Envy

by: Mike Sutton

Coveting the assets of others, be it honor, wealth or recognition, sometimes strikes close to home, and the outcome can often be less than ideal…

Two bare-chested men wearing shit-brown overalls stand in a barn doorway. Flies swarm like storm clouds, piled up nice and tight on a mound of flesh that rests just inside.

“Lord have mercy,” Dale exclaims as he tugs at the brim of his Ford cap.

“Ain’t never seen nothing like it,” Paul offers, squirting a brown strand of tobacco juice out of the side of his mouth. “Shoot,” he says, the word sliding effortlessly from his lips, soft and smooth.

“Lucille’s done up and died,” Paul says, covering his mouth.

“Killt,” Dale counters, a fly cresting his brow. “Lucille’s been killt.”

The word hangs in the air like a twist in a blockbuster. Paul glances sideways at Dale, studies him for a moment, then returns his gaze to Lucille. Her black and gray flesh is covered in course white fur, piled high in lumps. Flies swarm over every inch of her body, sucking and spewing. They squeeze in and out of her every fold, nothing spared. The men feel violated.

“How’d you figure that, Dale?”

“Ain’t right. Lucille’s in as good a health as I,” Dale hocks up a wad of green and spits it off to the side, then wraps a navy blue handkerchief over his mouth and holds it there with his hairy, muscular hand.

He approaches Lucille, his muck boots sloshing the blood drenched straw clotting the floor. He takes a few steps, waves his hands at the globs of flies crawling over the pig’s swollen carcass, then kneels next to her.

“She was a winner,” Dale whispers like a funeral prayer, patting the pig’s swollen belly then rubbing it in tight circles. “My prize winner.”

“Why’d anybody wanna kill Lucille?” Paul asks.

“Won the Top Hog Prize at the Garland County Fair.”

“That ain’t nothin.”

Dale’s body shifts like lightning toward Paul, his eyeballs charged, electric.

“Ain’t nothin? Nothin! What’d you ever do worth winning?”

The two men stare at each other, vexed.

“You ever get yourself a prize?” Dale presses Paul with pit-bull like aggression.

Paul shakes his head from side to side, slow and steady.

“People are jealous. Want a bit of what I got.” Dale’s partially exposed chest swells, tufts of wiry brown hair glistening as sweat beads its way free in the warm air.

Paul fidgets at his hat. “The one thing I had.”

“Ain’t nothing missing off her, Dale.”

“What’s that mean?”

“If somebody killt her, they’d a cut some meat loose.”

Dale studies Paul for a moment, his wheels spinning.

“A haunch. A shoulder. Something,” Paul saws while swinging at the air. “Dammit Dale, the smell’s getting awful,” he says as he eases out the door.

“Hold it,” Dale swats at a clump clustered at Lucille’s throat, an orgy of nastiness. The flies refuse to yield, but Dale slaps at the mob. A long tear appears beneath the black specks, a deep gash forced through Lucille’s throat, ripping through flesh and bone and all the life that had pulsed beneath.

Dale exhales sharply through his handkerchief and spits a mangled fly from between his lips.

“Nah, they didn’t come here looking for supper.”

Silence hangs in the air for a moment.

“We ought to bury her,” Dale says, his finger tracing the rippled edges of flesh framing the cut, puckering pink laceration, the flies retreating from his track. “She deserves that much.”

Paul nods as he completes his easing out of the barn. Dale follows, closing the two large doors behind him as he does, barring them with a thick wooden beam his father cut from a live oak a lifetime ago.

The sun hangs low in the sky in blazing hues of tangerine orange as it dips behind the hills. There’s no breeze. No swaying trees slicing back and forth amid a picturesque countryside. Only the silhouette of two men in overalls trudging their way back to a trailer perched by a single pine tree. A ramshackle porch works its way from the front of the tin can abode, and a pair of rocking chairs frame the doorway while a pile of concrete bags lean against the vinyl skirting. A fat tomcat sits on the stairs leading to the porch with its orange tail twitching, waiting.

Dale leans back in a rocking chair, its weathered green paint chipped away in chunks. He slurps at the rim of a Bud Light can, his fingers squeezed tightly around the blue and silver cylinder. He’s wearing an oversized blue ribbon pinned through an overall strap, the kind with a big circle badge and three long banners trailing down at angles. Gold fringe wraps around the button, a shiny “#1” sitting at the center of its universe.

Paul eyeballs the ribbon and takes a nip off his beer.

The two sit, rocking, listening to the Katydids screaming. Dale considers the sound echoing about him, a million little critters screaming for sex, not a damn ounce of shame in any of them. The thought of bug orgies unfolding everywhere around him, the very image of their exoskeletons scraping and thrusting, makes him squirm.

“Feels like yesterday,” Dale starts, his mind buzzing with all the screwing. “Just yesterday, we was down at the county fair. Winning that prize.” His finger traces the badge.

Paul takes another swig, offering only his presence.

“You know what that feels like?”

Paul hesitates, shakes his head, then picks at his nose to break Dale’s stare.

“Feels like yesterday…”

“Ain’t the Olympics,” Paul looks to the ground. “Ain’t that big a deal.”

“Ain’t that big a deal?”

Paul flicks his fingers toward the yard, catapulting a wad he’d dug up.

“You listening to yourself? You jealous?”

Dale taps at the badge, hard pops vibrate in the air. Paul looks off into the distance, staring at the night lamp hanging lonely.

“Covetousness.”

“What?”

Covetousness. Folks see what I got. Figure they’ll take another man’s belongings,” Dale runs his lips along the rim of the can. “That’s Scripture, one of the Commandments even.”

“Nobody took nothing.”

“Even worse,” Dale starts, “they so ate up with it, they’d rather Lucille be dead.”

Dale kicks at the floor sending his rocker wheeling backwards almost to the brink of tipping. He sails back forward, eyes closed, feeling the warm breeze drifting over the hills.

“You remember that toy tractor?” Dale asks, gliding backwards again.

“Huh?”

“The green one? The one you broke when we was kids?”

“Didn’t break nothing.”

“Remember how I beat the ever loving donkey shit out of you?”

“Yeah,” Paul locks eyes with Dale, “I remember.”

Dale guffaws, his wail thick and raspy.

“Covetousness,” Dale mutters, pointing the top of his bottle at Paul. “You was jealous. Took it without asking, broke it, learned your lesson.”

Paul shakes his head, eyes tracing the warped woodgrain of the front porch.

“Learned your lesson…”

Dale studies Paul, nodding as wheels turn circles inside his skull. Paul doesn’t notice Dale’s eyes searching him as he tips his beer back and sucks it dry. The two walk down the hill, long shadows cast from a night lamp perched at the top of the power pole. It hums loud, casting its artificial glow across a small patch of the driveway.

Dale lifts the beam free of the barn door and sets it to the side. The barn is quiet, the flies mostly long gone or lingering in the ramparts above. A few remain, stuck to Lucille, sucking and probing. Dale disappears in the darkness, his arms outstretched, feeling. He stumbles, knocks over something hard and metallic, and emerges with a rusted shovel in each hand. He props them against the wall and pulls a rope from off of an empty barrel, ties a loop, and fits it around Lucille’s lower body. She’s stiff and cold. In this moment, Lucille resembles nothing of the prize pig that won Dale his fleeting moments of glory.

Paul stands and watches as Dale pats Lucille softly and reaches down to close an eyelid. When the lid refuses to budge, Dale lowers his head as if in prayer.

The two start dragging her massive body.

They yank and tug and push, grunting and groaning as they gain little ground. Dale pauses long enough to pack a fresh wad of snuff into his lower lip, hoping the rush of nicotine will push him, and then sets about tugging again. Lucille’s legs stick up and out in stiff angles, her body bouncing like a plastic unicorn toy. A mound of bloody hay clumps around her, drawing a dark trail of rot across the dirt floor, the earth drinking it up. Dale picks a spot overlooking a creek. Says she always liked the view. Paul wonders whether Lucille ever saw the creek, but doesn’t ask. There’s an edge in Dale’s eyes and Paul knows better.

Dale raises the spade high in the air, both hands wrapped tight around the wooden shaft, and brings it down. His wiry arms coil as the muscles writhe under his greased pale skin, plunging. The bitter anger of loss works its way through his pores and mingles with his sweat. It oozes free, collects itself into delicate beads, and slips away. Paul joins the shoveling, knowing the undertaking will take half the night. A big pig takes a big hole.

An hour passes and the pit widens. The men can feel it in their backs, in the calluses rubbing loose on their palms. They climb out of the hole and stand on the rim, surveying their work.

“We ought to butcher her,” Paul says.

The shovel slides through Dale’s fingers, clanging to the hard earth with a thrum.

“What’d you just say?” His eyes synch together like sweat has breached the lashes.

Paul studies Dale a moment, taking in the overalls, the brown tuft between his nipples, and the rebel flag tattoo on his left arm.

“I didn’t mean nothing by it,” Paul’s eyes fall to the ground. “Just seems like a waste.”

“A waste?”

“Said it yourself,” Paul raises his hands, palms up like an offering, “she’s a prize winner.”

Dale arches both hands on his hips and starts nodding like he’s solved it all.

“You hungry for what I got?”

“Hungry?”

“Jealous? Like my damn tractor?” Dale stabs a finger in the middle of Paul’s chest.

“Green with damn envy?” Paul can feel the wintergreen of the chewing tobacco smattering his face.

“What you talkin’ bout?”

You done it,” Dale steps back and walks a tight circle, wheels turning beyond control.

“You killt Lucille!”

“I ain’t done nothing!”

BULL-SHIT!” There’s a wildfire blazing in Dale’s eyes, the embers consumed in the inferno.

Dale grabs one strap of his overalls, the one with the ribbon pinned to it, and points at the badge. The “#1” flashes in the night lamp’s glow.

“You want this?”

Paul stares a moment, then lets his eyes sink back to the dirt.

“You wanna know how it feels?”

Dale stomps around the loose dirt, his boots thudding. Fine brown powder cascades ever the edge and drifts into the blackened hole. He squats down for a moment and takes hold of the shovel he’d dropped, stands and then leans on it.

“You ain’t never been worth a damn, Paul.” Dale’s jaw clamps tight, quivering.

“Didn’t do it.”

“Standing there acting like you got the balls to lie to me. Lie to me!”

Dale lets out a bark, pivots to the side, and squeezes hard at the shovel as he swings. The rusted wedge cuts through the darkness and sails past Paul’s face, carving a pocket in the air mere inches from flesh and bone. Paul stumbles backwards, his arms stretching wide by pure instinct. He feels his footing give and the earth vanish from beneath him as he drifts toward oblivion. He half expects flashes, memories, but there’s only pain as his body collides with something hard. The air escapes him in a sudden explosion. A mushroom cloud rises overhead.

Paul’s eyes flicker between darkness and light for a moment.

Dale stands on the edge of the pit overhead, a thin silhouette framed in the flickering night lamp, sweat glistening off his arms. He descends into the pit and hunkers over Paul, who lies flat on his back, arms spread wide. Dale plants a knee in the center of Paul’s chest and presses down. Paul struggles under the pressure, his eyes still flickering. Then he feels it. Dale stuffs a huge hand over Paul’s mouth, cupped to the brim with loose dirt. The other hand cinches down tight around Paul’s nose. The clumpy powder slips between Paul’s lips and fills his dry mouth. He chokes. Gags. Pebbles scraping against teeth, granules working their way into the crevices of his throat. He can taste the earth. The rot.

“See what you made me go and do?” Dale holds Paul to the ground, righteous purpose seething, then eases himself away.

Paul hacks, spitting dirt in lumps, swallowing some, gasping for air.

“You see!” Dale slaps Paul’s cheek twice, almost endearing, and claws his way back to the surface.

“Ain’t done…” Paul coughs, spewing dirt, “nothing to cross you!”

Something slaps Paul in the face and bounces onto his chest. He can make out blue ribbons, a badge, and a shiny “#1” catching the night light.

“You want it so damn bad,” Dale turns. “Have it.”

Heavy boot thumps trail away.

Paul struggles, fights his way up to one elbow. Every inch of him feels broken. The ribbon is smeared with dirt, dark like dried blood. He crests the rim of the grave as Dale makes his way up the hill, his arms thrashing in the night air, his size fourteen wide boots thumping up the porch steps, and then silence after he vanishes into the trailer. Lucille lingers nearby, one eye popped open. Lifeless, but watching. Paul waits a bit, listens to the life that surrounds him, then pushes Lucille into the pit. She tumbles down the slope, but doesn’t complain.

Paul stands on the rim looking down at the fat pig, her skin stretched tight like a blood drunk tick. He palms the badge, runs his finger along the gold-fringed ribbon, swings an arm to toss it in and bury it with Lucille, but then he hesitates.

The ribbon’s pin pierces an overall strap as the night lamp’s glow catches the “#1” scrawled in gold. Paul breathes in deep of the night air.

 

Mike Sutton calls the rolling hills of Northwest Arkansas home, where he practices law and writes in his free time. Prior to entering the legal profession, Mike served in the U.S. Air Force as a military police officer and attended Ouachita Baptist University, where he studied History and English Literature. You can find Mike writing in one of Fayetteville’s local coffee shops or on the water, fishing pole in hand. Learn more about Mike here.

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