Hard Knocks by Steve Carr

Waves of pig stench flooded over the nine foot tall wood fence. Heated by the mid-afternoon August sun, Jake’s back yard smelled like cooked rancid pork. On the plastic fold out lounge chair, Jake rolled onto his back and placed his arm across his nose and inhaled the scent of the coconut oil on his bare arm. While sniffing, he stared up at the cloudless sky and counted in his head the number of days that it hadn’t rained. Forty three.
A chorus of squeals from the pigs was carried into the air from the other side of the fence followed by a series of loud thuds, then silence.
Jake sat up and with both hands wiped sweat from his enlarged stomach. A thin layer of the oil had collected around the waistband of his Speedos. Feeling the tingle of sunburn on his back and the back of his legs, he suddenly remembered he had forgotten to apply lotion to any part of his backside.
He grabbed the bottle of water from the white plastic table next to the chair and unscrewed the cap and tilted his head back and poured water into his mouth. He quickly spit it out and grabbed his throat. The water’s temperature was near boiling. He put the cap back on the bottle and hurled it over the fence. Several pigs squealed, followed by thuds.
“Poor bastards,” he said.
Rising out of the chair, he placed his left foot on the sun baked concrete of his patio and let out a “yelp” and quickly raised it and sat back down. He looked at his watch. It would be three hours before his wife got home.
*
As Claire rubbed sunburn ointment on Jake’s shoulders she looked out their bedroom window and watched the pigs that were squeezed into a small square of bare dirt surrounded by a low metal rail fence. She kicked aside the empty green beans can at her feet and kneaded the ointment into Jake’s skin with renewed vigor.
“That hurts,” Jake said. “You’re just supposed to apply that stuff, not fuse it with my body.”
“Do it yourself then,” she said, dropping the ointment tube into his lap. Kicking empty vegetable cans aside, she walked to the bed and sat down on the edge, crossed one leg over the other and began to hum.
Jake squirted some of the ointment into the palm of his hand and unsuccessfully tried to reach around to the middle of his back. “What’s got into you?” he said.
She stopped humming for a moment and said, “Pigs,” then began humming again.
Jake glanced out the window. Two men carrying sledge hammers were entering the pig enclosure. “I wonder how necessary pork is to anyone’s diet?” he said, watching the men.
“If you’re Jewish it’s not necessary at all,” she said.
One of the men opened a small gate and led a large pig into a narrow separately enclosed walkway that extended off from one side of the main enclosure. He closed the gate and the other man raised his sledgehammer and brought it down on the pig’s skull. The pig immediately fell to the ground as blood squirted from its eye sockets and snout.
Jake quickly re-swallowed the vomit that had shot up into his mouth. He turned away from the window. “What I find a true mystery is that some living things are born pigs and some are born spiders or goldfish. If things had worked out differently that could be me or you down there getting our brains knocked out so that some slob in New Jersey gets bacon with his eggs in the morning.”
*
Sitting in a green lawn chair with a rose colored handkerchief that had been doused with perfume to her nose, Claire stared up at the star-freckled night sky and hummed.
Jake came out of the house with an open can of peas in one hand and a large spoon in the other. He sat on the lounge chair and shoved the spoon into the peas and brought out a spoonful. “The ointment didn’t help,” he said. “Blisters have formed. I can feel them busting and the liquid inside them running down my back.” He put the spoon in his mouth and sucked the peas into his throat.
“We have to do something,” Claire said.
“About what?” Jake said as he put another spoonful of peas in his mouth.
“The pigs,” Claire said. “We have to stop the slaughter.”
Jake took the spoon out of the can and laid it beside him. He raised the can to his mouth, tilted his head  back and poured the peas in. Without chewing them he made loud gulping noises as they slid down his throat.
“I’m pretty sure someone already thought of that and whatever they tried, failed,” he said. “Besides I like the cans of pork and beans.”
Claire stood up and gazing at the fence, said, “I don’t think I can take hearing another pig being knocked on the head.” She went into the house.
Jake threw the empty can over the fence and shivered as a stream of blister juice slid down his spine.
Claire came back out of the house carrying a shovel and a bandana.
“What are you going to do with that?” he said.
She went to the fence and tied the bandana around the lower half of her face. “Getting the pigs out.” She pushed the shovel into the dirt at the bottom of the fence.
*
Sunlight began to break through the morning cloud cover. Jake pulled the tab on the top lid of a can of okra and tossed it on the heap of dirt Claire had shoveled from under the fence. Using his fingers he took out a single okra and put it in his mouth and ran it around on his tongue before swallowing it.
Claire stuck her head out from under the ditch she had dug under the fence. “I think even the biggest pigs will be able to crawl through this,” she said.
“How many pigs are there?” he said.
“About fifty.”
“What do we do once they’re all over here?” he said.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” she said. She withdrew her head and a few minutes later a squealing pig was pushed through the hole. Then another one. Then another.
At last, when Claire crawled under the fence she sat panting on the edge of the hole and said, “Quick, help me fill this hole in before the head smashers arrive.”
The pigs were busily scrounging through the piles of empty tin cans. They had brought their stench with them.
Pinching his nostrils, Jake said, “I’ve been up all  night and the blisters on my back are killing me.”
She glared at him as she stood up and grabbed the shovel and began to fill in the hole. Just as she patted down the dirt, making sure it was firmly in place, the sound of one of the men in the slaughter yard was heard, saying, “I could have sworn there were pigs in the pen when we left last night. Oh well, bring out the next bunch.”
*
Sitting at the open bedroom window and watching the pigs bathed in moonlight squealing loudly and fighting with each other for a few piles of canned vegetables, Jake held a washcloth drenched in aftershave to his nose and said, “They’re noisier and stinkier up close and on this side of the fence.”
On the edge of the bed and dabbing iodine on a bleeding wound, Claire said, “I never knew that pigs bite.”
Jake shut the window and turned.  “What you and I learned from the school of hard knocks didn’t include anything about pigs,” he said. “They’re getting pretty worked up out there. Are there many cans of food left?”
“A few,” she said. She took a large bandage from its wrapper and placed it on the bite then stood up. “We better feed them again or they’ll keep us up all night.”
Going down the stairs to the kitchen, Jake moaned several times.
“What’s wrong with you?” Claire asked.
“My sunburned skin feels like it’s being ripped apart every time I move,” he said.
Claire flipped on the kitchen light as they entered it. She kicked aside empty cans and grabbed a tin baking sheet from the drawer at the bottom of the oven and placed it on the table then retrieved the can opener from the sink drain board.
Jake went into the pantry and came back out a few minutes later with his arms full of cans. He placed them on the table. “This is it,” he said. “I hope they like squash, artichokes and Brussels sprouts.”
Claire began opening the cans and pouring the contents onto the baking sheet and tossing the empty cans on the floor as Jake shaped the vegetables into a volcano. After tossing the last can into a corner, Claire said, “That’s not a lot of food for fifty pigs.”
Jake groaned as he lifted the tray. “We saved their lives and have fed them all the food we have in the house, what more could they want?” he said.
Going out the back door, Claire followed Jake down the back stairs. He had the baking sheet held above his head. They walked a few feet into the crowd of pigs before the animals started to attack.
“They smell the food,” Jake yelled as he dropped the baking sheet which was quickly trampled on by the agitated pigs.
“We have to get back inside,” Claire yelled as several pigs began biting her legs.
Jake grabbed her hand and tried to pull her to the steps. His foot slipped on an empty tin can and he fell to the ground, pulling Claire with him. The pigs consumed them.
A half hour later the pigs were hungry again.

Steve Carr, who lives in Richmond, Va., began his writing career as a military journalist and has had over a hundred short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals and anthologies. His plays have been produced in several states. He was a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee. He is on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100012966314127 and Twitter @carrsteven960

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