“Don’t matter. I don’t matter.”
“Right, matter. Well, but at least you can get to the part where you don’t matter. Things about you, and things about Colin, and things about Hassan and Katrina, are either true or they aren’t true. Katrina is bubbly. Hassan is hilarious. But I’m not like that. I’m what I need to be at any moment to stay above the ground but below the radar. The only sentence that begins with ‘I’ that’s true of me is I’m full of shit.”
“. . .”
“. . .”
“. . .”
“. . .”
“Well, I like you. And you aren’t chameleoning in front of me. I just figured that out. Like, you bite your thumb in front of me, which is a private habit, but you do it in front of me, because I don’t count as public. I’m at your secret hiding place. You’re okay with me seeing inside you a little.”
“A little, maybe.”
“Because I pose no threat. I’m a dork.”
“No, you’re not. That’s—”
“No, I am. And that’s why.”
“Maybe. I never thought about it.”
“I don’t mean to sound judgmental about it, it’s just interesting. I’m not threatened by you either, because I never liked popular people before. But you’re not really like them. It’s more like you found a way to hijack their cool. That’s awe—”
“Well, you started it.”
“Right, but I started it just so that I could say ‘we shouldn’t’ really dramatically.”
“We should leave it at our foreheads touching and our noses touching and your hand on my leg and we shouldn’t, you know.”
“Your breath smells like booze.”
“Your breath smells like you just made out with a dragon.”
“Hey, that’s my joke.”
“Sorry. Had to defuse tension.”
“. . .”
“. . .”
“What are you doing?”
“Biting my goddamned thumb. My private habit.”
They finally left the cave well after dark, but the moonlight was so bright, Colin found himself blinking it away. It was an awkward and largely quiet hike down the hill to the car. From there, they drove back to the Pink Mansion. They had just pulled into the driveway when Lindsey said, “I mean of course I like you and you’re great, but let’s just—it’s just not to be,” and he nodded, because he couldn’t have a girlfriend without a finished Theorem. And anyway, she was a Lindsey.
They opened the door quietly, hoping not to disturb Hollis’s work/QVC watching. The moment Colin closed the door, the phone rang.
“Hello,” he heard Hollis say from inside the kitchen. Lindsey grabbed Colin then and pulled him over against the wall, where they could listen without being seen.
“Well, leave it out for the garbage men, then,” Hollis said. “What a bunch of bullshit. . . . They can’t charge you to pick up trash; that’s why we pay taxes. . . . Well, I’m sorry, Roy, but that’s bullshit. . . . No, we can’t afford it, believe me. . . . No. Absolutely not. . . . Well, I don’t know, Roy. . . . No, I understand the problem. . . . Hold on, I’m thinking. Christ, my daughter’s gonna be home any second. . . . What about that field back there? We own that field, right? . . . Yeah, exactly. . . . All you need is a goddamned bulldozer and a forklift. . . . Well, I don’t like it either, but unless you’ve got another idea. . . . Fine. I’ll see you on Thursday.” The phone clanked against the receiver.
“Hollis,” Lindsey whispered, “owes a shitload of money to the swear jar.” Then she led Colin through the hall and into the game room. “Out the window,” she whispered. Colin raised the slim window facing the front yard as quietly as he could, and then motioned to the screen. He would have said something about the screen, but he knew he couldn’t whisper.
“Christ, it’s like you never snuck out of a house before,” Lindsey whispered. She pressed at the corners of the screen and then lifted it up. She squirmed out headfirst, her skinny legs kicking slightly as she did a somersault onto the front lawn. Colin followed, feet first, trying a kind of limbo strategy that looked ridiculous.
Having successfully sneaked out of the house, Lindsey and Colin brushed themselves off, ambled to the front door, and opened it.
“Hollis,” Lindsey called, “we’re home!” Hollis was seated on the couch, a pile of papers in her lap. She turned to them and smiled.
“Hey,” Hollis said, all trace of anger gone from her voice. “D’y’all have fun?”
Lindsey looked at Colin, and not at Hollis. “I’ve rarely had so much fun in my life,” she said.
“I bet,” said Hollis, who didn’t seem to be listening.
“It was the warehouse.” Colin spoke softly, conspiratorially, as they climbed the stairs. “She goes to the warehouse on Thursdays.”
Lindsey smirked. “Yeah, I know. You’ve lived here three weeks; I’ve lived here seventeen years. I don’t know what’s going on, but between that and selling land and always being in a furious phone conversation whenever we show up at the house, I’m starting to think a road trip might be in order,” said Lindsey.
“They can solve a surprising number of problems, road trips,” Colin acknowledged.
“Road trip? Did somebody say road trip?” Hassan stood at the top of the staircase. “Because I’m in. So is Katrina. She’s a college student, you know. I’m dating a college girl.”
“She’s getting her clinical nursing assistant license at Danville Community,” Lindsey said dismissively.
“That’s college; that’s all I’m saying! And to think, Singleton, you thought I’d never get a college girl unless I went to college.”
“How was the date?” Colin asked.
“Sorry, dude. Can’t talk about it. My lips are too numb from all the kissing. That girl kisses like she wants to suck out your soul.”
Colin sneaked into Hassan’s room immediately after Lindsey went downstairs to bed, and they discussed Hassan’s situation (second base over the shirt), and then Colin told him about Lindsey, minus the secret hideout, because it seemed private.
“I mean,” Colin said, “it was dark and our whole faces were touching except our lips. She just brought her head against mine all of a sudden.”
“Well, do you like her?”
“Um, I don’t know. At that moment I kinda did.”
“Dude, think about it. If you could make your Theorem work, you could predict how it would go.” Colin smiled at the thought. “Now more than ever, you have to finish.”
The next few days were slightly awkward with Lindsey. She and Colin remained friendly, but it was all so superficial, and Colin felt like they ought to be talking about the big issues of mattering and love and capital-t Truth and Alpo, but they only talked about the mundane business of taking oral histories. The sly jokes were gone; Hassan complained repeatedly that “all of a sudden, I’ve got to pull all the funny-weight in this family.” But slowly, things returned to status quo: Lindsey had a boyfriend, and Colin had a broken heart and a Theorem to finish. Also, Hassan had a girlfriend and they were all preparing for a pig hunt—so, then again, things weren’t entirely normal.
The day before his inaugural Feral Hog Hunt, Colin Singleton prepared the only way Colin Singleton would: by reading. He scanned through ten volumes of Foxfire books for information about the habits and habitat of the feral hog. Then he Googled “feral pig,” from which he learned that wild pigs were so widely disliked that the state of Tennessee pretty much allowed you to shoot one whenever you came across it. The feral pig is considered a “pest animal,” and as such is not subject to protections afforded, say, a deer, or a person.
But it was in Hollis’s copy of a book called Our Southern Highlands that Colin found the most descriptive passage regarding the wild hog: “Anybody can see that when he67 is not rooting or sleeping, he is studying devilment. He shows remarkable understanding of human speech, especially profane speech, and even an uncanny gift of reading men’s thoughts, whenever those thoughts are directed against the peace and dignity of pigship.” This, clearly, was not an enemy to take lightly.
Not that Colin intended to take any action against the peace and dignity of pigship. In the extremely unlikely event that he even came across a hog, he figured, he’d allow it to study devilment in peace. Which was how he justified not mentioning the hog hunt to his parents during their nightly phone conversation. He wasn’t really going on a hunt anyway. He was going for a stroll through the woods. With a gun.
He awoke to his alarm the morning of the hunt at four-thirty. It was the first time since arriving in Gutshot that he’d beaten the rooster to waking. Immediately, he opened his bedroom window, pressed his face up against the screen, and shouted, “COCK-A-DOODLE DOO! HOW DO YOU LIKE IT FROM THE OTHER END, YOU LITTLE FUGGER?”
He brushed his teeth and then got in the shower. He kept the water coldish so as to wake up. Hassan came in to brush his teeth and shouted over the running water, “Kafir, I can say it with confidence: Today is a day that no pigs will die. I’m not even allowed to eat the motherfuggers;68 I’m sure not going to kill one.”
“Amen,” Colin answered.
They were in the Hearse, with Lindsey and Princess in the backseat, by five.
“Why the dog?” asked Hassan.
“Chase and Fulton like to use her when they’re hunting. She doesn’t do a lick of good—poor Princess cares more about her curls than tracking pigs—but they enjoy it.”
They drove a couple of miles past the store and then turned off onto a gravel road that wound up a small hill through thick foliage. “Hollis hasn’t sold this land,” she complained, “because everybody likes it.”
The road dead-ended into a long, narrow, one-story wooden house. Two pickup trucks and JATT’s Blazer were already parked by the lodge. TOC and JATT, whose jeans were again too tight, sat on the tailgate of one pickup, their legs dangling. Across from them, a middle-aged man was seated in what appeared to be a plastic chair stolen from a third-grade classroom, examining the muzzle of his shotgun. They all wore camouflage pants, longsleeved camouflage shirts, and bright orange vests.
As the man turned to speak to them, Colin recognized him as Town-send Lyford, one of the people they’d interviewed at the factory. “How are y’all?” he asked as they got out. He shook hands with Colin and Hassan, then hugged Lindsey. “Pretty day for hunting hogs,” said Mr. Lyford.
“It’s a little early,” Colin said, but by then light was just reaching the hillside. The sky was clear, and it did promise to be pretty—if hot.
Katrina peeked her head out from the lodge’s front door and said, “Breakfast is on! Oh, hey cutie.” Hassan winked at her.
“You’re a smooth cat.” Colin grinned.
Once Colin and Hassan were inside the lodge, SOCT handed them each camouflage outfits complete with ridiculous bright orange vests. “Y’all change in the bathroom,” he said.
And by “bathroom,” SOCT meant “outhouse.” On the upside, the stench of the lodge’s outhouse masked the smell of the camouflage clothes, which reminded Colin of all the worst parts of the Kalman School’s gym. Still, he kicked off his shorts and slipped into the pants, the shirt, and the crossing-guard-orange vest. Before leaving the outhouse, Colin emptied out his pockets. Fortunately, the camo pants had huge cargo pockets—plenty of room for his wallet, his car keys, and the minirecorder, which he’d taken to carrying everywhere.
Once Hassan had changed, too, everyone settled down on one of the homemade benches and Mr. Lyford stood up. He spoke with a thick accent, and with authority. Mr. Lyford really seemed to enjoy placing emphasis on his words.
“The feral pig is an extremely dangerous creature. It is called the poor man’s grizzly bear, and not for nothing. Now I hunt without dogs, choosing instead to stalk my prey as the Indians did. But Chase and Fulton—they’re dog hunters, and that’s a’ight, too. Either way, though, we must remember this is a dangerous sport.” Right, Colin thought. We have guns and the pigs have snouts. Dangerous, indeed. “These pigs are pests—even the government says so—and they need to be eradicated. Now usually I would say you’re gonna have trouble rootin’ out a feral pig in the daytime, but it’s been a while since we hunted around here, so I think we have an excellent chance. Now I’m going to go out with Colin and Hassan,” which he pronounced HASS-in, “and we’re going to go down into the flat land and see if we can’t catch a trail. Y’all can split up as you wish. But be safe out there, and do not take the dangers of the feral pig lightly.”
“Can we shoot ’em in the nuts?” asked JATT.
“No, you can not. A feral boar will charge if shot in the testes,” answered Mr. Lyford.
“Jesus, Dad, he’s kidding. We know how to hunt,” said TOC. Before that, Colin didn’t realize TOC and Mr. Lyford were related.
“Well, boy, I reckon I’m nervous sending you out alone with a bunch of yahoos.”
Then he went over some boring stuff about guns, like which slugs to use in your shotgun and to always keep both barrels loaded. It turned out that Lindsey and TOC were going out together to a tree stand near a baited patch, whatever the hell that meant, and JATT and SOCT were going out in another direction with the adorably non-threatening labradoodle. Katrina would stay in camp, as she refused to hunt on moral grounds. She was, she told Colin as they sat at the cafeteria, a vegetarian. “I think it’s right criminal,” Katrina said of hog hunting. “Although those pigs are sort of horrible. But there wouldn’t even be any wild hogs except we pen up so many pigs to eat.”