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This month, we feature an excerpt from This Is How You Start to Disappear by Astrid Blodgett (University of Alberta Press, 2023).
“The Night the Moon Was Bright and We Ate Pigs and Brownies and Drank Fizzy Beer and Didn’t Remember Much at All, in the End”
WE DROVE TO THE PIG CAMP on Thursday. The next morning we took our tent down and drove to another place to camp. It wasn’t what I thought, Mom said, the next day, when we were all in the car driving away. I mean, I had an idea. But not that. Dad laughed and said: Oh, you knew. You don’t go to a thing like that and not know. I sat beside Evan in the back seat. He stank of smoke and sweat and beer.
We’d camped somewhere else the night before and got to the pig camp in the morning. It wasn’t a normal campground. It was just a big clearing in the woods in the middle of nowhere. Dad drove right into the clearing and stopped.
Holy! Evan said. Lookit all the tents! Is there room for ours?
There’ll be room, Dad said. There’s always room. That’s how these parties are. We’ll all be piled on top of each other. Like pigs in a pen, ha. I hear they got two little pigs. They’ll roast faster.
Mom said she was not going to watch the pigs cook. She couldn’t bear to see a pig run through with a spit. It looked too much like a human baby. She would go for a long walk instead. With Marlene. Do you see Marlene and Bill anywhere? she asked.
There was a girl by the fire pit in the middle of all the tents. She looked like she was the same age as me. Eleven.
Not yet, said Dad. Bill’s probably stocking up at the liquor store. There’s Arnie, by the fire.
You can count on Arnie to be making the fire, Mom said. He likes to keep himself busy, doesn’t he.
Hey, there’s some boys, Evan said. Up in that tree.
How long are we staying? I asked. Because we never stayed long enough. We just got to know the campground and then we had to leave.
A few nights, Mom said. Over the weekend probably.
Dad drove on the grass and stopped between two tents. We were going to put up our tent right there, beside the car.
I can tell you what she looked like because she stood right next to me and Arnie when Arnie opened a beer. Half the beer fizzed out the top. He made a face at the beer like something was wrong with it and his eyes flicked from me to her and back to me again. Flick, flick.
Here, kid, he said.
He handed me the half-empty bottle and went for another. I don’t know why me and not her but I took the beer anyway and looked over at my tent before I had any. It felt a bit funny that I had beer and she didn’t. Because we were pretty much the same. Her hair was just like mine, brown and tangled. Summer hair. But she looked into the fire pit like we weren’t there. Her eyes were closed a little, like her eyelids were heavy. Her glasses slid down her nose, and her mouth hung open a bit. She was bony and her bones were hard. Her shirt was loose and her jeans looked too big. Because she was so skinny. Her jeans had a belt, a thin pink one with a butterfly for a buckle. I wanted that butterfly buckle.
Cute, Arnie said to me. You’re cute. It didn’t really mean anything, the way he said it, but I waited for him to say, You, too, or something like that to the girl, and when he didn’t I expected her to pipe up, I’m here too, ya know, you blind or what? Cuz that’s what I would’ve said. I would’ve, if it was me. But she didn’t say anything. She didn’t even look at us. She was just shy. I get like that too.
I looked at the beer and back at the girl. I’ve had beer before. Dad gives me sips of his sometimes. This was just the same, fizzy like pop and bitter. I didn’t really like it, but I wanted to like it.
Arnie had a beard, longish and brown and a bit like wool, and hair pulled back in a ponytail and a small scar above his left eye. Behind him, next to his case of beer, were three huge piles of firewood, organized by size: twigs, branches, small logs. I wanted to make a joke and ask if he was collecting wood for the three bears, but then he would have to make one of us Goldilocks, her or me, and I already knew what he would say.
I can tell you her name. Randi.
Arnie stuffed some crumpled newspaper into his tower of twigs, not the comics because I took them to read later but something from the news. I never read the news anyways, he said, nothing worth reading in the news. It’s all bad and it’s all stuff I can’t do anything about.
He knelt down and lit a corner of the paper. It flinched and curled and blackened. Red and blue flames shot up. I love that about fire. He added to the tower, slowly, starting with more small sticks. Look at ’er go, he said. Look at ’er burn. He was happy with his fire. Really happy. I backed up. I was wearing shorts, cut-offs from old jeans. I could already feel my skin getting hot.
I know what to do with a fire, he said. I can just mind my own business here. Not get in anyone’s way.
I was so thirsty I drank the beer in two minutes. My whole face tingled.
Mom called and I dropped the empty beer bottle next to the case. When I tried to run to our tent, I nearly fell over. I put my hand on the side of a green truck to stay upright.
Where on earth have you been? You can unpack the mats and the sleeping bags. Where’s Evan? I could use a hand. Your dad’s off drinking with Bill already. It’s not even eleven! He’ll be wasted before the pig is done! Sheesh. What a mess if he throws up in the tent. It already reeks.
I opened the mats and left them to inflate, then yanked the sleeping bags from their sacks and tossed them into the tent.
I see you met Randi, Mom said. Sherry’s daughter. Nice you found a friend.
She’s not a friend, I said. I couldn’t say why, if Mom asked. Probably it was because she didn’t say anything.
There’s food in that box, Mom said. If you want some lunch. I’m going for a walk with Marlene.
The next day, when we were taking down the tent, everybody looked funny. Even Mom and Dad. Mom wanted to camp somewhere else for the rest of the weekend. Nobody slept, she said. We can’t stay here. There are some unpredictable elements in the group, she said. Most everybody is fine. It just takes one, though. Which one? I asked. Pick one, she said. Good grief, said Dad, it was just a pig roast.
Arnie was good at fires. He kept adding wood. He wanted coals, he told us. Coals make a cooking fire. There were two sets of metal spikes already set up for the spits to rest on.
Arnie stood with his legs a little apart. There was a rip in his jeans under one knee, going side to side, and another up near the crotch, going up and down. I sneaked looks at that one when he wasn’t looking, just to see what he was like in there. When he moved one leg I could almost see in. He had the hairiest arms I have ever seen. He watched the fire and drank beer.
Where’s your tent? Who you with? Who’re your mom and dad? Arnie asked. I pointed at our blue and white dome. You could just see a bit of one side.
Wendy and Greg, I said. And my brother Evan.
I got a brother, Arnie said. Back east. Bugger never calls. I coulda used his help a while back and he acted like I was dead. Good riddance to brothers everywhere, I say. He took a long swallow of beer.
I sneaked another peek. Nothing. Just some white cloth.
Gonna be one helluva party tonight, he said and looked around at all the tents.
I counted fifteen, and more cars were driving in. You could hardly walk without tripping on guy ropes.
Where’s yours? Arnie asked Randi. She turned and pointed to an orange tent behind us. A pup tent, for two. Then she turned back to the fire.
Miranda! called someone from inside the tent. Randi didn’t say anything, she didn’t even turn to her tent, but I could tell it was her mom calling. When she said Randi’s name, I had two thoughts. One. Miranda is sure a grown-up name for a kid. Two. She should go to her mom.
She didn’t move. I went off to find Evan.
This is what happened. We went to a pig roast and ate pig meat and brownies and watched the adults drink beer and talk funny. The next morning, when most everybody was still asleep, we took down the tent and drove even farther into the forest and set up our tent along the river where nobody else was camped. On the drive to the new camp I was thinking that nothing happened. I was thinking it was all a long, strange dream.
On the drive Mom said: It wasn’t what I thought. I mean, I had an idea. But not that.
Oh, you knew, Dad said. You don’t go to a thing like that and not know.
But that girl, Mom said. What about that girl.
They’ll find her.
Evan and I didn’t look at each other. My arms were so sore I could barely lift them.
Mom threw up her hands and said: They called it a pig roast!
That’s what they do at pig roasts, Dad said.
There was pig! I said. I ate pig!
Mom yawned. Well, she said. I could sleep for two days. She looked at me and said, Ali, you kept me awake half the night. How many of those hash brownies did you have?
There was hash in those brownies? Evan asked. He looked both surprised and excited. I wish I’d known. I woulda had more!
What’s hash? I said.
You tromped around the tent all night, Mom said. She laughed softly.
I didn’t tromp around the tent.
Dad hooted and said: You were all over us. He drove slowly and peered up at the snowy peaks through the gaps in the pines. There wasn’t much in those brownies, he said to Mom. Unless Ali ate about twenty-five, she wouldn’t have felt anything.
You were probably sleepwalking, Mom said.
I don’t sleepwalk, I said.
Evan laughed, too long, and finally he looked at me. I wanted him to look at me. I wanted to see what he was thinking. He was scared, too. Somehow we agreed, yesterday, not to say anything. I don’t know how we did that without talking about it, but we did. We were afraid of those boys he met. Johnnie’s words were stuck in my head: You did it. You did it. I didn’t touch her. No, sir. The No, sir was especially stuck in my head, because he was so definite about it.
But I was mad at Evan, too.
Astrid Blodgett is a short story writer from Edmonton / amiskwaciwâskahikan. Her work has appeared in The Journey Prize Anthology, Meltwater: Fiction and Poetry from the Banff Centre for the Arts, and many Canadian literary magazines. She was short-listed for the Writers’ Guild of Alberta Howard O’Hagan Award for Short Story, and her first collection, You Haven’t Changed a Bit, was long-listed for a ReLit Award, a runner up for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award, and a finalist for the High Plains Book Award for Short Stories.