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THE SWINES

Anecdotes Of A Piggly Family
by H.M. So
Chapter 3 Illustration

Chapter 3


Openers & Closers


"Idiosyncrasies can seem charming in the beginning. Eventually, it's just annoying."



Mom is what you might call an opener. She likes to leave everything open ─ lids, boxes, doors, windows, cabinets, bags . . . Everything must be in the ajar and unclosed position.

Our kitchen, for instance, swings with open cabinet doors and pulled out drawers. Plastic lids are never quite locked in tight. Bags of chips are unsealed. Our refrigerator is full of open cartons and half closed containers. The result is stale chips and a very stinky frig. Yuck!

When it's warm, she doesn't just open a few windows. She opens every window in the house. Even her private moments are shared publicly. When she goes to the bathroom, the door is unclosed. Agape. Oftentimes open all the way. She doesn't seem to mind that she's sitting on the toilet in full view. Maybe it's claustrophobia. Or it helps her to feel connected to the entire world. I'm just a kid. It's hard to figure out these things. But Dad says he doesn't have the answers, either. I imagine that when she was younger she was more modest. I can't be sure.

Curiously, Dad is the exact opposite. He's what you might call a closer. Everything must be tightly shut ─ windows, doors, lids, cabinets, and boxes. When he enters a room, he shuts the door behind him. When he leaves a room, he locks the door after him. Not shut? Half closed? It's one of the worst things you could possibly do. It drives him crazy. Because of Mom, he's always running through the kitchen shutting drawers and cabinet doors. He wants them "closed!" he squawks. "Bbbuuuuurrppp!"

As for me, I seem to have gotten a little of both from Mom and Dad. Sometimes I leave things open. Sometimes I close them. And many times that gets me into trouble depending on who's hovering over me.

"You left the cabinet door open!" Dad once reprimanded. "Close it! Pronto, buster!"

"But I'm still using it, Dad!" I demurred.

"No! Close it NOW!" he ordered.

In the winter, the windows had to be completely shut. That's good when it's chilly outside, but that habit also carries over into the warm summers as well which drives Mom insane. She wants to feel the breeze traveling through the living room. It reminds her of open prairies and bucolic hills, she says. For Dad, the only breeze he wants to feel seems to be the warm gale of his belches and booms rushing through the halls.


* * *


The weather has been very strange lately. In the day, it feels like the Mojave Desert. By evening, it's Siberian winter. Dad said the thermostat varied as much as forty degrees. Intemperate, barbarian weather was laying siege to the house. Fluctuations from day to night had become so drastic we were facing a domestic crisis. Mom and Dad are bickering like two enemy piglets because someone left the windows open or shut. It makes you wonder how the two ever got married. Do opposites really attract? Or just get into endless arguments?

While the feud, on the surface, might seem like a simple difference of opinion, in reality, it was the age old clash of the openers and closers. Like sectarian rivals, Mom and Dad were each convinced that their way was the orthodox truth and the other side was heresy.

"Achooo!" I think I might be catching a cold. Children aren't meant for extreme weather. I'm not a feral animal, after all. I'm as domesticated as little kids come.

"Honey, I'm freezing! You left all the windows open. Again!" Dad yelled. "Arrggghhhhhh!"

Idiosyncrasies can seem charming in the beginning. I imagine that's the way it was with Mom and Dad when they first met. One said tomāto. The other said tomäto. Eventually, it's just annoying.

"Then close them, dear" Mom quipped. Of course, she'd open it as soon as he closed it.

It was 8 p.m. and the house felt like the outside of an igloo. I was freezing, too, but I saw the cold as a savage force of nature, not the consequence of an eccentric mother that had all the windows open in the house. I did my best to manage with extra socks, sweats, and shirts. But by now, my nose was beginning to run like the Mississippi in summer and mosquitoes were buzzing in my head.

"Yaaaaaaaaggghhhh!" arose a frustrated scream.

The new Swine ritual seemed to be that Dad shut the windows at night, which meant every window in the house. And by 7 a.m. following morning, every window was opened again. Dad was freezing. Mom was hot. I was both and stuck in between. It's not easy being in a mixed family.

"Mom, can't you and Dad be reasonable about this? Do you have to open and close every window?" I asked.

"I like the cool breeze," she replied. "I like the windows open. I'm a pig. We're pigs. We have extra fat around the bones. We need natural cooling."

But I was a skinny kid. I didn't inherit mom's corpulent genes. I had no extra protection. My bones were exposed.

"Your dad is crazy!" she complained. "He wants everything closed even when it's hot. Maybe savanna warthogs are built a little differently from the English. I don't know. But I don't like my neck all hot and sweaty."

"Mom, I think I might be catching a cold. I'm not used to extreme weather. It's so hot during the day. And so cold at night. I'm not a wild animal."

"Blame your father, dear. Fresh air is good for you. Warm, stuffy air will make anyone sick."

"Achooo!" I think I was getting really sick. "Achooo! Achooo!"

"Geez, Sam. You're almost as loud as your father," Mom groused.

"YAAAHHHH!" Dad yelled from the safety of his hermetically sealed room. "Did someone say something?!" Dad was in retreat, immured in his chamber. He could make sure the windows in his room were closed, but not the windows throughout the house. That was a question of perseverance. And Mom was more determined.

"No, dear!" Mom shouted. "Now, sit next to the window, honey, and get some fresh air," she exhorted. "That should clear up your stuffiness. Always works for me!"


* * *


By the following day, I had a full blown cold. The temperature in my ear was 105 degrees. The doctor said I had a high-grade fever.

"Is that really bad?" I squeaked.

"Well, son. Not so good. But you'll get better with lots of soup and rest."

Privately, the good doctor told my mom and dad that the temperature in the house was too erratic. It should be around seventy-eight degrees, he recommended. No extreme temperatures. No radical changes. It's not good for a child, he said. It shouldn't be too cold. Nor too hot. Moderation was important.

"My wife, she's the darnedest woman, Doc!" Dad moaned. "She opens all the windows. And you know how cold it gets in the evenings these days. It's freezing!"

"No, that's not true, Doctor!" Mom countered. "He closes all the windows. And you know how hot it gets during the day. It's no wonder Sam is sick. A boy needs fresh air."

"You can't open all the windows!"

"You can't close all the windows!"

"It's cold! The windows have to be closed!"

"Too cold for you is anything below eighty degrees. You should try wearing a sweater!"

"Now, here, here!" the doctor interrupted, struggling to calm the situation. "Let's try to be reasonable. We're talking about your child's well-being. He's not a farm animal, you know."

Mom and Dad stared at each other and exchanged quizzical looks. They weren't sure what to make of that.

"I mean, he's not a lion or bear," the doc restated.

"No, he sure ain't!" they blurted out.

"He's a little boy. He's domesticated," continued the doctor. "He could never survive in the wild. The ambient temperature indoor should be moderate and comfortable. Please . . . If you two don't settle this, he'll only get more sick."

"Okay. Sorry, Doctor," Dad said. "I'll make sure Mrs. Swine doesn't open all the windows."

"Yes, Doctor. And I'll make sure Mr. Swine doesn't close all the windows!"

"Very good. Now, I'll be back in a few days to check up on Sam. I hope you two keep to your promises. Or else Sam will really get sick," the doctor warned. "And you know what happens to sick children . . ."

What?


* * *


Promises were easier made than kept. Partisan squabbling continued over the next couple days. Each side accused the other of apostasy and heterodoxy. They were like religious zealots firmly holding to canon. Maybe I was being punished for their sins?

"The doctor said we have to be reasonable. I left a handful of windows open!" Dad snorted.

"Just a handful? We need at least a baker's dozen!" Mom sneered.

"It's too cold for Sam!"

"No, it wasn't too cold. The thermostat was seventy-eight on the dot!"

"Yes, after I closed the windows you had opened!"

"That's the most ridiculous thing I ever heard!"

"You're the most ridiculous woman!"

"That's so rude! And you think you're a gentleman? You lout!"

The arguing continued to spiral down. Ecumenical understanding seemed impossible. Eventually they huffed and puffed and withdrew to their private quarters. If they could, they would have built separation barriers between them.

BANG! Dad shut the door behind him. "Meshugana!" he roared.

Mom went into her room and left her door wide open. Her windows, too, because she needed the fresh air. "Majnoon!" she yelled.


* * *


A few neighbors came to visit. Ms. Murphy from across the street brought cookies and chicken soup. She visited with her six-year-old daughter named Molly. Her face was dotted with brown freckles and her red hair was braided on either side of her head. She looked like Pippi Longstocking. We played retro games like Chutes N' Ladders and Connect Four. I let her win sometimes and she was very happy.

"Yay! I won!" she shouted, jumping around the room.

"Yes, you did, Molly. You're so smart!" I said.

"What kind of game is this?" she asked. Physical board games and tactile objects were foreign to her. She only knew apps.

"Old games our parents used to play in the Paleolithic." Artifacts of an ancient past.

"Paleo─what?"

We also watched some videos of cats and puppies on WeTube. It's amazing how many videos there are of cats and puppies. Pets peddle in cute like stores offloading shoes at ninety percent off. There's no way kids can compete. If animals could talk, parents wouldn't have children.

Mrs. Chao from the PTA dropped by as well to see if I was strong enough to do some homework in bed. She thought I was a good student and didn't want to see me falling behind. "University is just around the corner," she would say.

She has a son named Billy in the eighth grade who already takes college level math. He passed two high school AP exams and scored perfectly on the PSAT. Still, she's afraid Harbard won't accept him because of his background notwithstanding the stellar record and extracurriculars up the wazoo.

"No, no . . . I'm too sick . . . I can't do any homework," I weakly murmured, pretending to be super uber ill.

Last summer Billy helped Burmese farmers turn salt water into fresh. The summer before that, he helped Peruvian peasants in the Andes capture sunlight for electricity. This year, the plan is to help refugees in Yemen, Syria or Libya. There's no guarantee he'll come back.

"My, my . . . you are a sick little boy. I hope there will be a renascent interest in your studies soon. I can't believe your parents can be so pococurante," she said, peppering her sentences intentionally with words no one understood.

The vocabulary was above my grade, but I think I got the gist of it through tone and context. My parents were still fighting tooth and hoof and couldn't figure out how to compromise. Interfaith dialog isn't easy. We could hear them shouting down the hall.

"No, it's your fault! You're the bad one!" Mom squealed.

"No, it's not my fault. It's your fault! You're bad!" Dad hollered back.

"You think more about yourself than your own child!"

"You care more about your flowers than your husband!"

"Your yelling drives people crazy!"

"Your mud baths stink up the house!"

"I'm British! What are you?"

"I'm warthog! My family fought in the civil war!"

"Americans are uncouth and pushy!"

I wasn't just sick anymore. By now, buzzing mosquitoes had moved to my ear and were giving me an ear ache.

"Compromise is important if we want to get along," Mrs. Chao quietly shared. "Fanaticism leads to acrimony. There's a place for dogmatism ─ doing well in school ─ but in most cases, we should be flexible. Forbearance is a virtue. We ought to pursue a broadminded Weltanschauung."

"Aren't you afraid Billy could be captured?" I asked.

"There's a one in 221,839 chance."

My chums, Danny and Scott, also came by to tell me what was going on at school. Danny said the algebra test was hard but he'd clue me in on the questions. Scott said the kids were getting together to form a basketball team. When I get better, I could join in.

The guys and I talked a while, threw some football in the room and played with darts and other kinds of throwing weapons. I had toy shurikens, knives, and miniature spears. However, Danny missed the board a couple times and darts flew out the open window. They almost hit Mrs. Chao and Ms. Murphy on the head who were chatting outside.

"Agggghhhhhhhhhh!" they screamed.

"You kids almost impaled us with spears!" scolded Mrs. Chao.

Wow! That should be illegal, I thought to myself.

"Close that window! And you shouldn't play with knives!" Ms. Murphy yelled.

"Sorry!" Danny shouted. "We didn't mean to skewer you!"

Almost killing someone was frightening but sort of funny too. It's a strange paradox. Are humor and horror the inverse of each other like reflections in a distorted mirror? The terrifying and humorous often feel equally unreal but for opposite reasons.

"In a different dimension of the multiverse, we're being hauled off in handcuffs," Scott hypothesized.

"Ms. Murphy would have a dart in her ear," said Danny.

"How come all the interesting stuff only happens in other dimensions?" I asked.

They shrugged their shoulders. It was one of those universal mysteries. Other worlds always seemed more interesting than this one.


* * *


Missing school has its benefits but lying in bed alone wasn't that much fun. But with everything at your fingertips, I wasn't missing too much. Internet in Suidae Valley was still on the slower side, but it was faster than old fashioned dial up.

Scott sent videos of well-wishers from school. They goofed and asked if I had the Bubonic plague. Danny told them that we impaled Mrs. Chao with darts and she had to go to the hospital. Scott said we were almost hauled off to prison but he talked the police out of it. The past was the multiverse.

Teachers messaged me as well. Ms. Jones, my health class teacher, reminded me to get plenty of lemon juice and water. She said electrolytes are important for a sickly child. I asked if I could substitute lemon juice with soda. Sodas have a lot of fizz that appear charged with electricity. She said sodas are charged with sugars and acids like phosphate that will rot my mouth. I should stay away if I still want teeth at sixty. But sixty seemed like a long time away. I wanted to enjoy my cold glass of soda now!

My history teacher, Mr. Johnson, said I was missing his best lectures yet ─ the great Julius Caesar. He said Caesar conquered the world before the age of thirty. I told him I still had lots of time left. But time flies, he warned. His childhood feels like yesterday. Where had it all gone? Life is fugacious. Maybe time is just an illusion of the mind, I offered. Perhaps there's no time at all? We invented time to explain change. He said I might be on to something. I wasn't sure what I was on to, but I tried holding my breath and walking backwards, but no luck turning back the clock.

Ms. Fearstein said I was failing English. She said that if I wanted academic reprieve, I'd have to bring a notarized medical note from my doctor. She said she didn't believe I was really sick. She wasn't sure if I was even human. I sent her pictures of me lying in bed and video clips of the doctor examining me. But she can't be fooled, she jeered. She's familiar with every trick in the book. It's a dusty old book.

Mr. McCoy, my math teacher, congratulated me on my successful abstention. He said that in the real world more of something is not always additive. More could actually be deductive. That's why people take vacations. He asked if I was enjoying my vacation. I told him being forced to lie in the supine position with a 105 degree temperature was ruining my holiday. He messaged me back and said people sometimes die on vacations.


* * *


Over the next several days, my cold gradually improved, thankfully, though the theological discord between my parents continued to simmer. They learned to compromise a little, but they often tried to cheat when they thought the other wasn't looking. Trickery, artifice, and ruse abounded, both sides apparently cohering to the credo, "By way of deception." They didn't seem to think integrity was important when the other side was unequivocally wrong.

"Honey, I see you trying to open that window," Dad said. "You can't fool me!"

"No . . . I was just checking to see if it was stuck. Besides, I saw you try to close the window in Sam's room and it was over eighty-two degrees in there!"

"The weather was turning cold. I was just being cautious."

"You're trying to cheat! Hoodwinker!"

"Don't call me a cheat. You dubious trickster!"

The weather also improved unexpectedly, which probably deserves the most credit. Sometimes, when headstrong parents can't agree, Mother Nature intervenes. The temperature turned salutary and with it my fever as well. After a week, I was back to my salubrious self again and the doctor gave me a clean bill of health. All was forgiven.

"You're as fit as a guitar," the doctor said.

"Is that anything like a fiddle?" I asked.

"Oh yes, even better. Guitars are more versatile."

"Thanks, Doc!" Dad interjected. "You're even better than the family vet we used to have when I was a kid."

"I do try my best to take care of everyone," the doctor said.

"I know it's all our fault," Mom declared. "Sometimes I wonder how Sam survives in this house. It can feel like a barn."

"You have ─ ahem ─ a lovely home, Mrs. Swine."

"Can I get a notarized medical note?" I begged, remembering that I needed to get an excuse for school.

"Why in the world for?" the doctor asked.

"My teacher, Ms. Fearstein, thinks I'm not sick. She's not even sure I'm human. She says she's going to fail me!"

"Don't worry, Sam. I'll take care of her."

Things in the Swine household soon returned to normal. Windows in the house were inappropriately open or closed. The refrigerator reeked of yesterday's dinner, lunch, and breakfast, and a sundry other left-overs. Random bags of cookies and chips were torn open or sealed tightly shut. The windows in my room mysteriously opened and closed on their own depending on which parent came in to check.

And despite the temporary truce between the openers and closers, I saw no lasting detente between opposing sides. Perhaps these differences are irreconcilable? Manichean worldviews can be hard to resolve. Creeds weren't meant to be negotiable. Or maybe they get along better in other dimensions of the multiverse where Mrs. Chao and Ms. Murphy are impaled and recovering in hospital beds. I hope they get better soon.




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