A Mother’s Tale, by Rayne Debski
I had to throw them out of the house. The market crash put my stocks in the trough, and my paycheck from Maggie’s Farm was barely enough to keep the landlord from the door. My three sons spent hours hanging at the corner trying to pick up girls who would take them to the drive-in for burgers and fries. When I asked the boys to get jobs to help pay expenses, Robert, the oldest, strummed his guitar and sang, “No, no, no, not me, babe.” Andrew, the middle boy who resembled his father too much to ever amount to anything, sat on his sorry little pork butt drawing soup cans. “Not by the hair of my chin,” he said. And Jack, the one who, with his high grades in Life Skills had shown the most promise, paged through my Julia Child cookbooks and said perhaps he would scavenge for turnips and apples to make a casserole.
I wasn’t the only parent whose adult children lived at home. Up and down the road, sons and daughters who had been laid off from their jobs knocked on their parents’ doors and moved into their old bedrooms. But my boys—they had never pursued jobs from which to get canned. The next time they went to the corner to hang, I packed their belongings and changed the locks.
With the three of them gone, the house had more breathing room. I’d lived most of my adult life there, always conceding space to my sons for their toys and hobbies. Now in the first days of my solitude, I stretched out on the living room sofa without having to dislodge Robert’s piles of sheet music. On the kitchen counter I replaced Andrew’s tubes of oil paint with a simple vase of daisies. I did miss Jack’s meals, but not the stacks of pots and pans he would leave for me to clean. When a breeze blew across the plains, I opened all the windows and let it sweep through the house inhaling it like a drug. I was in Fat City.
What was I thinking! I knew the boys would have to scramble to find shelter, especially with the recent tornadoes. I assumed they would use their heads. Through the grapevine I learned Sam Wolf had given Robert and Andrew no money down, interest free loans to buy trailers at his Happy Hides Mobile Home Park. He attempted to make the same arrangement with my third son, but Jack was starting Hearth Cooked, a catering business, and needed a fireplace. Sam offered him the brick caretaker’s cottage. I had known Sam since high school. He was unscrupulous even then, chasing little girls in the woods and stealing food from McGregor’s garden. In later years, when he collected our rent, he eyed the boys closely, pinched their pink bellies, and called them his Little Pigs, even after they were grown. Some said he used his deep rumbling howl to summon the tornadoes that destroyed the homes of those who owed him money. He licked his chops and collected on their homeowners insurance. I told myself the boys were smart enough to keep him at bay.
Months passed. I hadn’t heard from my sons. Consumed with worry, I drove to Happy Hides, hid my car behind a tree, and gazed at the dilapidated structures they called home. Andrew hadn’t bothered to install tie-downs or lightning rods to keep his abode safe. Unfinished canvasses were strewn across the weedy front yard like discarded toys. Next door at Robert’s, cracked windows were mended with duct tape. An overturned plastic milk crate served as the front step. I squeezed my eyes shut hoping that when I opened them, things would be different. I had spent years preaching the value of work, of being responsible, of taking care of your possessions. The scene before me was a testament to sloth. Part of me thought, I did the best I could for them; they’ll never learn. At the same time, my heart stuttered.
I was about to leave when Sam pulled up. He pounded on Andrew’s door.
“Little pig, little pig, your mortgage payment is two months overdue,” he said. “Let me come in.”
From inside came Andrew’s shaky reply, “No way, man.” I pictured my son trying to stay calm. As a child, his chin would quiver when he was about to cry.
“Then I’ll blow your miserable little house in,” Sam said. He stepped backed, clenched his fists, pointed his snout at the sky and howled. A tornado descended on the trailer, and when it lifted, my dead son, his easel, and several canvasses were all that remained. Sam grabbed Andrew and ate him right there, raw. I sat trembling, unable to do anything.
Sam went next door to Robert’s trailer. I tried to scream a warning, but my voice caught. Through the cracked windows came a guitar riff, and Robert’s nasal voice bleating “this pig thinks you’re fine,” as if he could appease Sam with one of his ridiculous songs. Sam pounded on the metal door with both fists until he creased it. The singing stopped. Robert squealed through the window he’d give Sam his money after he got a gig. Sam just snorted and once again let his low throated howl rip. The same carnage ensued.
When Sam was through, he wiped his bloody paws on his pants and drove away. I wept and prayed he would come down with trichinosis.
Growing up on a farm, I knew about slaughter and food chains. I knew mothers who watched their broods get carted away, but it was for a common good, not the benefit of one individual. I kissed the bones of my sons and retrieved the scattered pieces of Robert’s music and Andrew’s paintings. There was no time to linger. I had to warn Jack.
His red brick cottage was at the end of the road. I again hid my car, but this time, I went to the house to be with my son. Although I was filled with anger and disbelief, I was pleased to see the pots of mums lining the porch, and the crisp white curtains framing the windows. The only hint of trouble at the cottage was the eviction notice posted on the front door. “I’m waiting on a book contract,” Jack said. “Then I can pay Wolf.”
Over a cup of chamomile tea and raspberry scones, I told him what happened. We made a plan.
Sam arrived and did his shtick. “Little pig, little pig, let me come in.”
“No way,” Jack said.
“I’ll blow the damn house down.”
Jack laughed. “Have at it, old man.” Sam howled, but it was a weak attempt, punctuated by rumbling belches. So far, so good. We had bet the farm he would be weary from his earlier gluttony. Finally a small twister appeared and drifted away. Sam was furious. “I’ll eat you, you damn pig. I’m coming down the chimney.”
Jack and I high-fived each other. He threw another log on the fire. The homemade stock in the cauldron bubbled. Nails scratched across the roof. Sam was half way down the chimney before he screamed.
To celebrate, Jack invited his neighbors for wolf pot au feu, the dish that would put him on the foodie map after the publication of his first cookbook. His culinary creations would one day win recognition for appearance as well as innovative taste. He would be invited to lecture at the Cordon Bleu in Paris, and his is cooking show would have ratings higher than Iron Chef. He would winter in Provence and summer in the Hamptons. He would invite me to stay with him, to listen to the mistral and breathe in the healthy salt air. There would be no getting him back on the farm except to buy organic produce for one of his restaurants.
But that night, as I stared at the presentation—red-tinged broth in gleaming white bowls; marrowbones artfully arranged with slices of baguettes on a rectangular plate; and slivers of meat surrounded by innocent leeks, carrots and potatoes on a silver-ringed serving platter—my stomach flip-flopped. Amid the laughter and conversation of Jack and his friends, I kept hearing the desperate cries of my sons and seeing the specks of blood on Sam’s pants.
I slipped out the back door and drove home. For several minutes I sat on the sofa, clutching the purse that held scraps of Andrew’s paintings and Robert’s songs. My house was neat, quiet, and empty. Outside, a breeze rustled through the trees. When it gained strength and began to howl, I closed all the windows and wept.
I never ate meat again.
Rayne Debski’s short fiction has appeared in various on-line and print publications. She lives in a town on the Appalachian Trail with her husband and two dogs, all of whom own her heart. She has a pair of hiking poles, a kayak, and a bicycle and is happiest when she can use at least one of them during the day.
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Tags: fairy tales, family, murder, Rayne Debski