By John Chrostek

The Tennessee air was honey sweet coming in through the curtains as soft waves of television voices droned on forgotten in the den. In the kitchen, Kathy hummed a ditty as she seared pork chops in cinnamon and apple cider on a gas lit stove. The light pooled like honey through the glass, giggles running brazen through the room. The screen door swung open with a rust-thick creak. It was Willie, holding a beer can in his hand. As he walked by, he ran a hand over Kathy’s shoulder. 

“How long till it’s done, baby?” He asked, soft lips well-curtained with fur.

“Oh just three to five minutes. Let the kids know. We can eat it out on the deck.”

“I’ll clear off the table,” he offered, heading out. She watched him go with a smile. It was nice to have him around the house again, following the therapists’ orders, avoiding the news. He spent less of his time in his old green recliner, red-faced and stale, cursing the world. Kathy’s mother had told her to walk away, that a bar fight is a canary in a coal mine, proof the man within is too full of dark temptation, that he is a powder keg always waiting to explode. But Kathy had remembered her wedding vows. In that white dress, she said her vows to God and believed that He was listening, that He knew hers’ was a heart strong enough for testing.

The cider-sweet fat of the ham popped and sizzled on the pan. The dish was ready. Kathy got to plating, grabbing the colorful plastic ones her little ones preferred. Danny liked his plates “racecar red,” made him eat the whole thing faster. Kelly was just at that age where she wanted to act mature, but she still liked a yellow plate, bright like a caution light. But in a childs’ life, she thought, everything is fast and slow, fast and slow, simple as a game and free to choose. It isn’t all yet a heavy thing.

Outside, the air had slowed down enough the windchimes on the porch had gone silent. The children, too, had gone quiet. The voices of the television seemed free from their singular source, disseminated evenly throughout the house. Everything was stiller, slower, the light had gone amber like the pork as it fell on the plate. A chair was being scraped across the old deck slowly and the whole house trembled with the sound.
Kathy’s voice caught in her throat. “D-…Dinner is ready!”

A child screamed. Kathy’s whole body shook. That was Kelly. Kathy wanted to move, to run out to the patio instantly, or rather, she wanted to want to, but her body would not move. 

A second scream, Danny’s. The house itself felt weightless. Willie came bursting in through the kitchen red-faced and shouting words Kathy could not understand. Everything was moving so much slower, sound itself was semi-solid. Kathy looked at the door to the yard where Willie had come from. The apple tree in the yard seemed so much closer than before.

Clutching the plates tightly, Kathy slowly started walking towards the door. The distance seemed insurmountable. As she made her way forward, she could make out a heavy rumbling among the screams. She was already at the door, looking outwards, though she was still also in the kitchen.

The sounds were all around the apple tree. Up in the branches, the kids were crying with fear. Below them like a bubbling pot were a mass of feral hogs, thirty to fifty feral hogs all clamoring with rage. Kathy felt the plates slip from her fingers. Kelly held her leg as she cried, blood dripping out onto the blooming crimson fruit. 

All this was so familiar, whispered a voice within Kathy. Did I dream this once before?

A hand came from behind her and pulled her from the steps. Willie appeared before her, eyes laid square upon the hogs. In his grips was the gun he claimed was only for emergencies. He brought the clip into the magazine and cocked it, screaming at the porcine infestation. Kathy could not make out a word, could not feel the uneven deck crack against her tailbone.

Willie fired three rounds into the air. The hogs seemed to pay no mind. It was the children, so purely only the children in the tree they wanted for their own. The largest of the hogs threw their weight against the trunk, shaking young leaves loose from the branch.

Kathy looked back into the house. In the kitchen, she could see herself still humming by the window, thinking of what to cook. She was still drinking tea in the den, chuckling at the news of the day. It’s all always the same, she was saying to Willie, seated drunk in his old green recliner, to which he grumbled in reply. Was all this His grand design?

The children were screaming in the yard. Kathy was up there too, up in the tree, taking a bite of her first crispy apple in the tree outside her father’s house, and he had grown that tree himself, it was always growing taller. It was always giving her apples, and she was always tasting them, thinking of how to cook them for her future children, still screaming in the yard as half the feral hogs turned towards Willie and charged as if tomorrow was coming.

© 2020

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