THE PIG • by Stephen V. Ramey

Sweating Buffalo takes the pipe into his big hands and puffs like a train climbing a steep grade. A smoke-sweet smell quickly fills the bathroom.

“It was another life,” he says, eyes gone dreaming. I prod him with a broom that was standing in the corner behind the open door. I’ve come too far, both in terms of geography and spiritual vulnerability, to let him drift away now.

He paws the bristles away from his face. The pipe falls into the wastebasket. Flames erupt almost immediately, a signal, I suppose, that there was more combustible material here than one might expect. I ought to douse it with water. Instead I prod Sweating Buffalo again. He stumbles back onto the toilet lid.

“Another life?” I say.

His brow bunches, a complex network of ravines that reminds me of the desert as the plane descended into Phoenix. I came to bury my grandmother who raised me.

“You said it was another life.” I jab the broom just short of his chin. He does not flinch, only nods, and pushes the bristles aside. I like his face, the broad chin and cheeks, eyes like black wells, a nose that does not kid around. He’s young, hair pulled back into a single tight braid, but I sense the roots of wisdom in him. I knew he was someone I needed the moment he walked into Charlotte’s party. She was my high school friend, ten years and three thousand miles removed from my career in New York.

“The pig,” he says.

“What about the pig?” I don’t know the symbolism of the pig in Native American culture. It irks me. I should have studied up instead of reading Vogue on the plane.

“The pig spoke to me,” he says.

“Yes?” I feel my body leaning. A great secret is about to reveal itself. I need that secret. I need to understand why circumstance has brought me here.

“Show me your breasts,” he says.

“What?” I pull back. My arms cross before I even think. That’s personal. That belongs to me.

“If you want to know what the pig said, show me your breasts.”

I hesitate. Sweating Buffalo — if that’s even his real name — watches serenely. Maybe there’s a reason. Maybe it’s a ritual. I force my arms to uncross. What harm is there, really? In his intoxicated state, he won’t rape me, won’t even catch me if it comes to a chase. You said that before, and look what it got you? There’s a scraping sensation inside me, deadened by anesthesia, but alive all the same. My body clenches.

I have not thought of the abortion in years. I put that behind me, put him behind me. I can’t even see his face, though maybe I can if I try. It’s right there like a reflection in a mirror just barely too dark to see. I want to spit. I want to vomit. Flames glisten on the metal sides of the wastebasket. I’m here, not there, I tell myself. With Sweating Buffalo, not him.

I undo the top blouse button.

“The pig was sitting in a puddle,” Sweating Buffalo says.

I undo the second.

“Mud was on him everywhere. I could not see his true skin.”

“And?”

Sweating Buffalo chuckles. “It made him difficult to know.”

I finish unbuttoning my blouse, pull the tails free of my slacks. My nipples are like stones inside the bra. I shiver. His eyes shift down. His expression does not change.

“Know?” I remind him.

“To know whether it was the pig speaking,” he says. “Or the mud.” His eyes focus on mine. “One must see the flesh to know it is true.”

I shrug bra straps from my shoulders without removing the blouse. I pull the cups down. Air that seemed warm before is ice cold now.

The tips of his fingers brush me. It’s like lightning, that contact, nearly knocks me down. Currents oscillate: rage, lust, love. I have not let a man touch me since I was seventeen.

“Your milk comes from a good place,” he says, as if that pronouncement should set me at ease. Somehow, it does.

He stands from the toilet lid and I shrink. He’s so much taller than me, wider than me. His shadow becomes a scratchy blanket.

“What did the pig say?” I whisper. The flame in the wastebasket has receded. It feels the opposite inside me.

Sweating Buffalo cups my chin. “He said this is not a good place, this world, for pigs like him.”

My heart pounds fast. Blood pulses through my neck and face. He presses my palm to his chest. I want to shove him. I want him to touch me again.

“We should be glad that we are not pigs,” Sweating Buffalo says. He leans in and I smell the weed on his breath. Our lips meet.

His eyes become tunnels to someplace new.


Stephen V. Ramey lives in beautiful New Castle, Pennsylvania with his talented wife, Susan Urbanek Linville, and two reformed feral cats. His work has appeared in many places and his collection of (very) short fictions, Glass Animals, is available wherever fine books are e-sold.


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 average 2.8 stars • 21 reader(s) rated this

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  • Ok, so this story evoked emotion in me and that’s good for a story this short.
    That emotion was anger….

    A rape victim who’s afraid of being raped, in a bathroom with a giant stranger, smokin’ the reefer, taking her clothes off, and kissing, but sure that she won’t be raped…because he’s intoxicated?

    Seriously?

    Leonard Nimoy just awakened his grave to say “this is highly illogical.”

    You do a good job of making me feel her unease and the weight of the past.

    As much as it angers me that she would be in such a position, what was she supposed to do with the rest of her life?
    NOT go into bathrooms with strange men for a quick toke? Well, that’s not living, either. So, in a way, this story is about her not living in fear.

    When she said “What did the pig say?” my mind filled in the lyrics of the song The Fox by Ylvis

    Also, buffalo don’t sweat, but if they did, I can’t think of anything potentially smellier.

    Quattro el starro

    • Joseph Kaufman

      As far as the logic (or lack thereof) of her thought process — and the situation she put herself into — I took this to represent her allowing herself to feel things she hadn’t felt in many years, all the “combustible material” finally being ignited (I really liked the fire symbolism). That allowance might feel awkward, inconsistent, and conflicted, but that felt authentic to me…at least as best as I could identify with something I know nothing about.

      I see what you mean about all of that manifesting itself as a type of anger in the reader — I suppose I felt that too, but didn’t really put my finger on it. Perhaps that was because I was reading the piece with an editorial eye, but I am thinking I just didn’t have quite the same insight as you on interpreting this. I wonder what emotions other readers are feeling…

      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

        Well, Joe, I’ll tell you.

        It pisses me off when a writer of fine capabilities takes a quick trip to the cliché superstore and brings all of it here.

        Maybe it’s a guy thing–imagining there’s nothing more exciting than melting into a sexual coercion–but this story did a wonderful job of arousing visceral repugnance in me.

        And–gosh. How refreshing to find a Native American character representing primal wisdom and rugged masculinity, before which our Vogue-reading heroine can do nothing but unbutton her blouse in mesmerized receptivity.

        But I digress. Why wouldn’t one expect combustible material in a bathroom wastebasket?

        I hate disliking any of Stephen’s stories, and I have no problem with presenting life’s ugliness, but in fiction I need to see the point of it, going somewhere.

        And to continue the theme Michael started, all I can hear now is The Who, singing “Won’t Get Raped Again.”

        Two stars.

        • Joseph Kaufman

          “Maybe it’s a guy thing–imagining there’s nothing more exciting than melting into a sexual coercion–but this story did a wonderful job of arousing visceral repugnance in me.”

          I guess I didn’t see the same coercion as you did — she could have left the bathroom at any time. And even though I am a guy, I don’t think there is nothing more exciting than melting into a sexual experience.

          I don’t personally feel I have the skill or agency-awareness to write something like this, but as a reader I certainly didn’t see it in nearly as erotic (or shallow?) a light as you apparently did. I was drawn in to the MC experiences and had no idea the gender of the author until after I read and commented on the piece.

          As far as cliches, I suppose every reader has a different level of tolerance as to their cumulative (or even singular) effect.

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            I thought the MC was male until I got to Vogue on a plane, but still wasn’t sure of the protagonist’s sex until the demand to see her breasts. The narrative voice seemed to fit a certain got-away-to-the coast aesthetic in which a certain kind of guy might express himself.

            I never did manage to believe in the character, after that and with everything that followed. Sure, she could have left the bathroom at any time, but that’s not how her creator saw her.

            I never see the sex or the species as any impediment to getting to the truth
            of the other–no matter who or what the other is. Only impediment is talent. So it’s doubly irritating when I know from previous experience that talent is not lacking.

            As far as your skills–the author of “Glow” can achieve pretty damn much anything he puts his mind to.

          • Joseph Kaufman

            I can’t recall what I thought about the gender of the MC… I don’t suppose it was crystal clear until the breasts comment.

            As far as judging a work by the author, it has been refreshing, actually, that in our new system I have been working sequentially by story ID rather than a main-page console (which lists author name). So, I don’t come in with any preconceived notions that are hard to do away with for me (like assuming the “I” in a first-person narrative has the same gender as author “John” or “Jane”. In any case, I try not to “grade on the curve” as it were when viewing a story. Just the merits of each piece as they come.

            As far as “Glow”, I assure you it took less skill than you are giving me credit for. I dashed it off in 48 hours, and was able to liberally apply items from every shelf of the “cliche superstore” because it was rom-com. I know it wasn’t that great, as it barely eked into the top third of the heat contest I was in. I’m proud of it, sure, I just don’t think it was quite all that, and I have certainly written better.

            Thanks for weighing in on the story today, though, as I am sure the author will get some nice food-for-thought from it.

          • I like that stories are read without author knowledge. I have to keep two websites and two sets of business cards depending upon which genre my newest novel is that I’m pushing. I have written, sci-fi, satire, horror, western, noir, romance, non fiction about drug addiction…. I hate that each of my books will be judged by the last, and so on, but it’s just the way it goes. That’s why I love Vonnegut so much. He wrote in all genres, pretty much, and was unapologetic about doing so.

      • They are eerily silent today. 🙂

        As a father of two girls I might have been evoked easier than others.

        • Or not 🙂

        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

          I have a hard time properly expressing the fury when writers I respect write something that I consider pretty awful, for a wastebasketful of reasons.

          • One of my first magazine columns was an advice column.
            Dear Dirk, I have a female boss who gets angry when I take her hand like a lady rather than shake her hand, like I would a man. I can’t help myself I was raised to view women as the fairer sex, etc.

            Dear chivalrous,

            Take her hand like you would a salty combat vet with a grip strong enough to strip bark off a tree, and see who flinches first, etc.

            I was obviously being facetious, which was clearly expressed in the rest of the piece where I said things like “she’s the boss in a major corporation and has shaken hands before and is probably tougher than most men, etc…

            Nonetheless a reader wrote in to the magazine saying “your piece, as good writing should, evoked an emotional response. That being said I would like you to resign from the magazine and just live the rest of your life feeling like a generally bad human being, you misogynist pig.

            Good times….

            Forgot where I was going with this….

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            “Let’s get stoned and skanky” stories don’t tend to evoke favorable emotions in me, because they generally don’t get any further than getting stoned and skanky.

            And the self-aware interior monologue type of gal, with the laser vision to spot the guy who will reveal to her the secrets of the universe–well, how could she not? He’s the Native American guy!

            I’d be less annoyed if this had a different byline.

      • S Conroy

        I think a male writer trying to get into the mind and behaviour of a woman who has been raped must be brave and/or stupid, or incredibly aware with an ability to communicate this awareness with amazing sensitivity. I think overall the story fell short of the last, but I was still in two minds.

        First mind: If it was only about a white woman with cliché/racist ideas of a Native American’s wisdom which he secretly laughs at and somehow turns to his own advantage in a non-sexual way, it might have worked. But she is a rape victim and it could be interpreted as him sexually humiliating her as revenge for her naivety/racism. That’s too ugly, so I was relieved to think there might be another interpretation more in line with Joseph Kaufmann’s:

        The Native American is genuinely quite a wise man and has a good sense of humour to boot. The couple are attracted to each other. When she sees him, she senses he is the person who can help her shake off her sexual hangups, but her previous rape experience means her healthy attraction is mixed up with anger and fear.

        I like a lot of the writer’s other work and think something like the second interpretation is what he was aiming at. Unfortunately the possibility of the first was enough to contaminate my reading. (No vote.)

        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

          The plot device–which male writers seem to love even more than weed–of the sexually abused woman cured of her hangups by a good hard round of aggressive, dehumanizing, up-against-the-uncomfortable-wall-of-your-choice sex is one that makes me want to reach for a rusty pair of secateurs.

          • S Conroy

            God, I envy your way with words, Sarah!

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            “My heart pounds fast. Blood pulses through my neck and face. He presses my palm to his chest. I want to shove him. I want him to touch me again.”

            Yeah, but they always think we always want it, but sometimes we just don’t know how to say so. That’s why they so generously eliminate the dilemma for us.

          • S Conroy

            When you cite those lines in isolation it makes me think of the porno classic; she says no, but means yes.
            I imagine in real life most woman, at some point, have experienced sexual harassment on some level, so have a home-grown sensitivity to the theme.
            A guy writing about this stuff needs to catch up with that.

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            The sin of this story, for me, was in its being absolutely unoriginal, with some howlers thrown in for good measure.

            She had an abortion years previously, but “your milk comes from a good place.”

            What place is that? Unplanned pregnancy due to rape?

            There was such a dunderheaded absence of the ability to understand what it might mean, to have your body changing in the nurturing of new life that had been brutally implanted in you, especially if, perhaps, you were a woman who’d always hoped for children, but at a time of your choosing and with a partner of your desire, and what it might mean to abort.

            It’s the sort of line that probably really sounds good in your head, up writing at 3:00 a.m., especially now that you’re all in the rhythm of your cool Native American character, but its layers of implication, anguish and brutal irony are just not nowhere in your ken.

    • Carl Steiger

      I used to drive past a bison ranch on occasion, and I’m very glad they didn’t sweat.
      I think the emotion evoked in me was more like “ick.” Also confusion. Why a pig? Pigs (as opposed to peccaries) were introduced to the Americas by Hernando de Soto in 1539 (ref: The Austin Chronicle, “The History of Pigs in America,” 10 April 2009). Nearly 500 years ago, but is that long enough for them to get engrained into Native American tradition? Perhaps it’s just the weed talking to him.

      • S Conroy

        Good research!

  • The first para I thought I was in the 1880s.

    A name like Sweating Buffalo, I don’t think that style is used today.

    The pipe – thought of peace pipe or lodge pipe of the 1880s

    Puffing like a locomotive – not too many of these around today.

    Why was she sticking a broom in the face of a stranger who was minding his own business?

    Spontaneous trashcan combustion, and they let it keep burning?

    The breast revelation episode – too much like Mardi Gras – “Show us your tits” and earn a string of beads.

    She flew in for her granny’s funeral but she’s at a party?

    What was the “another life?”

    The man speaks like I would expect from an aged shaman, but he is young and handsome, and modern?

    The entire story came across so terribly phony.

    I think he was smoking a bowl full of buffalo chips.

    *

    • Joseph Kaufman

      My take on few of your issues:

      “Puffing like a locomotive” — I’m not sure such machines still need to be in service for the imagery to work… If I asked my older daughter (she’s five) what “puffing like a locomotive” meant, she would understand entirely (as would I, and they certainly weren’t still in service regularly over the course of my lifetime). Cliche? Perhaps, but I don’t think whether or not something is still actively used comes into play. Hundreds of idioms and metaphors use the language of things long past, some so far gone that true origins are unknown (look up “whole nine yards” for more on that).

      Broom – She came in there with him (so he wasn’t a stranger) because she thought he could help her sort out her thoughts, and she was attracted to him (apparently). Also, he had the weed. *smile* She had come too far to “let him drift away now,” so I am guessing he was sort of nodding off from time to time.

      “another life” – I assumed that to be the vague ramblings of the Native American fellow that had transpired before we are let in on the action. He takes that concept and turns it into the pig train of thought. Whether it is in any way based on wisdom or just random flirting is more or less up to the reader (I took it as a bit of both).

      • I agree with the idioms thing… “balls to the walls” comes from steam engines (possibly a locomotive) having a spinning piston inside a metal drum. From the piston hung hinged levers with metal balls on them. when the engine reached a certain RPMs, the balls hit the walls and caused friction and drag to govern the speed.

        Practically no one knows that, and yet we say “balls to the walls” all the time.

        “seat of your pants” refers to early pilots who had no instrumentation.

        And so on…

        When I flew home to attend my grandfather’s funeral, I went out and got pissed drunk the night before with men I hadn’t seen since school, and I tried to leave with multiple women who saw me for the sloppy drunk mess I was and left me to take a cab home alone…

        Grief takes many forms, and that one is *quite* common.

        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

          You’re perfectly right about idioms, and about the ways we try to medicate grief.

          One of my many small quibbles with this story is the establishment of place, and for that certain idioms reflective of an earlier time were not helpful.

          A guy with what we can reasonably guess to be an attempt at a Native American name, puffing on a pipe, using Ye Olde Mythspeake, subdialect elegiac, doesn’t lead me to expect a flush toilet in a Phoenix subdivision, or whatever.

          Too much scene-switching whiplash and I’m ready to be annoyed unless persuaded otherwise.

  • Rose Gardener

    Rape victims aren’t universally the same so it’s possible there’s one who might act as this character did. It’s possible there’s a pig somewhere in the universe capable of flying. Anything’s possible.
    If a character’s history has some influence on current behaviour or thinking then it should be shown in such a way that readers understand its relevance. Otherwise mentioning that aspect of the character’s history has no place in the story.
    Traumatic life events need to be represented in fiction in many different lights to reflect the wide variation in victim psychology and resilience. Perhaps flash is simply the wrong format to portray the necessarily complex issues of a character whose out-of-character behaviour is presented as central to the story yet left so totally unexplained.

  • Did my male bias poison this one? Possibly, but I never really saw this as a “sexual” story, truth be told. For me, it was more about the pig coming clean. I do think Sarah makes a strong argument (doesn’t she always?) about that passage with the “saying no, meaning yes” subcontext. I should have worked harder there, and worked harder to deserve this ending. Ideally, the story could have been about BOTH of these characters shedding scar tissue in order to move on in their lives. There could be an epiphany for”Sweating Buffalo” (lol) as well, in other words. Something to do with a pick up strategy tapping into some deep well he never knew existed. As for the stereotype issue, I’m not too bothered by that criticism as I often use sterotype as shorthand to efficiently evoke a scene or character. It works in flash as long as the story pushes beyond that level to deliver a fundamental truth. Here, for me, the line about her (mother’s) milk coming from a good place was key. It was the reason I stuck with this story despite the wise old native american and damaged rape victim that (even) I recognized as common tropes. Maybe when I’m a better writer, I’ll return to this one and try again. In any case, I’m glad it led to a robust discussion. That’s why I like to publish and read EDF. There is passion here, and intelligent discussion of craft issues.

  • Darius Bott

    People are strange and complicated. Sex is VERY strange and VERY complicated. There is abroad at the moment, a frantic, angry attempt to purge life (and art) of all darkness, and even greyness. So I really think the more writers prepared to plunge into the danger zones the better.

    I thought the use of the stereotypes gave the story an added dimension, made this an intriguing encounter between two improvised and wonkily-wielded masks. Sweating Buffalo a conman? The woman an unhinged psycho? Both thoughts crossed my mind. Casual sexual encounters are ALWAYS girt with danger – every wink and palpation needs a trigger warning.

    The undoing of her top button provoking the comment “the pig was sitting in a puddle” was a cracker, I thought. You could take that into a room with psychiatrist’s couch and have a right old knees up!

    • S Conroy

      I’ll try to keep this short, having rambled on a bit much already.
      First I totally agree with your first paragraph minus the third sentence.
      If, though, as you suggest, the story is about a con-man taking advantage of an unhinged rape-victim, it is not in my books a comedic situation and the humour backfires (for me).

  • Paul A. Freeman

    I found this story a bit disturbing, but then I’ve never found a stoned Native American chief in my bathroom.

    • Carl Steiger

      Neither have I. Perhaps that’s the experience one needs to fully appreciate the story.

  • Michael Snyder

    This story captured my imagination from beginning to end. I’ve read through the comments (numerous times) and certainly appreciate all the viewpoints expressed. It’s not my place to tell anyone else how to feel about the story or its people. I will say, for me at least, that the writing itself convinced me that these people could exist in the time and place described, thinking and feeling and reacting as portrayed. Some of my favorite characters are despicable, but I find that hating a character works just as well as loving him or her. Solid piece methinks, regardless of how I may feel about the subject tackled. If you’ll indulge a wee bit of nit-picking, the name Sweating Buffalo had me thinking I was in for a comedy. So I did have to back up a time or two to recalibrate. Nicely done.

  • Isabella Mori

    Very well written, and I like the surreal feeling of it. However, I’d like to recommend to Stephen a great article by Daniel J. Older regarding writing about “the other.” There are at least three “others” about whom Stephen does not show much understanding: women, women who have been raped, and Native Americans. My hunch is that this story is not so much controversial (and I think controversial stories must be published!) as ill-researched.