Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Pig War

His garden is not orderly but it is, to his mind, in order. Lyman Cutlar sees the black pig digging its nose into one of the potato beds. It is the size of a port barrel on squat, hairy legs. It is oblivious to his presence. A man stands by the fence laughing.

Cutlar fetches his gun from its resting place above the back door’s lintel and returns to the garden. The pig’s snout has uprooted several dirty potatoes and is scattering them as it eats. The laughing man runs off at the sight of the weapon and Cutlar, red-faced, shoots the swine. Or, he raises his gun and fires at the pig and the man scampers off into the trees.

The pig does not die easily.

Cutlar has killed animals before.

The pig was not his to kill. He is dimly aware that it belongs to the Irishman. He finds the Irishman on the sheep ranch and words are exchanged.

I will give you $10 for your pig.

The pig was not yours to kill. You will give me $100 for the pig.

Your pig was on my land. You must keep your pig out of my potatoes.

It is up to you to keep your potatoes out of the pig.

The Irishman reports Cutlar’s offence. Cutlar, meanwhile, has been unsettled by the nasty affair. He talks to fellow American settlers, one of whom asks to see the gun. Cutlar does not want to produce the weapon.

Cutlar and the Irishman live on an island, but the island is large enough that one can never see it encircled by water. It does not feel isolated, not entirely.

The British across the strait are sending men to arrest Cutlar. The American settlers grow defensive. They call for a blockade. Sixty six American troops arrive on the island to prevent the British arrival.

The British send three warships to the island.

The Americans send cannons and more than five hundred men.

The British send more ships, more guns, more men. Two thousand men. Cutlar has never counted to two thousand. His mind still turns to the gun, to the pig, to the disorderly garden. The British will come tramping through his garden, boots sinking into the soil where the pig and potatoes yesterday lay rotting. The Americans will come to fight them, overturning the earth which has only now begun to settle, be covered with cold dry leaves.

What did he do with the pig and where did those half-chewed potatoes go? What of the laughing man? He no longer remembers, on this island slowly filling with other men from elsewhere.

The men leave the island and the Pig War of 1859 becomes the only war in which the single fallen corpse belonged to a pig.

And Cutlar, staring at his gun on the lintel and the potato patch beyond, realises that he was the only man to fire a shot in this war. Where does that leave him? Will it leave him? Where is the laughing man? Why does he no longer remember, now, in 2009, so many islands away? As he types this the only thing he remembers are his rash words to the Irishman. They are both a long way from understanding pigs and potatoes.

1 comment:

Princess B said...

What, pray tell, happened to the meat from the pig? I hope it didn't go to waste. Bacon? Prosciutto?