pigYear of the Pig

Richard Holeton

"1959," says Miss Plotz at Group Circle Time. "In China, this is the Year of the Pig."

She writes it on the board: "Year of the Pig." She pinches the chalk hard. Her fingers are dry and white like the chalk. There is one little drop of spit on her bottom lip; I wonder if it will fall off or stay there all morning.

"Today is counterclockwise," she says and she writes that on the board too. That means it's a Vocabulary Word when she underlines it. "As we go around the circle I want everyone to share something that you know about pigs," she says, and she writes "Pig knowledge."

Each thing that someone says, Miss Plotz adds it to the list, and after some of the things she puts a question mark. You're supposed to listen to the others to practice your Listening Skills. I try to listen, but I only hear a few of the other things because I am thinking about when my turn is going to come and what I will say, what words to use exactly. I have two things I know about pigs that I learned in my family, about their brain size and about the special tubes that they have on their legs.

Sheila Macintosh says that pigs are yucky and some people laugh at that.

Jamie Podmanynski says pigs are what bacon comes from, and also ham.

Rachel Cohen says the Bible says you should not eat pigs. Everyone is quiet after she says "Bible."

Patty Wiggins, who is pink and fat and has a pushed-up nose like a pig herself, says that pigs are nice. They are not dirty actually, the way many people think. Actually pigs roll around in mud only because they are trying to wash themselves, because they want to be clean, and after the water evaporates they just look dirty. Actually they are good swimmers, very fast, because they go down and run along the bottom instead of swimming on the top. Actually they are very smart too, even more intelligent than dogs.

Miss Plotz underlines evaporate and intelligent.

Patty Wiggins seems to know a lot about pigs. Actually I don't like Patty Wiggins. Besides saying "Actually" too much, she has a terrible smell that comes out one of her ears. The smell seems to come from way down deep inside her body, then out the ear tube, like from a vacuum cleaner hose that has sucked up something into its vacuum bag that died and rotted in there. You can smell it when you stand too close to her. (When I told my brother Russell about the smelly ear disease, he said it was like a head fart and that Patty Wiggins probably had brain cancer.)

When Patty Wiggins is done with her speech about pigs, Jamie Podmanynski pretends to take a bite out of her leg and says, "Yumm, let's have some bacon now!"

Other people talk about The Three Little Pigs building their houses out of straw and sticks and bricks (the new kid Teddy Something says the pigs finally eat the wolf at the end, I never heard that ending before) or about Piglet in Winnie the Pooh or about when Dorothy falls into the pig pen at the beginning of The Wizard of Oz.

Miss Plotz adds "Pigs in many stories" to the list. When she stops writing she still pinches the chalk so hard I think she'll snap it like a dead twig. When she waves it around, there's a blur of pink and white, you can't tell where her fingers end and the chalk begins. Is she waving it around counterclockwise? I am thinking about how later we will have to use our Vocabulary Words in sentences, and about how exactly I will tell my two pig things and explain the special tubes, and about how that little drop of spit on Miss Plotz's lip seems like it's gotten bigger and then dried there, clear and hard, like a glob of Elmer's Glue-All dried on the lip of the bottle, when Miss Plotz says, "Ripley? It's your turn."

"Umm, I have two things," I say. "One is, pigs have brains the size of walnuts." A couple of the kids giggle, and for a second I think maybe I'm mixing up pigs with dinosaurs, but my mom grew up on a farm, it was a dairy so mainly it had cows but it also had pigs, and my brother Russell and my dad told me about pig brains and pig tubes, which they learned about from my mom I guess, unless they just have their own pig knowledge. When you look up "Brain" in our Worlds of Science book, the picture looks just like a walnut. And that is the brain of a human being! I think about brains being like different-sized walnuts. Russell told me not to sniff when I had a cold or I would sniff all the snot up into my brain and drive myself crazy. (Or maybe get smelly brain cancer like Patty Wiggins.) Russell said Dad said it, so it was true. I worry that maybe I have already sniffed too much snot, that my brain is like a big snot-covered walnut.

Miss Plotz writes "Small brains?" on the board like that, with a question mark, right after "Build houses?" and "Eat wolves?"

People use only one-tenth of their Brain Power, Dad told me and Russell the other week at dinner. If you really wanted to, if you concentrated really hard and used all your Brain Power, you could part your hair just by thinking about it. I tried to do this, right there at the dinner table. I gritted my teeth and squeezed my cheek muscles till my face got hot, but I couldn't get any hairs even to budge. You have to practice, Russell told me later. I have been practicing for two weeks in front of the mirror. Almost every day I practice for ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes at night, but so far nothing has happened.

"Okay..." Miss Plotz says. She is waiting for me to tell the second thing I know about pigs.

Patty Wiggins sticks her chin up so you can see inside her nostrils, I guess she thinks that looks intelligent.

"Well, Ripley?"

Miss Plotz is waiting, with her Death Grip on the chalk, everyone waits, and they are all looking at me. I am trying to use all my Brain Power now to concentrate on the second thing, which is about the special tubes, because I have never told this to anyone outside my family. My face feels hot, I'm afraid it may be all red the way it looks in the mirror when I practice parting my hair with no hands.

"They have these ... tubes," I say. "Pigs have these special tubes that run down the insides of their legs. No other animals have these, I know because my mom grew up on a farm. Patty says pigs are clean but really they're not clean, they are filthy dirty, and they stink. They go pee and poop all over and stink up their pen, but they also have these special tubes I am talking about on their legs. The tubes go down their legs just under the skin like big huge veins, and they are for blowing out other stuff, it's like snot, only worse. The tubes end in their hooves, which is where the snot stuff comes out. It's not exactly snot or pee or poop, it's another kind of stuff, even worse, that comes out the tubes."

Everyone is silent after that, even quieter than after Rachel Cohen said "Bible."

Miss Plotz just kind of blinks at me for a few seconds. Finally she turns to write "Special tubes?" on the board, like she suddenly remembers what to do next, and Patty Wiggins sticks her tongue out at me, and Jamie Podmanynski makes a farting sound with his mouth, and the whole class starts talking and moving around.

"Snot tubes! Snot tubes!" says Sheila Macintosh.

"You were born in a barn," says Patty Wiggins.

"Jesus Christ was born in a barn," says the new kid Teddy.

"You stink!" I say to Patty Wiggins. "You stink like crazy!"

Miss Plotz turns back sharply and I see that the spit on her lip is gone. Maybe it landed on the floor or maybe it just evaporated.


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