I envied the pigs their voice. They weren’t silenced. Well, not before the electrocution or before the Hog Sticker with his 18-inch blade sliced the swine’s throats as they hung upside down. All the better for the bleed out.
I was silenced by my mother.
It began innocently after the first time my father beat me. With my arms in the air, she lifted my urine-soaked nightgown over my head, all the while shushing me through my tears and confusion. She claimed my father was tired, had had a difficult day at work. “He didn’t mean to, Carrie Anne. He won’t do it again,” she reassured.
But he did. And, with each smack of his hand, crack of his belt, fist to my face, she withdrew further into a shock-coated autistic glaze. “So much pressure at work,” she slobbered.
I attempted to exorcise the rage and fear roiling in my interior the night he shoved me into the wall, splitting my forehead open while she, statue-stiff behind him, drooled more nonsense into little pools. Unable to contain the savage scream racing upward, thrashing my esophagus, I yelled, “Fuck you!” announcing its release.
Dripping in a fear all her own, my mother burst to life. Like a predator pouncing its prey, she decided truth was the enemy and shoved her fist down my throat creating a stopgap between my reality and her denial.
So, I let the pigs scream for me.
Sitting on the steps of our front porch, facing southeast, I would close my eyes and wait patiently. Soon enough, the high-pitched howls of the disobedient pigs resisting the men who ushered them up the catwalk to the kill floor ricocheted through the morning, cancelling out the birds and the cicadas that just moments before had delighted me.
Pigs get to scream before they die.
I didn’t scream.
I didn’t die.
Years later, my Hog Sticker ran her newly sharpened therapist’s blade fashioned for precision cutting down the length of my sternum. I screamed for one second, two seconds, three and on and on and on. My bleed out.
Constance Malloy is the author of Tornado Dreams: A Memoir. Most recently, her work has been anthologized by Bending Genres, where she is a CNF reader. She can be followed at contanscemalloy.com. A former Iowan, she lives with her husband and daughter in Milwaukee, WI.
Photograph by Leonora Desar.
The NFFR and Constance Malloy Interview
It’s obviously been an insanely rough year. What’s been your
favorite artistic escape either book, music, or tv?
Trek, Trek, Trek, and more Trek. I’ve been a huge Star Trek fan since I was 5. I love it that I was born in the same year Star Trek launched. Much to my surprise, my 11 year-old daughter is probably a bigger fan than I am. Over the last couple of years, she and I, along with my husband, have watched all of the Original Series and Next Gen. We had only seen random episodes of DS9, so in response to COVID, we bought the series on DVD and settled into a one-episode-a-night routine. In early September, we finished the entire 7 seasons. The themes of these shows are amazing and provide great dinnertime conversation. Climate change, race, inclusion, the evolution of the characters. These, and so many more, are all themes she brings to the table as much as my husband and I do. Since it looks like COVID will be with us for the foreseeable future, we’re on a one-month break, and then Voyager here we come.
We’ve been thinking about the elusive definition of Flash Fiction.
What’s your working definition of it?
When I think of Flash Fiction, I think of compression, selection, and a fast-moving story arc. For me, Flash is about compressing a larger story idea down to its essence through the selection of details, images, and emotions that will, with the most efficiency, collapse the distance between the beginning and the end of the story. My favorite moment in Flash is right after the climax or the turn. If done well, it reminds me of driving through the Rockies and that moment when I realize I’m no longer in the eastern slopes, having crossed over into the western slopes. A great journey is behind me, and I can’t wait to discover where I will arrive.
What was the inspiration for this story?
“Pigs Die” began as a response to a Bending Genres workshop prompt given by Meg Tuite. She asked us to write about something that made us afraid deep in our core. I grew up in a southern Iowa slaughterhouse town where the sounds of dying pigs filled the air. I can’t really describe the sound other than to say it is the most horrifying sound I know. So, I thought, there’s that. Then I thought about how my mother was always paralyzed by her fears and never allowed me to voice mine. Then the idea of contrasting how the pigs get to scream with an abused child being disallowed her screams came to mind. And then, I called my brother who worked in a butcher shop throughout high school and college and asked him, “How do they kill pigs in the slaughterhouse?”