I taught writing and literature at University of Nebraska-Kearney from 1992-2011, and while there sponsored Sigma Tau Delta and the Carillon Student Publication, and organized many student readings. My fiction, poetry, and scholarship (as A. B. Emrys) have appeared in over 50 journals, including Prairie Schooner, Great Plains Quarterly, Clues: a Journal of Detection, and most recently The New Southern Fugitives. My study of two mystery writers, Wilkie Collins, Vera Caspary and the Evolution of the Casebook Novel, was an Agatha and Macavity finalist, and material from it is being reprinted in Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. The novel that grew from my UNK horror literature class, Temporary Vampire, is on Amazon as an eBook. I live now in central Florida.
Most writers – and many readers – groove a particular channel of popular fiction, but some of us are magpies. For me, what holds all pop lit I have consumed, taught, critiqued, and written, is a certain weirdness that twists across every aspect of fiction.
HIS DOCTOR stuck to tech words like xenodonor, which made it sound as thought the heart came from UFOs and the government wanted to cover it up. The patient had to ask three times before he got a reasonably straight answer as to just where this set of valves had been getting its mail previously.
HIS DAUGHTER burst out laughing. I’m sorry, she said, smothering her snorts, but it sounds like a Middle-Eastern curse in a bad movie. She threw up her hands – Heart of a peeg – I speet! Then she kissed his cheek and said, Pops, don’t be picky. Take heart anywhere you can get it, and she walked out of his room throwing up her hands dramatically.
HIS YOUNGER SON confided over the phone that he had money invested in companies that developed this sort of technology. This very one? No, well, he couldn’t say for sure, but similar things, biotechnology, transgenic research. It’s definitely a coming market, his son said, unaware of the scrubbed porker images this by now conjured up. Don’t laugh, his son said, it’s true. I swear it is.
HIS OLDER SON said, It has to be your decision, Pop, but personally, I’d do it. His son said, It reminds me of those old hunting legends, how the hunter would eat the bear’s liver. Or whatever. So he’d get courage and strength, right? I bet the guy would have worn it if he could — even better, huh?
HIS WIFE OF FORTY-SEVEN YEARS said, It won’t make a bit of difference. Not to me. And we’ll be cutting out fats anyway. What are you talking about, he asked, and she said, Well, bacon. He laughed till it hurt then, and she held his hand and laughed helplessly too, not really getting the joke because she was quite serious about not turning him into a pig-hearted cannibal.
HIS DOCTOR came back and cautioned him that there were risks involved, and not just rejection of the donated organ. “There can be emotional rejection too,” he said,” because of cultural reactions to transgenic donations.” “You mean the pig,” the patient said. “Well, yes,” the doctor said. “Working a farm, I suppose you know about pigs.” “I can smell them yet,” the patient said.
HIS POKER BUDDIES heard him out in silence, as though pondering a tricky hand. Well, go on, the patient said. Let me have it. Saved by the pig. Oinck, oinck. Tell me not to hog the cards. Let’s get it over with now, because I don’t want to be hearing it later. They all snickered a bit, and one said Hog the cards, that’s a good one. His best friend lingered after the others had left and said, You know you’re bound to get teased, but nobody will mean anything by it.
THE PATIENT, after the hospital had quieted down and the lights were lowered and the TV off, made his decision. He thought of names like Swineheart, Piggot, and wondered, just a little bit seriously, if he ought to take one of those. He fell asleep thinking of it, and also of his grandfather’s old farm.
Pig stench followed him into a dream. First he was inside the house and could hear Granddad and Daddy scuffing their boots on the porch, just come back from the barn. He knew, the way you know in dreams, that out in the barn they raised pigs whose hearts and livers and kidneys were just a bit human, enough to fool a human body into keeping them. I always thought that pig was half-people, Granddad said, and Daddy laughed in agreement. And then he himself was in the barn, his small body pressed against the cool steel rails of the super-pig pen. In the dark the big chunk of animal grunted in a code he understood. Flesh of your flesh, it said, pounding dully, you can’t reject us – can’t deny us now.
Written by Terry Lee Schifferns, poet, and Kate Benzel
* Photo - a selfie of A. B. Emrys. This is Barbara's aura
* "Pigheart," Milkwood Review, December 2002
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