A Twist in the Wires
On the day the pigs went free, a nurse phoned Maggie Williger to tell her the clinic was still open and that they would do the abortion. If you really think you can make it, the nurse told her. They’re getting pretty thick out there.
As she hung up the cell phone Maggie looked from the front window of her parents’ house, where a pair of hogs wandered, heads down, near the asphalt center of the cul-de-sac. She was eighteen years old, home for her first collegiate summer and pregnant with her first accidental child. She had already decided on the fix and, chewing the inside of her cheek, had vowed not to be deterred by a few of her grandfather’s runaway pigs.
On the living room couch behind her sat the accidental father, a lanky boy pulling white tube socks onto his chicken legs. She looked at him and felt a sort of benign regret, like picking a scoop of vanilla ice cream when chocolate was still an option. Peter Fisher was one of the boys she’d known at Charity High School, and she had never thought of him as anything more than a mistake. With the clinic visit looming, she thought of him now as a mistake soon to be undone.
Hurry up, she told him. We can still make it.
She went into her bedroom for one last look in her mirror, removed her shirt, pulled her breasts toward her armpits, prayed Peter wouldn’t follow her into the bedroom and ask even once more if this is really what she wanted, held her belly to its full curve, turned sideways as if in a mug shot, decided there really had been no change at all, hoped Peter would hurry with his damn shoes, thought twice about the time at Girl Scout Camp when she’d lost a root-beer-drinking contest and became convinced she would burst, allowed one finger to circle the sensitive ring around her belly button, thought of her mother, thought of her grandmother dead in childbirth, heard Peter turn up the volume on the television news report about the pigs, afforded one deserved and self-indulgent sigh, and pulled her shirt back on.
Back in the living room, Peter had finished with his shoes. When Maggie reappeared he tried to smile at her in a way that might suggest that everything was all right, that they would get through the day, and that he, Peter Fisher, had loved her since they were bike-pedaling children.
But she didn’t return his smile. Or his love. Instead she asked what they were saying on the news about the pigs.
They don’t know everything yet, he told her. How do you think they all got off your grandpa’s farm?
I don’t know, she said, truthfully. She knew almost nothing of the great Williger pig farm or the man named Karl Williger who sometimes sent her birthday cards. Her own father hated the old man—insisted he was always blamed for Maggie’s grandmother’s bleeding-out—and they never talked. All Maggie knew of her grandfather, Karl Williger, was the town gossip.
Never quite right, that Williger boy—what Charity, Illinois had said of Karl before his pork empire—raised by that frigid mother and spending too many nights sleeping out in the pigpens.
We should go now to be sure, Maggie told Peter, and he rose to bring her a jacket. He thrust it at her with his same ineffectual smile.
His henpecking with the jacket irked her.
She had only been bored two months ago, forced to spend her spring break back home in Charity, when she had let him slip into her. During that spring break, she felt like she was trapped at the edge of the world and hid in her basement; when Peter came over that April night, she turned the television to a documentary about Darwin, background noise to their hesitant undressing, a hint of the Galapagos in a Midwestern basement, natural selection for Peter’s climax. It had been clumsy and unsatisfying. Afterward the talking heads debated whether evolution happened gradually, glacially, invisibly, or jumping ahead in leaps and starts.
Now, on the day of pigs, they sat in Peter’s musty Toyota as he tried to back the car from the driveway. He was worried about the hogs—there were four now—that were milling around the cul-de-sac. He hesitated, hopeful that Maggie might call off the abortion, at least postpone it until he had another chance to convince her of how much he loved her.
Just hit the damn pig, she told him. Bump it. It will move.
Peter capitulated and pushed the car’s rear into the hog’s snout. It snorted and backed away, annoyed, until it shook its head and went elsewhere in search of food or a good place to wallow.
Just outside Nan Fisher’s coffee shop near the center of town, a great fleshy tide of pigs swelled across Main Street. Nan and her regulars, their forgotten mugs of coffee cooling, watched from the broad shop windows as the hogs clamored about.
The pigs spread into every open space, guided by their terrible hunger. The pack overturned trashcans and devoured the garbage. They trampled flowerbeds and left steaming shits on the sidewalk. They scared the children. The pigs stank even more than they did standing soberly in their stalls, as if their motion had opened new folds in their anatomies and revealed hidden pockets of stink. The smell overpowered even the sweet grease of the donut shop or the tang of spilled gasoline at the service station. They surged forward without a leader. Their footsteps plodded across pavement and gravel and manicured lawns and even through the fountain in the middle of town. The people of Charity had endured the smell of the pigs each time they drove east out of town, but never could they have imagined the sight of so many swine along their city streets. The snorts and squeals trumpeted an invasion. Traffic had stopped completely. Stunned drivers sat behind their wheels as if they might wait for the herd to pass like a red light. Faces stared out from storefronts, jaws hung slack and eyes wide. People called for help. When the herd reached the school, the teachers grabbed their students by bunches and hurried them inside. The church closed its doors and the mayor was summoned.
You think they’ll sound the air raid siren? one of the coffee shop regulars asked Nan.
She watched out the window while refilling his cup from a sloshing pot. Maybe, she said. When pigs fly.
The flannelled regular laughed and Nan smiled at him before she went back to the counter. She turned up the radio, which was tuned to a station thirty miles over. There hadn’t been any update since they’d reported a massive release of pigs from the Williger farm sometime early that morning. The town of Charity had only a newspaper with a single editor, who was another one of Nan’s regulars, and he was occupied taking pictures of the pigs eating McDonald’s and crawling up the steps of city hall. News of the disaster was coming in slow.
It’s just as well, Nan Fisher said under her breath and to no one in particular.
At sixty-six years old, she had assumed that she was beyond being shaken. But the previous night’s drama, when she had confronted the teary-eyed Peter, still clung in her gut. The boy had been staying with her since his eighteenth birthday, when he’d ceased being a minor and the Army forgot its hesitance about sending both of his parents overseas simultaneously. Nan and her grandson had always been close, and the boy had somehow never acquired a knack for lying. So she wasn’t surprised that he confessed so much to her, but she was surprised by exactly what he said.
She’s pregnant, he’d spat at the kitchen table, his palms pressed to his temples. And she hates me for it.
I’m sure she doesn’t—
If she doesn’t now, Peter said, then she will. I’m supposed to take her tomorrow to get it taken care of.
In that moment, Nan suffered a shock mixed with a peculiar gratitude that Peter would euphemize the abortion for her benefit: taken care of. And when she discovered the girl in question was Maggie Williger, she once again felt a strange twist of despair and misfit pride that Peter had shared love with one of Charity’s most beautiful young ladies.
Before she could ask how it all happened, though, Peter had abandoned her for the privacy of his bedroom, from which he didn’t emerge for the rest of the evening. Shell-shocked, Nan Fisher had sat at the kitchen table rubbing the venous backs of her hands and thinking about what advice she might possibly give the boy. Resolute not to let the situation pass her by, she found a pen and paper and wrote him her most heartfelt note about why the young couple should keep the baby, get married, and end up happily ever after.
Then she’d balled the letter up, thrown it into the corner, poured a glass of whiskey, and went to bed.
And today, on the day the pigs went free, her regulars talked on about the more famous Williger, the pig farmer. The gossip collected like river bottom mud:
Must have been some kind of accident.
What kind of accident lets all the pigs out at once?
Probably had all the gates set up on some sort of computer system. You know how computers go. Something goes wrong and the whole damn system shuts down. Must have been a twist in the wires.
I don’t think it was an accident. I think someone set them pigs free.
Maybe someone was out to ruin old Karl Williger’s business.
Well, they picked a strange way to do it. He might lose a few hogs, but it won’t wreck his business.
You might be on to something. Old Karl’s not gonna be expanding anytime soon after this mess.
But who would wanna do that to his business? He’s the not enemy-making kind.
Maybe it wasn’t someone else. Maybe old Karl Williger set his pigs free all by himself.
My nephew works up on the farm. He says all the pens are closed with security codes and nobody knows ‘em but old Karl Williger and maybe the foreman.
So maybe Karl Williger rode around on his tractor just letting all the pigs go free.
Maybe the old man finally snapped. You know he lives all alone in that big farmhouse.
Maybe he went crazy up there with his pigs.
Horse shit. I saw him just this week. He was as sane as you and me.
I don’t know if that proves anything.
What do you think, Nan? One of the regulars asked as she poured herself a tall cup of coffee to keep.
She shrugged. I think there’s as good a reason for Karl Williger to let those pigs go as there was for him to keep them penned up in the first place. We’ll just have to ask him.
On the day the pigs went free, Jack Pierson showed up early to the funeral home. He was wearing his good suit because Mrs. Davenport would be buried that day, and she had a small family without enough pallbearers even for the tiny woman in her tiny casket. We all become so small at the end, Jack had said more than once to anyone who would listen. He was sixty-four but still strong, strong enough anyway to help lift Mrs. Davenport and finish out the week and then retire forever from his job at the parlor. And then you won’t catch me around this place, Jack told his co-workers. Except one more time. And I guarantee I won’t be working that day.
Jack Pierson was in the wrong line of work and had been for more than forty years. His principal contribution to Charity, Illinois, was his kindness, but as most of his customers were too dead to care, much of it had gone wasted. Mid-morning he watched Mrs. Davenport’s family populate the funeral parlor, and then the news started to come about the pigs. By noon they knew that there would be no way to lead a funeral procession to the cemetery, and he told the family Mrs. Davenport will be staying with us for at least another day.
By early afternoon the sheriff’s office had called: Karl Williger found dead in his bedroom, second floor of his mansion on the pig farm. Send someone with a hard stomach, the pigs got to him before we did.
And that was how Jack Pierson found himself driving an empty hearse through the innumerable pigs, using his bumper and laying on the horn to carve out a path.
It took him more than an hour to reach the pig farm and nearly as long to crawl from the gates to the three-story house at the top of Williger’s hill. He knew Karl Williger as well as anyone in Charity had. They were boys when the schoolhouse had only two rooms, and even then it seemed like Williger would have always preferred to be in whichever room had fewer people. Karl’s father had returned to Charity as a war hero, and in recompense for his killing Japanese sailors, the town had given him a patch of land just outside the city, a mess of hogs, and one of Charity’s finest daughters, Mary Anne Taylor. The elder Williger didn’t care much for hog farming, but he accepted the kindness, and when Mary Anne’s belly swelled with Karl’s conception, he forgot about being a war hero and began being a pig farmer. The town of Charity might have left the Willigers to a quiet family life except that Mary Anne treated her son like an unwanted mongrel. She called him a waste of my beauty. The boy became an object of pity, the father an embittered and sulking shadow. The woman resorted to a scoffing hermitage and died alone in a bathtub that froze over before she was found.
Now, on the day the pigs went free, Jack Pierson drove the hearse slowly up Williger’s hill until he reached the front of the house, parked, and held his breath against the stench of the pigs.
The pigs had conquered the house sometime during the night. They had ransacked the kitchen and dragged spaghetti sauce across the front room carpet. Jack stepped over the potato chip wrappers and eggshells and called out for Williger, though he didn’t know why. He wore an old Carhartt jacket and one of the long leather aprons the mortician used when embalming. He mounted the stairs and coughed when the stench overtook him. He pushed on until he reached the master bedroom, and when he opened the door, he saw the pigs circled around the bright red carcass of Karl Williger.
Everyone in Charity had known that the boy was unwanted. He came to school in clothes hard-worn and never washed. It was known about town that Karl’s mother bought herself diamond jewelry but never bought the boy new shoes. Some said she offered him only dog food to eat. He was quiet and talked to almost no one, and there were whispers that he slept in the pigpens and had started talking to the pigs in their own language of snorts and wheezes.
But Charity wouldn’t let the son of a war hero fall into disgrace. So as Karl Williger grew from boy to man, with the help of new pants and motherly advice from Charity’s Women’s Church Auxiliary, he was transformed from a muddy farm boy to a meticulous entrepreneur. Eventually he wore fashionable hats and insisted on two forks with his dinner plate. He took over the family pig farm, put his father aside in a cottage to rot and set about parlaying the gifted tract of land into the county’s biggest business. Jack Pierson had seen all of this, and he had known as much as there was to know. And today he saw, bloodied and dissected before him, how Karl Williger’s story had ended.
Peter drove slowly as he tried to bisect the gauntlet of pigs. A mile and a half of swine stood between the Toyota’s front bumper and the clinic doors. Maggie peered out over the pigs’ heads that almost reached the height of hers, and she saw how little they cared about any of it. She fought an urge to roll down her window, reach out, and pet one. Peter turned up a news report that said the city cops and the county sheriffs were devising a grid and helping the Williger farmhands to clear the city piece by piece. Reinforcements were on their way. Damage estimates were coming. But it was unlikely anyone would reach their position for hours. They were alone: Peter, Maggie, the car, and pigs as far as they could see.
Luckily the car radio also caught some echoes from Chicago, so they could listen to music instead of more reports about the pigs. Peter settled on an oldies station playing Smokey Robinson songs. They hadn’t moved on the road, Maggie’s appointment time had passed, and the pigs held firm.
Why do you think he did it? Peter asked.
Your grandpa. Why did he let the pigs go loose?
Maybe he didn’t let them. Maybe it’s all a big mistake.
Maybe, Peter said. He spread his fingers across the steering wheel. Weird that this had to happen today. Of all days, you know? I bet they’ll let you come back tomorrow. They’ll have to. The pigs aren’t your fault.
I know that, she said, and she began playing with the radio.
I read about this thing that happened in Cairo last year. They used to have all these pigs in the city just walking around every day. The pigs ate everyone’s garbage. And then, bam, swine flu, everybody got scared, and they killed all the pigs. And so now the city’s covered in trash.
So you think we should keep the pigs?
He laughed, nervous. Maybe some of them, he said. It wouldn’t be so bad once we got used to it.
She made a noise of disgust, and Peter was reminded clearly in that moment that the abortion would not only thwart a growing embryo but also his hope that Maggie Williger would consider staying with him.
Are you about to cry? she asked when she noticed him wiping his eyes against his forearm. Come on, Peter. This isn’t even about you. You’re not even the one getting it.
Just drive, she said.
The car pushed against a pig that tried to move forward but was blocked by pigs in front of it, which were blocked by pigs in front of them, which were blocked by more pigs, which were blocked by unseen pigs at the root of the trouble. Peter braked, looked at Maggie, and said, I can’t go any farther.
They were stuck.
Peter pulled the keys from the ignition and rolled down the window with emphatic jerks. He hoisted his torso through the open window and unfolded his long legs onto the pavement. Maggie watched as he began to stride west, picking his way through the pigs.
Where are you going? Maggie called to him from the open window.
He turned. We’ll wait this out, he said. My nana lives just over there.
She didn’t want to leave the safety of the car and try to get through the thick of hogs. She feared one might chomp on the ankle of her blue jeans or pull at the back of her shirt. She feared they might get excited and trample her. Peter kept moving forward, almost twenty yards away from the car.
When he turned, he called and asked if she was coming or not.
Because she didn’t really want to be alone she unhooked her seatbelt and climbed from the car and began to make her way toward the safety of Nan Fisher’s house.
The last time Karl Williger, Nan Fisher, and Jack Pierson were all in the same place was the funeral. Karl’s wife, the lovely Anabella, died after bleeding out in childbirth, and Karl was not simply stricken by grief but nearly completely dissolved by it. A half dozen men had taken turns holding the pig farmer by his elbows as he approached the open casket; he wept open-mouthed on his wife’s face and cursed God beneath his breath.
The new baby, Maggie’s father, was kept quiet in the back of the congregation in the arms of the Church Auxiliary women. Nan Fisher wore black in the swelling crowd, silent and awed by the depth of despair before them. Jack Pierson, much younger then, and with a much stronger back, lacked the courage to watch Karl Williger’s weeping. Instead he stood near the gravesite with a shovel ready, and he gripped the handle to try to stem his own tears, which came anyway.
Because as it happened, Anabella was a lovely wife but not a faithful one. Jack Pierson cried for his own loss. At a church picnic the pair had snuck away from the crowd to make love in the bed of his Chevy truck. Another time they’d run into each other at the supermarket and spent the rest of the afternoon in a motel. Whether or not the woman had loved him or only used him, Jack was never sure; but in a handful of intimacies he had come to realize that Anabella surely never loved her husband. When she became pregnant, Anabella cut off her tumblings with Jack, and she hadn’t spoken to him again. On that funeral day Jack watched Karl Williger weeping without knowing the truth about his dead wife.
For years Jack Pierson had nursed his guilt and wondered whether the baby, Daniel Williger, was in truth his. And if, in turn, it was his child that had killed the beautiful Anabella. But like most things, Jack had buried this guilt deep, where it had poisoned him in such a way that he never allowed another woman so close to him and lived his life in Charity as a kind but solitary man.
Even dead, Anabella had been beautiful, Jack thought. So beautiful that now, as he surveyed the scattered remains of Karl Williger, torn and spread across his bedroom, he thought of Anabella’s funeral in dramatic contrast to the human wreckage before him.
Karl Williger was everywhere.
When a man is eaten by his pigs, they are not kind. They have no gratitude. They have grown used to being fattened. Their hunger becomes them, and the man remains, as he has always been, their purpose for being. They eat him slowly, carefully, until they notice how much better he tastes than the scraps upon which they are raised, and then they eat without abandon. They cannot satiate their hunger for his flesh. Very little of the man survives.
It would be a closed casket, Jack knew.
The regulars at Nan Fisher’s coffee shop grew nervous watching the pigs. They wondered about their homes and lawns and loved ones. One by one they left the shop with thanks and wishes of luck for Nan. By midafternoon she was left alone listening to the radio, receiving the news of Karl Williger’s death and remembering the pig farmer as a much younger man.
When she was younger and newly married, Nan Fisher had met Karl Williger for the first time. He was a gentle man with a small voice. He drank slowly and held his lips closed when he swallowed. Back then she was new to Charity; she worked part-time at the corner store and Karl Williger had only begun to raise the hogs and was unmarried. He came into the store sometimes to buy hard candy and newspapers, and after a few weeks, they had begun to flirt. Her marriage was new but already seemed old. Her husband was rough. And one night when Karl Williger came to the store, she asked to see his farm and closed up early.
He lived in small shack with a radio at the bottom of the hill. The pigpen was close enough for him to hear them at night. He invited her inside and apologized for the bootleg whiskey but poured her a glass anyway. They talked late into the night, never thought I’d meet someone like you around here, until she laid herself on his bed. She loosened her blouse and waited for him to take her. But he didn’t move from his chair. She waited for a bit longer and then asked him what was wrong.
Nothing, he told her.
Why don’t you come over here?
We just barely said hello.
But you’re acting like we already said goodbye.
Karl Williger rose from his chair and told her that it was time to take her home.
It’s because I’m married, she said.
I didn’t know that.
I don’t suppose it would change anything?
Probably not, he said.
Karl Williger drove her home in the pickup he used on the farm, and it was loud and its engine coughed every few seconds, and she was afraid her husband would hear it in the driveway. She told Karl Williger to drop her off at the corner, but he insisted on at least taking her to the curb. When he parked the truck, she leaned in and kissed him right there in front of her husband’s house and it felt like the single best kiss of her entire life. She told him goodnight and after that he stopped coming into the corner store for hard candy and newspapers.
Sometimes in times of crisis Nan Fisher thought about that night with Karl Williger and wished for people to act that way all the time. She wished for Peter to be the sort of man who would never take advantage of a young woman’s unhappiness, though now with the Maggie Williger pregnancy she couldn’t be sure if he was.
She eyed the pigs outside, which seemed to be clearing. Farmhands had been rounding them up from the edges of town, and she didn’t live far from her home. So she turned off the lights in her coffee shop, flipped the door sign to CLOSED, and walked through the maze of hogs toward the same house where Peter and Maggie sought safe haven.
After he had gathered old Karl Williger into a body bag, Jack Pierson said a short prayer. Pray God you watch out for Karl Williger, wherever he’s going. He ought to be looked after. When he opened his eyes again, he saw the butt of a shotgun lying next to the chair where Williger had died. He drew closer and saw the discharged shells, the holes in the back of the chair.
Most people would have been too distracted by the mess—the rinds of half-chewed flesh, the endless blood, the still-warm piles of pigshit—to see that Karl Williger had blown his brains out. Pierson prayed for a while longer and then took a pillowcase from the bed. He wrapped his hand in the pillowcase and picked up the shotgun shells. He put them into his pocket and then took the gun and put it back into the case in the corner of the room. He closed up the case and locked it.
Next to the gun case sat the old man’s desk, and on the desk, a letter written in a shaking hand. It wasn’t the first time Pierson had cleaned up a suicide. He knew there might be a note. Teenage boys were always bloodier than their female counterparts, and they always left notes. Karl Williger, too, had left one, and Jack took it. Scared to sit down amid the blood and pig droppings, he stood stock still reading it.
In the letter Karl WIlliger offered no easy explanation of why he’d let his pigs free all at once and then put two barrels between his lips and pulled the trigger. Rather, the note outlined a revision of the old man’s standing will. The hog farm, the letter said, would not be passing to his son, Daniel Williger. Never really was my son, the note said. Instead, the majority of the estate and the pork empire would pass to Nan Fisher.
Jack had known Nan, of course, but he didn’t know of any connection between her and Williger. He had seen minds slipping in their old age, giving in to dementia and whims. He knew that if Karl Williger’s note came to light it would do more harm than good, bring more ridicule than peace. He folded the letter and looked around the room, which was quiet except for the thud of pig steps through the hallways of the house and the squealing in other rooms. He pushed the letter deep into the back pocket of his jeans, where it would stay until days later when it would be subjected to the washing machine and its words lost forever.
Then Jack picked up the bag of Karl Williger and returned to the world of the pigs.
If Nan Fisher had been more careful with her own letter, Maggie Williger would have never found it while she sat in the kitchen that day drinking a Diet Coke. She and Peter had been playing Monopoly while they waited for the pigs to clear, and when he’d left the room to pee she’d unrumpled the sheet left on the counter.
She had read halfway through, far enough to know that Nan Fisher opposed her abortion unequivocally, when Peter came back in from the bathroom. Peter, you will never forgive yourself or this girl if you let this happen, the note had said. The lanky boy settled back into the chair at the kitchen table, and Maggie let the paper drop to her side.
What’s that? he asked.
And then they heard the sound of the front door unlocking and Nan Fisher returning to her home. She called out Peter’s name, and he rose from the kitchen to go and greet her. Maggie stayed put and could hear Peter confront his grandmother in the hallway: his hushed voice and her edgy whisper, what? She’s here in the house? Maggie folded Nan Fisher’s letter to Peter into her jacket pocket. She felt trapped in the kitchen by consequences and the thousands of hogs still grousing about outside the house.
The old woman stormed the kitchen with improvised warmth. I haven’t seen you around church lately, she told Maggie. How’s college? Let me make you a cup of tea.
And then Nan Fisher was warming a teakettle, while Peter stood in the kitchen doorway shrugging.
I think I was actually just leaving, Maggie told the old woman.
Nonsense, she said. They’re still as thick as molasses out there. She nodded toward the window, where indeed you could see a pair of pigs butting heads as they fought over a black trash bag half full of chicken bones. Sit down and stay a while.
Sit, Nan Fisher repeated.
Seated around the kitchen table with the game board and the fake money and plastic houses still piled there, Nan Fisher confronted them. I know what the two of you did today, she said. And I know you don’t think I ought to have anything to say in the matter, but the fact of it is that I might have had a great-grandchild if not for what the two of you did today.
Neither Peter nor Maggie interrupted her.
Let me tell you first that you two are in the same situation as a hundred other couples I’ve known in Charity. Even the quietest news finds its way into my shop. And let me tell you, every time something like this happens, young people want to act like it’s never happened before.
Nan cast a judging eyebrow lift over the two, but she kept talking. What makes you two different is that you had to get through a sea of pigs on top of everything else. And everyone in this town wants to know why Karl Williger died and let his hogs go free, and I can’t help feeling like it somehow has something to do with the two of you.
Maggie felt more tense than before, wondering if the old woman thought she had an answer about the pig farm.
But instead Nan Fisher’s lecture continued. Karl Williger seemed to know something that people in this town forget. He knew that sometimes people are just born into the wrong lives. And the best a person can do, stuck there living someone else’s life, is to make the most of the small moments. To try and act with dignity. Be kind with one another. Do the right thing when no one’s looking.
I’ve got some sort of feeling, Nan Fisher said, that he set those pigs loose just to make sure you had a good long time to think about how you want to live the life you’ve been put in. And I guess if you all still went through with it, even after Karl Williger handed you a reprieve, you must have done exactly the thing this life required of you.
The teakettle began its whistle, and Nan rose to remove it from the heat. While she poured three cups of tea, Maggie watched Peter’s long face struggling with whether to tell his grandmother the truth. She gave him a look that said don’t you dare say anything or you won’t see me again.
Nan distributed the cups of tea and asked if Maggie needed sugar. After the girl declined, Nan Fisher dispensed her last advice. I know you two have been through something today, she said. Something you won’t understand until you’re my age. I can only hope you don’t hold it against one another in the meantime.
Then they sipped tea and told stories about what they’d seen the pigs doing that day, wallowing in the soggy spot in the church lawn and skittering down playground slides on their hooves.
It would be a week before someone from Williger’s farm would sign the papers and pay for all the shit and garbage to be cleaned off the streets. A list was drawn up of all the damage the pigs had caused and Williger’s farm would have to pay for that, too. Funeral arrangements were made. Reporters from all over huddled at the stairs of city hall to ask questions and the mayor gave them answers. No one had been hurt, really. It was probably an accident. Just a coincidence. Looked like old Williger just died in his sleep. Life would get back to normal now that the pigs were gone.
On the day after the pigs went free, Maggie had rescheduled at the clinic and aborted Peter Fisher’s baby just after two thirty in the afternoon. Something about Nan’s speech must have fortified the boy because he wasn’t weepy or plying when he opened the passenger side door of his Toyota for her to sit. For the first time Maggie felt a strange gratitude for Peter, his familiar face and his softness, like a cushioned place where she could rest after the harsh whiteness of the clinic.
She would never show him Nan Fisher’s letter. His life would be spared the guilt. Peter drove slowly, protectively, and she squeezed his upper arm and smiled at him.
Thank you, she told him, just as much a sign of gratitude as an apology.
Of course, he said. What do you want to do today?
Maybe just hide in the basement, she said. We can watch some of those Darwin documentaries you like so much.
He smiled at her. Whatever you say.
When they pulled into the driveway of Maggie’s house, Peter scurried around the car to open the door for her, but she did it herself before he could get there. I’m okay, she told him.
The pair held hands up the walkway. Maggie didn’t need help balancing, or a boyfriend, but some part of her sought Peter’s contact more than it needed independence. Perhaps Nan Fisher’s words had made her believe that she would regret not sharing this thing with Peter. She wanted, always, to feel like they had lived this moment together and could remember it the exact same way.
She knew, too, that she could never love Peter the way he might want her to. Especially now; she imagined going on a date with him at the mall and hearing a crying baby and being unable to think of anything other than their almost-child.
Still, she felt a strange flicker of affection toward him, and she didn’t want to crush it so soon.
They went to the front door and while she worked the key and Peter stood behind her, she heard a squealing noise around the corner of the house. She watched as a stray piglet rounded the corner on tottering legs. It sniffed the air and waddled toward them.
Maggie Williger was breathless, wondering what her grandfather could possibly want from her now.
Alex Luft’s fiction has appeared in The Adirondack Review, Midwestern Gothic, The Coachella Review and elsewhere. His journalistic work has taken him from rural county jails to the sex toy section of Wal-Mart, and he is pursuing a Ph.D. in the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois-Chicago.