A challenge has just been thrown down by Gazelle in the comments of my last post. I quote:
"Your banner says "Life" & "Art" before it says "Surfing." So, if the surf sucks (we've got the same problem right now in Oregon), you're free to spout off about just about any other topic, as I see it... "
Strangely I'd been thinking just that when I saw his entry.
I'd been thinking a little about empathy, and the fact that it is one quality the world could do more of.
This story was written a long while back, one of my very few short stories, and is based in fact. I had followed a pig truck in a thunderstorm on a 1000 mile hell drive from Melbourne to Brisbane. After that it's pure extrapolation...
JUST A PIG
He was driving north on a stormy evening in southern Queensland. Ahead a thunderstorm and a spectacular light show to allay the boredom of another 10 hours at the wheel. At the back of his mind the hope that he could get into the middle of it and see a few lightening bolts in the act, so to speak. It had always fascinated him and touch wood, he’d see, but not be touched.
The traffic was light, with his progress being only occasionally slowed by a truck struggling up a hill. Just such a truck came into view as he rounded a bend, a truck laden with pigs on the way to he could easily guess where. It was approaching Christmas, after all, and we all love our ham.
His headlights were giving these pigs their first view of the surroundings for some time and they were becoming agitated, with one poor creature in particular making use of the light to get itself out of its predicament. It had fallen and was trapped under three companions. Hind legs tight beneath, it was doing ineffective push-ups, trying to dislodge one weighty neighbour and find the comfort of four legs. The belly of another was above its head and it was butting upwards trying to lift it away, all the while squealing, squealing, as it was God knows how many hours since it had fallen and the pig was in pain.
He could feel it.
His memory took him back to the endless minutes in church when he was young, kneeling in regimented rows with his equally none-too-devout classmates as old Father O’Halloran stumbled through another consecration of the Blessed Sacrament. His knees would be in agony, and form funny little flat spots on the caps. It was this pain, ten times over that he translated into the body of the pig. He hated the scene in front of him and as luck would have it an overtaking zone appeared ahead.
As the truck grew smaller in the rear vision mirror his attention was taken again by the thunderstorm and a stomach that was signalling the need for something more filling than a packet of corn chips and a diet coke, which had through habit become his travelling food of choice. The memory of the pigs faded as he tucked into a juicy hamburger with the lot at the first truck stop he came across.
Suddenly, he heard a thump and crash and looked out to see the pig truck coming sideways around the corner leading to the cafe. The driver had misjudged the bend and jackknifed, the rear end sliding out and nicking a tree on the other side of the road before it all came to a halt directly in front of a bunch of cheering truckers who had watched the whole shemozzle doubled up with laughter. Unfortunately, the impact had opened the side of the truck just enough for a couple of the pigs to escape and one of those pigs was the trapped porker that he had been watching a short while before.
Several truckers lunged out of the door and began running around in an attempt to round up the pigs. He watched their clumsy tries to corner them with a mounting horror. It was not that they were being consciously cruel, but their insensitivity to the pigs distress seemed to be in inverse proportion to his own. He suddenly seemed to be feeling exactly what the pigs felt and he couldn’t stand it any more.
He ran outside.
By this time one of the pigs was under control and on its way back to the truck but the other, the pig that had been trapped, the pig that had been in a blind panic for hours and hours, that pig was free and its fear was, to him, so intense he could reach out and touch it. It seemed to form words he could hear, as though the pig was talking to him, pleading for its freedom, its life.
“Don’t hurt me.. .don’t hurt me..,” this big pink creature seemed to say, over and over, over and over as he approached it, trying to sooth it, trying to calm nerves shot to pieces with terror.
Now he was talking as well.
“It’s all right. Ssssshhh...Sssshh”
The pig was now behind the cafe. It was quieter there, and a grassy slope formed the beginning of the hill the truck stop backed onto.
“It’s all right. Ssssshhh...Sssshh”
“Don’t hurt me...don’t hurt me, please don’t hurt me”
He didn’t know why he was hearing this or speaking to a pig, but the pig was getting calmer. It had flopped to the ground and lay there shaking, tears rolling down its fat pink cheeks as he patted it on the head.
Calmer. It was like a big baby.
Calmer. It was nearly asleep.
Its grunts seemed like a gentle snoring. It had stopped shaking and was finally peaceful.
Suddenly, a loop of coarse rope was around the pig's neck. The trucker had appeared behind him.
“Got ya, ya fat bastard!” he roared as he wrenched the pig to its feet. His voice sounded like a ruined gearbox.
The pig screamed, resisted.
“Fuckin' move!” He kicked it hard in the flank.
It screamed again.
“You’re hurting, please stop hurting...”
It had started again. He could hear the pain.
“Easy mate, please don’t ...”
The trucker turned on him and gave him a look of pure contempt.
“ Mind your own fuckin business, pal!...I heard ya talkin’ to it, talkin’ to a pig. What are ya, a fuckin’ poofta or somethin’?”
“Pleeeease!!!!” The pig screamed again as he hauled it away, blood streaming from the skin under the rope as it cut into the soft, pink flesh.
The trucker looked at him.
“Anyway, it’s just a pig.”
He heard the cheers of the laughing crowd as the pig was dragged back to the truck.
He watched as it lurched into the storm.
He kept looking into the night for what seemed like hours.
“Yeah,” he said to himself finally.
”Just a pig.”