The Neighborhood Pig
“The Tudors got a pig!” B.J. skids into the kitchen on mud-covered soles. All she can see of me is my rear end. The rest is stuffed deep in the cupboard next to the sink.
“Three cans of applesauce, one of corn, twenty-five tomato sauce, why did Don get so many tomato sauces?, five pounds of flour…” With each item on the inventory, cans and sacks tumble from the cupboard. I like to keep a full stock of supplies for emergencies, either last-minute dinner guests or disaster (strikes, tornadoes, war), although neither has ever occurred as far as I can remember.
B.J. looks at the mud surrounding her tennis shoes. She smudges the mess this way and that on the floor to blend it into the pattern of the tile, bends over and wipes one particularly large hunk on her sleeve. “The Tudors got a pig,” she repeats. “It’s black and white spotted and enormous. I didn’t know pigs were so big.”
“They can’t have a pig,” My words echo from the cavern. “This is the city. There are laws against it.”
“Well, it looks like a pig. Maybe it’s an ugly dog.” B.J. has never visited a farm and thinks she could be wrong, unlikely as such an event is.
I pull myself out of the cupboard. A blue print scarf, the signal I’m involved in heavy housecleaning, is skewed over one ear. I settle the scarf more firmly on my head. “This I’ve got to see,” I say, standing and pulling my sweatshirt down over my jeans. “Where are they keeping it?”
B.J. grabs my hand and tugs me out the door. “In the backyard. They fenced part of it off.”
“We’ll just pretend we’re out for a stroll,” I say, drawing in a breath of early spring air. The dew of near-rain winks from asphalt, fences, brick garages, newly sprouted weeds, and bits of trash that have escaped garbage cans and plastic trash bags. “Just look, B.J.,” I say in a loud, act-like-we’re-talking-in-case-someone-is-listening voice. “The trees are beginning to bud.” B.J. joins the farce and turns her head from side to side, as if to admire the bare trees.
The trash increases as we walk down the alley to the Tudors several houses away. “What a mess,” I mutter. “Can’t they keep this junk in their own yard?”
No answer is necessary. Everyone knows the Tudors do nothing with their trash but dump it loosely next to their garage. Where it lands is a matter of chance—inside their yard, outside, or up and down the alley. None of the eight Tudor children care, and neither do the senior Tudors nor the grandmother.
Snuffles, grunts and groans increase in volume before B.J. and I see the pig itself. Yes, there it is, just discernable among the abandoned pickup truck, the refrigerator with its door hanging by one hinge, cardboard boxes and stacks of newspapers threatening to tumble, pieces of machinery. The Tudors’ tiny dog, black and white like the pig, tugs at its chain and yips wildly. The chain probably outweighs the dog.
“What are they going to do with it?” I whisper behind my hand.
“They’re fattening it. When next winter comes, they can eat it,” answers B.J. The pig roots in the mud and remainders of Tudor meals. A lettuce leaf dangles rakishly, beardlike, from its mouth as it lifts its flat nose to stare at B.J. and me.
# # # # #
“The Tudors have a pig!”
I hold the telephone receiver slightly away from my ear to protect my eardrum from the vocal explosion. Susan is so irate, she sputters. I can’t blame her. Susan lives right next to the Tudors. She’s considering moving solely because of that fact.
“You know what the damn thing does? It makes noises all night long. I can’t open my windows on that side of the house. I couldn’t anyway because of the doggy messes. But it’s even worse now. That thing moans like a baby. Then the dog starts. Barking back at the pig. Moan, bark, moan, bark. What can I do?”
“You could report them. I’m sure it’s illegal to have a pig inside the city limits.”
“What do they want a pig for, anyway?”
“B.J. says they’re going to butcher it for meat.”
“And where would they keep the meat? Their electricity is turned off half the time. Did you know last summer they had no utilities? They’d make a barbeque in their sink to grill hot dogs.”
“Really? That’s dangerous. The fumes can kill you. And how did they wash their laundry?”
Susan snorts. “Laundry? Those kids never wear clean clothes. They never even bathe. Haven’t you smelled them?”
I admit I haven’t. My kids play with the Tudors sometimes, when no one more interesting is available, but always outside. The smaller Tudors do have a grayish cast to their skin. I thought it was from a lack of vegetables.
“I’m going to sell,” Susan threatens. “I’m going to call a real estate agent. I can’t take anymore.”
“Don’t do that. We need you in the babysitting co-op.”
“I’m sorry. The co-op doesn’t outweigh the Tudors.”
# # # # #
“The Tudors have a pig!”
This time Susan’s announcement comes during coffee break at the neighborhood association meeting. Dolores and Olivia stand with Susan and me sipping tepid instant decaffeinated from foul-tasting Styrofoam cups. Dolores and Olivia live several blocks away, but they are familiar with the Tudors. Dolores shakes her head, Olivia’s mouth purses as if to say, “What else can you expect from the Tudors?” They are not surprised.
The husbands stand nearby tossing batting averages and home run scores back and forth. Until Susan’s statement. Then the men, lured by the irresistible topic, join the women. With the enthusiasm usually reserved for sports statistics, the men leap into the conversation. Dolores’ Randy, an attorney, points out the various statutes and ordinances the neighbors could use to get rid of the pig.
“First, there’s the straight health issue. Then, of course, disturbing the peace. And animals are limited to pets, no more than four dogs or six cats, and poultry flocks not greater than fifteen.”
B.J., who accompanies us to meetings because of her fascination with the convoluted and illogical world of adults, has been poking through a bowl of stale, cheap vanilla wafers. She picks two and dips them in a cup of weak tea, composed mainly of sugar and non-dairy creamer. Blowing and sipping the tea, she sidles up to the group of adults, ears nearly pointed with the effort of eavesdropping. She’s in time to hear her father Don defend pigs.
“Pigs are very clean animals. And they’re more intelligent than dogs. They can be trained as watch-pigs. There’s no reason the Tudors’ pig couldn’t be considered a pet.”
“But it’s not a pet,” shrieks Susan. “It’s food. And it stinks!” She pinches her thin nose with two well-manicured fingers.
Olivia’s Bob calculates the amount of money one could save by raising and butchering a pig. “How much are chops? Six-fifty a pound? And bacon! The bacon alone would save you three hundred dollars a year. How much does a pig weigh? How much meat per pound on the hoof?”
No one can answer. Bob mutters to himself, trying to subtract fat, hooves, skin, bones, hair from cookable pork. He pushes the tiny buttons on his watch’s calculator. Everyone ignores him.
Apropos of nothing, I muse, “Tudor, Tudor. An aristocratic name. Wasn’t Henry the Eighth a Tudor? Maybe the Tudors are descendants, down on their familial luck.”
“They’re most certainly lacking a family fortune. And with all those kids, they need to save money,” Olivia points out.
“Those kids! Why do they have so many?” Susan beats her favorite dead horse. “Haven’t they ever heard of birth control?”
“Haven’t they ever heard of self-control?” jokes Randy.
I bristle. I’m sensitive on the subject of large families, having five children myself (although two were accidents). “Sometimes those things just happen. As long as they can take care of them, it’s nobody’s business.”
“That’s the point,” snaps Susan. “They don’t take care of them.”
B.J. inserts herself in the discussion. “Mike Tudor tried to steal my ball. I saw him put it under his coat.”
Susan is delighted to have her prejudice confirmed. “See? What did I tell you? They’re a menace. And they play football up and down all the front yards on the block. No one can keep a decent lawn.”
A hot blush floods my face. I think Susan’s statement is a not-so-subtle criticism of my kids. Susan has only a tiny baby and doesn’t understand children’s need for physical activity. “My kids play football, too. They’re partly responsible.”
“Oh, but your kids are different. They’re not, they’re not needy,” says Susan, as if this incoherent statement clears up the difference between the Tudors and the Bigoshes. “And, of course, the Tudors are Catholic.”
This is one of those times when I wonder why Susan is a friend of mine. “What do you mean, ‘They’re Catholic’? I’m not Catholic, and I have a big family. Dolores is Catholic, and she only has one.”
“Yes, but Dolores has some intelligence. Not that you don’t. I mean…” Susan stumbles over her errors, digging herself a deeper pit to fall into. “You know what I mean.” She gives up, shrugs her shoulders.
It’s a good thing the meeting is ready to start. Susan and I sit on opposite sides of the room.
# # # # #
In the front yard, B.J. pulls the baby in the rusty red wagon, a relic passed down among all five kids. At this point in its fifteen-year career, it is losing its back wheels, and they turn and swerve with each tug on the handle. Also in the yard, I’m yanking ten-foot weeds from the flowerbed, weeds which should have come out last fall but somehow didn’t. Buried underneath, I know, are crocuses and primroses, if only I can find them. The weeds prick through my dirty gardening gloves, shower their wicked, prolific seeds all over the ground. I ask myself, as I do each year, why I don’t just plant grass everywhere rather than pretending I’m interested in flowers and vegetables, which always die anyway.
Just as I tug at one especially recalcitrant plant whose roots entwine the foundation of the house, I hear a wail. Jesse has collapsed along with the remains of the wagon. Her little circle face is red and streaked with dirt, her mouth opens round as a silver dollar. B.J. digs her sister out of the scramble of wheels, pipes and metal body. She jiggles the baby up and down, more and more violently, to make her stop crying.
Across the street comes Mindy, B.J.‘s best friend, a near-duplicate from straight brown hair down to jeans, red t-shirt with “Colorado” emblazoned on the blossoming front, and Nike sneakers. From the bag she carries, Mindy hands Jesse a potato chip, and Jesse quiets.
“Have you seen the pig?” B.J. asks Mindy. Mindy nods. She rarely speaks around adults, although she giggles.
“Isn’t it disgusting?” B.J. continues her one-sided conversation. “Their whole yard stinks. They’re going to eat it. Can you imagine eating a pig that you know?” Mindy shakes her head no. “But those Tudors. You know how those Tudors are.”
I raise my head from the weeds. B.J.‘s tone is familiar. Astoundingly like the tenor of the conversation at the meeting. Before I can comment, or even think about B.J.‘s attitude, come a whoop, a holler, a scream. Three or four Tudor kids fall out of their front door and push each other down the sidewalk. They stop by B.J. and Mindy who lift their dainty noses in the air. Mike Tudor carries a football in his fingers, each filthier than the previous one.
“Wanna play?” he snuffles, elbowing with a holey sleeve a younger child to stand behind him. The child shrieks and grabs for the ball.
B.J. and Mindy look at each other. Nothing else to do on this Saturday morning. They nod, and soon the horde is busy trampling delicate blades of young grass into the ground, digging small clumps of earth out of the front yards.
I sigh and scoop the baby up. Jesse is as dirty as a Tudor, I catch myself thinking. In justification I recall that my children get cleaner with age, not dirtier. My children are bright and charming. Not necessarily better behaved than the Tudors. But after all, under the encrusted or immaculate skins, what are the real differences? The line between the Tudors and the Bigoshes is thin, very thin indeed, and all chance. A matter of a few IQ points, a matter of hormonal energy and personality traits passed on by sets of parental chromosomes. Surely the differences aren’t major enough to account for the scorn awarded to one family and the acceptance of the other. I wonder about Fate as I drag Jesse into the house.
I’m soon drawn back outside. The football game has turned into a fracas. What appear to be thousands of Tudors and hundreds of Bigoshes scream at each other across the Tudors’ front yard. “You didn’t make a point.” “Yes, I did. The tree’s the goal.” “No, it’s not. The little sidewalk is.” “No, it’s not.” “You cheated anyway.” “No, I didn’t.”
Practicing my current theory of child-rearing, I carefully avoid getting involved. Let them solve their own problems. But I saunter from the porch, down the sidewalk, past several houses to the Tudors’, on the ready to call for adult support if needed. One tiny, broken-down sapling struggles for life in the middle of the crowd of children.
Grandma Tudor’s face appears at the broken front window, the cracks in the glass distorting her tangled gray hair into a wiry halo. Then her big, bathrobed body chugs slowly, ponderously, to the front porch. From the group of children a fist flies (I can’t tell which child’s fist), and Mike Tudor and Kevin Bigosh land in a pile of flailing feet and arms. Grandma begins a steady, high wail, “Stop, you boys, stop!” The kids press closer to the fight, B.J. shrieking. “You pigs, you dirty pigs, just like your own pig.”
Father Tudor now appears. Clearly his sloppy mother’s child, he relies on a length of rope around his fat waist to hold his frayed jeans up. His voice, emanating from a bristly pudgy face, has the strength of his entire family’s combined. “Mike, come in this second!” he bellows. Mike jumps up as if shocked by an electric wire. “The rest of you kids get in here, too,” Papa continues. As the Tudors run past him, he cuffs each one on the shoulder. They anticipate his move and dodge the force of the blows.
The focus of the activity withdrawn, my kids and the motley collection of other children mill around for a minute, then drift off. I remain on the sidewalk, stunned. My children certainly don’t respond to me the way the Tudors do to their father. Rational explanations and logic, not to mention cajoling, begging, bribery, all laced with delays and second and third chances to react, are hallmarks of my parental authority. By all respected standards of child-rearing, the Tudors should be defiant, disobedient, mouthy to their authoritarian, ill-mannered father.
But I have no time to analyze the puzzling ways of infant psychology, for here comes Susan. She must have been lurking behind her drapes, chalking up another point against the Tudors. She carries a piece of paper which she waves in my face, simultaneously handing me a pen.
“A petition,” she explains. “People against the pig.”
“Sounds like a lawsuit,” I joke.
Susan doesn’t smile. She has the curiously intent look people get when they’re out to save the world, or a corner thereof. “We’re going to give it to our councilman,” she says.
“Why? What can he do?”
“Get something done. The Health Department said they’d be out to inspect in a few days. I can’t wait. And this will make them more eager to help us.”
I study the petition, comprised of all capital letters and lots of underlining and exclamation marks. WE, THE UNDERSIGNED, OBJECT TO THE PRESENCE OF A PIG IN OUR NEIGHBORHOOD! SAID PIG IS A MENACE TO OUR HEALTH AND PEACE! WE RESPECTFULLY DEMAND IMMEDIATE ACTION BY THE CITY TO REMOVE SAID PIG!!!
“I’m not sure I can sign,” I say slowly.
Susan’s mouth drops. “Why ever not?”
“I don’t really care if they have a pig.”
“But what if they’re bothering people? Bothering me? Don’t I have rights?”
“Sure. But I also don’t know if this is the way to go. A petition may not do any good. Maybe create bad feelings or force extreme reactions.”
“It won’t hurt.” Susan is determined to get that signature now. She edges closer, thrusts the pen under my nose.
I look off at a house across the street, lawn neatly mowed and trimmed. a condition that does not apply to either my family or the Tudors. I don’t know what’s really bothering me about the petition, can’t identify my own disquiet.
Susan slaps her petition against her well-toned thigh, the result of regular and strenuous jogging. “Isn’t this supposed to be a community? Haven’t we agreed to certain conditions to enhance the quality of life of all? Don’t we all surrender some options, say, to raise a pig, in exchange for living close to one another?”
How can this small-time Valkyrie, this angel avenging on behalf of the neighborhood, be wrong? Susan has all logic, all arguments supporting her, as well as the twenty-five or so people who have already signed the petition. I grab the pen and paper and sign.
# # # # #
A state of war descends on the street: the beleaguered Tudors vs. the world. “Love me, love my pig” is their motto as they refuse to nod or smile when they pass neighbors.
The tension cannot last. Like a balloon blown up too big, it finally pops. Eleven-year-old Kevin, my conduit to the neighborhood, carries the news. “All the air was let out of Susan’s tires,” he announces. “It was the Tudors.”
“How do you know?”
“She said. She turned the petition in. The Health Department sent the Tudors a letter to get rid of the pig, and the very next day her tires were flat.”
Nothing can be proven one way or another, although everyone assumes the Tudors responsible. But now that the animal’s days are numbered, a strange thing occurs. Children beg to be allowed to stop at the Tudors’ to throw the animal scraps of food. Jesse’s favorite words become “pig” and “honk-honk.” My husband mentions nostalgia for his boyhood visits to his grandparents’ farm. People speak affectionately of “our pig,” as they meet in the supermarket. They mention the pig’s size, his feeding and sleeping habits to friends outside the neighborhood who lack the panache of an exotic animal in their environs. Sentiment slowly shifts toward the Tudors, or at least, their pig.
A crowd gathers in the alley the day the Tudors drive a pickup truck in to load the pig. Mr. Tudor ties a rope around its neck, yanks it through the trash and broken machinery, curses and pants. The Tudor children push from behind, the pig rolls terrified eyes and squeals and moans.
Just as it reaches the truck ramp, it makes a last bid for freedom and breaks away from restricting hands, charging for the crowd. But the sight of so many strangers confuses it even more. It stops, stares, right in front of me. Turns its dumb, suffering head back and forth as if pleading for help. Too late. The Tudors pounce and drag it up the ramp.
As the truck recedes down the alley, neighbors turn to each other and talk in low tones. They avoid Susan who steps to me. “Well, that’s that,” she says, brushing her hands together. Not even I can look Susan in the eye, suffused as I am with the collective guilt of the neighborhood.
Calm returns to the street. The only loud sounds are the cries of playing children, the roar of power lawn mowers. Until several mornings later. Just after dawn, I slog through sleep to hear a rooster’s greeting. I decide I’m imagining things, roll over to dream again. At eight o’clock, in the midst of breakfast, the phone rings. Spatula in hand, I answer. It’s Susan.
“Now they’ve got chickens! Didn’t you hear the rooster this morning? I can’t stand it. I can’t stand it! Why are you laughing? This is no laughing matter!”