Sooey! Generis

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info] Kimberly Elkins’ bestselling novel WHAT IS VISIBLE (Grand Central, 2014) was a NYT Book Review Editors’ Choice, among other honors. Her fiction and nonfiction have been published in the Atlantic, The New York Times, The Iowa Review, Slice and Best New American Voices, among others. She was a Finalist in Fiction for the National Magazine Award.[/author_info] [/author]

Lukas owned a talking pig, a reading and writing pig, a pig he’d taught himself who had long surpassed him in learning.  Melville was an ardent classicist, specializing in Horatian odes. He did not find pig Latin funny, though he would on occasion speak it in French. In general, he was a high-strung and prickly companion. He’d put off many a woman with his condescending remarks, just shy of outright misogyny, and Lukas’s last girlfriend had called him a pig to his face.  And yet Lukas couldn’t bring himself to give Melville up, since he’d been a present from his mother when Lukas had finally finished his doctorate, a runt she’d saved from slaughter.  And where would he go, anyway?  At age nine, he was a five-hundred-pound hog in the throes of middle age, just as Lukas felt his own angst mounting.  He and Melville had always been in sync, so it wasn’t surprising they should hail their mid-life crises together. They’d suffer good books, good scotch, and the flesh turning to fat. Already they’d braved the switch to bifocals.  Although Melville didn’t wear clothes, he did wear glasses, a round, tortoise-shell pair in stark contrast to Lukas’s neon-blue frames. “I don’t know how you expect your students to take you seriously channeling Elton John,” Melville said.

Lukas’s mother had slaughtered pigs, that was her job. When he was a little boy, he’d wait for her to come through the door, covered in blood, and throw his arms around her legs, her waist. She’d sit with her feet in his lap and he’d pull off her boots, then watch her strip down and wash over the sink, waiting to buff her dry with a rough towel.  Fatback or hamhock, her take-home for the day, and their one room would sizzle with the smell of her work.

Lukas begged, but Mama wouldn’t let him play with the piglets at Uncle Josip’s farm outside Milo. He’d get attached, she said, and most were done for.  Even though Josip once took him to a Cubs game, Lukas was disgusted that he sounded like one of his hogs with Mama at night.

Lukas knew Josip didn’t think he’d come back to Milo for the family reunion now that his mother was gone, or especially that he’d bring Melville with him, but he did. Melville wanted to see the farm where he was born and visit the herd, though he was appalled when he realized the hideous Sooey! the farmer called out was meant for him too.  And the grunting and squealing were truly unbearable, he told Lukas’s relatives. He would never admit that he sometimes still grunted when upset, or squealed when excited, as he had been by Lukas’s recent gift of a first edition of Loeb Library’s Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

After the reunion, Lukas drove Melville to the edge of town to see the lips. In the early 80’s, Novitch Motors had put up a billboard with twenty-foot-high neon red lips on the hill beside the Assembly of God’s white cross. When the lips opened every thirty seconds, the gap between them looked big enough to swallow the cross whole, and the churches campaigned to tear down the sign, which read: WE PUT OUR MONEY WHERE OUR MOUTH IS.  But the churches lost, because most people thought the sign made the town stand out, which it never had before, except for its pigs. Girls called the dirt road up the hill “Valentine’s Day Lane,” but to the boys, it was always “Big Lips Lane,” the site of much innocence lost, including Lukas’s, the summer before college. He told Melville that when he came, he wasn’t thinking about his girlfriend, but about the black maw of the glistening neon pout outside the car window.  And now he found the lips still thrilled him, especially the glimpse of the dark between them.

Lukas realized that Melville had been unusually quiet, and when Lukas turned to him, the pig suddenly threw his full weight across the seat, burying his snout in Lukas’s neck, the bristles almost piercing his skin. And then his wet snout pressed into Lukas’s mouth.  A high squeal filled the air, followed by a grunt as Lukas struggled to push him off. The two sat there, snuffling, in the blinking red light beneath the lips and the cross.

“Ejay tay’aimeway,” Melville said, and Lukas felt his heart shiver open, and just as quickly, close.