In Pigwell, time is not measured by days or weeks but by the number of eighteen wheelers that drive past my house. That’s how I know when the weekends come and go. There isn’t as much trucking between Dilley and Carrizo Springs on the weekend, but at night, you can hear them run up and down I-35 to Laredo and back. My Ma and me still have to get up before dawn every day and tend to the hogs and goats and chickens we keep, weekends or not.
For a while, I could tell it was the weekend ‘cause Ma’s new boyfriend was laying around the house, or sitting under the mesquite tree drinking beer with his buddies from town. He worked at the new Wal-Mart up to San Antonio and told Ma that ‘he work hard all week and ain’t gonna get up on no weekend to tend to no pigs.’
‘Course the town isn’t really called Pigwell, but Big Wells don’t seem right since the oil rigs all dried up around here back in ’84 – the year I was born. Since about all any body does around here is raise chickens, goats, and hogs, folks started calling it Pigwell. Ma didn’t want to raise no goats, said they ain’t fit for food and they tear up everything. But she said they eat any old thing and there ain’t much upkeep, so she finally got a pair. The Kelsy’s down the road raise goats and they sell them down in Mexico. The Rio Grand’s closer than San Antonio and Ron Kelsy says they love their cabrito down there. We got about a dozen now and Ma say’s she might run down to Piedras Negras with Mr. Kelsy soon and sell them all.
I was only four when my Daddy run off, so I don’t remember him so good. Ma tells me he said the ‘awl bidness’ was the only thing he knew and he was going over to ‘Loosyana’ and try some wildcatting. Told her he’d be back for us when he made his stake. Well, that’s coming on twelve years now, so I guess he ain’t made it yet.
I was eight when they came out and P&A’d the well – that’s plug and abandon. Ma sold all the iron rigging and casing out of the well for scrap. Used the money to buy a pair of hogs and a truckload of chickens to get her started. Then they come in and poured the hole full of concrete and that’s all she wrote. They say back in the old days, they used to drive a tree trunk in the hole to plug it, but them folks at the EPA raised a stink over that. They said the oil was seeping into the ground water and polluting the Nueces. Hell, everybody in Dimmit County knows you don’t drink out the Nueces. We still fish out of her, but you got to cook them bass real good.
Me and Ma’s been saving hard so I can go up to San Antonio College when I get out of high school. I study right smart when my chores are done so I can keep my grades up. Ma says if I keep it up we can get me a scholarship to help out with the tuition. Her boyfriend, Luke wasn’t helping much with that. He brought his paycheck home every other Friday, but I think he drank and gambled it all up and then some. They always squabbled about money. That’s why I like it out here with the pigs afore sun-up. Even with their squealing and grunting, it’s peaceful here in the pens, watching the eighteen wheelers rolling up Hwy 85.
Ma’s always talked about me going off and getting me an engineering degree or something in computers. I like studying computers, but there ain’t none in Big Wells and there’s only three up at Carrizo Springs High School where I go. There are just 700 people in Pigwell, so we have to ride the bus 20 miles to go to school. I try to get some of my studying done on the bus so I don’t have to stay up so late. Lately, Betsy’s been sitting next to me on the ride, so it’s hard to get any studying done. Ma tried to get Luke to drop me off at school on his way to town, but he said, ‘I ain’t gonna get up a hour early when they’s a damn bus stops right by the mailbox. That’s what I pay my taxes for.’ I didn’t want to ride with him anyway and since Betsy been sitting next to me, I don’t mind the bus a bit.
Problem with them computers now is they got that Y2K thing that’s coming. They say that’s going to shut ‘em all down just like the oil rigs shut down in the eighties. Then they’s going to be a whole bunch of new folks looking for work, so I don’t know about that. Maybe I better stick with the engineering. There’s always folks looking to get something built and somebody’s got to figure out a way to build them.
I wouldn’t mind just getting up every morning and tending to the hogs and chickens, but Ma say’s that ain’t no life for me. For a while, Luke was trying to talk her into selling the farm and moving to San Antonio. I kept asking her what about when Daddy comes back from Loosyana, but she just shushes me up. I guess I wouldn’t mind seeing the world. One day, I might even go to Houston or Dallas if I get that engineering degree.
Sometimes I talk to Betsy on the bus about what we’re going to do when we get out of school. She works in the beauty parlor sweeping up after school and says she wants to be a beautician. She sure is pretty enough. Smells good too, like fresh soap. I’m kinda embarrassed about how I smell, but she say’s it’s fine. I try to wash up after my chores, but some mornings there ain’t time before the bus comes. Ma used to tell me it was a waste of time; I didn’t need to be all clean to go to school. One day, she seen me getting off the bus with Betsy and walking down the highway a piece towards her house. Since then, she hasn’t said nothing about me wanting to clean up and sometime looks at me kinda funny. Like she’s smiling and crying all at the same time.
Then one day, I got off the bus with Betsy and we was kinda holding hands. I acted like I was just helping her down off the steps, but once she was down, I didn’t let go and she didn’t pull away. It was kinda nice. I looked to see if Ma was watching, but she was over in the side yard feeding the chickens. She was holding herself sort of funny, so told Betsy I had to go and started up through the yard. That’s when I saw Luke’s car under the mesquite tree. He usually didn’t get home til way after dark when he’d got his fill over at Big John’s.
I went to Ma, and she was throwing the feed with one hand and holding her side with the other. I asked her what was wrong, and she said it weren’t nothing, but I could tell she’d been crying. I asked her what was Luke doing home, and she said he got laid off and to ‘not say nothing about it to him, cause he’s right touchy on it.’ Then she winced and grabbed her side again. I took the feed bag from her and told her I’d finish the chores so she could go lay down. She didn’t go in the house though, just sat down in the porch swing and stared off down the road.
A few days later when I got off the bus, there was a sheriff’s car and a tow-truck was hooking up Luke’s car. Luke was out in the yard just raising cane at the sheriff and Ma was nowhere around. I figured I didn’t want to go up to the house just yet, so I walked Betsy all the way to her house. She lives next door, but her driveway’s about two miles from ours.
I got back about an hour later and I could hear Luke screaming all the way from the road. The sheriff and tow truck was gone. So was Luke’s car. I went up the porch steps and into the front room and there was Luke just yelling up a storm at my Ma. He had ahold of her arm and was just wailing on her, calling her no count and saying it’s her fault he couldn’t make the car payment.
I ran up behind and grabbed his arm and told him to let my Ma go or he’d be sorry. He just quit wailing on her long enough to backhand me. About knocked me clear across the parlor and I landed on my butt in the fireplace. He didn’t even slow up none, just kept beating my Ma and calling her all sorts of filthy names, ‘and your puling whelp there too.’ Ma was crying and trying to pull away and then started telling me to run, to get out of there.
I wasn’t just going to let my Ma get beat by him though. I stood up, brushed the soot off my britches, grabbed the poker out of the fireplace set, and went back at it. I come up behind him and whacked him on the back. He howled like a stuck pig and turned to backhand me again, but I was too quick and spun out of the way. Ma was yelling at me to stop, but he just punched her in the face with his right hand without even taking his red, drunken eyes off me. He tried to take another hard swing at me, but I ducked again. He swung so hard, he turned all the way around with his back to me and I brought that poker down on the back of his head, like I was splitting cord wood.
It sounded kinda like I was splitting wood too. The hook on the back of that poker stove his head with a thunk like driving a wedge into a stump. He turned half way around with his eyes all bugged out and trying to grab the back of his head. Then he just dropped to his knees and keeled over sideways.
My Ma let out a wail, like he was still hitting on her and sat on the floor. She just kept crying and rocking and saying, ‘my baby boy, what have you done’ over and over, hugging herself. I went to the kitchen, got a wet dishcloth, and tried to clean her up where he had been hitting her. She finally just stopped crying all at once and looked at me. She stared at me hard for a minute, and then just said, ‘We got to fix this. We got to clean this up.’
That was three months ago, and I’m still worried that someone will come looking for Luke. Ma says he don’t have no family and don’t have no job and won’t nobody ever look for him. If they do, she says we tell them that he just took off and ain’t been back. We cleaned the floor good enough you can’t hardly see nothing, but Ma got a braided rug and throwed over the spot. She told me that next weekend, she was going to run down to Mexico with Mr. Kelsy and sell them goats, ‘and that’ll be the last of Luke.’