Read an Excerpt
The Pig Trilogy
By Joseph Caldwell
DELPHINIUM BOOKSCopyright © 2010 Joseph Caldwell
All rights reserved.
Aaron McCloud had come to Ireland, to County Kerry, to the shores of the Western Sea, so he could, in solitary majesty, feel sorry for himself. The domesticated hills would be his comfort, the implacable sea his witness. Soon he would arrive at the house of his aunt, high on a headland fronting the west, and his anguish could begin in earnest.
Through the bus window now, Aaron could see that the pasture land of Ireland had been long since parceled out, the stones put into service as defining walls, creating what looked like a three-dimensional map, each border drawn in heaviest black, each territory a rectangle or rhomboid with an occasional square or triangle thrown in to vary the cartography.
On the upper slope of an unshaded hill a flock of sheep was slowly nibbling its way to the west as if clearing a path to the sea. Bunched together, a cloud of their own making, they concentrated on their appointed task, uncaring for whom the path was meant as long as the job put food in their stomachs. Above the flock, about ten feet from the nearest sheep, there was a shepherd, a man—or maybe a boy—wearing a sweater of wide horizontal stripes: reds, green, blue, gold, and closest to the waist, black. He was holding a crook, a shepherd's crook. Antiquity lived. Customs survived. A whole history of the ancient land was being offered for his amazement. But Aaron was allowed no more than a few seconds to marvel at the gift he'd been given. It was not a shepherd's crook. It was a furled umbrella, which the man propped against a rock, pulling a camera from the pouch at his side to take a picture of a sheep. He was no more a shepherd than Aaron was. He was a tourist at best, a government bureaucrat at worst.
The bus, more comfortable and modern than the Greyhounds and Trailways at home, sped along at what Aaron judged to be about fifty miles an hour, down the narrow road that curved and wound its way through and around the Kerry countryside. It would bring him by late afternoon to the village—a cluster of a few houses and a pub, Dockery's—where his aunt Kitty would meet him and drive him the rest of the way to the old fieldstone house where he'd spent summers as a boy, equally unwanted by his newly divorced mother and father.
He loved the house, set as it was in a field not far from the edge of a cliff that dropped to the sea. Below was a beach that stretched along the ocean's shore before ending at a rock face that rose from the sea itself and walled off the cove that lay on the farther side. When he'd stayed with his aunt and her family, he'd resented the wall, a barrier between him and the sandy shoreline of the cove. It separated him from the other children who could come to swim and wade in the quieter waters, to bury one another in the sand, and to build forts and castles that, had they been real, would surely have saved the land from the plundering foe that had swept down from the north and driven his ancestors all but into the sea.
But now the memory of the wall pleased him. His stretch of beach would be deserted. His solitude would be inviolate, his loneliness unobserved and unremarked except by the sea itself. There would, of course, be gulls, there would be curlews. He would hear their shrieks and watch the curve of their spread wings riding a current of air so rarefied that only a feather could find it. Perhaps there would be cormorants and, if he was lucky, a lone ship set against the horizon. There would be squalls and storms, crashing water, and thundering clouds. Lightning would crack the sky. Winds would lash the cliffs and—again, if he was lucky—rocks would be riven and great stones thrown into the sea. Then he, Aaron McCloud, would walk the shore unperturbed, his solitude, his loneliness, a proud and grieving dismissal of all that might intrude on his newly won sorrows.
Aaron had been unlucky in love. And now his body and his soul, trapped in perpetual tantrum, had come to parade their grievances within sight of the sea. Surely the rising waves would rear back in astonishment at his plight, cresting, then falling, bowing down at the sight of such suffering. Solemn would be his step, stricken his gaze. Only the vast unfathomable sea could be a worthy spectator to his sorrows. The culminating act of Aaron McCloud's love for Phila Rambeaux would soon come to pass at this edge, this end of the ancient world.
At thirty-two Aaron had given himself permission to fall in love—or so he thought—with a woman inordinately plain, a student of his in a writing workshop at the New School in New York. She had undecided hair, mostly straight, but more frizzled than curled at the ends, halfway between brown and blond, the actual coloring left to whatever light might get caught in the unmanageable mass. Under the fluorescent glare of the classroom, she was blonde; in the muted light of the lobby, she was brunette. Her eyes were hazel, flecked with green, and for cheeks she had been given flat planes that slanted down from her eye sockets to her jaw. Her mouth consisted of a squat isosceles triangle, her nose a straight and common ridge, her chin uninflected, undimpled, a serviceable meeting place for the bony angles of her jaw.
But she had notable, beautiful hands, the hands of a harpist. Aaron had the feeling that if he were to press one of those hands to his face, the scent would be not of soap or expensive lotions but of some subtle balm secreted from within the hand itself, enthralling and mysterious. Yet for reasons unknown Aaron was inflamed not by the hands but by the face, the flat cheeks, the flecked eyes, the serviceable chin. His amorous urges were sustained as well by her habit of playing with her right ear whenever she was talking.
Her writing was wispy. She had an inborn antipathy for the specific, mistaking the obscure for the ambiguous. She lacked vulgarity, that gift most needed to transform intelligence into art. She'd been given no artistic equivalent to her notable hands.
And so, two years after his wife's elopement to Akron, Ohio, with a baritone from the choir of Saint Joseph's Church, Aaron decided to let his favor fall on Phila Rambeaux. How grateful the woman would be. She would be given the attentions of a man not without assets, a man noted for his easy charm, his easy wit, his easy allure. He was a published novelist and the recipient of several awards obscure enough to be considered prestigious. For his classes he had more applicants than he could accept. For his socializing he had more friends than he could accommodate. He owned a floor-through apartment in a brownstone on Perry Street in Greenwich Village. And, more important, he had a trim and taut physique, not the product of a grueling vanity that required a personal trainer, but maintained by a native restlessness—bordering, some said, on the manic. Also, he could cook.
Phila would be a pushover. Aaron's lovemaking would drive her to the edge of dementia, making rescue necessary, a rescue he would effect with reassuring kisses, a consoling embrace characterized by withheld strength, followed by the reviving ministrations of whispered invitations for yet another journey to the boundaries of madness. He would even, when the right moment came, confess that for her, and for her alone, he had decided to free his sexuality from the confines to which he'd committed it when the baritone had made off with Lucille, the soprano. For Phila, and for Phila alone, he had encouraged the resurgence of his heretofore disciplined carnality. Restored to the fullness of his manhood, ardent with awakened lust, aching with a resuscitated tenderness, he made his move.
But Phila Rambeaux was not about to be pushed over. When invited for coffee, then for a drink, then for dinner, she didn't so much refuse as convey her perplexity. She seemed not to have the least idea what he was talking about, as if he had introduced a subject so alien as to preclude intelligent comprehension. If he had asked her would she like to harvest cocoa beans in the Congo, she could not have given a more bewildered "No, thank you." The offer of a movie, then a play, then an opera, was met by the same confused response, neither annoyed by his persistence nor curious about his intent. The very idea of his existence outside the classroom was so far beyond her powers of perception that her incomprehension was absolute. He was not so much dismissed as dissolved.
Aaron did, however, get her to come to a reading of his new novel by making it a class assignment. She attended but was gone before he could wade through the crush and distinguish her by his attentions. As a last resort he gave a party in his apartment, inviting all the students. Phila came, wearing a dress of black silk with orange and blue geometrics that looked like intergalactic debris left behind by a failed space probe. When he asked if she'd stay to help clean up, Aaron was given a perplexed shake of the head as if cleaning up were an idea foreign to her understanding. It was, however, when Ms. Rambeaux left, laughing, in the company of the single student in Aaron's class who could claim any talent, one Igor something-or-other, that Aaron was seized by the Furies and taken into torments never before visited upon the human psyche. And so the party ended.
Then the semester was over, and Phila Rambeaux was accepted at a writers' conference in Utah. The recommendation he had written for her specified that she had no talent—whatsoever—obviously the conference's most compelling prerequisite. And so she was off—gone for good. Aaron would not wait for her return. He would pack up his anguish and haul it off to Ireland. He would carry as well his resurgent unappeased sexuality; he would gently lay, alongside his comb, his toothbrush, and his deodorant, a determination never to repeat this folly. Women had had their chance. There were limits to his munificence, and from now on those limits would be strictly observed. All this he brought to Ireland, to County Kerry, to the shores of the Western Sea.
Aaron heard the taunt through the heavy glass windows of the bus. Two teenagers coming toward them on their bikes repeated the cry as they wheeled past the windows. "Pigs! Pigs!" Aaron didn't doubt that this was some social commentary aimed at those who sat passively and were carted comfortably from one place to another in adjustable, upholstered seats. "Pigs!" The shout faded in the distance. Aaron twisted in his seat to catch some final glimpse of the insolent bikers, but they were gone. The only other movement among the passengers was a general straining not in the direction of the hostile youths but toward the front of the bus. A man in a heavy tweed suit snorted, the sound not unlike that of the animal just mentioned. A young woman closed her book and studied her fingernails. Those in the aisle seats leaned sideways for a clearer view ahead. A tall skinny man got up and went to the front of the bus. His hair, whitened with what seemed to be zinc oxide, rose in stiff spikes from his scalp. He was wearing a leather vest over a red silk shirt, his pants a pair of baggy blue sweats, and his shoes the obligatory untied Reeboks. The youth peered through the windshield, blocking the view of anyone else who might want to take a look up ahead.
The driver had slowed the bus and by the time they had rounded a curve, Aaron understood the bikers' cry. There, crowding the road, were the pigs, a mob more than a herd, each squealing and screaming as if the destined slaughter were already under way.
A few pigs were now clambering up the rock walls that lined the roadway, others trotting up the hills, with about four of them sniffing the wheel of a truck stuck in a ditch. One of the front wheels was still spinning, as if the truck's fortune, for better or worse, would be made manifest at any moment.
The bus stopped; the door opened. The spike-haired man was the first off, then the driver. With some pushing and shoving of their own—as if taking their example from the pigs—the passengers, Aaron included, emptied the bus. A frail elderly woman elbowed her way to the front with all the courtesy and consideration of a fullback.
The round-up of an escaped pig is not a spectator sport. Almost without exception the passengers were wading in among the pigs or running along the road, clapping their hands, calling out, "Suuee! Suuee! Suuee!" A young woman with a switch pulled from the nearby thicket was trying to herd the pigs together in the road and move them in the direction the bus and the truck had been going. She was, Aaron noted, a bit too self-consciously costumed as a swineherd in her baggy black woolen pants and thick woolen sweater, dark gray, spattered with the rust colors of earth, the green stains of crushed grass, and a few purple streaks of unknown origin.
And yet, to Aaron, she seemed more a dancer than a keeper of pigs. Her sneakered feet managed to escape being dainty, but only just. And their quick pivots and graceful turns allowed him to guess with fair accuracy the easy movements of a most feminine form that not even the outsize clothing could begin to conceal. Then, too, her auburn hair would be flung across her face, first one side, then the other, suggesting a happy abandon hardly consistent with her present predicament, revealing in intermittent flashes the eyes, nose, mouth, cheeks, chin, and neck of a woman of vital beauty and immediate allure.
She was laughing, clearly enjoying herself to the full, as if a ditched truck and a mob of confused pigs were one of life's more surprising delights. With each flick of the switch she would let out a small cry of triumph, a point scored in a game that provided unending amusement. The pigs, in return, raised their snouts and screamed their indignation.
One of the passengers, an elderly woman, had made her way into the middle of the clamoring beasts and was slapping their snouts and spanking their hams, more intent on punishing their behavior than restoring order. The man in the tweed suit ran along the side of the herd, yelling, clapping his hands over the pigs' heads, sending even more of the frightened animals off into the pastures that lined the road. The zinc-haired youth had placed himself a few yards down the slope of a hill and had made it his job to see that no pigs passed into the valley below. Stamping a foot, shouting, hunching forward in warning, he did his best to encourage a return to the road; but, to complicate his task, more than a few of the pigs seemed attracted to his performance, and the youth, to escape their charge, was forced to move farther and farther down the slope, the pigs in pursuit, eager for yet more sport.
The man in tweed was running alongside a pig as it raced up a hill, a contest to see who would make it first to the top. Two passengers—ample matrons of great dignity whom Aaron had heard conversing only in French—were standing to the side, nodding their disdain, speaking to each other like sportscasters commenting on the game in progress.
Some pigs stood next to the truck, content to wait for things to calm down. Others rooted in the grass with their snouts, searching out whatever tasty grubs might be found beneath the turf. One pig, pinker than the rest, began prodding its fellows with its snout, bumping, shoving, grunting, and snorting even louder than the piercing shrieks of those whose dignity was being offended. Only when, with a few discreet sideswipes, it tried to force the two Frenchwomen into the herd did the swineherd, the beauty with the switch, put an end to its presumptions by driving it deep into the middle of the pack.
Merrily she flicked her switch, claiming with a quick nip one pig, then another, reminding each in turn that it belonged to her and might as well accept the happy fact. The woman's eyes, like the switch, seemed to flick and dart, rejoicing in the calamity, more interested in the chaos than in the rescue of her stock.
To show he wasn't a tourist, Aaron snapped a reed-thin switch from the bramble. With brutish disregard he stripped it of its leaves, swished it twice in the air like a fencing master testing his rapier, and looked around for a task worthy of his style and dash. He would pick one of the more wayward pigs and bring it safely back into the fold. Two were sniffing their way along the rock wall, another was already halfway down the hill toward the valley, three were trotting back to the road, their playtime at an end. One, on the upward slope, had raised its snout and was squealing, begging for rescue, another coming down the hill slowly, almost daintily, as if it had relieved itself in the gorse and didn't want anyone to know what it had been up to.
Excerpted from The Pig Trilogy by Joseph Caldwell. Copyright © 2010 Joseph Caldwell. Excerpted by permission of DELPHINIUM BOOKS.
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