The 4H backed a cattle-truck up to a fifteen-square-foot pen. Here we were in bright woods heading for that pigpen. Mildred carried Nancy, Evan marched along beside me, a big boy now, too big to be carried. Then Nancy said something to Evan and he said something back.
Nancy didn't want to go with the two-year-olds, she wanted to stay with Evan. When she trotted over to ask, the farmer in charge chuckled and said it would be all right. There were seven three-to-fives, counting Nancy and Evan. And there was, of course, the pig.
The 4H matched the piglets to the children, so the three-to-fives got a fat little puppy-sized pig. He was shy, like them. He hung back in one corner of the pen while they hung back in another. "You have to catch him," a father yelled, and the idea hit all of them at once, including the pig, who ran toward the children, scattering them across the pen. Then the pig sat down in the corner where they'd been and made himself at home.
"Make a circle," a mother called, and the children formed a ragged triangle. The piglet stood up, uneasy. But before he could decide what to do, the world being just as new to him as to them, they'd fallen on him—the pig's, and their, introduction to the magic of grease.
But some of the children had touched him, held him for a second, and that was enough, he was so wiggly and slippery and furry, his soft ears and wet pink snout so irresistible. The pig, on his part, had reached a simultaneous but very different conclusion about children. And they were off.
The pig ran and stopped, zigged and zagged, and the children ran and fell and got up or stayed down, encountering him randomly rather than chasing him, some of them actually running from him, since all were not charmed by the pig or intrigued by the grease.
Mildred and I and the rest of them laughed till we couldn't laugh any more; we giants, so used to gravity and plans and lines, who imagined we steered toward goals we could reach, chased pigs we could catch.
Four or five children stopped to confer; a brave one and a quick one went to corner the pig. They got him, then he slipped them, then they got him again. He was tired. So were they. Then Nancy walked up and patted the pig, who for reasons of his own stood his ground and let her.
"Catch him," a child cried, but she petted him some more instead. Evan came over to explain her duty and she shook her head, this too a picture the two of them painted together often over the years, Evan believing in persistence and Nancy in following her bent.
Then a little towheaded guy whose overalls announced his familiarity with piggies grabbed the hesitant pig by the hind legs and wheelbarrowed him to the middle. Touchdown. The crowd went wild.
The announcer called the little boy's name, and his parents came into the enclosure to help carry the huge rosetted blue ribbon, child-sized pumpkin, and foot-long candy bar. Then the 4H gave candy and pumpkins to the also-rans, or also-chaseds, then they called the six-to-eights, and set loose a little bit bigger pig.
"Well, we didn't catch the pig," Evan announced when we met them at the gate.
"Look at my pumpkin," Nancy said. "I won a pumpkin. It was a nice pig, did you see him? Did you see me pet him? He was lonesome." These were our children; we didn't know them very well then. But they were trying to tell us things all the time. You don't catch the pig. You win the pumpkin.
This was just one afternoon, less than a moment in the long chain of years. The temporary, the transparent, the quick unnoticed gesture—Nancy petting a lonely playmate, seeing in the piglet another mother's child like herself—these are the important things. We think because they pass away, they don't change the world. But maybe we have it upside-down and backward.
About Iowa Writes
Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.
In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.
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Deirdra McAfee grew up in Sigourney, a town named for one of nineteenth-century America's most famous poets. McAfee's stories have appeared in Confrontation, Willow Springs, The Seattle Review, The Baltimore Review, The Diagram, and others. She earned an MFA in fiction from the New School in 2004. This is an excerpt from her novel, Heart Trouble.
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