I pushed my hands deeper into my armpits and looked at the pig walking the fence line back to Calgary. I turned to the woman, teeth chattering as I contemplated my answer.
On family drives growing up, I sat in the back seat listening to many versions of the following conversation:
“Oh-oh! Brian, what is it? Stop!”
“Marian. It’s dead.” You could hear my dad’s eyes roll.
“But what if it isn’t? Stop!”
My father would sigh and pull over. Back roads, four-lane highways, half-dead birds, dogs, cats, coyotes, field mice, gophers—name your road and its kill: my dad’s lugged it to the vet, run it over to end suffering, or brought it home to nurse back to health and raise as a pet.
My mom once flagged down a semi-driver to barricade a highway while she scraped a wounded bird off the road.
On this particular day—Pig Day—my mom called me at work to drive her home. We made our way through downtown Calgary onto Deerfoot Trail, which stretches into Highway 2. We found ourselves behind a pickup truck with boards nailed to its bed, attempting to contain five fat pigs on their way to market.
I was yanked from my highway hypnosis with a familiar, “Oh-oh! Oh! No! No-no, no, no, no-no!” My mom, waving her hands at my windshield in horror.
One of the pigs had managed to climb the boards and was teetering the top on his belly, kicking his back legs in an attempt to propel himself forward and out.
My mom reached for my horn and started issuing commands between honks.
“Pull up beside him!”
“Roll down your window!”
Before I could obey, the pig hooked his front leg on a board, giving him the leverage he needed to lift his bloated belly and launch himself from the truck.
We screamed, I swerved and the pig flew toward us, hit the asphalt face-first, rolled, got up and stumbled toward the ditch like a drunk. A drunk pig. The truck disappeared down the highway.
“Oh god! Pull over. SHANNON. PULL. OVER.” My mom had both hands on her door handle and was out before the car stopped.
She ducked her head back in the open passenger door. “You stay with the pig, I’ll drive up the road to animal control.”
I got out of the car and felt my nose hairs recoil and stiffen at the cold. I hugged my body and watched my mom pull away like an American with orders to save planet Earth.
I turned to find the pig heading back into town. I looked down at my penny loafers and contemplated the knee-deep snow between me and the pig. Each step sent winter up my pant legs and filled my shoes.
“Here pig! Mr. Pig! Oh, hey pig! I’m friendly, pig.” I used the voice I reserve for hide and seek.
I could hear his laboured snorts. He didn’t acknowledge me other than a sideways glance as he walked, head bobbing. Head trauma makes you rude, I guess.
I shuffled ahead and put my body between the pig and Calgary. He snorted and pushed bloody snot bubbles from his nose.
“Oh pig! You’re bleeding!” As if he didn’t know. “Pig, this is bad!” I was crying now.
“Pig, I don’t know how to help you!”
I shuffled backwards as he lumbered toward me.
“Okay, pig. I know you’re hurt—but you’re taking me away from the spot where my mom left me. Pig, we have to go back!”
He huff-snorted. I was sure this meant he was at least considering my request, but he trundled on.
I slammed my foot down in the snow, hands on my hips.
“Pig! We have to go back! LISTEN!”
The pig gave a bigger huff, with bigger bloody snot bubbles and made a lunging motion. If he could have stood up, and said, “Come at me!”, he would have.
I thought pigs were cute, tubby creatures who might let me boss them in a crisis. This pig could be dangerous! My mom wouldn’t leave me with a vicious creature. She might leave me on the side of the road, but she wouldn’t toss in a killer beast, right?
I moved out of the pig’s path and watched his little pig tail disappear over a mound of snow.
I couldn’t feel my toes or fingers, and my tears from earlier were frozen to my face. My mom asked me to do one thing—stay with the pig—and I fucked it up.
“Jerk!” I mumbled, hoping to hurt his stupid pig feelings.
That’s when the older couple pulled over and the woman rolled down her window.
“Are you okay? Do you need a ride somewhere?”
I wondered what parts of the story would make my mom sound the least crazy possible.
I turned back to her. “A pig jumped out of a truck and my mom went to go get help.”
The woman stared at me. She scanned the area.
“Your mom left you in this cold?”
“Yeah. The pig landed on his head and my mom… “ I trailed off. I should have driven with her to animal rescue. This was really fucking stupid!
“So your mom’s coming back?”
“That’s the plan.”
My cheeks were stiff and I clenched my jaw to keep my teeth from chattering.
“Why don’t you get in and we’ll wait with you?”
Every stranger-danger warning from childhood flashed through my head. I glanced in back seat for an axe or candy. Nothing.
“Warming up would be great. Thanks.”
I slid into the back and the woman returned to her spot in the front.
“Thanks for stopping.” I said to the old man.
“So, where’s the pig?” As if I’m going to make up a story about a pig just so I can sit in an axe-murdering couple’s car.
“Heading back to Calgary. I followed him for a while.”
“It’s good you stopped. Pigs can be aggressive.”
My mom pulled up behind us and the woman and I got out to greet her.
“I hope it’s okay we stopped for your daughter. We were worried about her.” The woman said. At least that’s what her mouth said. Her eyes were all, “Certifiable nutjob.”
“Thank you for stopping! Sorry I took so long! You’re okay, Shannon?”
How could I be mad? She just loved all the critters so much.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Just cold.” I thanked the stranger again and my mom and I climbed back in my car and resumed our trip.
“Sorry I lost the pig. Did you find animal control?”
“Yes, they’ll find it and pick it up. I asked if I could have it.” She held the steering wheel at ten and two.
“You asked if you could have the pig?”
“It deserves a home after what it went through.”
“Mom! You can’t seriously think they’ll let you have the pig?”
“They might! Having a pig would be fun!”
“That pig is a total asshole. Besides, it belongs to someone.”
“Well, that farmer doesn’t deserve it.” She was pouting. “They had more calls while I was at animal control—two more pigs climbed out of that truck! I think they’ll let me keep the pig.”
And I think if I ever wake up crazy, I’ll know why.
“I don’t know what I’m going to tell work. I said I’d be gone an hour.”
“Sorry, honey. Tell them you saved a pig today!”
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Photo credit: Eileen Webb (Thanks, Eileen!)