Written with my Thursday night group with the prompts: broken promises, behind closed doors, beyond words, what do you see? I’m not so strong anymore, a lion came to me on my way home, wanted to disappear, adult (as a verb), sunlight through the curtains, the neighbor’s pig, weird, choose tiny, what you should know, why shouldn’t I? through the keyhole
Shortly after I moved here, Maddie Greenwood came to my door to ask me if I drove into the city on a regular basis. She had her pet pig Jane Austen on a dog leash and she was feeding it pink rose petals like they were pastel mint patties.
I told her I go to the city occasionally, but not daily. Did she need something? I could pick her up whatever she wanted at the grocery and feed store, but I couldn’t make any promises about the city.
“The first thing you should know,” Maddie told me, “is you can’t get vegan feed at the local shop. You’ve got to go into the city. Jane Austin and I are vegans—well, nearly so. I do feed her shrimp most mornings along with her almond milk. The shrimp makes her skin pink. Pigs are like flamingos that way.”
I was new to this rural neighborhood and Maddie was one of the friendlier people I’d met. But she was just a tad bit weird. When I told her I was an ornithologist and I’d moved out here to study raptors for my dissertation, she gave me a look that would stop a clock. “Oh, no, no, don’t study hawks.”
“Why shouldn’t I?”
She leaned in close. “Choose tiny,” she whispered. “There is nothing as fierce as a humming bird. They’re the ones you want on your side in an emergency.”
At 38, I’m older than your average doctoral candidate. It’s just that I did things backwards. Pregnant at 16, I had to adult way too early. Now that my son is launched, I feel like a kid on my own for the first time, chasing after birds for the sheer joy of it. But this study won’t last forever, six months is all, and I’d been relishing this first time solitude. When the sun peeks through my curtains at dawn, I’m up, ready to hike over the levee into the canyon. I don’t have time to worry about anyone peeking through keyholes. You keep your closed doors and I’ll keep mine.
But then came Maddie, 75 if she’s a day, to loiter in my front yard most afternoons with Jane, calling me out to the porch to sit and drink whatever she has in her pouch—cider, sun tea, or wine. At first it seemed a bother, but now I prepare for her visits with salty snacks and olive oil lemon cake I buy at a vegan bakery in town. Maddie never eats much and never stays long, but I look forward to seeing her.
Today she tells me that she and Jane met a mountain lion on their way to my house. “That lion broke through the brambles on the upper trail near the pine grove. We were in a precarious position just below her by the river. Jane started to squeal real loud so I joined her singing ‘We Shall Overcome.’ That gave the lion pause because lions don’t like noise. Just then a swarm of lady bugs came straight at the lion’s face, threatening to fill its nostrils and ears. That lion turned tail and run off, just like that.”
I was beyond words. Was this true or an old woman’s fancy?
“I’m not so strong anymore,” Maddie continued. “I need to depend on my tiny friends.”
I laughed and sipped the wine sh’d brought. It was sweet but not cloying.
“Sometimes,” she said, “I want to disappear but there’ll be no broken promises on my watch.” She patted the pig’s head and I understood that she was needed on this earth to care for her pet. Certainly if Maddie were gone, Jane Austin would be bacon before long.
I nodded, saying nothing. She took my hand. “When you look at us,” she asked, “what do you see?”
I leaned back, enduring a moment as I searched for subtly. “Um, I see a very loving woman and a loyal pet.”
“Good answer.” She was silent for a moment, tightening her grip. “Jane is actually my niece. She has taken this form to hide.” I stared at her and she bowed her head, directing my gaze to Jane. The pig’s eyes met mine with a pleading look of supplication. I jerked back, pulling my hand away. I couldn’t help it. I believed her.
“It’s just something we wanted you to know,” Maddie said. “More wine?”
I held up my glass and she filled it again and again.
Photo by Lance Reis at Unsplash