Vegetarian

Amusement park
Photo by Katherine Auguste on Unsplash

“You know what’s easier to catch than a greased pig?” asked Renee. We leaned against the metal gate looking down at the eight other kids. I was the youngest, but fast. The rest of them were in sprinter stances, their calves hardening under their blue jeans. I’d gotten down in line with them until Renee told me I looked like a tool.

I tried untensing my body, letting it hang there loose like socks drying on the clothesline, but I still felt coiled. I looked up at her, waiting for her answer. A man in a Canadian tuxedo stood in the middle of the arena with a baby pig screaming bloody hell in his arms. He pointed a cap gun, or what I hoped was a cap gun, to the sky and right before he pulled the trigger, Renee said, “Kids.”

Then she elbowed me hard in the eye.

My body stumbled along like a bike being ghost-ridden into a parked car. My vision flashed hot white. I fell to my knees, only vaguely aware of the noises around me. The pain became more localized, and I could feel my eye earn its own throbbing heartbeat. By the time my vision unblurred and I was able to lift my head, Renee was slide-tackling a 14-year-old boy, who crumpled into a pile of himself. The Canadian tuxedo was screaming from the other side of the fence.  Renee was the only kid left standing, the rest of us had been reduced to moaning heaps. She walked quietly to where the greased piglet was shuddering in a corner and knelt, coaxing it into her arms with soft coos. The crowd booed loudly as she stood with the tiny creature in her arms. I only barely heard her scream above the din of angry adults, “You’re disgusting. This is a living animal.” Then she flipped them the bird and squeezed between the bars of the gate.

Mom had a fit when we got home and made us march back to the fairgrounds and return the pig immediately.

On the way back, the piglet fell asleep in Renee’s arms. We had to detour around where the police had blocked off several streets for a meth lab raid and I started feeling tired from all the sun and walking.

“How’s my eye look?” I asked Renee.

“Pretty bad,” she said.

“Awesome.”

Renee was careful to keep the piglet out of the sun. The grease gave its pink skin a sheen of orange which glistened in the light like wet rust. I noticed the grease had stained Renee’s Motley Crue shirt. Mom bought it at a concert while she was pregnant with Renee.

“What do you think will happen to it?” I asked.

“Same as what they do with all of them.” Renee spoke with a sharp tone that made me shut up. We were passing our old preschool which had been turned into an evangelical church. The only change was an enormous cross on the roof and the sign out front. I wondered how the inside had changed.

“Did you know pigs are kept in cages so small they can’t even turn around?” asked Renee.

“No,” I said, and became interested in the cracked sidewalk.

“Babies are taken away from their mothers after three weeks and not allowed to socialize or anything. All people do is get them as fat as they can as fast as they can.”

I picked up a stick and broke it, then threw it into the creek we were passing.

“I just hope you remember that next time you ask for bacon.”

My voice lowered. “They’re already dead, we might as well eat them.”

“If nobody bought meat, they wouldn’t keep doing it.” I didn’t look at her because I could tell from her voice she was crying.

When we got to the fairgrounds the Canadian tuxedo marched up to us, steaming. Damp half-moons of sweat sprouted under his armpits. His mouth chewed with anticipation for the tongue lashing he was about to deal out. He snatched the sleeping piglet out of Renee’s arms, which made the animal immediately break out into high-pitched screams.

“You stole this pig!”

“Don’t yell at my brother!” Renee’s voice had an edge to it which made the man’s tongue crawl down his throat.

She took my hand and started leading me away. “The pig’s name is Daisy. Not that you’d care,” she yelled over her shoulder, her face hard as a brick.

We walked home in silence. I counted the cracks in the sidewalk and even though it would normally have embarrassed me, and the heat made our skin sticky with sweat, I held Renee’s hand the entire way.

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