The Hog Drive
by Gregory Ariail
The most memorable words in the language aren’t as beautiful as the things themselves: wood sorrel, geranium, October bean, Cherokee purple tomato, cushaw squash, bronze fennel. I observe my garden with a mother’s eye, holding my belly in my hands.
It’s not mist sinking down the mountains this June morning but an ocean of hogs. They pour down like a line of latitude descending, inescapable, muddy, the mythical Okefenokee released.
Husband dead of a stroke at thirty. Cousin after the horror drank herself to death. Father still alive somewhere but has never been any help. Mother, whether alive or dead, belongs to the past.
The earth thunders. The drivers yell: “Suueey! Suueey!” The hog-wave thickens.
I’m trampled, picked up, bouncing upon the backs of hogs, who, when aware of me, do their best to keep me afloat and not let me sink under their hooves. Their flesh radiates scarlet heat.
My garden, refuge of sweat and blood, where I came to pray when my husband died and my son began to flourish inside me—gone. Trampled into a waste of mud without a single memorial weed.
I’m carried towards the slaughter fields of Georgia. I recognize the mountains of my husband’s kin. The granite cliffs like frozen mirrors. The pine trees orange with age and disease.
If I had a sermon to give, it’d be: find a hardworking mate. Don’t despair if all you own is a garden. If you annoy people at first, keep annoying them, and they’ll eventually love you.
At resting points, I thrust my head into the troughs with the rest of the hogs. The fodder we eat isn’t the kind that’ll keep you strong all day. Just corn stalks, potato skins, and rotting hay. When they’re finished eating, the hogs lick my swollen belly with warm geographic tongues.
We depart when the earth cools off. I get no rest on their jolting, shifting backs as they stampede into the night. The lashes of the whips never touch me thanks to their guardianship.
Many days. Days and days. Past scorched foothills, muddy rivers, bonfires, moonshine stills, and cotton fields. My son hasn’t moved inside me for too long. My life is fully submerged in darkness.
A plateau fattens the horizon. Atop it are black crucifixes. I sense that it’s the endpoint. The hogs and I are driven up the plateau’s sides. Crumbling clay sweeps downward as we climb towards the sky.
Healthy men await us at the top. Thousands. The entire male population of the piedmont must be on this plateau. They stare at us with lascivious eyes, removing hammers and nails from their pockets. With my swollen belly and mud-caked skin they mistake me for a hog. They grab me by the arms and legs, hoisting me up to a cross and pinning me at the point where the beams intersect. Nails are driven through my shinbones and wrists. They do the same thing to all the hogs.
One hog, a wise elder, screams “sueey, sueey,” so that the men gather below the cross it’s suspended on. They whisper to each other, impressed. “That’s a keeper,” says one man to another. They extract nails from the hind limbs that are twined together and the two forelimbs stretched apart.
The other hogs in the vicinity imitate it, screaming “sueey!,” hoping to have the same luck. But the men are only impressed with the initiator. The freed hog trots around and rubs against them. It doesn’t lash out in vengeance. It stands on its bloody hind legs like an acolyte.
No longer do the hogs have any thought of me. They open their eyes only to close them.
Butcher parties come with weapons. Scythes, cleavers, and rusty swords. I cannot bear the cascading slop of organs. I cannot bear to see those bodies destroyed. I want to reach out a hand to them but can’t.
When the butchers arrive at my cross, I stammer so unintelligibly that they still don’t know me for a woman. My swollen belly proves enticing. They begin there, making a curved incision, despite my wild squirms and cries.
“What a paunch!”
“Pork belly for a year!”
“We got ourselves a screamer!”
Out spills an unformed human face. The butchers haul it out of me, stretching the umbilical cord that is no umbilical cord but a beard. No little limbs. No breathing nose or mouth. No ears to hear the sounds I’ve saved up inside me. Just a slab of jelly with two eyes and a beard.
“Bury my son,” I cry, the tongue’s spell broken.
Now the butchers understand their mistake. They gaze at me with new eyes. Sad eyes. They grip their overalls. They walk in circles. “A woman!” they yell to each other across the plateau.
They weep for me and my son but not for the leavings of the hogs nailed to crosses as far as the eye can see.
They want to take me down but I don’t let them. That’s over with. At my command, they use their weapons to dig a hole at the foot of the cross. The face of my son is covered with red clay.
“Plant a garden where he lies,” I say. “With heirloom seeds.” And they do. A raised circular mound, a three sisters garden, seeded with white flour corn, October beans, and cushaw squash.
They kiss my feet, those dried legumes. I’m not who they think I am. I’m not a miracle. Nonetheless I tell them a story—about a son so huge he can pick up his mother with one hoof.
About Gregory Ariail
Gregory Ariail is from Georgia. His work has appeared in DIAGRAM, The Golden Key, The Millions, The Molotov Cocktail, and others.