By Laura Gibson
Just me and not the others and not Mama either. Only the two of us, and then I’ll be able to tell him we should stay with him. Forever. And not just because we’re living in his house, which is the nicest house we’ve seen in a while. He can marry Mama, and then he’ll get us too. My brothers and sister and me, and even though we’re not good all the time, we try. At least I do, which is why I’m going to catch that greased pig.
Mr. Tanner the whistle man owns the bar in town, and he’s in charge of the race. Everybody just calls him Tanner. He stands in front of me with the sun behind him, and all I can see is his white shirt pulled tight over his watermelon belly. He leans down to me, the whistle jammed in the corner of his mouth. “Livvy. How come you’re the spittin’ image of your Mama?” he asks. “Lord’s got his work cut out for him.” He stands back up and switches the whistle with his tongue to the other side of his mouth. It clacks on his teeth. Under his baseball cap his face is all red. Tanner smiles and looks us racers over. “Run like hell, kids, but not until I blow the whistle.” Then he laughs and his melon does too while his giant’s foot taps on the chalk line. “Scoot back, scoot on back, you savages,” Tanner says.
In the cage next to us the pig’s pink body is quaking under a layer of axle grease. I want to feel sorry for him, but I turn it off and pretend I’m hiding in a dark closet under Mama’s going out dresses.
Mama says I’m super persuasive. I can’t tell her my plan though. She’s bad luck—she always let’s them leave. But if I did talk to her, I’d tell her this dad is going to stick.
I have it all figured out. My brother Big can wear a tuxedo and Lemi, my other brother, can be there too. Lemi hates getting dressed up, so Mama’ll have to sweet talk him into wearing those scratchy clothes. Marlo can be a bridesmaid and wear something fancy, whatever Mama wants. We’ll have cake and dancing, just like at the Turner’s wedding last fall. Planning a wedding will make you crazy, Jan Turner said, but it’ll be worth it.
After our wedding, I’ll be allowed to call him just Dad. Sometimes before I go to sleep I say it to the dark. Dad. And it sounds like chocolate cake, or that feeling I get in my belly button just before I sneeze. Mama told me not to call him that, but in my head, I can say it any damn way I please, so I do. After I go to bed, before Marlo comes in and makes a racket getting into the bunk above me, I say it out loud. I think about how, when it’s real, Maggie from school won’t have a thing to say about Mama making the other dads nervous because it’ll be official. Mama will be off the market. That’s what Maggie says Mama needs. Off the market.
I’m feeling kind of sick, like maybe my legs will forget how to run, until I look down and remember I picked some of my fastest clothes for today. A pair of red shorts and a Giants t-shirt my future Dad gave me after he started dating Mama. That was April last year and it was almost warm, and that same day he taught me how to throw a baseball and spit like a boy. I decided then that we had to have him. He wasn’t like Mama’s other friends who made her sleep in with them, and keep the door shut, and no she wouldn’t make us breakfast because we could get it ourselves. Mama says the outfit’s important sometimes to show the world you mean business.
And I mean business. Last year I touched the pig with my hand before I tripped and fell. I wiped my hand on my shirt, and that shirt was ruined because grease doesn’t come out in the wash. Bobby Simmons caught him and got thirty dollars too. My lucky shirt’s probably going to get ruined, but I don’t care, because I’ll have belly full of pizza and money for our wedding.
Tanner makes the crowd cheer, and the day is getting hot. I hate how he’s making us wait. The pig is screaming inside the cage, and the noise makes the teeth in the back of my mouth hurt. I look up into the bleachers, and my future Dad, my Dad—my Dad and not Big’s or Lemi’s or Marlo’s because they already have their own—gives me the thumbs up. Mama’s not there because she’s making pancakes with the Rotary, and neither are Big or Lemi or Marlo because they’re blowing their rolls of dimes on the rides. But up on the top bench, my Dad’s sitting next to some other lady I’ve never seen before. Her hair is brown, not red like Mama’s, and she’s laughing, and he’s talking with his hands. She’s pretty and her mouth is a bright red. Her dress is a colorful too, like the flowery outfits that lady who puts the fruit on her head might wear. Mama doesn’t wear dresses like that; she thinks they’re too loud. “Shouting out for trouble,” she tells Marlo when she comes out of our bedroom in some crazy get-up and wants to leave the house in it.
I have to look away from my Dad because the pig’s out of the cage. It runs to the pitcher’s mound and then turns to look at us and doesn’t squeal. I’ve got my good starter foot out in front on the chalk line. I picture myself running fast and leaving those others behind, and then I hear the whistle, and I see the pig run to the outfield, and I’m off.
I’m running like hell in a pack with all the other kids, Bobby Simmons too, who told me he’s going to do it again, so I elbow him out of my way and run faster and follow the pig. The pig’s scared and making a racket and zig-zagging all over the field and along the fence line. We run in scribbled circles around the field, and I’m sweating and itchy. Some of the kids get tired and stand in the middle and wait for him to come their way. Not me. I’m going to catch him, I swear. So our little pack that’s still running chases him out to left field by the sign for the tire shop, and I get closer to him. He’s got blotches of grease all over his back and legs and tail. It’s a kind of army green color, and it smells like underneath the car. I’m feeling a little tired now too, but I tell my legs to keep on going. I think about pizza and being a flower girl and I run faster, and even Bobby slows down a little.
I swing out wide and plan my attack, and there’s just enough time while I’m running in the grass to look through the backstop fence and get a thumbs up from my Dad to keep me going. He’s still talking with that woman in the stands and not watching me at all, and now I’m running toward the infield. Somewhere behind me Bobby Simmons is having one of his asthma attacks, but I can’t be excited now about that because it’s just me and the pig. We’re behind second base. I can hear people in the stands yelling at me. “Go, Livvy, Go,” they scream, like we’re at one of Big’s football games. Tanner the whistle man is traffic-directing me with his arms and his hat’s in the dust.
Faster and faster I run toward second base, and then I lunge out like Wonder Woman and grab onto the pig. He squeals and squirms, and he’s so slippery I keep having to get a better grip, and he’s dragging me along a little because he’s bigger than me and bigger than he looked when he was in the cage, but I’ve got him by the hindquarters, and his two back legs are kicking and bucking, and I’m not going to let go. I’ve got my face pressed into his back. He starts to fall somewhere near center field, so I hike my hands up under his belly and tackle him with my body. I lie there on top of him, and we’re both out of breath and slimy. And now I do feel a little sorry for him, so I whisper in his ear.
Tanner jogs out to us, clapping his hands over his head and the skin on his underarms is waggling around. Someone puts a leash on the pig and takes him away. Tanner calls me little lady and tells me congratulations and that’s the first time a girl has ever gotten the greased pig. He gives me an envelope with some money in it and tells me not to spend it all in one place. “Go get your free snow cone,” he says, but I tell him no thank you. I have to save room for pizza.
I look past Tanner, back through the metal fence of the backstop and behind the bleachers, and I see my Dad helping that woman into her car. Her fruit dress gets caught in the door and hangs down in the dirt, so my Dad opens it back up for her and smacks the dirt off the hem and hands it to her while she just sits there. She pulls the door shut, then leans out of the open car window, and I can see her mouth talking and her head shaking back and forth. He points toward me and does some talking too, but she doesn’t drive away. She just sits there and moves her mouth some more. My Dad leans down and puts a hand on her shoulder, and I see him look over to me, quick, and then he shakes his head and steps back.
I stink like car brakes and my clothes are for sure ruined and probably my shoes too. Bobby Simmons’s eyes look like somebody punched him. He pulls my pigtail from behind and tells me I only won because he’s got the asthma, so I smack him and then feel bad because, probably, he doesn’t know he’s such a jerk. Tanner wants me to pose in a picture for the paper with him, so I do. Except I want to cry and call him a bastard because his breath smells like bad cigars, and he’s too close to me with his sticky skin and his bear claw hands. And none of it’s like the picture in my head, which I can’t even remember now anyway, and this part makes me the saddest of all.
Behind the backstop, the lady’s car drives away. Her arm hangs out of the window with a cigarette pinched between two fingers. She flicks her grit – that’s what Mama calls cigarettes; no nice girl, Mama says, would ever do such a dirty habit – and turns onto the road at the end of the parking lot. Her car speeds up real quick and then she’s gone.
He’s walking toward me. My future Dad. His hands are in his pockets, and he’s looking down.
There’s not so much crowd now, but the fair noise hits me from the other end of the park, and the air is buzzing and too loud. All around me, the field is bright with dandelions, and there are bees everywhere, landing and lifting and talking to each other. One of them is half-crushed under my shoe but trying to get free all the same. I can feel the vibration of her wings through the canvas of my Keds, and I wonder how she’ll get nectar with only half a working body. I can’t stand the thought of her dragging along her broken backend and never catching up. Mama says sometimes you can’t fix what’s broken, which she usually says about the stuff in the house we crash up when we’re playing a game we’re not supposed to. But one time I heard her say it to Lemi when his dad left, too. I tip the edge of my shoe over and smear the bee flat.
Tanner is talking real loud about the beer wagon at the fair and inviting everyone to come on by. “But not you, Livvy,” he leans down to say, and winks at me before he walks away with the camera guy.
My future Dad waves at me and walks toward me in the grass, and I’m thinking I’ll change my mind about that snow cone. I’ll ask for extra syrup, enough to make the grape flavor last all the way until the ice is gone.
Laura Gibson is a former English teacher and a long-time lover of stories and of writing who lives and writes in the Pacific Northwest. Most recently, she completed a writer's retreat fellowship from Oregon State University, which is a fancy way of saying she had two weeks in a cabin in the woods to work on her short story collection.
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