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  • Writer's pictureMario Moussa

Life in the Pigsty


Once there was a farm called Green Shoots, tucked away far from downtown on a scrubby little plot of land. Neighbors swore the soil glowed yellow and blue in the dark. But last week, on the morning when my life began to change, a red sun was shining bright as I dug in the dirt for moldy clumps of carrots and radishes. 

Green Shoots had for years been barely making it in that edgy neighborhood of Philadelphia, crisscrossed by elevated highways and strip malls. And things were about to get worse. Did the managers flunk Capitalism 101? They expected to make it by growing and selling hydroponic vegetables, small trees, and seasonal flowers. Something had to give, with unfortunate consequences for me.

I circled the pen, trying to avoid all the dirty-faced kids dressed in khaki overalls. Prowling on the other side of the fence, those little sadists grabbed at the spiky hair on my back, their stubby fingers twisting and turning like a nest of worms. Jesus H. Christ. Didn’t they have anything better to do?

One of them said, “Here’s a treat for you, Marshmallow.” Blond hair, crooked teeth, four feet tall. He held out a sticky slab of puffed rice. I grabbed it, swallowed.   

“Grumph!” I said.

Snowball, the rescue cat, had died of natural causes, slinking off and expiring quietly beneath the branches of a lemon tree. That was two years ago. I’d hung on. How did she get so lucky?  

Green Shoots was a slow-rolling crack-up, one scandal after another. Racial and gender discrimination. Defensive whining from the board and their management stooges. Tensions with environmental activists who agitated to have the former EPA remediation site tested for lead and asbestos one more time. It was a long-running passion play, performed daily in a dusty patch of city real estate.

I’m a pig. I’d always evaded the spotlight and avoided politics of any kind—workplace gossip and backbiting, strikes, campaigns, elections and protests, anti-capitalist grandstanding, all the human drama. I’d been a Green Shoots minor attraction in my tiny pen, a bit player, a Horatio on a muddy stage.  

Then I became the main character.

Hours after I snapped up that gooey treat, I opened my eyes in the dark. My head was lying in a syrupy puddle of the muck that had shot out of my stomach. Alex Desmond, the head farmer, was looking down at me. Their platinum hair was wrapped in a blue bandanna, and a thick gold ring dangled from their nose. They leaned over to examine the mess.  

“Oh my God!” Desmond cried.

What was going on? Then, even as my insides rebelled, I remembered: the evening before, I’d seen a laptop shimmering in the silvery gloam. Behind the cash register, a shadowy figure tapped on the keyboard. I turned away, acting out nonchalance like a ham actor in a regional theater, but the figure’s gaze burned through me and a sinking feeling told me it was too late. I couldn’t unsee what I’d seen. Something was going on—I wasn’t sure what—but it couldn’t be good.

Desmond and I had hardly communicated until they found me fighting for my life, my intestines on fire. As I began to black out, I thought I was a goner. Just before the curtain came down on this pathetic scene, I heard Desmond say, “Okay. All right my big pig.” 


When I opened my eyes, I was hanging in a sling suspended from a ceiling, a foot above an aluminum examining table, in a room flooded with fluorescent light. I sniffed, wriggling my snout. An antiseptic smell tickled my nostrils and made my curly-cue tail vibrate like a tuning fork.

“He’s lucky you brought him here,” an unfamiliar voice said. “At the university, we know how to take care of a large animal. Marshmallow’s a little drugged up, but he’ll come around.”

Desmond stood by the table, wearing the clothes they had on when I’d passed out. “I got a call from the vet yesterday at 10 pm,” they said. “He told me Marshmallow wasn’t getting better. I rushed over in the truck and brought him here.” Desmond was talking to a short stocky man wearing blue scrubs. Thick hairy forearms extended from his short sleeves, like slabs of beef in a smokehouse. I thought of him as Dr. Meat-On-His-Bones.

“When he stabilizes and all the tests check out, he can go home,” said Dr. Meat-On-His-Bones.

I slipped back into a medicated sleep. When I woke up, I saw the legs of Desmond’s jeans through the grill of my crate.

“Grumph!” I said.

“It comes to $2500,” another unfamiliar voice said. “For the test, the stomach procedure, and the two overnights.”

“Can you bill it to the farm for now?” Desmond asked. “The staff is launching a Go Fund Me campaign and we hope to have all the money by the end of the month.”

It sounded like a scheme. A scheme folded within a scam, wrapped up in a murky plot. I had the feeling I fit into it somehow, and I was getting fed up.  

On the drive back to Green Shoots, my crate strapped down in the back of a rattletrap truck, Desmond chattered on their cell phone in a loud voice. Through an open window I could hear phrases: “Our chance . . . the public face of repression . . . a platform, a cause . . . bring them down for good . . .”

As the words floated by, I dozed off and woke to another day at Green Shoots. I got up to nose around in the dirt. I chewed. I ruminated. 

Desmond walked over, opened the gate to the pen, and raised their phone. I looked into the camera lens, pie-eyed.

“Years of neglect and deteriorating conditions led to his near-death experience,” Desmond intoned. “But your generosity—amazingly, hundreds of dollars raised so far, and more pouring in every day—has saved Marshmallow and ensured his future safety and health. It’s also provided funds for the unionization drive. A strong union means a strong Green Shoots.”

Desmond stopped recording, put the phone in their jeans—the same jeans they’d worn at the hospital—and said, “It’s all coming together in ways we couldn’t have imagined, Marshmallow.” Desmond smiled. I bit on a sweet-tasting carrot. The afternoon sun slipped below the houses across the street, leaving in its wake a warm orange glow.

Hours later, I slept.

I woke to the sound of clattering metal. The sun was up, an inflamed wound in the middle of the sky. Workmen shouted as they toted fencing and barbed wire around the farm like single-minded ants. Harsh sounds came from every direction.

Desmond walked in circles, arms lifted, voice rising above the clamor.  “You can’t close us down. It’s bullshit!”


 

The next afternoon, I sat in a small square of grass and dirt in the backyard of Desmond’s row house. Desmond held up a phone and watched me on the screen. They turned the phone around for a moment so I could see—superimposed on my image was a page of text. Desmond took a breath, looked at the screen, then read like a voice-over actor: 


This past month, Green Shoots was victimized by a

counterfeit check scam that brought the operation to the

brink of collapse. At the same time, a staff-driven fund drive

has already generated hundreds of dollars. Some think

management devised the scam to break the unionization

effort, using insiders to stage the fraud.  


Desmond held a piece of paper up to the phone.


There’s strong evidence that this former employee was at the

center of the scam.


Desmond stopped reading.  

“Grumph!” I said.

Desmond brought their arms down, one hand enclosing the phone and the piece of paper dangling from the other. Their outfit hadn’t changed in a week. 

Come on, Desmond, you can do this! Buck up. You’re a person. I’m a pig. If I’m sick of being jerked around, you must really be sick of it.  

Desmond shrugged their shoulders, tossed the paper to the ground, and walked up the steps to the back door.

I nudged the paper with my snout. A blurry black-and-white photo showed a shadowy figure standing behind the Green Shoots check-out counter on a moonlit evening. I raised my head, turned to the door.

That’s when it hit me.  


For the first time in my life, despite the befuddlement I’d felt since I was a piglet shivering on an acre of land in a post-industrial hellscape, I knew I could take control. Set a direction even if I—a pig—can’t make sense of all the craziness. I waddled to the steps and climbed up with my front legs. I knocked with my snout, making a muffled sound. I waited in the silence. Then I raised a foot and tapped. The sound was sharper, and I kept tapping until Desmond appeared in the doorway. “What is it, pig?” Desmond said, looking down.

Words would have made it so much easier. But at least I had a plan. I walked back to the square of grass and dirt and sat on my haunches, just the way I did when Desmond had filmed me a few minutes earlier.

“Grumph!” I said.

“Okay?” Desmond said.

I blinked, then walked over and nosed Desmond’s pocket. Desmond pulled out the phone.  

“Okay?” Desmond said. 

Clearly my plan was going to take time.


 

That was yesterday. This morning, a long shadow stretching across the backyard, Desmond brings out a bowl of freshly washed carrots, turnips, and parsley and sets it down on the grass. I gobble up a mouthful and assume the filming pose, sitting with my haunches on the ground and a wide-open expression on my face. I nod in a way I hope offers encouragement.  

Then I trace a circle in the air with my snout.

Desmond raises their hands, palms up. “Keep going?” 

Circling.

Desmond takes out the phone and types for a few minutes.  

“How’s this?” Desmond says, then switches into the voice-over mode.

  

A management stooge attempted to kill you with a poisoned

treat that he put in the hands of an unsuspecting child who

fed it to you. The stooge, glimpsed in the moonlight, was

worried you’d discover his embezzlement scheme. Isn’t that

right, comrade?


I nod, then make the circling motion. The story seemed credible enough. “Grumph!” I add for emphasis.


We appreciate your ongoing support for the Marshmallow

Fund Drive. Green Shoots is no more, but oppression grinds

on. The fight for justice continues.


“Welcome to life in the pigsty,” Desmond says, bowing theatrically.

That’s it! Life in the Pigsty. A smile curls up the side of my furry cheeks.  

Woodpeckers rat-tat-tatting in the branches overhead, Desmond films me walking resolutely around the patch of grass. It’ll take time, but it’s going to come together. A YouTube show. TikTok videos. Life in the Pigsty. A public persona bigger than ever. 15,000 pig-loving followers and more every day. I see it happening.  

I keep walking, acting like I’m in control.

I am in control.

“You can do this,” Desmond says.

I can be so much more. A woke guru, a postmodern Trotskyite, a hipster bro who walks on four legs, whatever. I’m not just a barnyard pig.


 


Mario Moussa is a writer living in Philadelphia. His stories have appeared in Write City, Flash Fiction Magazine, Loud Coffee Press, and Litbreak.

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