By Piper Daugharty
It’s Saturday night, and only quiet comes from the tarmac. That vacuum swoosh of the flights has stopped and in the tower I sit playing chess with Captain Val—a retired Navy officer who requires ‘Captain’ from all. He wears T-shirts from the Goodwill that say things like, “I Hear Voices, and They Don’t Like You” or “Alaska Run For Women 1995,” underneath the same grimy black suspenders.
He’s got a cup of black coffee in his hand.
“Did you go see him today?” he asks, like every day. If anyone knows about ghosts that are still alive, it’s Val.
“Nope. My mom did though.” I slide my castle to take his pawn. The “Friendship Terrace” and those nice, dead trees, and Mom chose it because she thought Nick loved gardens.
“Stupid move,” Val says, but then sits, staring at the board.
The Bushlines come on through the battery-powered radio between us on the table.
“Shhh,” he hushes me as though I’ve said anything all night. Even with his rambling and my silence, I think sometimes we might still be angry at the same people.
“Alrighty folks,” says Maria over the air, “this is listener’s supported radio KBBI. Welcome to the Bushlines on this fine Saturday evening, followed by Spontaneous Combustion. So get closer to the radio! Here comes the first one: this message is for Sylvia out in the village, from Pat: ‘Darling, I love you, and can’t wait to see you in three short weeks. Keep my heart in yours.’ Aww.”
“That damn couple might as well do each other over the radio lines, Christsakes.”
I shrug, staring at the board. I’ve known the Captain for years, and I’m grateful for the job. But his advice gets directed at me now, his breath always sour.
We go through this routine every night.
“Lost Pet. A pig has been reported lost. He responds to Syl. I think we all know who this little piggy is, guys. Let’s get him home safe. If seen, call 907-235-3332. Next, the Marine Weather Forecast. Stay tuned.”
I wait for the Captain to start bitching about the hippy chick, and then about the damnation of my generation and those god-damn protests against the war. After a few minutes, I finally look up from the board. The old man’s eyes flash.
“That stupid pig…” he says, followed by a deep grin.
“No,” I say.
That damn hippy chick was new in town, and quickly became our hottest gossip. At first, for her lack of shoes. Several people asked her if she needed money, others explained where the Goodwill was, but she’d just smile and say thank you and continue to squish her calloused toes into the roads.
Then, there was her pig.
No one knew where she’d found him but one day Bill Severson was driving out East End Road and saw a small plump pink thing trotting along beside her bare feet. Well, after he whistled at her through his open window, he called his wife: “You wouldn’t believe what that darned girl had beside her!” He had to shout because cell service rarely worked out East End, and he never quite knew when Shirley was listening.
Shirley Severson immediately got on the phone to the dispatcher, who informed her it was perfectly legal for a pig to roam within city limits, just as long as he was leashed (despite the possible health hazard from what Shirley called ‘toxic porsine bacteria’).
At first there were protests regarding that very issue, and then there were more protests determining where she could keep her beloved Syl tied while she ran her errands. The stoner kids who hung around Safeway took to Syl and his friendly grin. They’d scratch behind his ears and let him lick their backpacks while they waited for their snooty Council-of-the-Arts mothers.
She’d skip out of the store, shower her piggy’s face in kisses, and the two would waddle home together with her mail and groceries.
When I fail to avoid roving faces and eyes in the grocery store, they all exclaim, “Gosh Terry, I barely recognized you there! What, did you grow a whole foot since high school?” They ask, “How’s your mom these days?”
Some of them, mostly the chicken-shits I used to put up with, ask about my brother. “Nick’s just fine,” I say.
But inevitably they always get to the question, “Whatcha up to these days, Ter? Got a job?” and I sort of squirm and then tell them I’m working in the airport hangar. The faces go blank, and then I regret not starting with what their questions really mean.
I went to college. I got out of here, I did, I’m just back temporarily. Instead I rush in with, “Just for now.”
Then I push my cart past the others. Soon. I just have to tie up the few things I have left.
Just like that, it’s Monday, in that way days sneak up on you. And the pig still hasn’t been found. Jim comes across the waves this time:
“LOST PET. A pig’s been reported lost. The name’s Syl, let’s get him back to his little lady, folks. Any information regarding Syl the pig, call 907-235-3332.”
“That’s it.” Val jumps out of his chair.
“What are you doing?” I follow him down the cramped hallway.
“I’m doing this whole town a favor.” Val grabs the 30.06 from above the door.
“Wait, Captain. Even if you found him, shouldn’t we call the police?” I say. Val stops mid-stride and turns to me. “I mean, you can’t. It’s…illegal.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time,” he grins. With a whoop he slams the door.
“Fuck.” I stuff my boots on and fling open the door to follow the wiry vet.
“Coming?” Val says from the truck’s window.
She’s the reason I survived this place. She used to eat cereal every day for lunch, but she’d pour the milk in a little bit at a time so that the flakes wouldn’t get soggy. Then we’d smoke in the dugouts until the bell rang.
She was the only person who vaguely understood those guilt-ridden rants about my baby brother. Everyone just loved Nick, rolling around in his electric wheelchair and rarely making eye contact. People are just too damn nice.
When Dad left, she’d taken me out on the lake in the Chevy and let me spin on the crusty ice. There were moments out there we both stopped breathing. We nearly tipped but she didn’t flinch once.
She’s got a kid now, I’d seen on Facebook or something. Sometimes I pretend to forget when we last talked, but pieces of memory, stumbling drunk at the wedding, slip back when I wash the dishes or chop wood for my mom.