Who Ate Emma Rose?
I've got to say this because it still really really pisses me off, even at the wise old age of sixteen. Yes, it happened two whole years ago and yes, of course I know it's a sad and terrible thing about little Emma Rose. Of course it is! But does anybody ever say anything at all, or even think about my loss? No fucking way! You shits just laugh about it.
"Just some pigs!" you say, you shits.
"Roy got him some good bacon out of it!" you say. "And the Chief threw a heck of a barbecue!"
You shits ground my heart into sausage.
I dreamt about Tree again last night. He wrote me a letter. It said: "Tree Pig all right. Eating and smelling good things. Eating walnuts and mushrooms and apples and figs. Tree Pig happy. Tree Pig."
And I had an impression of his supreme satisfaction in his good luck. There was no return address on the envelope but he sent a picture of himself and he looked much fatter than he had in life. Huge and white and for some reason his wiry white hair was like white rabbit fur, all lush and standing out in tufts and there on his left flank was the black Weeping Willow shape that inspired me to name him Tree. His face was turned to me and grinning.
No word of his brothers Orwell and Wellington. I like to think that they were all together and happy. Even though he was clearly thrilled to be where he was, I woke up in tears. If any pig could send back a message of good will from the spirit world it would be Tree. Even so, thinking too hard about his death still sends me into a rage so it's mostly a forbidden subject for me. But for the record I'm putting it down on paper. No one else will.
What a surprise, those bones turning up in the smoke house, huh? Those little finger bones. I figure her hand just slid between the slats and couldn't be recovered. Never would have been found at all if not for the storm last week knocking over the dead willow and the dead willow smashing the smoke house. A domino effect. Almost funny. Almost. But it's all right now because we've been vindicated and all of you shits owe us an apology!
That horrible week began with my stepfather's illness. Or just a really bad drunk, I'd bet. Wouldn't have been the first time. What I know for sure is that when I got up that Saturday morning, his clothes were lying all down the hallway, soaking wet, left where he had stripped them off the night before. and he was in bed, so passed out no one could wake him. In a coma, right there in the bedroom. He looked dead, with his mouth all open and his eyes not quite closed so you could see the scummy yellow of the whites.
Mom married Roy a month after Dad died. She told me the morning after, the two of them coming into the kitchen hand in hand, all rumpled from sleep in their robes. Mom was wearing this sexy red Chinese looking silk thing I'd never seen before. Roy had on the blue plaid that Mom had given Dad the last Christmas he was alive.
"Veronica! You have a new Papa!"
I just about choked on my Cheerios.
Roy was kind of cute, actually, if you blurred your eyes when you looked at him and shook your head a little. That way you couldn't see how weird his gray eyes were, or the hollowness of his chest or the first bloom of his beer gut just nudging over his leather belt. And if you used your imagination, he might even be likable if you didn't know about the swastika tattooed on his chest or that big club he kept by his bed that he called his "nigger stick," or the racks of guns he called his "collection."
Most people liked him, especially the guys he drank with. Not me, though. I hated him.
"Get those fucking pigs out of this house!" he'd yell, "or I'll turn them into pork chops!"
Now anybody who knows anything knows that if you keep potbellies, they're probably pets and sometimes pets come into the house, even if you live in the country. Roy wasn't smart enough to know and didn't have heart enough to care. I had a little room for my babies right off of my bedroom. They followed me everywhere. Dad got them for me for my 12th birthday, his last gifts to me before he died. I loved those pigs.
"If you didn't spend so much time with those pigs and their stink, you might get yourself a boyfriend!" Roy often advised me. "Or do you prefer pork?" And then he'd grab his crotch and pump, braying with laughter.
I'll admit that the idea that Roy might never wake up from his coma didn't upset me like it did Mom. She was crying and screaming and running around until I got so fed up I called 911.
"Oh my God, he's gonna die! Your Papa Roy's gonna die! Wake up, wake up! Ronnie, do something! Get a bucket of cold water call the police oh my God don't die don't die I love you Roy don't leave me! Oh God!"
When I could get a word in edgewise, I told Mom that it would take 20 minutes for an ambulance. She freaked and so the two of us slung Roy between us and pushed him into the long back seat of his 72 Chrysler. She got behind the wheel and took off so fast she was fishtailing, spraying gravel like shrapnel.
It was late Sunday afternoon that the girl's clothes were found and my torments really began. Apparently she'd been missing for about two days and Chief Weasel had formed up a search party. They actually showed up at our farm looking to ask Roy if he'd come out and help.
I want to make one thing very clear. Tree was a vegetarian. Even when we went slug hunting for Aunt Lola, he never ate any, only indicated with his snout and a snort where the slugs were. He found quite a few, more than his brothers put together, and I'd have two big Mason jars full of slugs in just a few hours. We'd go every other weekend during the summer. I'd load up my green canvas rucksack with two gallon sized jars, a bag of apples, some cheddar cheese, a hunk of homemade bread, some M&Ms, some water, a Budweiser or two or even three if I thought Roy wouldn't notice and we'd go. Me, Tree, Orwell and Wellington.
You might not have heard of Serendipity's Stupendous Slug Syrup. It was Lola's famous cure-all, loved by everyone in town. Here is how she made it and why it was so popular. First, she would rinse the slugs for around five minutes or so in a colander, always shaking and flipping it under the faucet to prevent them from crawling away. Then she'd layer them in clean jars, alternating slugs with thick layers of sugar until the jars were full. While the slugs dissolved in the sugar, she would prepare the liqueur — basically Ever Clear that had had ginger root, cinnamon sticks and wormwood shavings steeping in it for a year or more. She liked to make it really strong. She'd strain out the liquefied slugs through cheesecloth and mix them half and half with the flavored Ever Clear and then funnel it into brown bottles labeled with smiling slug faces. I don't know if anybody realized that there really were genuine slugs in there. She only got the stuff down me once when I was sick with pneumonia and I hallucinated that I was a giant slug being dissected for science class. Anyway, she had addicts that swore by the stuff and whenever she made a batch, it sold out within days at Luke's Grocery.
She always gave me a few bottles from every batch and since my family never used it, we had a growing cache that I guess we could have sold on the sly. We had bottles going back 15 years that we could have sold for a bundle to some slug syrup epicure. Three and a half cabinets full in the garage with stout locks on the doors because we had our own epicures of a porcine nature. Yep. They loved the stuff. Nothing worse than three boars on a bender, unless it's three passed out drunk boars lying in bed with you, snoring and farting and making it too hot to sleep.
Orwell and Wellington were white with black spots all over, almost twins, and Tree was all white but for a single black patch on his left flank that looked just like the Weeping Willow in front of my bedroom. They filled my heart from my first glimpse of them when they climbed out of that basket my dad gave me. They were tiny airborne torpedoes, once they got to know their way around, in like two minutes. No, truthfully, it took longer than that for them to get used to me and the house but, they were easy to potty train and all three would go out running with me in the mornings during my brief I'm-too-fat period. They were the best gifts Dad ever gave me.
Oh, the girl. Yeah. I need to get back to her, of course. I know you know most of the story and that I sound like an insensitive bitch but you need to hear our point of view.
You see, the search party found her blue ducky dress and muddy socks and panties near the pen where Roy made me put my pigs when I was in school or whatever. We hadn't even heard any details about Emma Rose's disappearance, because Mom was so freaked out by Roy's sudden illness, which the doctors couldn't diagnose right away so they kept him overnight. That was why they were both at the hospital when those people first showed up on Sunday.
I know that Tree didn't make a very good impression by charging up to get between them and me but he'd been protective ever since he was a piglet. I first noticed it with Lola's husband, Uncle Wiggly. Nobody but me called him that but frankly, he does look a lot like that kids' book character, doesn't he? Be honest. With those buck teeth and those ears? They stand so far out it looks like they're trying to escape.
When I was a little girl, Wiggly would try to get me to sit on his lap. When I did, which I had to sometimes after Mom and Dad would give me "do as you're told" look, I'd feel this weird movement, like there was a little animal crawling and wiggling around under me and I'd jump and everyone would laugh.
Tree didn't like Wiggly and from the first moment he met him, he would charge him, growling and shaking his head from side to side. It was hilarious. Tree was so small then and harmless looking, but Wiggly would always run, which always inspired Wellington and Orwell to chase him too, only they thought it was a game.
Back to the girl. Emma Rose had disappeared Friday afternoon out of her yard while her mom was on the phone. She wasn't known to wander. She was a skirt clinger. You couldn't help but notice that about her. She was four years old and the last time I saw her down at Luke's grocery, she peeked out at me from between the tall trees of her mother's legs, her chin down, her big eyes wide, as her mom waited in line to buy her groceries. Or before that, the last time her mama, Amanda, came to buy smoked venison from Roy. Emma Rose wouldn't leave Mama's side for an instant. After handing Amanda her package, Roy tried his idea of playing with the kid.
"Why it's Firecracker Rose!" he said, swooping down, scooping her up and then dangling her above this mess a stray dog had left in front of our house. "Uh-oh, might drop you in that! That would be bad, wouldn't it?"
Emma howled. Crying as if he had slapped her!
When her face wasn't distorted and red with tears, Emma Rose was as pretty as one of those poster babies from the twenties, selling orange juice or something wholesome, with those blue eyes and black hair, her plump little doll mouth. In my mind's eye, she is always peeping at me from behind something or other. This was not a bold, wandering girl. She hadn't run off. Someone snatched her.
But that's not what the town thought. On Sunday afternoon when the search party showed up and that oily Cheesehead Baldwin noticed the blue of Emma's dress sticking out from under the bottom board of the pen, the whole bunch of them came running to see. They knew she had been eaten.
Eaten by Tree and his brothers. Eaten by Vietnamese Pot Belly pigs. Only one way to tell for sure! A couple of the men went running to get guns, and knives to cut up my pigs but I got two of Roy's guns from the rack. We held them off, me and Tree.
There I was, standing on the hill cradling a loaded Uzi in each arm (Roy's smart Jew guns), and I was ready to use them too. Tree stood in front of me, looking very gallant, all 16 inches of him radiating pride and loyalty. Orwell and Wellington were nowhere in sight.
"Now listen up!" I screamed. "Get the fuck away from here or I'll mow you fuckers down! You get the fuck away from my pigs!"
Bob Smith, Chief Weasel, stepped up from the main body of his posse and said, "Now be reasonable, Ronnie. What other conclusion can we draw? That's Emma's dress there in the pigpen, for God's sake."
"Shit, they're just pigs," someone muttered.
"And they ate Emma Rose!" another shouted.
I have to hand it to Bob Weasel Smith, looking up at me, the deep crease of worry between his beady little eyes, standing firm in his high heel cowboy boots, his cowboy hat giving him more mass. The little guy had real nerve standing up to me, armed as I was, verging on hysteria, longing to squeeze off those rounds, to let them fly into that noisy pack of ignoramuses.
I knew how to use those guns, too. I knew how to handle most of Roy's guns. One of my favorite things to do was to line up walnuts on the fence for target practice out there in the meadow. Sometimes I'd put black wax faces on them, pretending they were people I hated, like Roy or Weasel or my math teacher. As for the guns, I mostly used the rifles but sometimes handguns just for variety, and I used old beer bottles for targets too, most of which were mine, I admit. It was satisfying to see them explode. Also zucchini, in the summertime.
"Come on, Ronnie, be reasonable!" Weasel's voice pleaded. It was at that moment that our car nearly plowed into the Pig Lynch Mob on its way back from the hospital and I thrilled to see it scatter. My relief was short lived, though. Roy was at the wheel. The doctors had figured he'd just been really hung over and let him out.
Weasel and his cronies immediately clustered around the driver's side window. They conferred with noise and heat and gestures.
The upshot of it was, my babies got a death sentence. They gave me one hour with them. Then I could do it myself, or Roy would do it. My choice.
I staggered towards the house, Tree's solid self close by my side, looking concerned by my crying and keeping me upright with his round bulk. I found Orwell and Wellington sound asleep on my bed but they came to and followed me out to the garage.
I unlocked the big cabinet. One last cigarette for each of them, or in this case, one last portion of slug syrup. I reached for the very oldest, dustiest bottles and emptied 30 of them into the pigs' trough. They deserved the best. I put my favorite Lynyrd Skynyrd album on the old stereo, lifted the needle, set it on "Free Bird" and blasted the garage. Then my boars and I got blasted on syrup. At first I was squeamish and tried not to actually taste the stuff but in no time at all it was going down like water and each time I moved the stereo needle back to that same godamned song I had to concentrate more and more on not scratching the record.
I could feel the cold concrete floor of the garage through my tee shirt. My eyes fixed themselves on the fly catchers, the sticky yellow paper ribbons swaying slightly in the breeze from outside, dotted with flies. The familiar solid bodies of my boars squeezed close, ringing me in, my legs up on Orwell, my head resting on Tree. They were warm. My legs rose and fell with Orwell's gentle breath. Embers from the joint I was smoking fell on my chest and I felt them burn with only the most detached curiosity.
The explosions, when they came, made my whole body jump. Three times.
Then I was alone and soaking in warmth. Their blood, my piss. Then I was surging over the jerking remains of my babies, crawling away as fast as I could to give myself up to my own spasms. I couldn't stop vomiting.
My mother tried to bring me into the house but I couldn't stand to be anywhere near her or Roy. I took a swing at him but not only didn't I hit him, I slid in the blood and slammed down on my ass so hard I figured my tailbone was fucked up for good. I was too furious to speak so I just jumped on my dirt bike and took off into the night.
Didn't find anything inside them, did you? But did that raise any other suspicions? Of course not. Weasel must've talked to Roy for all of five minutes that evening, after Roy promised to butcher up all three of my dead babies for a barbecue. Chops and ribs and sausages and pulled pork sandwiches. We'd invite the whole town! Weasel gave me a stupid grin, that shit, and asked didn't I think that was a great idea! Mom knew nothing, as usual. Why should she? Then Cheesehead piped up, his cratered face shiny in the flickering light from the garage — he'd just remembered passing a strange man walking along the road Friday evening, around 5 P. M. A strange black man! He'd looked, well, strange. And suspicious! Weasel bit right away and in seconds my pigs and I were forgotten.
You murdered them for nothing. Ate barbecue, bought chops and bacon from Roy and never found another clue about Emma Rose. Not for years. Not until last week's storm blew down the willow and smashed the smokehouse. And now that those little finger bones have turned up and Roy's in custody you're all rooting around in the mud for whatever else you can find.
It almost amuses me to think about all of you shits who ate pulled pork at Weasel's barbecue, but the smile that thought brings is tight and bitter.