The seven of us stood there with a dumbstruck look on each of our faces. As we watched, sticky with sweat and tacky popsicle juice, the dust cleared enough to reveal a shoddy white sign that read: “WELCOME TO HOG HEAVEN.”
To complete the picturesque moment, a spiny tumbleweed rolled past our little caravan.
Sheldon made a face. “They’re kidding, right?”
“I don’t think so. I mean, we did drive all the way out here.” I shut my mouth after he leveled me with a hateful look.
“Okay, guys, we’re going to file through the gate and meet Mr. Zane,” Mrs. Cook said from her place at the front gate. “Then you’ll each get to pick out a pig. No touching or grabbing or running. Got it?”
We all nodded — Sheldon reluctantly, Jaime enthusiastically — at Mrs. Cook’s broad, wrinkly face.
The parents formed a loose crowd behind her. Most of them looked haggard from the get-go.
Jaime grabbed my hand and half-dragged us through the gate; she marched past empty pens, a rundown office, and what looked like piles of manure, though I tried to block that part out. Behind us, the rest of the group met Mr. Zane and his pet stuffed crow.
We stopped at one of the pens when we heard soft squeals.
“Aren’t they cute?” Jaime said, smiling as she stuck a skinny arm through the bars.
I did the same and tried not to notice how huge mine looked next to hers. Jaime: a delicate, fine-boned bird. Me: a walrus, gap-tooth included.
We probably looked odd together, the skinny girl and the fat girl.
“I found the perfect one.” She pointed. “See him? With the black spots?”
“Yeah. He’s a cutie,” I said.
He was, too. Then again, they were baby piglets; being cute came with the territory. The whole litter seemed to crowd around us and push at our hands. Within seconds, a wet snout nosed at my arm, another my tennis shoe.
Jaime scratched black-spot’s head. “I don’t want to get a fat one. This guy’s perfect.”
I stared. “Jaime. They’re all going to get big. That’s the whole point.”
“Mine won’t. I’ll only let him eat a little.”
“Then you won’t be able to sell him,” I muttered.
“Why would I want to sell him? He’d get eaten.”
I sighed and leaned against the railing. I didn’t want to raise a pig, but everyone else seemed to think it would be good for me; I overheard them say as much to my mom.
Unconsciously, my gaze sought out the parents. I sifted through them until I found her.
My mom stood apart from the rest of the group. Even in sweatpants and a jacket, it was obvious how much weight she’d recently lost, how grief had transformed her face into something gaunt. She looked like a ghost.
My eyes trailed to the ground.
“Are you going to start crying?” Jaime asked, shuffling to my side.
“Good, because I think I found the perfect pig for you.”
On the odd days of the week, Jaime and I walked home together from school. She always looked around my two-story house with an air of morbid curiosity.
“How’s your mom?” Jaime asked one day, her tone carefully light.
She obviously wanted to see if my mom had gotten out of bed yet. Sometimes she did, sometimes she didn’t; sometimes, no one would see her for days. The trip to Hog Heaven had been her first outing in months.
“She’s fine. Let’s get a snack before we leave,” I said as I hurried toward the kitchen and away from the staircase. Jaime reluctantly followed.
“My mom should be here soon,” Jaime said after a period of silence. She watched me contemplate the bright, crinkly snack bags in the cupboard. “You’re still coming to the fairgrounds, right?”
I nodded and passed her a roll of crackers. We had to learn how to guide our pigs around the circuit that day, which I wasn’t thrilled about, to say the least.
“We have to use a cane?” Jaime later sputtered.
An unsympathetic Mrs. Cook slapped a wooden cane into Jamie’s hands. They were only for practice, she elaborated, and if anyone used them on anything but a pig, they’d have pen cleaning duty for a week.
When she left to retrieve the mail, Sheldon whacked my foot with the blunt edge of his cane.
“Hey, Little Pig. Maybe we should auction you off, huh? Look at that.” He laughed and whacked my leg this time, making the fat jiggle.
I hid in the bathroom for the rest of cane training.
Eventually, Jaime found me. She watched in discomfort as I tried to dry my tears.
“Hey, it’s going to be okay,” Jaime said awkwardly. “Is this about your mom?”
“Then it’s your dad,” Jaime said after we wandered over to a bench. She nudged my shoulder, and gently pressed our sides together. “Everyone says he’s in a better place now.”
I didn’t think he was, but I nodded to please her.
On the day of the auction, I managed to keep myself clean and guide my pig through the ring with only a few rocky moments. He sold for a couple hundred dollars.
I was sorry as I pet him goodbye, but I wasn’t sorry that I had refused to name him.
When I went home there wasn’t an empty, lonely house waiting for me. Instead, my mom stood by the staircase with dirty tools in her hands, and she led us out into the garden.
We planted flowers for the rest of the afternoon, knees sunk in the dirt and our hair a sort of hot pale-gold under the sun. My mom took my hands and put them in the soil with her own and I didn’t feel so lost, right then.
She poured in the last handful of seeds, and we packed them into the earth.
Alyssa Jordan writes in Southern California. Her work has appeared in several literary mediums, such as The Ampersand Review, 100 Word Story, and the 1888 Center. Follow her on Twitter @ajordan901.