Everyday I woke up to the smell of eggs. Sometimes even now I wake up smellin' eggs.
If I had known that Pop was on the phone to Sheriff Aquino that morning and that Sheriff Aquino had just gotten a call earlier from Bob of Bob's Hogs who told him the horses are on the track Billy, ha ha, I mighta gone out the window in my bedroom right then and there, right outta Los Vagabundos Del Mar Trailer Park and hitched my own way to Little Rock. But I didn't. The smell of those eggs pulled me right down the hall.
"Huh?" I've never seen Pop so, well, awake. He sat at the kitchen table eyeing me as I came in. His blue eyes were all sparkley, not half shut like they usually were, and his hair was all combed back. It looked like he was gonna get married or go to church or something. I knew he wasn't gonna get married, cause Ma would kick his butt, and he never went to church. Plus, he smelled like Tang. It was Old Spice, but it was old Old Spice. I knew that smell because I found it one day and it burned the hell out of me. Something was up. Well, Dad was up and it was before noon on Sunday. Maybe we were going to church? Wow, this would be a first.
"The horses are on the track."
"Huh, Pop?" I said, sitting down.
He placed both hands on the table and leaned forward at me.
"Dang, Pop, you smell like Tang. You're makin' my eggs smell like Tang."
My mom stepped in and calmed me down, "Bill, let the boy eat his eggs, he's got a big day aheada him. Now I'm gonna be at Diedra's till you call me cuz you know I don't want nothin of this." Mom gave me some salsa.
"Well, it won't be long, baby, cause ol Billy boy here's gonna have that squealer laid out like a cheerleader woncha son!"
Dad slapped the table when he said that. I must have started choking because Pop just moved his hand from the table and started clapping my back. "Tully, git the boy a paper towel quicklike."
Ma was smart. She headed out to Diedra's Hair Affair where she'd probably get a cold beer and a hot facial. Dad and I stood out there beside the trailer and watched her peel out in Gypsy, her light-blue Nova. I secretly hated her for not taking me. Ma would sometimes put her foot down for me like when Pop was gonna buy me my first gun. I remember her saying, The boy's only seven Bill, can't you wait another year? Dad did wait. He usually did what Ma said, but he tried not to let on. I remember too when I got that gun a year later:
"Bill! He cain't even lift the damn thing!"
"Dammit, Tully, he'll grow into it. Boy's got to be a man sometime."
So there we stood, a couple of men, squinting in the early summer sun and watching Ma's Nova fade away in a cloud of dust. Pop's hand, and it was heavy, was around the back of my neck and I was beginning to sweat. Suddenly he spun around and gave me a real scare. "Whooeeee, Billy! Arright, now, you stay here, big fella. I got a big surprise for ya." Suddenly he was gone. It was just me and the sound of passing cars on Highway 10.
He's gone crazy, I thought. What in the hell am I doing? Outside alone, I saw the dust from Ma's Nova beginnin to settle. Highway 10, I could see clearly, was about a hundred feet away. If I ran for it, I bet I could catch up with her. I started to sweat some more, then I started running. Right when I got to the highway's edge, Bob's red Ford truck wheeled in, almost hit me, and skidded to a stop. Bob's Hogs Arkansas Owned and Operated was written on the side all cursive in white air-brush. Bob started honking. Pop came out of the trailer.
"Damn, Bill!" he hollered leaning out the window, "you got a live one!" My Pop came running up to the truck. I blinked the dust from my eyes, trying to see what kind of horse was stomping around and making all that noise back there in Bob's truck.
"You got a horse back there, Mr. Checker?"
"Billy, a horse would be a pet, and this ain't no pet." Bob started laughing.
"He come out to greet ya, huh?" said Pop proudly. Then Pop slapped Bob's truck hood a few times. "Drive on over, Bob."
Walking back with Pop and his heavy hand on me, a little too fast for me thank you very much, I noticed what was making that funny stomping noise. A pig, big as the bike I wanted for Christmas the year I got the gun was back there, rolling its eyes and pacing all over. It looked angrier than Ma ever did when Pop used to say no way in the Devil's own Hell was he goin to church. I swear the pig was lookin right at me.
"Billy, meet yer maker ha ha!" yelled Bob over the truck as he slammed his door. Pop and Bob started to laugh this real thank god it's over for us laugh and then they came over to stand by me. Probably in case I was gonna make a run for it. The pig eyeballed all of us. It took up the whole back of the truck. I stared at it like I was mad, y'know, so it couldn't tell I was scared. It had dark bristly hair and it twitched in the sunlight. A fly landed on its nose and began cleaning itself.
In that quiet, hot moment, I realized that it was me or the pig. I clenched and unclenched my fist. Lookin down at my clenching, I noticed Pop was holding somethin in brown wrapping paper. Pop and Bob were talking.
"...so after it took three men to get yer pig here in my truck, I say to myself, now hold on Bob, this boy better be prepared. He ready, Bill?"
"Don't you worry about a thing, Bob," Pop said patting the brown papered object. "Scuse me here for a sec, Bob."
Pop got down on one knee in front of me. "Billy, I'm prouda you. I always been prouda you. You do good in school, hell, you already gone past me..."
What? I could see the pig in the corner of my eye looking at me and I was thinking, Ma's gonna be pissed you got your pants all dirty in the knees, Pop. I looked over at Bob. He was being nice and looking away, checking out his fingernails. I looked back at Pop. He had put his left hand back on my shoulder.
" ... see that pig? Your grandpa faced one twice that size when he was a year younger than you. Course it only lasted about a minute cause your grandpa was a little too excited and young to be handlin' such a thing. But I been watchin' you, Billy. I been watchin' you eyeballin' the girls here in Vagabondos del Mar and I been watchin' you now eyeballin' this here pig. You're ready. I can smell it like Sunday bacon heh heh. Here."
Pop handed me the big wrapped thing. It was heavy and smelled like Pop, like Tang. Bob was back now and was kneeling down there too. He looked on the verge of tears. I knew what the paper thing was, it was Pop's big rifle. He brought it out every deer season and spent a whole week cleaning it. Course he never came home with anything. Pop couldn't hit the red side of a barn. We all knew it, but no one talked about it. I think that's why he joined the NRA, ate meat a lot even though Ma said he should be eating chicken, and wore a lot of plaid. It's crazy how people carry around their childhoods with them like luggage. Ma told me in secret once that back then Pop gave Grandpa a real scare thinkin' he never was gonna kill that pig. Chased it all over creation. Rumor has it the pig got kicked by a horse out in the barn and died that way, but the polaroid Pop has shows him with a foot up on the pig and a big knife stuck in it. You never know.
Bob gave a long, low whistle cause he knew the brown present for me was Pop's rifle. "You got someone special there for a daddy, Billy. May not know that but ya do."
Somewhere in the middle of this, I had kneeled down too. Holding the wrapper steady with my right hand, I pulled out Pop's rifle with my left. It made a big ol' hissing sound when it came out of the paper. I placed it on my knees and put my hand on the wood. It felt cool and reassuring. The deep, blue metal around the trigger flashed in the sunlight. I looked at Pop and the pig, and then tossed the rifle up and caught it strong. My eyes squinted and I thought of them: Ted Nugent, George Washington, Daniel Boone, John Wayne. Mary Kelley too. Mary Kelley was a girl in Vagabondos I'd gotten pretty sweet on recently. Mentally, I added my name to the list: Billy Tingle -- and the back of my neck started to, well, tingle. Maybe it was the feeling of the cool wood in the sun. Or maybe it was that I needed something between me and that big pig. At any rate, I stood up tall, leaving Pop and Bob down there kneeling, and hiked the rifle's sight up to my eyes. Slowly, I walked over to the pig. It was still hanging around the back of Bob's truck and it started staring at me again. I got closer and even closer to it, and then I placed the barrel gently against its snout.
"BAM!!" I shouted.
"Shit, Billy, shit!"
The pig squealed and started bucking around Bob's truck. Bob lunged at Pop, and Pop lunged at me, probably afraid it'd be over too soon, Grandpa-style. They both grabbed me and Pop snatched the rifle away and started stomping off towards our trailer.
"Takes a real man!!" Pop came stompin' back. "Takes a real man!!" He was pointing the gun for emphasis. Bob and I ducked.
"You wanna know somethin' Billy? I didn't take no cheap shot at my pig. You wanna know what happened?"
Heck, yeah I wanted to know. I'd been waiting for this all my life. Dad started circling back around me and Bob.
"Now, Bill ..."
"Shut up, Bob. I'll tell ya, son. I chased that pig like a real man. Followed its hoof prints, set traps and waited. I aimed at it. I got down on my knees and thanked the Lord God Almighty that I was given the opportunity to hunt."
Pop was on his knees now aiming the rifle at something past the trailer. I tried to see what he was aiming at but all I could see was Mr. Trickett's trailer and then the Kelley's behind that. His shadow fell behind him like a cape. He wasn't even looking at us anymore. I began to wonder if he forgot about us, but then realized he didn't because he started up again. "Hunt like my father did, and like all them before back to the first caveman." Caveman? Bob shot a look at me like yeah right, but I knew better than to say something. Didn't have to, though, cause Pop had plenty to say. "Life ain't so easy and I learned that. You gotta earn it. A caveman couldn't just go down to the dad gum Piggly Wiggly or Mr. Taco and pick up dinner, no sir, he had ta earn it! Ta Earn It!"
Pop jumped up and spanked the pig's butt on his last earn it and darn it all if the pig didn't go oink like it was a hell yeah. Pop was on a roll.
"Yes! I worked it, I earned that pig all the way into the barn and I cornered it into a horse stall back in there and I had it! And ya know what? Right then that pig and I understood each other. We understood. Man and beast, Billy. And I knew that the beast must be killed. And I killed that pig, Billy. I killed that pig."
Pop leaned against the truck hard. He wiped the sweat off his forehead, the rifle still in his hand and began to cry. Weep. I had never seen my Pop cry ever and boy did he cry like a girl. I knew right then I was in deep. I walked over and pushed the pig back because it started to scratch its nose on Pop's back. I placed my hand on Pop's arm and took the rifle with my other.
"Pop, I'll git that pig."
Pop looked at me like he didn't even know who I was and gave me the rifle. He started nodding. So did I. We looked over at Bob and he was nodding too. We just weren't the hugging type.
"Let it out, Bob." I just wanted the nodding to stop. That pig must've sensed something, like animals do, and it started snorting. Loud. Before I could really catch up with my whole "let it out, Bob", Bob went and opened up the back like he was gonna free a bucking bronco. I lost my cool and shot off the rifle, and we all jumped sky high, including the pig. It leaped out of the truck like a fancy show horse, ran a few feet toward the Trickett's trailer and then turned and started heading straight at Pop. And I mean right at him.
"Don't shoot, Billy!" Pop ran like hell for the trailer with his boots kicking up dirt. I yanked the rifle up just to be safe and started running after the both of them. Pop made it to the trailer, but he was in some trouble 'cause he couldn't latch the screen door. Probably cause he was just staring at the pig. It was running for him all right, but then it just all of a sudden stopped and just looked at Pop about ten feet away. We kinda made a triangle, me, Pop and the pig, a bigger triangle if you count all the neighbors who started the gather around because I shot off the gun. Everybody was real quiet though. Pop slowly opened up the screen door and started to tiptoe out. "Bob?" he whispered, "is your truck open?"
"I'm gonna git in it now and don't you stop me!"
"I wouldn't do that, Bill."
Pop got down the couple of steps when the pig just revved up like a bull and started heading at him. Pop froze, heck we all froze cause we thought for sure Pop was gonna git it like some kinda pig revenge, but the pig tore right past him, knocking him down and heading right into the trailer.
I couldn't believe it was gone. With the pig in the trailer and all us outside it all seemed kinda funny. You know, the pig was pretty scary in the truck cause it was right there, but in the trailer, well, it sorta seemed contained, like a bad dog or like my mom's sister when she stops over or something. Pop pulled himself up looking real wild, threw his fists up in the air and yelled "LET'S GO!"
All the neighbors started woopin' and hollerin' and so I charged in there with Pop like it was D-Day or something. Plus, I saw Mary Kelley had come up so this was it.
Now, I was about as good with a rifle then as Pop was all his life. I had no desire to learn how to shoot a gun and figured that I probably never was gonna learn because Pop would never be able to teach me. I didn't want to talk about it with him anyway because he'd start getting all embarrassed and start talking about his aiming and the caveman and how great he was back then blah blah blah. I certainly didn't want to hear that story again. So, I figured I'd just aim and shoot. That's what Ma told me to do. Back in her rodeo days, she could shoot an egg out of a tree with a blindfold on. She could track a gnat across concrete. Pop never talked about that though. I stopped thinking about all that because I heard the pig snuffling around in the back. In Ma and Pop's bedroom.
"Shhhhhh, Billy. It's in the back." Pop and I were alone in the kitchen. Funny, nobody followed us in. It was pretty quiet in there, of course except for the pig making all that noise.
If you've ever been in a trailer house, let me tell you that at least in ours everything ran in a straight line. A shotgun house, Pop liked to say, like the one Elvis was born in. The kitchen and front door were on one end, where we were, then you got the living room, then the bathroom, my room and then Ma and Pop's room. I was glad the pig was back there. I could shoot from here, maybe, and hit it.
"Hey Pop, um, we could just wait here in the kitchen and then when it gits hungry, it'll have to come out. So, see, we could jes wait."
"WHAT?" The light from the kitchen window was coming in from behind him at the sink. He looked like God all lit up like that. I wondered if I would ever get to be as tall as him.
"I said, so, y'know, we could jes wait an'..."
"I heard whatcha said, boy. Now you see this?" Pop yanked open the fridge and was waving some ground beef at me. I started to wonder if he was all right, you know, like in the head.
"You know what this is?"
"Hamburger beef and Ma's not gonna ...."
"NO!" Pop threw the stuff down hard on the floor. "It's bought!"
"Oh." I got it. The caveman again.
"You know what yer gonna do?" Yeah, I knew.
"I'm gonna git in there an git that pig."
Pop liked that. "OK. Git down here." Pop crouched down and started drawing lines with his finger on our kitchen floor. Some of the linoleum bricks I guess stood for the hallway. The hamburger must've been the living room. One brick was my room. I acted like I knew what he was doing.
"...and when it gits here by the TV trays just start shooting. Donchu worry bout the trays cause Ma can replace'em. OK. Now you repeat after..."
We heard a crash and the pig started squealin.
"GO BILLY GO!!" Pop was up pushing me, I think, even before the noise.
I had the rifle across my chest and kinda hop-ran back to Pop's room hugging the walls. I understood what he meant now about man and beast. It's just the way the world is. Just a week ago I was sitting with Mary Kelley in Sunday school when Betsy Johnson, the Sunday school teacher, told us that God put man on Earth to have dominion over all living things. Dominion. I liked the sound of that word. It sounded good out loud too. Strong. I passed the bathroom, looked in and closed the door, like they do in the movies so the pig wouldn't go in there. Pop liked that. "Good Billy! Good! You're like Clint Eastwood boy!" Clint. Yeah, he should be on my list too, right up there with George Washington and Ted. Then I remembered I had to get the pig to the TV trays, but keep it away from Pop. I got to my room. Slammed the door there too. I saw myself slamming the door to Pop's room too, you know, but with me staying on the hall side if you know what I mean haha, when I thought of Mary Kelley. I bet she's still outside. What if she thought I didn't have dominion? I wondered if Ma thought Pa had dominion. I highly doubted it. If I walked outside with the pig slung over my shoulder Mary would think I was a caveman. I kicked open Pop's door:
I saw the pig in the dresser mirror and in a panic pulled the trigger. The kick from the rifle almost knocked me on my butt. The glass shattered and I heard the real pig squeal. It was on the other side of the bed. Bam! Whee! Damnit, I'd shot a hole through the trailer. Well, it was still nice out. I ran around the bed. Bam! Whee! Boy, that pig was fast, and smart too. I'd almost hit it that time but got the headboard instead.
"Keep goin Billy!!"
I chased the pig out of Pop's room and saw Pop standing in the kitchen behind the bar. He was holding a blender up high in one hand and a stool in the other like he was a lion tamer or something. The front door, to his right, was shut. I cocked the rifle back and aimed again. Bam! Whee! Pop ducked. I thought the pig was over by Pop but I'd shot Pop's bowling trophy off the wall.
"S'all right, Billy! S'all right!" I was starting to panic.
"Where'd it go, Pop?! Where'd it go?!"
"Right there Billy by the sofa!"
When I looked again the pig was between the coffee table and our new sofa Pop had just ordered from Sears. Still had the plastic on. Bam! Whee! Well, I just blew the plastic off. Dang, that pig was one slick willie.
"Here Billy, take some more ammo!" Pop threw the box across the room at me. I knew how to load it and so I just decided to fill up and start shooting.
"Git down Pop!" I cocked the rifle again, let out a caveman yell, and fired away. I knew the pig was in there somewhere. Bam! The screaming eagle. Bam! The TV. Bam! Damn! The TV trays. Well, at least they could be replaced. Bam! Uh oh, Grandpa and Grandma's soft-focus "elegancia" portrait from Lauray's Portrait Gallery. Darn.
"Awwwww, shiiiit!!!" Pop had crawled over to the front door and was opening it, still using the stool as shield. I saw his boots going last down the steps. Bam! The screen door smacked on its hinges. Whee! There was that pig! It ran around me to the door, but I was faster. Now it was just me and the pig, man and beast. I looked at the hamburger on the floor behind it, took a deep breath, and cocked my rifle and aimed right at its nose.
The pig halted, like it knew its time was up and just looked at me. For a moment, I just breathed in the glory of man. I had won. Jesus Christ is a cracker, I had dominion. I thought about Mary Kelley and Pat Boone, no, Daniel Boone, and all the prairie men who settled America and fought in Greece and made the world learn English and get Christian. I was proud to be an American. Too proud, because the pig had sneaked right up to me while I was thinking about all of this. There it was right in front of me and I got as scared as the Virgin Mary must've been when she realized God was interested. I think I threw the rifle at it, but next thing I know it bolted out the door. Great. Now Mary Kelley wasn't gonna see me with no pig. I decided to git a knife.
"Billy! Git on out here! The pig's done come out!" Pop came running back into the kitchen. His pants and shirt were all covered in dirt. "Where's my gun?"
I pointed. "Over there. Where's Ma's big knife?"
"You cain't kill a pig wit no knife, boy where's your head at?" Pop was already reloading the rifle.
We stared at each other. A look of pain passed through Pop's eyes that told me he hadn'ta killed no pig. Not with a knife, a gun, his fist, hamburger meat, tv trays, nothing. Neither one of us said anything for what must've been a long while. Then Pop cocked the rifle.
"Well, I'm gittin that pig."
He stomped out. It was then that I knew Grandpa had lied. Pop hadn'ta killed no pig. I looked over to where Grandpa's picture should have been. Light was coming in like sunrays from the holes in the trailer. Dust, which musta been kicked up from the bullets hitting the ground outside, was beginning to settle and it winked and flashed in the light as it came down. I thought about Grandpa. He'd shot his pig right when it came out out of the truck. Probably when it was still in it. No wonder Pop got so mad when I scared the pig. And here's I'd gone and shot up the trailer, pretty as it looked though now with the dust and sunlight, because my Pop couldn't shoot the red sign of a barn and Pop didn't earn it. Great God Almighty.
Oh Lord, the pig! I ran out and behold, there was Pop waving the rifle around like a madman at the neighbors' kids and Mary Kelley. Mary Kelley! With all the kids, she was standing in front of the pig, which was now sitting on its butt and getting its head scratched by one of Mr. Trickett's kids.
"Git outta the way damnit!" Bam! Dad shot up in the air again.
Mary Kelley stepped forward. "Pa, don't let Mr. Tingle shoot this pig." She was still wearing her Sunday school dress and held her palms out at Pop. I loved that dress on her. It was white with bluebonnets all over it and it made her look as fresh as a daisy field.
"Zack, tell your girl there to git the hell outta my way!" Pop had raised the gun up to his sight. His face was all red and he was breathing hard and fast.
"Now, Bill..." Mary's dad slowly made his way over to Pop. "just put that rifle down reallll slooow."
Pop steered the rifle at Mary's dad. "Git back, Zack."
Well, Zack did get back, quick. He had to worry because Pop was like a wild animal. I had to do something.
"Why you wanna shoot that pig, Bill?"
Pop turned around and looked at me. I came down the steps trying hard just to keep my hands real relaxed at my sides.
"What'd you call me?!"
"That pig's mine. You already got yer pig. Or didya?!"
Right at that moment everybody standing around gasped. It was like there wasn't anymore air around us in Los Vagabondos del Mar on account of it all being swooshed up. Pop still had me sighted but I stood my ground. I took a step forward. And another. And then I saw something in Pop's eyes change. He remembered that I knew he hadn't killed no pig. Let me tell ya, at that moment, I was afraid this was gonna be it for Pop because there ain't nothing worse than a man breaking down twice in one day.
Pop started to smile though. I was the only one who could really see it, but I knew what it meant. It said, you got me. He knew and I knew that if he went for that pig it meant he had something to prove. And what did a caveman have to prove? I'll tell ya what. Caveman don't have to prove nothin'.
"Course I did, Billy, you're a silly boy." Pop turned around to Zack Kelley. "Good God, Zack, I was just kiddin', but all y'all went and think I'da lost my mind or somethin'."
I could tell Zack was still a little nervous. "Awright, Bill, but I did think you'da gone and lost your head." Right then, Ma's Nova started peeling in the park real fast. "I tell ya something right now Bill, Tully's sure gonna have it."
Ma came peeling up like Daisy Duke and scared off the pig. The neighbors must've sensed trouble because everybody, and I mean everybody, scattered like they just called a sale at Sears. Ma slammed her car door and stood by it, hair curlers still in her hair. "Bill Tingle, is that my home right there all lookin' like swiss cheese?!" Uh oh, she looked madder than a one-armed paper hanger.
Pop sure was swift and he really knew how to change the subject. "Tully, our boy Billy here's a man."