True Story, Issue #31
"Pig, An Essay" by Sonia Hamer
True Story, Issue #31
The author and her father enjoy talking about the potbellied pig he bought after the death of his mother. It’s easier to discuss a pig—his appetite, his size, how loudly he squeals—than it is to confront the family's other dark secrets.
From "Pig, An Essay" by Sonia Hamer
Leaving to buy the pig, my father asks me to come along. I am twenty years old, living at home for the summer. For almost two years, since my first semester of college, I have been struggling with bulimia. Things are better now than they have been, but how much does that really mean? My mother and two younger sisters are out of town. I get in my father’s truck without a second thought; like most twenty-year-olds, I long for approval, for closeness, and here is an opportunity. My father has been different since his mother died. It’s as if he’s aged ten years in three months, and that scares us both.
We look alike, my father and I. Dark hair, dark eyes. Short bodies made even shorter by a tendency to curl our shoulders forward and wrap ourselves inward as if we are trying to hide from an angry world.
The potbellied pig farm is about twenty minutes outside Baytown, Texas. As we step down from my father’s truck, we see her, the woman, the breeder of pigs. She is blonde, diminutive. She holds a shiny nylon rope like a leash. Harnessed to the end of the rope is a minuscule piglet. He runs back and forth on the cropped green grass, screaming. Perhaps this is a bad sign. But when the woman picks the pig up, he calms. She shows me how to hold him. “Be sure to hold down his tail,” she says. “Like this. That way he won’t poop on you.” Ever dutiful, I hold the pig firmly, making sure to press my hand hard against the hairy pink butt. Even so, I cannot help but imagine the pig forcing his warm, smelly fear directly into my tingling palm.
Before we transact, the woman gives us a brief tour of the farm. The pig enclosure resembles a small airplane hangar—a concrete slab with an imposing corrugated roof spreading overhead and a low, encircling wire to keep the pigs from stepping out. Inside, the bright, musty smell of hay mingles with the carboxylic stench of pig shit. Ten pigs, maybe, meander across the concrete floor, all of them the size of small dogs. When they see the woman, they run, snorting, circling around her. The pigs are round, bristly, with pouched sides bulging out to make them as wide as they are tall. Their cheeks curve outward in the same way, quivering beneath the canny fervor of their eyes. And their noses. Their noses are like fingers, wet and probing. One male, old enough to have lightning bolts of gray streaked across his otherwise black face and sides, pushes past all the others. His brow is fat and impressive, hanging down in a prickly fold to obscure his brilliant black eyes. This is the piglet’s father, the woman tells us. Hard to imagine that the miniscule thing I am holding—only six pounds, five ounces, and just eight inches from snout to tail—will one day grow into such a behemoth.
Our pig is the perfect pink piglet, a potbelly bred to stay friendly and small. His hair is wiry and translucent, his skin pale rose like cherry blossoms. He has elfin ears and a straight little tail and thin, tapering feet that click on floors like high heels. He nestles close in my lap as we bounce along in my father’s truck. His nose, pressed into the crook of my elbow, is filmy and wet. My father wants to name him Osama Pig Laden. When I ask what my mother will think of that name, what she will think of the pig at all, his face spasms with a transparent guilt. So he hasn’t told her, then. I won’t tell her either. I tell myself it is because I am detached, amused, but really it is because I don’t want to betray this adventure with him. My father lets the secret slip that night over the phone. My mother, two hundred miles away, is not pleased. “We can’t call him Osama Pig Laden,” she says. We call him Pig, instead.