In Pigwell, time is not measured by days or weeks but by the number of eighteen wheelers that drive past my house. When I was five I thought they were kind of neat, like big dinosaurs that would roar past at all hours of the day or night. At ten I found them annoying. They were noisy, imposing giants that encroached upon the peacefulness of our small yard while I sat in the garden reading. By the time I was sixteen I longed to travel with them. I’d stare at them from the front porch and wonder what it would be like to see any place that wasn’t Pigwell.
I was on the front porch that hot July night trying to read as another truck roared past. I sat up to watch, pulling my wilted cotton blouse away from the sweat that covered my chest. New Jersey in August was as close to Hades as anyone could ever get.
The eighteen wheeler was white with long teal stripes down the sides. The word ESCAPE was written in bold pink letters. It looked neat, cool, and in control. Contrary to this hot, putrid sweat box I called home. Here there was no capacity for control or even the illusion of anything cool and neat. Home was a war zone and everyone looked out for themselves. Regardless.
I watched that pristine truck roll past on its mission from heaven. Going to see places that were far away from this pigpen of a town. Away from the bruises and pain that lived in Pigwell.
“Stop, just stop.” That was my father. My mother was the one screaming profanities.
“It’s after seven. Have you been screwing around on me again?”
“Rosie, no. You know, I never—“
“You think I’m stupid?” Mom asked, right before she started throwing things. She broke the sugar bowl last week when I was too slow to do the dishes, she flung the ketchup bottle at daddy when he left his shoes in the living room two nights ago and we were down to three plates and two bowls. What ever she was throwing in there might just be the last of our dishes. I could imagine eating straight out of the pots for the rest of my days.
“Son of a Bitch!” More breaking glass.
I looked to the sky, then my gaze drifted to the woods beside our shack. The shadows were already filling in between the trees casting ghosts in their wake. I didn't like the woods at night, but it was my usual hidey place when my folks went at it. Especially when the night was as hot as this one. Sweat rolled off your back like drool off a Rottweiler. The woods had a cool dirt floor with trees to absorb the August heat. Usually I’d find a bower of leaves and lay out with my book until the house noise quieted and it was safe to return. But at night…
Another series of crashes from the kitchen and I thought of the white truck with the teal stripe.
“Rosie, stop—“ My father was a small, mousey man and not one to stand up to my mother. His voice was more of a plea then an order. Even though he was my favorite parent, most of the time I hated him for not having a spine. He never defended himself or me from the monster. A definite wimp, but the lesser evil in our home and I knew he loved me. Daddy was the one who tucked me in when I was little and made sure I was well taken care of. He was more of a mother then the woman who gave birth to me.
My mother was strong in every way. Language, body and temper. Most of her days were spent downing bottles of beer and she was usually half in the bag when Daddy got home. The woman struck first and asked questions later. She never apologized as no matter whose fault it could have been, she was never wrong.
Suddenly, it was quiet. The screaming stopped and all I could hear was some soft shuffling from somewhere in the house. I went back to hide in my book. Just another night in the land of pigs.
I chose not to answer. Maybe she didn’t know I was out here. I looked to the woods again and regretted not going when I had the chance. When it was ghosts verses monsters, I’d take the ghosts every time.
I counted. If I got over thirty there was a good chance she had forgotten about me or passed out.
“DARLA, DAMN IT!”
With a heavy sigh I closed my book and looked to the road. I thought again about those eighteen wheelers and wondered where they were going. As I got to my feet, I thought, I had to get out of this place.
“Get me another beer, will ya?” My mother was sprawled on the couch, remote in hand.
My heart stopped as I entered the kitchen. The refrigerator door stood open and every glass jar inside was smashed on the floor, but that wasn’t what scared me. Olives, pickles and artichokes were smooshed in the broken glass along with streaks of dark red...blood? That stretch of crimson trailed across the kitchen floor. A smear, a drag.
The beer bottles stood untouched on the bottom shelf. Carefully I tiptoed over the mess and peered out the back door. The yard was empty. I came back and snagged a bottle of beer when I passed.
“Mom? Where’s Daddy?” I approached the couch with caution handing over the beer.
“Bastard! Do you know what he did?”
The image of mess and blood glared bright in my mind’s eye, a vivid picture of food and gore, “Is he okay? I can’t find him.”
My mother’s dark eyes lifted to stare at me. “Your father is a lying cheating bastard and that’s all you have to know.”
Her black eyes held no emotion and immediately I knew it didn’t matter if my father was hurt. All that mattered was what she thought he did to her. They had a name for this kind of crazy.
When I headed out to hide on the front porch again, she called me back.
“Clean up that mess, will ya? Your father is useless.” She cackled, a hysterical laugh that ended in a belch.
At the door I tried again, “Do you know where Daddy went?”
Another cackle as she stared at the TV. I wasn’t sure if she was laughing at my question or the show.
After cleaning up the mess I was sure it was blood. The color, consistency, it had to be blood. I looked all over the house without finding my father. His car was still in the driveway and I seriously doubted he was at the neighbor’s. After all the screaming and violence that went on in our house most of the neighbors kept far away. A short nod and half hearted wave was all we could hope for. I went back into the kitchen with cold dread clutching at my stomach. Sinking into a chair I noticed more blood on the other side of the table, toward the door leading to the basement.
“Daddy?” A nervous descent into the bowels of the house showed nothing. Although the basement was a jumble of boxes and old furniture, there was no sign of my father.
“It wasn’t that much blood.” I whispered as I prowled the basement. “It just looked like a lot because of the juice from the olives and stuff, right?”
I was on my way back up the stairs when I spotted him. Curled up in a ball beneath the stairs.
Moving closer to the stairs I knelt down and put a hand on his shoulder. I shook him and his head lagged, flopping off his arm onto the cold concrete with a damp thud.
A cold shadow fell over me as my mother came down the stairs, beer in hand, sneer creasing her lips.
“Get the shovel, Darla.”
I was afraid to look up. My eyes were locked on my father, taking in his bloodied head and ashen features. The word “dead” hanging in my brain as my voice cracked. “Daddy…”
At midnight I dug the grave out behind the shed. Daddy was wrapped in the shower curtain, lying just a few feet away. Mom said that all the neighbors should have been in bed by then so it was a good time.
“Make it deep,” she sipped her beer as she sat in a lawn chair just off to the side.
“Is this good?” The muscles across my back ached, one shoulder felt like it was going to pull out of the socket if I lifted one more shovelful of dirt. And my father was dead. That wimpy, spineless man that I loved more then anyone else in the world was but a cold lump under that plastic shroud. We should have run, gotten away from the monster before it came to this.
, Daddy. Why didn't you take us away while there was still a chance?
Mom stood and peered into the hole. She drained her beer and tossed the bottle in beside me. “No.”
More digging. And when I finally climbed out of the hole Mom was smiling. She had another beer in her hand and her words were slurred as she staggered over to the hole to inspect it.
“Well, I guess dissh is a fitting end for the bash-tard.”
As I sagged back into the lawn chair, rubbing my sore hands together there was a rustle off to my side. Turning I watched my father stagger to his feet. Stunned, his name caught in my throat and I couldn’t move.
“Maybe we need another foot.” My mother swayed drunkenly over the hole.
Daddy blinked, taking in the shovel, the hole and my mother standing over it. One hand went to his head, coming away sticky with blood and rage flared in his eyes. Suddenly, he grabbed my mother by the hair and wretched her backwards. Drunk as she was, my mother had the insanity to bring her beer bottle up over her head and down over Daddy’s right eye. The end broke off leaving ragged red rips across his face. Together they crashed to the ground, mom on top. She flipped over and, straddling my father, she used the broken bottle to slice his throat.
I didn’t think, didn’t know I was moving until my shoulder screamed as I lifted the shovel above my head and brought it down as hard as I could across the back of my mother’s skull.
The road out of Pigwell had no streetlights, but dawn was breaking when I finally saw the first eighteen wheeler heading my way. I stood on the shoulder, one hand raised into the glaring headlights.
“Where ya heading?” The meek looking man was small of statue and reminded me of my father.
“Out of Pigwell.”