When The Pigs Flew
Ricky Ginsburg - April 2009

Now, I want you to understand that when I say the pigs were flying, it's not as though the damn things grew wings in the middle of the night and started in'ta dive-bombing the house with their poop. And I really wouldn't call it flying, more like they was just floatin' over the cornfield, drifting back and forth on the late summer breeze. My pappy use'ta say there'd be nothing good come from the day when pigs could fly. With Labor Day Weekend less than twenty-four hours in the distance and me with orders for three dozen hams and nine dressed hogs, a fleet of airborne porkers was gonna bring a whole lotta truth to that prediction.

I took over the running of our family farm when my pappy died, right after Clinton got caught with that cigar and that pretty girl, what thirteen, fourteen years ago? Thelma, my wife, looks a bit like her if you squint real hard, shame she doesn't have that girl's sense of excitement. Sure as the well's got cold water, though, I could get Thelma to swing over to the kinky side of the bed, just had to give her a jar of 'shine first and turn off the lights.

And so I got to thinkin' maybe that was the problem with the pigs. Maybe Thelma'd been so drunk last night that she'd dumped her second jar of 'shine in their drinkin' water. Hell, I'd done a bit of floatin' myself after a couple of gulps of her brother's hill country hooch. So right away, I gave a sniff to the stainless steel water trough - my first mistake of the day.

You know that them hogs like to rut around in all sorts of foul-smellin' places, usually just before they go take a drink, and normally the timer on the water line flushes the trough every six hours so that they always got fresh water in the tank. Well, Thelma knows damn well that the bathroom line and the one-ten that feeds the timer are on the same circuit, the same damn one she uses for that stupid hairdryer that always blows the fuse just before she's done. Just once in my life, she's gonna tell me the circuit's dead before I notice the water trough looks like a stagnant pond.

I came up from the trough so quickly that I bashed the back of my head on the hanging fluorescent above it, smashing the bulb with all them little white bits of frosted glass spilling into the trough and down my back. Thelma came running from the porch as I screamed for help, my body frozen in place lest some shard of glass rip through my spinal cord and leave me stranded in a roll-about for the rest of my days.

She skidded to a halt right in front of me and held out her hands like a traffic cop at a DUI checkpoint. "Jeremy! Jeremy, don't move!"

"Sweetheart, I'm about to piss in my jeans, there's a thousand glass razorblades between my back and the t-shirt, and if you think I'm doing any movin', you'd best place that bet on a different horse." I took a deep breath and held it as proof.

Thelma, faster than a New York City pickpocket, took my buck knife from the holster on my belt and slit up the front of my favorite Tammy Wynette t-shirt before I could take a second breath.

"Bend back and drop your arms to your sides," she ordered, throwing the knife, blade first, between my feet.

That's when she noticed the pigs.

"What the hell are they doin' up there?"

I gave the tiniest shrug I could and smiled at her. "I'm not sure yet, sweetheart, but I'm fixin' to ask them, soon as you get this shirt off my back and hose me down."

"Jeremy, Mr. Frostworth is pickin' up two hogs at nine this morning." She pointed at one of the larger pigs that had rolled over onto its back and seemed to be sunbathing. "You got to get them down from there and start prepping them, right quick."

Shaking my shoulders to loosen the shirt slightly, I coughed to get her attention. "Ain't nothin' gonna happen 'til you get this shirt off my back… sweetheart."

Thelma removed the t-shirt, folding it as it came free from my arms so that some of the glass stayed with it. A careful washing with the garden hose of both me and the steel trough collected the balance of the sharp particles. I replaced the torn Ms. Wynette with a faded Dale Earnhardt and set about to retrieve my airborne inventory.

"Give me a hand with the big ladder," I shouted to Thelma as I walked around to the garage. The sixteen-foot A-frame we used for cleaning the fans in the great room would get me around halfway up to where the pigs were flying. If I could get a rope around them, one at a time, I could haul them in and float them into the barn.

Now, I've never been a cowboy, as a matter of fact, the Kansas state line is as close as I've ever been to Texas, so when I say I'm gonna rope them in, it's more wishful thinking than practical reality. With the ladder balanced on two ridges in the cornfield, I climbed to the second to the last step and tried spinning the loop I'd made into a lasso.

The first toss hit Thelma in the nose.

"The pigs, Jeremy, the pigs."

"Sorry." I pulled the loop back up the ladder and started spinning it again.

On the release of the rope for my next attempt, the loop went behind me instead of in front and latched onto a fence post. Thelma walked over and pulled it free, making the loop several feet larger before letting it go. "Try it now," she said and took several steps back away from me.

The third through the last toss, some fifteen minutes later with the sun now well over the tree tops, failed to hit a single pig although I tagged a crow that must have mistaken the gliding loop as a perch.

"You ain't no Roy Rodgers, that's for sure."

"Sweetheart, you ain't no Dale Evans, so we're equal."

Thelma took off one of her shoes and for a moment, I thought she was going to throw it at me, so I ducked and almost fell off the ladder.

"What?"

She shook her head. "Tie the damn shoe onto the end of the rope and toss it over the closest pig. I'll catch it and we can pull it down together."

"You don't think I can rope one of these in like a horse?"

"Not before my fiftieth birthday." She smiled.

I climbed halfway down the ladder and leaned over to take the shoe from her. "I thought you already blew out those candles."

Thelma raised her left eyebrow, a trick I've never learned to do, and pointed at me. "Just remember whose name is on the insurance while you're standing on that rickety ladder."

On my first try, the shoe landed on the pig's back and I tried whipping the damn rope up and down to make it fall over to the other side. The pig looked down at me as if to say, "You're kidding, right?" and rolled over on its side, sliding the shoe off with a grunt.

"Did you see that?" I asked both Thelma and myself. "They don't want to be caught."

"I'm gonna gut and clean you and butcher your fat ass. Would you want to be caught?" She stood opposite me in the field with her hands on her hips. "Throw it again, but get it over the top of the pig this time."

I stuck my tongue in my cheek and nodded toward her. "Just get ready to catch it." Swinging the rope like David gettin' it on with Goliath, I let the shoe fly several feet above the nearest pig. The arc was perfect, my distance just right, but as the shoe passed over the pig's back and the rope began falling, the damn wind picked up and blew the beast clear of capture.

Kicking the ladder, I slipped down one step and grabbed onto the top of the ladder with both hands. "That ain't right."

"You want me to get the shotgun?"

"What? Do you think they'll explode like Mexican piñatas?" I climbed the rest of the way down and stood in front of the ladder. "Plus, you want to clean all that shot from the hog's belly?"

Thelma crossed her arms over her chest. "Well, what's next, Einstein?"

What's next was the arrival of our neighbor, Mr. Zawiski, who walked up to the fence, stared at the pigs for a few moments, and then spit a large glob of that chaw he was always keeping stuffed in his cheeks.

"Them pigs got gas."

I looked up at the cluster that had floated together near the silo and then back to him. "Gas?"

Mr. Zawiski was a farmer who was old enough to have voted for Roosevelt and generally accepted by most folks in these parts as the resident expert on everything that wasn't plugged into the wall or powered by Arab oil.

"Yep." He nodded toward the wooden feed trough. "You change their diet recently?"

I scratched the back of my neck and looked over at Thelma. "What'd you buy at Johnston's last week?"

"Forty bags of number seven feed." She paused and I could hear the gears grindin' in her head. "And forty bags of some vitamin stuff they recommended 'cause of the heat."

"Vitamin stuff?"

"Uh-huh. Deke Johnston said the county Ag guy gave him a flyer on vitamins the hogs should eat when we get a long, dry summer like this one."

Mr. Zawiski shook his head. "I ain't never heard of no summer time vitamins." He pointed at the pigs. "You done blowed them up like balloons with whatever's in them vitamins, son."

"Great." I stepped back as the old man hocked another lump of brown from his throat. "Now what?"

"Well, you got get them down from there first, but I'd give 'em each a dose of Pepto Bismal to clean 'em out and release all that gas." He smiled. "Don't wanna be too close when you do, though."

"That's the problem." I frowned. "How do we get them back to earth?" He shoved another packet of chaw in his mouth and nodded a few times. "You got a bow and arrow?"

"Do I look like William Tell?"

Mr. Zawiski grinned and started to walk back across the road. "Nah. If you was, you'd a shot them pigs in the ass already and we wouldn't be having this discussion."

Thelma threw her hands up in disgust and marched into the house, the screen door slamming closed behind her. I looked up at the pigs and spit; a sudden breeze blew the phlegm back at me, splattering it on my right shoe.

"God damn pigs!" I kicked the dusty driveway and followed her into the house.

My first phone call was to Alvin Frostworth, telling one of our most loyal customers that there was going to be a short delay in getting his two hogs ready. Fortunately, he was just about to call me to say he couldn't get his truck started, dead battery as far as he could tell, and wouldn't be by until later that morning. The next call went to Sparky McTiernan, the chief of the local volunteer fire department, to see if he could find a few guys and roll over here with the ladder truck. Sparky and his three sons were out on the lake, doing some early morning trout fishing, but his wife said she'd page him if it was a true emergency. I looked out the window at my flying swine and told her if it got any worse, I'd call her back. Stomping into the kitchen, I shoved a chair out of the way, knocking it to the floor. Whiskey would've been my first choice, but at eight o'clock in the morning, even Thelma would have disapproved. I filled a cup with coffee, one of the few things she cooked better than me.

Thelma's voice boomed into my left ear, "Where'd you hide that box of marbles?"

I turned, nearly splashing her with the coffee. "How'd you sneak up on me like that?"

"Shoot, Jeremy, you got your head fixed on the clouds. Queen of England could walk in here, knight you, and leave without you knowing it'd happened." Thelma was standing right behind me with a slingshot she'd rigged up with a pair of wooden clothes hangers, some duct tape, and one of her bras.

"Well now, ain't you the clever one." I took the weapon and gave it the once over. Pappy use'ta warn me not to ever trust a shotgun that's been loaded by a woman; I guessed the same rule applied to homemade slingshots. "What's the plan?"

Thelma smiled. "Get that bag of marbles from wherever you stored it. I know you can shoot better'n you can toss a lasso." She nodded toward the window. "Go on and plink them rascals in the butt and drive 'em towards the tree line. The boys are on the way over here and I'll send 'em up in the trees to grab 'em when they hit."

I took a couple of steps back from her, placing my coffee cup on the counter. "Just like drivin' a herd of cattle, right?" Sliding my hands into the pockets of my jeans, I cocked my head to one side. "Just one problem there, Edison."

"Oh?"

"Your cattle got their feet on the ground. These little piggies ain't touchin' nothin' but clouds." I pointed out the window. "You see any wings there sweetheart? You can plink 'em all day long but they ain't walkin' nowhere."

Thelma grabbed the slingshot from me and was about to walk out of the kitchen.

"Wait a minute."

She turned and I could see that look of disgust on her face that brewed whenever I pointed out one of her faults.

"What?"

"Gimme that thing." I took the weapon and stuffed it into my back pocket. From the fruit bowl next to the toaster oven, I grabbed a handful of crabapples that Thelma had picked yesterday for a pie. "You got more of these out back?"

She nodded. "Almost three bushels."

"Get 'em and bring them around front."

I sprinted out the door, crossed the dirt driveway, and stood just inside the fence on the other side.

There wasn't enough pull in the bra strap to really get any sting out of the tiny apples, but I had no trouble at all shooting them up in a lazy arc that passed right in front of the pig's face on its way down. It took a couple of tries, but on the fourth one, the pig caught the apple and gobbled it down. Another one, a hundred-pounder and one of the hogs marked for Alvin Frostworth, sussed what the first pig had done and snatched the next apple in one try. Thelma came waddling up to the fence with a bushel basket of crabapples that was banging against her knees. She dropped the basket next to me and watched as I sent an apple skyward to another hungry sow.

"You're feeding them?"

"That and uncloggin' their pipes."

"How's that?"

Another apple left the slingshot, missing a pig by just a few inches. "What do you do when you can't take a dump?"

"Look at a picture of you, seems to work every time."

"I met funny once and you're not her." I shot again; the pig stretched its neck and snagged the apple. "You eat something, fiber's best, something that'll get your guts'ta pumpin' and before you know it - blammo and the tank is empty again."

"And you think you can do it with a slingshot and a few bushels of crabapples?"

"You got a better idea?"

She unbuttoned her shirt, fussed around inside for a few moments, and yanked out her bra. "Let me go get two more clothes hangers and the roll of duct tape."

The boys - Leon and Gus - ran the local towing service. Thelma considered them to be her sons, stupid ones, but the only available substitutes for the children I'd refused to have. They did odd jobs around the farm when we needed them and there was nothing I could think of that was anywhere near as odd to what we had going on today.

Between the four of us, it took most of the morning before we'd run out of apples and I had to send them into the orchard with the empty baskets to get another load. Above us, the damn pigs seemed to be unaffected; my miracle cure hadn't kicked in just yet. Several of the flying pigs were grunting louder and one was making this weird sound, kinda like the tractor engine starting up on a winter morning. But none of them had moved any closer to the ground and if I was going to fill my meat orders, I'd have to start soon or plan on spending all night at the large prep sink inside the barn.

Leon had trimmed meat with me several times, but Gus had only four fingers on one hand - an accident with a cleaver that he'd caused, rushing to keep pace with his older brother. I figured the first two hogs to descend he could butcher at Mr. Frostworth's house if worst came to worst.

We went through a another load of apples just as the noon freight train whistled through town and I was beginning to give serious thought to getting the twelve-gauge from my truck, when the first loud "brap" and an explosion of pig poop blasted out above us.

"Run for cover!" I shouted at the boys and we all sprinted for the porch.

Thelma grabbed the slingshot from Gus, who was using it like a gas mask with his face buried in the bra.

There was a second and a third eruption from above us and damn, if one of the big hogs didn't start drifting to the ground.

"It's workin', Thelma!" I grabbed her and planted a big juicy one on her lips. "Thank God for your big..."

"That'll be enough, Jeremy." She smiled and turned to the boys. "Now get your eyes back around front, you two."

Well, it took another three hours for them all to come down and another hour after that to collect the ones that landed in the cornfield, the woods, and a pair of them that had floated a mile down the county road. Leon and I worked until almost dawn, but all the hams were trimmed and wrapped, and the hogs dressed and ready for delivery as soon as the sun came up. I found the remaining thirty-nine bags of vitamins and took all but one of them back to Johnston's for a refund. The last bag? Well, Thelma's been gettin' some of them vitamins with her breakfast for the past two weeks and she swears she's losing weight on account of them.

Of course, I've been keeping a bowl of crabapples in the bedroom... just in case.

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