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THE SWINES

Anecdotes Of A Piggly Family
by H.M. So
Chapter 1 Illustration

Chapter 1


Meet the Swines


"If you need a dictionary, you're trying too hard."



I come from a family of pigs. My mom is a British Lop, of which she is quite proud. Though only of piggly stock, she's British through and through with the same concomitant air of imperial pride known only among the English. Her great-great-great-great-grandmother was once the main course for the queen herself. To this day her side of the family in Cornwall speak of it with intumescent pride and hoity-toity superiority. The local British papers reported the pork was the finest to be ever served the royal family. "Soft, moist and delicious white and dark meat," it said. "And glazed with a fusion of honey, brown sugar, cumin, basil, and secret royal herbs." Personally, I don't care much for British royalty. I just wish my mom showered and cleaned the house like the rest of the hoi polloi.

"Do you think I smell funny?" she sometimes asks.

It's hard to tell your mom that she smells like a pig and not in a good way.

"Of course I smell like a pig! I am a pig!" she declares.

Hearts are frangible.

My father is a warthog, the pedigree, I'm not quite sure. I think his family originally comes from the sweltering plains of the African savannas. I don't think he knows either or really cares. He's a bit rough around the edges. He's a boar through and through, and boorish from hoof to tusk, my mom says, when she's not in the nicest mood. He can be a philistine.

His mornings start with guttural noises and proceeds through the day with various kinds of somatic disturbances no child should learn about until he gets married. He grunts in the hallway just outside my room, coughs up phlegm, and drools like a busted faucet. And when he's not quite the center of attention he thinks he ought to be, he howls like a batshoot crazy hog. When I complain about the noise, Mom always comes to his support. She's his number one excuse attorney.

"He's not yelling. He's just loud," she asserts in his defense. "That's his normal voice. He's always a few decibels too high. You know that."

My parents get into arguments sometimes about some silly thing or another. They're never too bad but voices are raised, snorts turn to hollering, and neighbors sometimes peek through the windows. My hirsute father has tusks that could split open an elephant (he claims) but his booms are generally louder than his bite. He says his grandfather once impaled a lion. My mom's snout is pretty formidable as well. You don't want her breathing down your neck. The viscous liquid that dribbles from her nostrils can suffocate a large fish.

Me? I'm Sam. And I'm twelve. I started middle school and I'm a straight A student. Or at least I used to be. Middle school is a new adventure and I'm not quite sure how I'll do. I've heard anecdotes of kids going from hero to sub-zero because they couldn't handle teachers and prepubescent peer pressure. I have a few friends, but girls give me the heebie-jeebies. My mom and dad also don't make the best first impressions at PTA and parent-to-parent back slapping shindigs. My friends tell me that I'm so different from my parents. But I'm not adopted. Really. My family is swine but I'm perfectly normal.


* * *


My favorite subjects are math, history, and English. I think math is important because it impels the mind to the logical. "There are no wishy washy, opinionated answers to math problems," Mr. McCoy, my teacher, says. You're either right or wrong and he'll be the final arbiter of that, he proclaims.

History, on the other hand, is arguably a lot more subjective. Dates may be factual but exactly what happened on that day is another story. According to Mr. Johnson, "history is the opinion of historians, professors, and nerds who spend a lot of time at the library." But in the end, it's just a point of view. Or as Napoleon Bonaparte once said, "history is full of lies people agree on to believe."

Of course, history isn't always so dubious. According to the Eastern sage, Confucius, the best way to "determine the future is to learn from the past." But which lessons are we meant to learn? If only we were smart enough to know. Or is the past meant to be retold differently every time in service of the present? That seems so cynical!

Maybe English, like all languages, is a bridge between make believe and truth. It helps communicate what we think and feel. It may be true or not true in the opinion of some, but if you're honest with yourself, then it's at least true for you at this moment. Unfortunately, my English teacher is a shrew named Ms. Fearstein and everything I say seems to be untrue for her. I once brought her an apple and she hit me on the head with it.

"What did you do that for?" I cried.

"Sorry, kiddo. I thought it was a tennis ball," she answered without remorse. "Now, take a seat before I serve you another one."

On the classroom wall there are posters of Shakespeare's famous plays. The English poet wrote about comedy, tragedy and tragicomedy.

I think she hates me.


* * *


My best friends are Danny and Scott. We're almost two months into the new school year and except for assault and battery by the not-to-be-named English teacher, things are going pretty well. It's nice to have friends in a sea of anxious prepubescent teens. A kid could get swallowed up in the ocean.

I've known Danny since the second grade. And Scott was the new boy in school in the fourth. He lives in a white house on the other side of town. His Dad is a dentist. Danny lives down the street in a beige condominium. His father works for a delivery company. According to kid years, we've been friends a long time. Of course, to adults, it's just a handful of seasons. A blip in the calendar. My mom has underpants older than all of our ages combined.

I hope middle school will be fun. Maybe there's a naive anticipation for something that's unrealistic. But so far, so good. We have our own personal lockers, and change classes after each period. Kids crowd into the halls like morning subway commuters except there are no trains and we have nowhere to go except down the hall. From a vertical distance we must resemble lost ants trudging back and forth.


* * *


My parents are blue collar folks who speak plainly. Dad says, if you need a dictionary, you're trying too hard. My mom likes literature in theory, but she says it makes her drowsy. She thinks it might be allergies.

According to his calculations, Dad says we're middle class. That means our family makes an yearly income that's about average, although I'm guessing average, like history, can be very subjective while pretending to convey a precision closer to math. My friend, Scott, says his family is average, but they live in a large six bedroom house with a pool, own four motorcycles, a boat, three cars, and travel to Europe every summer. We have one car and vacation by driving endlessly on barren, dirt roads. Extended arms out open windows imitating the flight of wings count as entertainment.

My dad used to be a plumber and ran his own small business. He's semi-retired now and gets work occasionally from previous customers. He charges half rate and receives payments in cash. My dad doesn't believe in cryptocurrencies or credit cards. He believes in precious metals, cold green cash, and grain storage silos. We have a mini grain silo in the backyard next to the buried gold bars and dried meats.

Mom is retired, too, but keeps herself busy in the garden. She used to be a florist and had a small shop she rented from Mr. Sosa, an old man originally from Brazil. "We love our barbecue in Brazil," he used to say, licking his lips and firmly but gently pulling her thick hands toward his mouth. He said his favorite Brazilian BBQ was Costela de Porco Assada. My mother thought he was a little too friendly and strange, but he was a nice man and gave her a good deal on the rent until he passed away. When the new owner brought it up to market rates, she retired.

My dad bought our three bedroom house in Suidae Valley about eleven years ago when I was a baby. Suidae Valley had a nice ring to it, Mom said, and they decided to make their home here. It's a medium sized town somewhere in the middle of California between Porterville and Salinas. We have cows, horses, and other livestock in the area. But we might be the only pigs. Dad added an extra room downstairs a few years ago to make into a play pen for Mom. It's literally a pig pen now.

We fit right in with everyone here. Suids are nice, friendly people. The town mascot is a Chester White, but Mom says Lops are more tender cuts of meat and better mannered.

Sometimes they ask us where we're from. Mom proudly tells them she's from Cornwall, England. Dad grunts and says his ancestors fought in the Civil War ─ for the right side. I assume he means the Union? I don't know if that's true but it's quite a pedigree for a sub-Saharan wild African boar. I think we have relatives back in Texas.

Dad moved out to California when he was younger and dreamed of settling the West. He thought Los Angeles was too show business and San Francisco was overrun with vegan hippies. So he chose a quiet town in between where he could avoid the paparazzi and enjoy red, juicy steak. Mom says she wouldn't mind being a movie star or joining a commune. She thinks she has a face for television and the perfect body for manual labor. She claims she can outwork a horse. Dad's not sure if she can work harder than a horse, but she can eat as much.


* * *


I haven't decided what I want to be when I grow up. When you're a kid, everything seems possible. I took a month of piano lessons and people said I was a musician. I wrote a short story in the sixth grade that won a second place blue ribbon for best fiction and I was celebrated as an up and coming writer by the contest organizers. After a month of Spanish lessons the teacher said we were bilingual. But all I could say was, “si,” “que?” and “como te llamas?” It seems a kid could qualify to be almost anything with a little effort.

But adulthood is different. You can't pass yourself off as a pianist because you play a few bars of chopsticks. Genuine expertise requires a lot of time and skill, which means ten thousand hours of practice according to conventional wisdom. Ten thousand hours of practice is more than a year without sleep and food or ten years practicing three hours a day. My dad says it took him many years to go from apprentice to master plumber. He says it's a lot harder than it looks. It's not just throwing Liquid Draymo down pipes and collecting forty bucks. Sometimes you have to stick your head under the sink and get water splashed on your face. That means dedication and commitment to a craft. I'm just not sure what that is yet. A year is a long time for a kid to go without sleep and food.

Mr. McCoy thinks I have a binary future in mathematics. It could go positively. Or negatively. The unknown variable is whether I can ace next week's algebra exam on polynomial functions. Mr. Johnson says my preternatural talent for dates, narrative, and revisionist interpretation bends the arc of history toward justice. Or maybe fiction. My answers to yesterday's pop quiz on Columbus are sure to offend everyone on all sides of the historical debate. But Ms. Fearstein says I should give up now. No point in the pretension that I have any future at all. She says that as a student, I'm not half bad, but that doesn't mean the other half is any good.

I think a kid should be allowed to be a kid without so many adult hands trying to shape it. We're flesh, blood, and sticky sweat, after all, not modeling clay. Except, there's an interregnum between childhood and adulthood that can really throw things for a loop if it goes off the rails, Mom says. I'm entering that phase now and have to be careful. The age between twelve and twenty-one are the most unpredictable and treacherous. But Dad says I should do what I want. Have fun! Let the devil take tomorrow.



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