A First Line Story
In Pigwell, time is not measured by days or weeks but by the number of eighteen wheelers that drive past my house. My Aunt Lila says 18 wheelers are the life blood of Pigwell. Aunt Lila owns Pigwell, says, “I came here with a bag of money and a guilty conscience,” then she usually mutters, “but not very guilty over that son of a bitch.”
Pigwell used to be a pig farm. Ground down by the high price of feed and the low price for pork, the farmer was more than happy to trade his farm for my aunt’s bag of money. People from town say the last time they saw him he was driving through town with a smile that no one could remember ever having seen before.
Aunt Lila saw some things in the farm, she saw lots of parking, she saw that there were no neighbors and wouldn’t be since the farm was in a big hollow with steep sides all around. But the thing that she liked the best was that the switchback in front of the farm crossed the state line right there in front of the yard and then crossed right back. It was a 60 mile drive to get to the state that the farm was actually in. My aunt liked this because she said that here it would be too much trouble for either state to care what she did. She used to say, “Eddie, when I was in the hospitality trade I learned that the government is like mosquitoes, the best you can hope for is that they leave you alone.” So Aunt Lila built Pigwell into what she called, “a Trucker’s Repose, a place where they could get a little home cooking, a drink, and a little rest”
Me and my older brother Sam came to live with Aunt Lila about four years ago when my mom died in a car wreck. Mom always said Aunt Lila was the most courageous woman she knew, but I had never met her. She walked into the funeral in her red dress and high heals and I thought she was beautiful, clicking her way up the aisle in the church. She sat right next to me, gave me a big hug, and smiled. Right then she made me feel like everything would be OK. At our house mom’s friends looked mad but Aunt Lila told them that my mom worked her whole life and deserved a little color for her sendoff. I didn’t see her cry but her eyes were all messed up. She knelt down where Sam and I were sitting and asked if we would come and live with her, “you’re all I have left of my sister,” she said. “I didn’t spend enough time with her and I don’t want that to happen to you.” Mom’s friends didn’t like it but we had nowhere else to go.
When we got to Pigwell Sam and I were nearly smothered by Lila’s girls. I thought it would be just the three of us, but I soon found out that Aunt Lila “collected” family. She couldn’t so much as leave a stray kitten behind. They were all runaways of one sort or another. Many had worked in what Aunt Lila called the “hospitality trade,” which I gather she didn’t like much. Some of the girls were running away from families that weren’t nice. Some of these would stay and some would go home after a while.
There was also Luther. Aunt Lila said, “He’s running away from himself but as long as he’s run here he might as well be of use.” Luther used to be in the army special forces, he would lift heavy things for my aunt, like truckers. When a trucker goes into my aunt’s bar he has to give up his driver’s license until he can get a green light on the machine. No drunks drive away from Pigwell, but it does get a little wild inside sometimes. Once a guy in the bar was grabbing at one of the girls, I saw Luther pick the guy right off the floor at arms length and carry him outside. The guy was kicking and punching but all he could reach was Luther’s arm. People who are new to Pigwell tend to underestimate him because of the dress, but he’ll tell them that a shift gives him more freedom of movement when he has to kick somebody’s ass. They generally quiet right down when a regular fills them in.
Anyway, we were one happy family, mostly. The girls were like aunts or sisters to us, Julie taught Sam to play the guitar, Emma showed me how to draw and always helped me pick out books, Big Amy would was always ready for any kind of sport, touch football, softball, anything.
Once Big Amy and I had just watched the WWF and we were wrestling out in the yard. Sam saw us and shouted, “I’ll wrestle you,”
Amy said, “Go ahead Eddie, show him what I taught you.”
Sam said, “Not him! You!”
Sam sounded funny but I don’t know why. Amy took a long look at him, took a deep breath and said, “OK.”
They circled each other for a few seconds and then they were together, pulling, pushing, rolling on the ground. Then Sam screamed and Amy whispered something in his ear. They separate and as Amy walked away Sam said, “It was an accident.”
“Which time,” Amy said with a smile, “anyway, so was your arm.”
I don’t know what that was all about but Aunt Lila was shouting at him pretty loud as she drove out of the driveway to get his arm X-rayed
Even though Lila didn’t often leave Pigwell, she had friends from all the towns around, and some that you wouldn’t expect. There was a Catholic Priest, Father Mark, and a Methodist Minister, Reverend Tim, who were great friends. Pigwell was halfway between their congregations and they would often meet there. They would draw a crowd when they talked about religion or politics, or just about anything. Aunt Lila never complained when the girls would pretty much stop working and join in the arguments but she would stay behind the bar and throw in her comments from the outside.
Not all preachers were welcome though. One old preacher showed up and said to Aunt Lila, “I want to set your soiled doves on the path to righteousness.” I could see he was in trouble right off, even though my Aunt didn’t say anything I could see the muscle in her jaw were all wadded up holding in her words. She looked like some of the truckers who chew tobacco, only on both sides. He said, “Miss Lila, your soiled doves need to repent of the stain of their profession, once defiled they must be washed clean.” Now I didn’t know what the heck he was talking about but Aunt Lila obviously did. Her jaw muscles must have given out in their effort to keep the words in cause she let loose, “preacher, they may be doves but there isn’t a one of ’em I’d consider soiled, besides, they’re all here because they left the trade behind.” It was here she grabbed the dried up little preacher by the back of the collar and started dragging him backward toward the door, his heels dragging. “If you want to wash away some stains, go find the gentlemen who were bent on doing the soiling you were talking about.” By now Luther had the door open, I could see the preacher get all googly eyed when he saw him, and Aunt Lila pitched him out. He stood outside and shouted for a while but he left and we never saw him again. A few days later Father Mark and Reverend Tim came, without a word they both took Aunt Lila by the hand and led here over to the corner booth. The three of them talked quietly and everyone left them alone. I could see my aunt’s angry tears and I hoped she wasn’t going to throw these two out too, but after a while they all hugged and Father Mark and Reverend Tim Left.
That’s not the only time I ever saw my aunt cry though. The worst was Marty.
Sheriff Logan was the sheriff of one of the neighboring towns. Aunt Lila knew this sheriff because his friends had arranged for him and his wife, who were having troubles, to come to Pigwell for a week. Aunt Lila said, “A small town sheriff is always on duty, he needs some time to be a husband and not a sheriff.” So they stayed a week and got to know each other again. By the end of the week they were, like everyone else that Lila liked, one of the family.
One night Sheriff Logan showed up late, he had a girl in the back seat. She was bruised and battered, like she had been in a fight, bleeding in the back seat of the squad car.
“My god Bill, what have you brought me?” Aunt Lila said going to the girl as the sheriff lifted her from the back seat.
“Her name is Marty, her father did this but I can’t do a thing,” said the sheriff. “Her mom’s good people but her dad important and they won’t let me touch him. As of tonight she is officially a runaway.”
Sam held the door for them. I could see the tears in the sheriff’s eyes as he carried her into one of the empty bedrooms.
“She’s only fourteen Lila, Sam’s age, my Mary’s age. I can see Mary every time I look at here.” The sheriff said as he put her down. “I’ve gotta go, I’ll call,” he said, and he nearly ran for the door.
The girls cleaned her up, and fed her. Sam and I read to her and talked to here but it was days before she said anything.
Weeks passed, Marty healed both inside and out. She would work with us, and after a while she would laugh with us too. She was good company, all the girls said so. Soon, her and Sam seemed inseparable, and I noticed Sam wasn’t as mean to me as he usually was. Things seemed to be going well for her but then she started to really miss her mom. It had been months since she has seen her mom and she wanted to call. I thought this was good, but the Sam said, “You’re an idiot Eddie, who do you think did that stuff to her?”
“Her mom? I thought it was her dad.”
“Ya dummy, her dad. But if she calls here mom, her dad will come too,” said Sam.
So Sam tried to convince her to stay hidden, but day by day she wanted to call more till Aunt Lila finally had let her. Together her and Marty made up a story for where she had been for the last eight months. No one would believe but would keep Sheriff Logan and Pigwell out of trouble. Then they made the call.
The next day Marty’s mom and dad showed up. Her dad looked really glad to see her. Her mom, not so much, she never even took off her sunglasses the whole time she was here. Sam was bad tempered all morning and he wasn’t even there to see her off but she gave me a big hug. I cried a little but not that anyone saw.
They drove off and we tried to get things back to normal, but they weren’t. Everyone missed Marty. It was like everyone was waiting for something to happen, but I couldn’t figure out what. Sam wouldn’t even talk to me, he was just as mean as before, but he didn’t say anything.
It was only a week or so when Sheriff Logan brought the news. Marty had fallen and been badly injured, she died on the way to the hospital. We all knew what had happened. Sam and Aunt Lila said they felt a little better after they threw every glass in the bar against the wall but not really. Sheriff Logan had said the funeral was for family only, but Aunt Lila told us we were all going. “We’re more her family than that cowardly little piss ant of a father,” she said.
Luther led us in, the only time I’ve ever seen him in a suit too. If Marty’s father at the door to the church intended to stop us I guess Luther convinced him otherwise. We all sat down. Marty’s mom and dad sat in the front row across the aisle. Her mom still had on sunglasses. Well the service was about to start and Marty’s mom took off her sunglasses and stood up. Her husband held her arm but she shook it off and came over and sat down with Aunt Lila. After the service her and Aunt Lila talked a long time. I thought Marty’s mom would come home with us, Aunt Lila had that look in her eye, but in the end she left with Marty’s dad. and we went back to Pigwell. I can tell Aunt Lila is waiting for something though, she has a bedroom all made up and keeps looking up the driveway. So far it’s nothing but eighteen wheelers, but Aunt Lila is expecting company.