You are right. Honesty, truly, is the best policy. I’ve thought about it a lot. So following your suggestion at the end of our last session, I’m putting all this down for you. It’s the least I can do if we’re going to create that bond of trust you talked about.
First of all, I want you and everyone who’s going to read this to know that Pig is all right. She was taken to PETsMART and then adopted by some twelve-year-old girl from a big family. I was lucky to get that much from the county Animal Control office.
At least she’ll be eating better than I am. I can take some comfort in that. The scrambled eggs here taste like a wet paper towel. At lunch, we’re all gnawing to bite through our sandwiches. Somebody’s watering down the fruit punch. And everything’s so regimented. We’re up by six-thirty. At night they shut the lights out at ten. I practically have to ask permission to pee. This place is hell, and I still have 160 days left. But I can take it.
It’s obvious I made a mistake. If I’d thought this whole thing through a little more carefully, maybe I wouldn’t even be here. It was just a joke. Nobody got hurt, except me.
The truth is I’m a straight arrow. That came out in my hearing when Carl Sadler and Mark Watson took the stand. I’ve known those two guys since grade school, and in that courtroom, I needed their help. I remember Mark talking to the judge with a look of dumbfounded shock.
He said (and you can check with the court reporter), “Yeah, it blew me away when I heard about it. I thought, ‘Milo Fabler pulling something like that? Not in a hundred years.’”
“Milo was just an all-around good guy. At least when I knew him,” Carl added.
But in high school, Carl and Mark got away with everything. At our twenty-year reunion, my wife, Sandy, and I were in the school gymnasium talking to them, their wives, and a few other couples.
“The best joke we ever pulled—” Mark said, after sipping from his lime slush.
“Oh, yeah, the marble thing at the basketball game!” Carl nearly spilled his plate of little ham sandwiches on his wife when he gestured with his arm.
Our Vice Principal had called it The Marble Incident. About the middle of my senior year, our basketball team played Myrtlewood High, our rivals. Well into the fourth quarter, thunder came from the bleachers on the tier above us. Hundreds of marbles poured over the cement and fell over and down through the bleachers, clanking as if everyone in the crowd had dropped their change. A few seconds later, the marbles rolled out onto the court. There were so many they’d had to stop the game.
“Fifteen-hundred marbles, man,” Carl said. He pointed up, across the gym, where the top section of bleachers stood, all folded together and flat.
The reunion went later than planned. Sandy and I left just before midnight, and I drove through the night silently for a minute, thinking about Carl and Mark, and wondering if I’d missed out on something twenty years earlier.
Around the middle of September, after I finished mowing the lawn, I was reading the newspaper in my backyard, and I noticed this ad headline:
MY POT-BELLIED PIG NEEDS A NEW HOME
The ad included a few bullet points listing how intelligent, clean, and affectionate the pig was. It ended with “A great pet for kids.” The seller wanted $150 for it.
Sending a greased pig into a crowd is nothing unique. But I’ve spent most of my life in this town, and I’d never heard of anyone here—like Mark and Carl, for instance—slathering up a pig and letting it go.
I showed Sandy the newspaper ad and told her a pet pig would be wonderful for the girls. “Look, it’s clean and affectionate,” I said, “they’ll love it.”
“What are we going to do with a pig?” Sandy asked. “Take it on walks? If you think having a pet’s a good idea, let’s just get a dog.”
“Because a pig is cooler than a dog. I mean, how many people around here own a pet pig?”
“Since we’ve been married we’ve talked about a pet at least three times,” Sandy said. “And you’ve always said something like, ‘Absolutely not. I’m not cleaning up after some mutt!’ I just figured you aren’t an animal lover. So what gives? Why the sudden change? For a pig!”
“I just thought it would be a good idea. For the family.”
“A dog would be a good idea for our family. That’s what people our age do. They grow up, settle down, and get a dog. Or a cat, maybe.”
I pestered Sandy for a couple of days until she gave in. I knew I could do it. I called the phone number in the ad, and the woman who answered said she had just sold her pig to a lady who offered her $135 for it.
“I would have easily given you one-seventy-five,” I said. “You don’t think we could work something out?”
“Well, sorry. It’s not like I can go give her the money back.” The woman laughed lightly. “I don’t deal that way. But if you’re really interested in a pig, I still have the number of the breeder. He’s really good. He has a nice little farm.”
This phone call took place in my office at home, with the door shut. She gave me the guy’s name and number, and I called him.
“Well, looks like you’re in luck. We typically sell our pigs on contract. The buyer puts a deposit down, then waits for the litter. But this time, some guy backed out a week before delivery. Said his daughter wanted a Shetland pony instead. So we got a nice one here for you if you want it. About seven, eight weeks old, now. Name is Sparks. She’s a quick little squirt. Two seventy-five is the base price, then add on the immunizations and health papers . . . ” I heard him tapping on a computer or something. “. . . brings it up to three fifty.”
I took the money out of our savings and put it in an envelope. Then I stopped at PETsMART and bought a pet carrier and drove out to the breeder’s place. Sandy had wanted me to take the girls, but I told her I wanted it to be a surprise.
The breeder’s farm was little. Across from his modest ranch house stood a large pen strewn with hay and enclosed on one side with chicken wire. Three wood buildings, looking like clapboard houses, surrounded the other sides. Two of the buildings had wide openings with ramps that led down into the pen. A couple of pigs had their snouts in a tin tray in the corner. A few pigs sat in the hay. They looked like they were dozing. As I approached, one of them—kinda big for a pot belly—raised its head and watched me.
The breeder stepped out the back door of his house and strode toward me in a real faded Brooks & Dunn tee shirt and a pair of cargo pants. His name was Austin. I think he assumed I knew what I was doing because he began explaining lineage and pedigree. While he spoke we walked around the pen.
“So, can I see the pig?” I asked, finally.
For a moment he looked surprised, nearly insulted. He blinked, licked his lower lip, and said, “Yeah, of course.”
We entered one of the houses through a side door, and Austin flipped on a light. Several inches of sawdust covered the floor. A few pigs shifted in it. One large pig got up and hurried through an opening to the pen, followed by a smaller one.
“Oh, there she goes, now. She’s following her mom. Come on.”
Austin and I stepped around the pigs and went through the opening into the pen. He took something that looked like a dog biscuit from one of his pants pockets and let out a shrill whistle.
“Here, Sparky. Got someone to meet ya.” He stopped a few feet in front of them, squatted, and held out the dog biscuit. The mother went for the food first, but he shooed her away, and the tiny pig moved forward and took it. He picked her up gently, petted her thin layer of hair, and scratched her behind the ears.
“Here’s Sparks.” He handed the pig to me like a grandpa handing off a baby. “She’ll make a great pet for the family. That’s what you’re getting her for, isn’t it?”
“How many kids you got?”
“Well, taking care of a pig will teach ‘em a thing or two about responsibility. Accountability. You know, putting a pet’s needs before your own. Just being considerate.” He slapped me on the shoulder. “Not that your family needs help in that department. I’m just sayin’.”
I tried to cradle her, but her back and feet kept moving. “Well, all the more reason for her to—be part of our family.”
The pig had light hair and a few black spots on her back and belly. I took her with one hand under her tail, my other hand supporting her back. She was finishing the last of the biscuits. Then she looked at me with those dark eyes, those long, blonde eyelashes, and that wrinkled, rubbery little snout. I swear she smiled at me.
I decided right then that I wouldn’t call her Sparks. I knew the girls would want to name her, and that was fine. But I couldn’t let myself get attached. Once I got her home, I’d simply call her Pig.
No one’s ever treated a pig better than we did. We kept her in a warm and dry basement, with plenty of food and water. She spent a few hours every day in our backyard, completely enclosed by a vinyl fence, so there was no chance she could get out into the street. My daughters named her Mrs. Waddles, and they’d nearly house-trained her. So outside of the fact that I once spread goop all over her and let her loose in public, there was never any cruelty to animals. Never. I’m not that kind of guy.
I checked the internet and found that pot-bellied pigs grow quickly. I figured I needed to find some kind of public gathering soon or Pig would be huge.
There was a junior high school band concert coming up, but I checked the school, and the layout of the place made a getaway difficult. There was the annual Fall Fair put on by the Little Sisters of the Poor. I’ve been to their fair, and at least a thousand people must show up. So the crowd was big enough. And nothing says chaos like thirty or forty white habits whipping wildly through the air chasing a greased pig. But I couldn’t do it. Those nuns rely completely on the money from that fair. That’s all they get each year. I didn’t want to mess that up for them.
I had considered pulling it off at my high school, but at the time, they were between football and basketball seasons. I didn’t think much was happening there until one night I drove by and saw the school marquee blazing away in the dark.
It had been twenty years, but I still knew every hall in that school. I could probably walk around the place blindfolded. A week before opening night I went to a rehearsal, just to watch the hall behind the auditorium where the backstage doors are. I figured if I could get Pig onto the stage, I could just turn and head toward the rear of the school and get out by the cafeteria.
At home I had to come up with the right blend of creams, oils, soaps, sprays, and gels to create the slippery goop. I started mixing all kinds of stuff and testing the junk on my forearm: shortening, butter, corn syrup, maple syrup, cooking spray; canola, corn, and olive oils; hand lotion and dish soap; that stuff in the bottom of Spam cans, 10W-40 motor oil, petroleum jelly, hair mousse, shampoo, WD40, suntan lotion, lanolin, sunscreen, skin moisturizers, toothpaste, and K-Y Jelly.
I decided against the motor oil right away (although it mixed well with the shortening), along with the WD40. Something inside just told me that stuff was not good for Pig. (Yes, Dr. Thackery, I still have a conscience. That should count for something, shouldn’t it? ) I found the K-Y Jelly and the Spam stuff, along with olive oil and hand lotion made an excellent goop. But it needed plenty of shortening as an adhesive, otherwise, it would simply run off your skin.
This was all going to go down on the closing night, November 15th. Most likely, that would be when they would play to a packed house. Expectations would be high. But I still had to find a way to get Pig into the school.
The idea for the baby blanket came to me after I’d seen the girls hold Pig as if she were a newborn baby. It seemed like a perfect disguise. To test my theory I suggested they wrap Pig in a towel. They worked carefully together until Pig was a snug bundle of blue, and for nearly twenty minutes they watched the Disney channel until she wanted to move.
So I went to BabiesRUs and bought a four-pack of large baby blankets and a diaper bag. Later, I also found a box of latex gloves and a quart-size Mason jar.
This was the plan: I’d wait until the second act started. That way, most people would be back in their seats. I’d walk in with a Pig wrapped in one or more blankets. I’d wear the latex gloves beneath my own winter gloves. The diaper bag would contain nothing more than the Mason jar of goop with a tin foil lid held over the jar with a rubber band. There was no way I could practice this, so I worked it out in my head. I figured once I was at the backstage door, I could have Pig out of the blanket, covered with goop, and onto the stage in about forty-five seconds, a minute at most. I could haul everything out—gloves, blankets, jar, and tin foil—in the diaper bag. Then I’d dump it in a trash bin on the other side of town. Meanwhile, the auditorium would be roaring.
It was all coming together nicely until the day before the show opened. At dinner, Sandy said she had four tickets to Damn Yankees on Saturday night, the closing night. She must have read my blank look because she followed immediately with, “What’s wrong? I thought you liked musicals. I remember you playing the trumpet for the shows when we were in school.”
“Yeah, but that was high school,” I said. “I’m so past that.”
“Well, Marie said it was a great story. Some old guy aching to be a baseball player sells his soul to the devil. Her daughter’s in it, and she said there’s some cool pyrotechnics.”
I stopped eating, put my elbows on the table, and held my fist near my mouth like I was going to burp. Then I looked down.
“Okay, fine,” Sandy said. “The girls and I’ll just take your mom. It’ll be a ladies’ night out.”
Sandy’s announcement changed my closing-night plan. My excuse for leaving the house on Saturday night (that I was going across town to do some early Christmas shopping) I simply used it on Friday night. By Saturday, the news about a greased pig at the show would be out. The pig would be gone. I would have my alibi, and I would insist the animal got out or was stolen. How could we be blamed if someone stole our Pig?
Thursday night, after the girls were in bed and while Sandy was reading, I took the diaper bag, blankets, and goop from beneath our stairs and stuck them in the trunk of my car.
Friday was the longest day of my life. After dinner, I told Sandy and the girls I’d be going out to do some Christmas shopping. At this point, I needed Pig outside so I could take her, unnoticed. I put my jacket on and took a few dog biscuits and put them in my pocket. Then I told my older daughter, Becca, to let Pig out into the backyard so she could “do her business.”
“But she did her business this afternoon, Dad,” Becca said. “I let her out myself.”
“Well let her out again. It’s dark already, and it’s going to be a long night. You don’t want her to have an accident in here. Just turn on the patio light for her.”
“But it’s cold out there.”
“Look, she’s got a nice layer of fat on her. She’s not going to catch a cold.” I motioned toward the back door. “C’mon. Go ahead.”
Becca pudged her bottom lip, then she took Pig by her leather collar and led her toward the door.
I went out to where my car sat in the driveway and circled back to the gate in our fence. Becca had gone back into the house, but Pig stood motionless in the patio light. I opened the gate and entered. She moved back toward the house when she heard the gate, but I called softly, “Mrs. Waddles!” and she stopped. I squatted and crept toward her, held out my hand with a dog biscuit, and she came to me.
I put my arm around Pig as I gave her the biscuit. The back door opened, and Becca looked out at us. I felt Pig lurch forward, but I held her.
“What are you doing?” Becca’s blonde hair and creased forehead moved from the back door into the patio light, but her eyes were in shadows.
“I had this biscuit in my jacket, and I thought I’d give it to her before I left.”
“Well, you better leave her alone or she’ll freeze out there and she won’t be able to do her business!” Becca slammed the door.
I waited a moment, then I picked the animal up, held her tightly, and headed for the gate. After leaving the back yard I was going to shut the gate, but I decided to keep it open. I quickly put Pig in the back seat and gave her another dog biscuit.
At the school, I walked into the lobby with Pig swaddled in two blankets. There were a few people cleaning up after the intermission refreshment sale, but no one thought twice about a guy carrying a wrapped bundle and a diaper bag.
I turned and went into the hall behind the stage. I stood there in the darkness, waiting, making sure. I was about to kneel on the floor and begin, but the choir-room doors burst open, and two girls came out talking. They were heavily made up, and they wore shin-length skirts, and sweaters with collars, like in the fifties. They saw me.
“Oh, Shhh!” One girl held her finger to her lips. “We better be quiet.” She pointed to the bundle in my arms. “Baby sleeping?”
They stepped toward me. “Can we see it, please?” the girl asked. She reached toward the blanket.
I held Pig close to my chest, and she squirmed a little. “Sorry, I just got her to sleep.”
“Oh, what a good dad!”
The girls smiled through their dark lipstick, nodded, then opened the backstage door and slipped in. The dark hall was silent again. Two ribbons of light escaped beneath dressing-room doors in the distance. I remember feeling that I had passed the point of no return, that I was being drawn in. It was like something had turned up the power on all my senses. The shellacked, yellow bricks and the tile floor that had been there since before my days—even they looked new and compelling. I heard people talking from the lobby, the banquet tables clanging. I heard the music seeping from inside the auditorium. Beneath it all, the whole building seemed to pulse.
At the stage door, I knelt, took my winter gloves off, and stuffed them in my jacket pockets. I set the diaper bag down and took the jar of goop and set it on the floor. Then I unwrapped Pig and held her by the collar. Her hooves slid on the tile as she tried to move, but I held her and reached for the jar. I had planned to just dump the stuff on her, spread it around quickly with my hands, then open the door and push her inside. But that jar had spent the last twenty-four hours in the trunk of my car, and every greasy part of that mixture had become cold and solid.
I reached in and grabbed a handful of that stuff. That’s when a dressing-room door opened, and this guy appeared. Just before the door shut, light covered this kid. He wore a black tuxedo, a red vest, spats, and a cape. Shiny horns protruded from his temples. The door shut. He was in the shadows and heading toward me.
I tried to smear that stuff onto Pig, but one chilly touch from me and she stepped away. I moved forward, but she saw that handful of goop, and she wasn’t having any of it. The kid with the horns shouted, “It’s a pig!” and Pig turned and started toward him.
I don’t remember noticing much after that. I couldn’t think straight. Instead of heading toward the cafeteria—the safest exit—I turned the other way and ran back toward the lobby. Talk about tunnel vision. I could see only the door I had entered earlier and the darkness behind it. I wanted so much to get lost in that darkness.
I barreled forward, approaching the door, and two men rounded the corner from the lobby carrying a banquet table. I jumped, but I was too close to clear it, and the edge of the table scraped my shin and caught my foot.
I awoke on the floor feeling like my forehead had shattered. My left eye stung. I touched my eyebrow and found blood. My cheek on the floor was wet. My neck hurt, and my leg felt like the skin had been sliced off with a potato peeler. One guy yelled, “Call 9-1-1!” The other guy bent over me and pressed a wad of paper napkins to my head. He said, “You went down like a piece of old lumber. Your head just smacked that door jamb.” He slapped his hand on the tile floor. “Like that!” he said. “You gonna be okay? Can you hear me?”
While I lay there staring at the ceiling, I heard everything. Several people had hurried over and asked questions. One woman talked on a cell phone to the 9-1-1 person.
From the hall I’d just torn through came shouts and footsteps. People sounded exasperated. A woman screamed, “That thing’s filthy! Get it away from me. Get it A-WAY from me!” There was some deep laughter. Then the kid wearing the tuxedo appeared above me holding Pig. His face and hair were caked with makeup, and dark lines ran along his jowls and under his bottom lip to make him look old. Beneath that long, flowing cape was that tux with tails and a red-sequin vest. The gold-foil horns on his head caught the light and sparkled. He tapped my shoulder with one of his spatted shoes, then held Pig over me as if he might drop her on my face and said, “Hey buddy, looks like I got something of yours. What’ll you give me for it?”
And that’s how I got where I am.