Pig Meat

by A.L. Diaz

I usually only get to go over to Mr. Montano’s house when Daddy goes, though sometimes I do get to go into Mr. Montano’s backyard and play with his dog, Malty. At least once a day we go after Daddy’s done working. I like going to Mr. Montano’s house because we stay there forever and he lets me play wherever I want. I like to play in his den, where Malty has his bed, while Mr. Montano talks with Daddy. The first time I met Mr. Montano, I ran into him by accident. His big belly cushioned me and I fell on my butt. Before I cried, though, Mr. Montano picked me up and lifted me in the air and laughed so hard it made me laugh, too. He sat me on his shoulders and carried me to my house. I could see the top of the neighbor’s roof from his shoulders. I did not get scared of falling, though. 

Sunlight never reaches the back of the house. The nasty green carpet and the wood walls make the room even darker and I like to pretend it’s a cave, a cave that smells like the butcher my mommy takes me to. In my cave, no one can yell or fight and everyone must like each other otherwise theyll hear from Malty, my guard dog. 

Malty is a big fluffy dog who always smells of meat. Mr. Montano says it’s because dogs are supposed to eat meat and that’s what he feeds Malty. He says that since he doesn’t have a family, he gets Malty cuts from the market. It must be true because Malty is almost as big as a bear. He’s even taller than me. Daddy says people need big dogs to do chores and that dogs make better company than mommies. 

I like the wooden bar he has. Dark rings decorate the top, pictures of bubbles in the wood that look like faces. Sometimes I go behind it and sift through the dusty green bottles and shake them just to watch the dark stuff slide up and down the glass. He keeps his toolboxes in his bar, too. If I duck behind the bar, I can’t see or hear anything. That is my favorite spot in the whole world and I would live there if I could. 

 The green bottles remind me of The Wizard of Oz and I pretend I’m Dorothy and Malty is Toto. Sometimes I open the bottles to smell them. They smell like pennies so I close them and leave them alone. Mommy says the liquid in glass bottles make grownups do stupid things that stick with them forever, but I still like to play with them. 

Mostly, I just watch the bubbles disappear when I shake them.

When Daddy finishes talking with Mr. Montano, he calls me back and I always drag my feet up the stairs with Malty to say goodbye. Mr. Montano gets his candy jar from the shelf and lets me get one of the caramels or those strawberry ones with the chewy filling. His house was the first place I ever tried candy. I make sure to enjoy the sweet sensation of strawberries and sugar that played on my tongue. I skip home after to the beat of my taste buds that tingle under the flavor. I like candy because it tastes good and makes me happy, that way I can pretend Mommy and Daddy like each other.

When we get home, Daddy sends me up to my room so he can watch football in silence instead of doing the chores Mommy says he has to do. When Mommy comes home, though, he can’t watch TV in quiet anymore. Mommy instead scolds him for not doing his chores. I ignore Mommy’s yelling and instead play with my toys and pretend I’m back at Mr. Montano’s house, playing with Malty and eating Mr. Montano’s candy.

One day, I ask Mommy why Mr. Montano lives alone. Mommy is planting in the garden while I help her. “Because his wife went to heaven,” she says.

“Why did she go to heaven?”  

 “You don’t ask people those questions.” 

“Daddy likes that Mr. Montano lives all by himself because he can do whatever he wants without anyone nagging him.” 

All the flowers Mommy plants are spaced apart by one of her hands like squares. She shovels out dirt with the mini shovel in mounds and places one flower in each hole and buries them. She doesn’t say anything. She probably didn’t hear me so I repeat myself. 

“Nothing would ever get done if I didn’t nag.” She pokes the hand shovel in the dirt next to the flower she is planting and pushes the dirt into the plant. 

“Daddy doesn’t like chores.” I grab dirt and throw it up in the air and pretend it is snow. Mommy ignores me and keeps planting flowers. 

I play in my dirt snow and I can see Mr. Montano’s backyard next to ours. We have a metal fence between our yards and I see him working on his tools. Malty has a bone in his mouth and is running around the yard. I shout hello. Mr. Montano looks up and waves a gloved hand. I ask him what he’s doing and he tells me he’s making sure he keeps his tools super sharp. Mommy tells me not to bother Mr. Montano but he winks at me and tells her it’s all right.  

I run to the fence and stick my fingers through the holes to pet Malty’s fur. “Mr. Montano, why’d your wife go to heaven?” 

Mommy runs up to me and pushes me away from the fence. “You don’t have to answer that, I’m so sorry.” 

Mr. Montano laughs really loud that it makes Malty bark. “It’s okay, sweetheart.” He grabs a big stick next to his house and cuts the top part with all the branches off. He gives it to me and tells me it is a magical scepter I can use to play with Malty. Mommy lets me play in Mr. Montano’s backyard with Malty while she talks with him. Malty chases the stick around but I ignore him to look at Mommy talk to Mr. Montano. He looks sad but Mommy pats his shoulder to make him feel better. I bet he misses his wife. 

I am playing tug o’ war with Malty when Mommy tells me it is time for dinner. I say goodbye, though I don’t want to, and Mr. Montano lifts me over the fence.

When we get home, I ask Mommy if she would miss Daddy if he died and she says no. She doesn’t say anything else to me. She makes spaghetti and puts a plate in front of me on the table. We don’t wait for Daddy. 

Today, I want to go over to play with Malty. Mommy and Daddy are not talking to each other even though Daddy bought a new television. They are super quiet and I tug on Mommy’s shirt to get her attention and she tells me to go play upstairs. I ask if I can play with Malty and she tells me to go upstairs again. So, I am going to Mr. Montano’s house. 

There is a sharp corner on the door to my backyard I cut my finger on. I stick it in my mouth and suck on the blood to try to make it stop as I walk over to the fence.

Malty always runs up to me and rolls on the dirt when I come to visit. I climb over the fence and kneel down to rub his belly and bury my face in his fur. Malty’s fur makes me so happy I cry. He smells my finger and licks it a lot. He tries to bite me and I slap his nose for being a bad dog so he stops. “I can play with Malty?” I say to Mr. Montano. I can’t see him, but I can hear him somewhere. 

Mr. Montano is in his shed and didn’t see me come over his fence. He sounds mad at me when he says, “He can’t play with you right now, sweetie. I need to feed him.” 

“I can help you feed Malty?” 

“Why aren’t you home? Won’t your parents be mad?” 

I don’t answer at first. I wipe my face and dry my hand on Malty’s fur. Then I try to braid his hair. “Mommy and Daddy don’t want to talk to me.” I tug at Malty’s hair, which he doesn’t like. I do it anyway. 

He walks towards Malty and me and says, “That’s a sign of bad people.” 

I pull at Malty’s teeth. “I don’t want to go home. I can help you feed Malty?” 

“Sorry, sweetie, but little girls shouldn’t play with raw food.” He lifts me to my feet and points me in the direction of my house. 

“I promise I won’t tell anyone.” I give him my hand to make a pinky promise. People can’t break pinky promises.  

Mr. Montano scratches at the stubble on his chin. “Fine. But only if you promise.” He hands over his pinky and we shake on it. 

Mr. Montano has a white freezer behind his bar, the kind Daddy has in the garage where he keeps the drinks Mommy doesn’t let me drink. Mr. Montano unlocks the freezer and hands me two rolls of meat wrapped in butcher paper and tells me to bring them into the kitchen.

Malty follows me up the stairs from the basement, bouncing in front of me and wagging his butt. He bumps into me and nearly knocks me down the stairs three times. So, I push him away and tell him he is a bad dog for trying to eat before we get his food ready. 

I am just tall enough to put the rolls on the counter. Mr. Montano finishes up in the basement and I can hear the clicking of his boots come up the steps.

“What are we feeding Malty?” I said. 

 “Pig meat.” 

 “Mommy only buys chicken. She says Daddy can’t eat pigs because he’ll turn into one.” 

Mr. Montano grabs two large knives from the drawer next to the stove. 

“Will Malty turn into a pig?” 

Mr. Montano rubs Malty’s wagging butt. “He’s already a little piggy.”  

“Malty’s a dog.” Sometimes Mr. Montano doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Once, he told me that soy milk comes from soy cows. He’s so silly. I ask, “Is Malty gonna eat his dinner cold?” 

“No, I’m going to stick it in the oven for a bit until it’s not cold anymore.” 

Mr. Montano unwraps one of the papers and puts a long piece of frozen meat on the counter. I stand on a chair and watch him take what he tells me is a cleaver and chops it into two slices. The knife blade crunches through the red meatcicle and he sets one piece aside and tells me to grab a pan from a cabinet down by the floor. He takes the pan and puts it in the oven while I play with the defrosting blood on the butcher paper. I draw a face for me, a face for Mr. Montano, and a face for Malty. Then I draw a rainbow. I put my fingers on the other half of the frozen meat and scratch off bits of it, some of it getting caught in my nails. I wait until Mr. Montano isn’t looking before I wipe my hands on my pants and scrape the blood out of my nails with my teeth. Then I put my whole hand on it and feel the ice melt under them. My hand sticks to the ice a few times before the meat starts turning squishy. I make finger holes where my palm is, letting the meat re-rise when I take my fingers off it. I like playing with meat. It’s so squishy. 

 Mr. Montano gives me a paper towel to dry my hands of the blood and tells me to go wash my hands in the big grey sink. I pull the chair I was using at the counter towards the sink to use it to reach the handles. It’s right by the window that lets me see my own kitchen. I can see Mommy getting dinner ready and waving her hands at Daddy. They’re so close I see Daddy rolling his eyes. He shouts, “Get over it already,” before he gets a can from the refrigerator and goes into the living room to watch his new TV. Mr. Montano shakes his head and draws the curtains so I don’t have to watch them fight. I make bubbles with the soap and Malty tries to chase them.

At five o’clock Mr. Montano says I need to go home before my parents start to worry about me. I want to stay, but Mommy says I shouldn’t argue with grownups.  

I kick at dirt and rocks and smash an ant trail as I walk home. The walk is not far, but it felt like forever. 

When I get home, Mommy and Daddy don’t even notice I left. I cry to Mommy and ask her why I can’t stay at Mr. Montano’s house. Mommy tells me old people go to bed earlier than we do.

“How old is Mr. Montano?” I said.

“He’s almost sixty.” 

“Is that why he’s so big?” 

“Don’t say that, it’s not nice.” 

I eat my own dinner with Mommy and Daddy while Daddy has his new television on. He likes to watch the news during dinner but Mommy hates it. She says it isn’t appropriate to watch that kind of stuff while we eat. The man on the TV with the funny hair says they are still looking for someone who went missing last week and Mommy makes Daddy turn the TV off. She forgets to use her inside voice and Daddy laughs. They start saying mean things to each other so I get up and leave to go play with the scepter Mr. Montano gave me. I pretend I am queen and that Mr. Montano is my new mommy and daddy because he doesn’t say mean things or forget to use his inside voice. Although Malty does. 

It is almost my birthday and Mommy and Daddy are yelling. They are in the kitchen and I hear something break. I hope it is not the TV.

When I go downstairs, Mommy is doing most of the yelling while Daddy is laughing. I ask what broke but they don’t pay attention to me. I try to get them to stop but Daddy hits me in the face by accident when I am behind him. They stop for a moment to say sorry, but Mommy goes back to yelling at Daddy for hitting her little girl. She leaves me on the counter to keep yelling at Daddy, so I get down and go to Mr. Montano’s house. I have not seen him for a while. 

Malty doesn’t greet me at the fence in the backyard like he always does. I climb over and knock on the back door, calling his name as loud as I could. I press my face to the glass and see Malty shaking his butt and running down the stairs to greet me through the door. Mr. Montano follows him and lets me in. “Why is your face red?” 

I cry and he picks me up and dabs my face dry with his sleeve and takes me to his kitchen. He sets me on the counter and goes to his freezer to get me something cold for my face. I let my sandals fall on the floor so I can rub my feet in Malty’s fluffy fur. I grab at bunches with my toes and imagine he is a cloud. But when I look up, I realize there are boxes next to me. I ask him what they are doing there and he says he is moving. 

“But I don’t want you to leave,” I say. He hands me a bag of frozen peas and I cry again. 

“You’ll be fine without me, sweetie. You’re a brave girl.” 

“I can come with you? I don’t like Mommy and Daddy.” 

Mr. Montano looks mad. “Now you listen here. I don’t like your mommy and daddy either and I believe bad things will happen to bad people. But you need to be a good girl and stay home. You can’t be coming with me. You understand?” He gives me a hug and I hug him back tight hoping he might change his mind but he doesn’t. Instead, he lets me take one thing to keep forever, but I can’t tell anyone. I take the candy jar that still has some strawberry candies in it. If he is not going to be there to make me happy, then at least I have candy. 

Mr. Montano moves away a few days before a bunch of police people come to his house looking for him. I hear the police man tell Mommy this isn’t the first time they tried looking for him. The first time was after his wife went to heaven. 

 The police people find the bones in Mr. Montano’s backyard that Malty sometimes hid after his dinner. I don’t know what DNA is, but it matched the missing man on the TV and three other missing people. Mommy says the police people found awful things in the freezer Mr. Montano has in the den, but I saw what was in that freezer. It wasn’t awful at all.  

The police ask everyone questions, the down-the-street neighbors, the across-the-street neighbors, my parents, even me. Since I spent the most time playing with him, they ask me if I ever saw Mr. Montano do anything or hide anything. They ask about the bottles in the den and if I ever saw what was in them. I never say anything, though. I don’t want to get in trouble. And I pinky promised.

For a long time, I look out my bedroom window and see police go in and out, carrying boxes and containers, dogs sniffing at the ground and people digging giant holes all over his yard. Television people come, too, talking into cameras and telling everyone about the search for Mr. Montano. I listen to all of them talk about Mr. Montano and what a sick-o he must be. Mommy even kicks Daddy out of the house because he let me play in Mr. Montano’s house.

After a while, though, I get mad and go up to my room to play with my dolls and the candy jar Mr. Montano let me have and pretend he and Malty came back so I can play in his den again.

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