Small People

Robert Long Foreman


Weird Pig went to Big Brothers Big Sisters. They had an office in town, some twenty miles from the farm.

Gimme a Big One, he said.


A Big Brother. No, actually. Big Sister. One of those. I won't ask you again. You won't like me when I'm angry.

We can't assign you a Big Sister, said the volunteer at the front desk. We keep the genders separate.

What's wrong? said Weird Pig. Afraid I'll break her in half?

The local branch manager emerged from a nearby office with a smile on his face.

He held out his hand. Gary's the name, he said. I'm so glad you came in. I hear that you want to be a Big.

A what? said Weird Pig through a mouthful of apple.

A Big. Short for Big Brother.

No, said Weird Pig. I want one of those. I don't want to be one. And it's rude to eavesdrop.

Gary smiled through Weird Pig's casual reprimand. I'm so glad you came in, he said again. I'll get you set up with a Little. That means Little Brother. Let's see. Your Little is a boy named Sven. He's from Finland. Or Sweden or whatever. He just arrived in-country last month, and what happened next will shock you.

Maybe it won't.

His father fell into a vat of formaldehyde and drowned. They'd only been here two weeks. He worked in a warehouse where they stored formaldehyde and video games.

And he fell in.

That's right.

But that wasn't right. Not even close. And Weird Pig knew it.

Weird Pig had hired a guy to do him a special favor. The guy pointed out that it didn't make sense to call it a favor—which was something you didn't pay someone to do. Pretty much by definition, he said.

Okay, said Weird Pig. Just punch the guy in the face. His name is Sven Swenson, Sr.

Why am I doing this?

I don't like Swedes, shrugged Weird Pig. I hate them. I want them all to get hit, and hard.

It didn't matter to Weird Pig that Sven Swenson was Finnish, not Swedish. Sounds like he's from Sweden to me, he would have said, had he been presented with this information. Sounds like it to me.

Weird Pig hadn't realized until he heard it from Gary that the man he had hired would punch the Swede while he stood beside a vat of formaldehyde, knocking him over the side and into the giant vat. Hoo boy, said Weird Pig, feeling that because of this new information he owed something to the young Sven Swenson, Jr. Something other than a crack on the jaw, despite his relative Swedishness, his hailing from a country that's kind of like Sweden.

You'll want to go, said Gary, to the edge of town, to the elementary school there. It is there you will find young Sven. He is crying. His knees are clenched, his face buried in them. A man watches him. A man watches always. Sven does not know.

What are you talking about, said Weird Pig, again with a mouthful of apple.

Sven is in grave danger. In his presence is the man who will take his life.

Right now? Weird Pig took a loud apple bite.

That's right. If you are attuned, you can feel it in the atmosphere, in the leaves on all the trees as they turn away, for they know well what horrors they will soon be made to witness.

Weird Pig finished the best parts of the apple, and then found himself driving the official Big Brothers Big Sisters van with the license plate that read REAL BIG. He zoomed right along, but kept within the speed limit of 55 mph for fear of being stopped by police for driving a car while a pig.

He pulled into the school's empty parking lot. There was no one around. The abandoned school was near the woods, the woods seeming eager to spill into the sodden ground and overtake this vestige of the once-civilized world. The windows of the school were boarded. No classes had been held there for many years. Sven sat on the steps, as promised, knees together, head on knees.

Sven! said Weird Pig jovially, placing a beer on the step in front of Sven.

He hadn't found a Swedish beer, when he'd stopped at the liquor store on the way over. He had asked all three of the clerks if they knew a good one, but each one had shaken his head and said no.

He'd settled for St. Pauli Girl, reasoning that while the girl on the bottle was not a citizen of Sweden, she likely had some Swedish blood in her. Because you know how it is with European blondes, Weird Pig had said to the woman at the register, herself a blonde.

She knew. She had firsthand knowledge. Weird Pig had read about it online.

School's not in session, I guess, said Weird Pig, cracking open a St. Pauli Girl. I tell ya. The beer doesn't have to be good if there's a good lady on the bottle.

He looked at the St. Pauli Girl and thought about her between drinks, wondered what kind of things she liked and what were her pet peeves.

Whenever he took a drink, he thought of nothing. Thinking of nothing was part of what he liked about taking drinks.

It's a shame about your Swedish father, he said. Say what you will about Swedes and fathers—and you got a double dose, there—no one deserves that. Drowned in formaldehyde! You ever smell that shit? My god.

Weird Pig took a long look at Sven. You're not drinking your beer, he said. He leaned across Sven and took the beer, his eye not leaving Sven, who didn't react. He sat perfectly still, Sven did, his head still planted facedown on his knees.

Weird Pig drank half of Sven's beer in one gulp. It's not, he said, like the Swedes haven't asked for it.

Look at the history of Sweden. They didn't cause the Holocaust. But Sweden being there didn't stop it, anymore than New Orleans being there stopped it.

Sometimes I think about the Big Easy, and how it kept on going at the same time the Holocaust was going on. I wonder how that's possible, sometimes.

And what about bread? There's Wonder Bread, but there's also bread that comes fresh from the artisanal oven. How are they both in the same world at the same time?

I am burning through these bitches.

You know what? I'll set up one of the empties on this ledge so I can look at St. Pauli Girl while I'm talking to you.

You're a quiet kid, I'll give you that.

I guess I lucked out when I got stuck with you. I thought I'd get some kid who needs guidance because his dad's not around enough. Yours is dead, and you haven't asked for shit.

Weird Pig projectile vomited onto the steps of the abandoned school. A whole undigested mouse spilled out, along with a lot of beer.

That happens, he said, wiping his mouth. It happens. You know that about me, now.

It's a funny thing, though. I'm sure this isn't news to you, but even after you've thrown up beer you can still be drunk from it. It doesn't have to stay in your guts to have an effect.

Weird Pig drank another beer in a few big gulps, and then opened another one.

Life is so funny, he said. If you'd told me ten years ago that right now I'd be sitting outside a creepy school giving guidance to a son of Sweden, I would have said, no way. You have got the wrong pig. But here I am. And I'm enjoying myself. You're enjoying this, right? Okay. I will take your silence to mean consent. Famous last words, right? You know?

I guess you wouldn't know.

Listen. Can I tell you something a lot of people don't know about Lyndon Johnson?

It was then that Weird Pig leaned with his elbow against Sven, whose corpse slumped sideways, revealing to Weird Pig at last the blood that ran down the insides of his legs from his face that had been sheared off at the chin, taking all of the skin from his face and shaving off the bone, leaving him to choke on the blood with his teeth shredded, brains taken partway off where they had spilled onto his shoes as he sat for fifteen minutes before Weird Pig finally arrived, having made his stop at the liquor store, then at the bait shop for some bait, and then at the head shop for a Buddha statuette he'd meant to impress Sven with by putting it on the dashboard of the van he'd taken without Gary's permission.

Hoo boy, said Weird Pig. This isn't good.

Sven was sprawled across the steps, his face gone with a third of his head, having had his face scalped off, more or less, a mess of gore and blood and broken bone.

Am I in trouble now, said Weird Pig.

He looked around and wondered what at the scene must have his fingerprints on it. The Girls, surely. He smashed them one by one on the steps, spraying Sven's mutilated body with broken glass and the dregs of five St. Pauli Girls.

He kept one. He put it in his pocket, which made no sense to the man who was watching, who'd murdered Sven and taken his time about it.

I gotta go, said Weird Pig. He wasn't talking to Sven anymore, but to the St. Pauli Girl. He took her to the car and stuck her to the dashboard with silly putty.

He could hardly take his eyes off her, as he drove and she smiled on him as he fled the scene. Have another one of me, she seemed to say to Weird Pig. Have one more. Have another when you're done with that one. Don't mind me. Enjoy yourself, Weird Pig. Just enjoy yourself. That's right.