrets. Naturally.
Perhaps because she had traveled around so much, she had a sense of home that coincided exactly with the boundaries of her farmer’s twelve-hundred acres. As is true on most midwestern farms, some of that land was fenced in and some of it was not. No matter to Mrs. Higgins – she wandered it all in search of the greens and grasses and grubs that made up much of her diet. Though her feeding trough never lacked for food, and she always had fresh water, her farmer joked that Mrs. Higgins simply liked to eat out.
Her farmer often referred to Mrs. Higgins as a peripatetic pig (a college man can say such things). He said the confining atmosphere of a feedlot clashed with her rolling independence. Though no one could have imagined Mrs. Higgins as anything less than a perfect mother, she found it difficult to settle down with a new litter and take care of all the business of feeding and washing and passing along the expectations placed on modern pigs.
“Life is short,” you can imagine her telling one of her litters, “and your destiny is one of service. Don’t be afraid to take a quick sip from the freedom bowl, because that’s likely all you’ll get.”
As revolutions go, Mrs. Higgins clearly urged but a modest one for her young charges.
Sometimes she’d walk around her pen dragging a piglet or two unwilling to release themselves from a nipple, and her farmer would smile and say, “Looks like Mrs. Higgins has been checking her Day Planner and found she has a lot to do.”
Nevertheless, if Mrs. Higgins roamed freely, she also roamed by the rules. Never once had she gone beyond the farm’s boundaries on her own, never once had she crossed a road that was not by recorded deed a part of her world. One time her farmer saw her sitting right on her butt in a spot where his land bordered the next county. Not even her tail, he noticed, twitched itself over onto foreign ground. “If only my wife could be so faithful,” her farmer had sighed. Mrs. Higgins had no idea what that meant because she was, above all, and with great pride, a pig.
Mrs. Higgins’s farm was only a mile or so out of town, so the edges of her land, along with the nearby crooked stream, and the three separate copses of woodsy haven were well-known to most of the children in town. Often, on quiet summer days, the children made rafts out of old tree branches and empty plastic milk jugs, rafts rarely launched, however, since the water depth hardly ever exceeded a foot or so unless it was the time of spring or fall rains. Occasionally, a sleepover resulted in a midnight walk out to one of the wooded areas where they placed blankets on the spongy ground, and where boring horror stories told in a family room took on a silent power beneath rustling leaves and the terrible uncertainties of darkness.
More than one child out there in the woods had a memory of being awakened in the middle of the night by Mrs. Higgins – a gentle nudge from her speckled snout, a hot wash on the cheek from those great nostrils. Never had anyone been scared by it because they all knew Mrs. Higgins, had fed her cookies in first grade, had watched her ride off to some educational display in the pickup truck with Mrs. Higgins painted on the side, had even, many of them, ridden her during the summer corn festival.
Mrs. Higgins, those children knew, stood watch on those scary nights. She protected them. No story ever made her withers quiver, though she might feel a bit agitated if the children gave her too many marshmallows. She liked them roasted over one of the tiny fires the children sometimes made.
Thus, when Mrs. Higgins’s farmer became ill, a whole host of troubles plopped down like apples falling from a tree.
“The man has no weight,” someone once said of him.
“He has wire for bones,” another added.
True enough, but his mysterious illness began to steal even that bit of substance until he began to look as though a small breeze blowing in from Laramie or Dubuque could do him serious harm. Over the course of several months, too, his wife had left him, rejoined him, and left him again, each time for a younger man. No one felt any great ire toward his wife for this behavior. Some women can handle the loneliness and the voices in the wind of farm life; others cannot. The ones who stick it out often become a little shack wacky, and don’t necessarily earn any points for their marital perseverance.
During one of her absences, however, he finally decided to sell the farm and move to a small house in town – his ailment now requiring leisure, his spirits requiring conversation about something other than corn futures or the price of diesel fuel. As a gesture toward his still-intact, if vacant, marriage, he had the locks of his new house keyed so they’d match the keys of the farm. If his wife returned he wanted her to know that the doors of the new house opened into their shared lives just as easily as had the doors of the farm house. People who had reason to comment on this quite often used the word noble (strange enough) or gentleman (stranger still).
The farmer’s wife, however, never returned. She was only eighteen, cute and shapely, and someone once said the farmer should have taken her to all those events and shows and fairs and showed her off. That’s why people always said that the young wife had simply been jealous of Mrs. Higgins.
Of course the farmer took Mrs. Higgins with him to his new house, a one-story bungalow built in the nineteen-thirties. It needed paint so the farmer painted it on those days when he felt okay. He had a man put some new wiring in, too, while another man shingled up the old roof.
“Tight and comfy,” he said to Mrs. Higgins as he showed her the bedroom he’d filled with corn husks and clean straw.
Mrs. Higgins seemed to appreciate that room. She slept there and on many occasions sat at her window and stared out at the street and the people and cars passing by. People noticed that and thought her a charming addition to the neighborhood.
House pigs are not unknown in the world, but Mrs. Higgins had never sought anything less than excellence in all she did, and she became an exemplary house pig. Her farmer, no doubt, appreciated the way she reserved the outside for certain personal needs. She also began seeing to it that their small house and yard exemplified accepted standards of civilized life. A few rodents quickly disappeared, as did several cats that liked to leave their smelly pee in the flowerbeds or sit beneath the farmer’s window and howl all night for casual sex.
When the farmer sensed that Mrs. Higgins missed the great freedom and the wandering independence of farm life, he had several neighbor boys take her for walks around town. The boys took her right out to the edges of the small town so before long she knew as precisely as any satellite map where the town belonged and where it did not. After that, she went everywhere – streets, sidewalks, lawns, garages, parks – and people even began to remark how quiet all the dogs had become. Truly quiet, as in cowed; Mrs. Higgins might eat a cat, but she would never eat a dog.
Gardens began to grow in great abundance, too, because Mrs. Higgins persuaded all the skunks and rabbits and raccoons to leave the gardens alone. Persuaded, somebody said (an oldster, obviously) the way John Wayne persuaded: I am here. This is how things will be.
One incident still sits in people’s minds, and nearly all the many versions of it come out the same. It was a tragic incident, so if there are children nearby you might want to tell them that sadness is looming.
It seems that one day the farmer decided to go for a walk. Someone said he had heard his young wife had come back to town and he’d gone out to look for her. No one is sure why he would have heard that story, though, since no one else heard it.
With the wind blowing in hard – nothing unusual about that in this area – he started out by going downtown. Appearing ghostly, sadly diminished, he looked into shop windows and even the windows of the old abandoned bank. Someone said he opened the door of the adult bookstore and looked inside there, too, since it had become an oddly popular spot for a lot of young women in town.
He made it to the cemetery (nothing morbid there; it is a dark and woodsy place, easily suitable for sitting and thinking about what life has to offer and wondering if there might be alternatives), then cut straight south to the behemoth of a mansion where Sybil O’Malley lived. Mrs. O’Malley’s husband, Albert, had financed nearly all of the town at one time or another with his bank, so people tended to speak in hushed tones about his widow.
“Tough as an old shoe,” someone might say, “but sharp. She ain’t lost nothing yet except maybe all them boyfriends she’s outlived.”
Mrs. O’Malley, though, also offered shelter to young women whose lives, she often said, “have all the texture, and sometimes the odor, of cat litter.”
The farmer, then, went down to Mrs. O’Malley’s to look for his wife. For as much as it made him happy, however, to see that a young girl whose mother had thrown her out of the house was finding redemption at Mrs. O’Malley’s, he felt saddened that it was not his young girl, his wife.
From there he began moving west on Mrs. Lincoln Street – due west, an exact west, west right into that DesMoines or Omaha or San Francisco wind, steady at about thirty miles an hour that day, gusting up to fifty.
For the farmer, progress (if it even could be called that, since he’d found no traces of his wife) came to a halt. He leaned forward; he went nowhere. Leaning farther, he thought that wind might grab onto his belly and fly him out of town, especially since he stood right in the middle of the street with nothing to hold on to. Feeling almost amused by his predicament, he sensed a temporary truce coming about. The wind agreed not to push him back if he agreed not to go forward. For a weak man, a sickly man, it was a decent settlement, although he began to wonder if at some point someone would find him right there; upright, dead, and smelly from an outstandingly strange starvation.
Naturally enough, it was Mrs. Higgins who found her farmer. It didn’t take her long because she knew his smell and as everyone knows a pig’s sense of smell is better than that of a beagle. Mrs. Higgins could smell a button in a snowdrift so she had no trouble finding her farmer.
He stood there leaning into the wind, as dead as anyone can be, and Mrs. Higgins seemed to sense that, seemed to sense, too, that propriety demanded relocation. With all the grace, then, that sadness will allow, she backed up against his legs until he fell right on top of her, his arms hanging down on each side of her body, his feet pointing behind.
She waited for her farmer to tell her what to do – Mrs. Higgins never presumied on the human protocol side of things – until eventually it seemed appropriate for her to take her farmer home. A few children claimed they witnessed this odd transit, but what children purport to know about animals is often not believed.
Mrs. Higgins snouted through the back door and took him into the living room and the soft carpet, then gave a massive shrug to her withers and hindquarters until she heard him thump softly onto his back. She even managed to push him around so that his head faced the television, since she knew he liked to watch the news at roughly this time every day. Hardly surprising, she had no idea how to turn the television on, but then it had never been her place to do so. A pig like Mrs. Higgins generally has a keen sense of what is normal and what is not.
Eventually, city officials discovered the farmer and removed and buried him, the service quite simple with only a few people there. Mrs. Higgins did not attend since pigs have learned how silly it is to fuss much over the dead.
There was money in his will for burial, and there was money to cover the taxes on his house for a long time.
Mrs. Higgins still lives in that house, nearly five years now. Someone built a swinging door in the kitchen so she could enter and leave without injuring her snout. But as to the question of having Mrs. Higgins vacate that house, well, no one’s ever brought it up. People in small towns aren’t very good at telling others how to live their lives, perhaps because they’re so close to each other they see that nearly all life-living is pretty hard. It’s a good rule, even if no one’s ever given much thought to whether it applies to pigs.
G. K. Wuori is the author of over a hundred stories published throughout the world in the U.S., Japan, India, Germany, Spain, Algeria, Ireland, and Brazil. A Pushcart Prize winner and recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship, his work has appeared in such journals as Eclectica, The Gettysburg Review, The Missouri Review, The Barcelona Review, Shenandoah, The Kenyon Review, StoryQuarterly, The Massachusetts Review, TriQuarterly, and Five Points. His most recent book is the novella, Now That I’m Ready To Tell You Everything (Vagabondage Press), and a new novella titled Infidelity will be published late this winter by Main Street Rag Publishing. He has a website at http://www.gkwuori.com and is associate editor of the literary journal, Kippis. He lives in DeKalb, Illinois.