The Mother stood and looked out her kitchen window. Her hands mechanically washed dishes and scraped away bits of dried gravy and beef: the remnants of last night’s meal. Her hands were protected from the scalding soapy water, from the dirt, and from the waste caking the inexpensive china by the thick skin of her pink rubber gloves. She looked out the window towards the clouds and watched them march overhead, marking the passage of time, and so much seemed wasted. She didn’t think about her hands. They moved on their own with an ingrained knowledge borne from endless repetition. Instead of thinking, she dreamed.
“Momma, I made a friend.”
Startled, The Mother turned around to face The Daughter. “Oh, really? That’s nice, sweetie. What’s your friend’s name?”
“I don’t know. I guess I’ll call her Piggy. That’s kind of what she looks like. She’s got a curly tail and everything. She’s pink!”
The Mother rolled her eyes. She thought it might be a real friend this time but knew this would be too much to ask for. “So, she’s not real then?”
The little girl laughed. “She’s real. Why don’t you come outside and see her?”
“I’m busy washing dishes, honey. You go on out and play, okay?”
The little girl looked down at the floor. “Really, Momma, why don’t you come out and see her. I don’t know if I trust her all the way. She’s kind of weird. She walks on her hands and knees. She’s got a pig nose. She’s got a bunch of ninnies all up and down her tummy like a doggy. She lives in the gutter.
“I’ve told you about that gutter! You don’t play there! You’ll get bit by a spider or a snake or something.”
The little girl looked outside. “She’s calling me. Should I play with her? Would you like to meet her?”
The Mother turned her back to the child and rolled her eyes. She looked up to the clouds, remembered her daydreams and smiled to herself. Her daughter was just like her. She turned back around to face the child. She knelt down to her level and planted a kiss on her forehead. “You can go on out and play with your new friend. Just make sure you stay away from that gutter, okay?”
The child looked outside. She turned to look back at The Mother. “Okay, Momma, I got to go. It sounds like Piggy’s in trouble. Can I have a knife?”
The Mother smiled at her daughter. “No, honey, you can’t have a knife.” She left the sink and walked over to the cutlery drawer. “But you can have this.” The Mother handed The Daughter a wooden spoon. “Here’s a nice sword for you, okay?”
The Daughter looked at the spoon. “This isn’t a sword; it’s just a spoon.”
“It’s whatever you want it to be, right? Remember what we talked about?”
“Imagination, huh?” The Daughter shook her head and walked outside.
The Mother resumed washing dishes with her hands while her mind wandered to strange vistas. She lost herself.
“Sweetie! Honey! Where are you?”
The Mother turned around in frantic circles. She looked behind shrubs. She looked in the storage shed. She held her hands over her eyes to block the sun as she stared across her lawn. A chorus of grasshoppers infiltrated her mind, and the beginnings of a migraine formed just behind her temples.
She decided she should check inside. Maybe she did not hear The Daughter enter the house? Maybe she was just in her room playing? She scanned the yard one more time with her eyes. Then she saw it.
There was a strange darkness in a corner of the gutter. Where a concrete drainage pipe had once been, there was only a massive opening. Bits of asphalt from the road crumbled down into the newly shaped hole. It looked to be about ten feet across. The Mother ran to the hole and looked down. She could see nothing but blackness.
The Mother fell to her knees and cried out at the empty sky. Clouds rolled by overhead, but she did not notice them.
The Husband grew concerned. Every day when he came home from work The Mother would be standing on the edge looking down into the darkness of the sinkhole. Once the rescuers stopped searching, The Husband hired a contractor to fill the hole, but The Mother would have nothing to do with that. She wanted it to remain open. She still believed The Daughter would emerge unscathed.
Best estimates provided that the depth of the sinkhole was over fifty feet deep, at minimum. They learned their land was built on top of an old iron mine. The ground had shifted and revealed a network of long-abandoned mine shafts.
“It’s dangerous. We need to fill it up.” He said to her one day while she stood looking down over the edge. He stood behind her and held her shoulders.
She shook her head. Tears dripped from her face and fell into the darkness.
“Do you hear that?”
The Mother looked at The Husband. It was dark in their bedroom. The lights were off inside the house. The Husband rubbed sleep from his eyes, sat up, and leaned over to turn on the bedside lamp.
His wife’s eyes were large and bright. She turned her head quickly, her hair whipped around her face. “Do you hear it?” She grabbed The Husband by the collar of his faded TOOL t-shirt.
The Husband frowned. He held up a hand to silence The Mother. He listened. There was the tick-tock of the antique clock in the living room just outside their bedroom. There was the whir of the air-conditioner. He focused his ears for anything that might sound out of the ordinary and jumped as the ice machine clinked out a fresh batch of cubes in the kitchen.
He shook his head. “I don’t hear anything. Can I go back to sleep now?”
The Mother nodded her head.
Time passed. The Mother's sleep grew restless. She often awoke to the squeal of pigs. They sounded both far away and nearby at the same time. She'd lay awake with her glassy eyes trained on the popcorn ceiling. Sometimes she connected the dots on that ceiling and imagined the profile of The Daughter's face. The Daughter was never smiling. The little girl's mouth was always open wide in terror as she released a silent scream.
The Husband snored. The Mother did not mind. This helped her stay awake. She wanted to stay awake.
Once she knew The Husband was good and asleep, she slipped out of bed. She wrapped a robe around her shoulders and slunk her feet into a pair of flip flops she used as slippers. She walked slowly and carefully, not wanting to make any noise, trying her best to avoid the spots in the wood floor that creaked if stepped upon. She did not want to make a noise. She wanted to be alone.
The sound had been for her. The Mother was the only person The Daughter had told about Piggy. Piggy was waiting. Piggy would have answers.
She slipped out the door and into the humid night. A thin layer of fog clung to the overgrown lawn. She rushed towards the sinkhole.
She looked down over the edge.
A pig’s squeal rose up from the darkness to greet her. Tears fell down The Mother’s cheeks.
“I should have listened, baby. I should’ve come out and met Piggy for you like you asked. Why didn’t I listen?”
Clouds moved overhead. A shaft of moonlight revealed something on the edge of the sinkhole. The mother squatted down to see what it was.
She saw the splintered remains of a broken wooden spoon covered in dark stains.
The Mother reached for the spoon and held it in her hands. She imagined The Daughter’s final struggle.
A pig squealed and The Mother looked up. A large pig stood upright directly in front of her. The pig's eyes were endlessly dark. The beast’s chest and stomach were lined with swollen teats which seeped a dark liquid.
The Mother growled and ran at the beast. She stabbed and stabbed and pushed against the weight of the monster.
Earth shifted during their struggle.
The Mother slipped. She fell. The sinkhole ate her.
The Husband hired a new contractor. This time they filled the gaping hole in the yard without protest. It hurt The Husband too much to see the sinkhole. It was a constant reminder of good things lost.
One night he heard pigs squealing somewhere beneath him, somewhere deep down below. The sound made him shiver. He rolled over and went back to sleep by focusing his attention on the mundane reality surrounding him: the whir of the air conditioner, the song of crickets, the tick-tock of an antique clock, the fresh ice cubes crashing into their container. He knew these sounds. He understood them. He never was much of a dreamer. He thought the squeals were just his imagination – they had to be – but still the sound disturbed him. He eventually fell back to sleep that night, but the sounds continued.
Other oddities made themselves known. The sinkhole in the yard refused to be filled. Every few weeks another truckload of fresh dirt was needed to fill in the hungry hole.
One night his bedroom grew unnaturally quiet. He woke up alone in a pool of his own sweat. As his eyes adjusted to the gloom of his unlit room he could make out a shadow: the outline of a large hulking beast. In the cool blue glow of moonlight, he saw the impossible: a large sow with seeping teats. It stared at him with black, uncaring eyes. The Husband closed his own eyes. When he reopened them, the beast was gone. He heard the echo of a squeal.
The next morning, once fresh sunlight cast a measure of sanity onto the room around him, he washed a brown liquid out of his carpet where he told himself he had dreamed the figure of a beast stood the night before. He scrubbed and scrubbed and applied more stain remover. He spat into the rug and cursed the impossible stains that refused to be impossible and refused to let him forget.