Mrs. Tobin stood, with her arms akimbo, staring down the dusty road as if it were an oil painting that she was considering purchasing, at a garage sale. Her eyes were a dull grey with flecks of green. Her chiseled face, slightly gray as well, was deceptive as to the appearance of the rest of her ample form. Her cotton dress pressed against her legs in an attempt to billow in the breeze, yet there was not enough loose fabric for it to do so. She stood as she was, entranced, as a group of three figures came up the road toward her. Her brother’s wife and his two children, whom she had never met, were coming to visit.
As they advanced it became apparent that they were thin, bony, and dirty people.
‘What did he send these straw men to feed off me for,’ she wondered. ‘I hope the pigs got fed today,’ she could hear their faint, incessant squealing ‘they eat too much anyway.’
She glared at the sticks as they approached.
“Where’s your car?” She hollered, thrusting her chin out in front of her large form, making her look like a French washer woman about to be guillotined.
“Hain’t got one” yelled one of the sticks.
‘That must be the boy’ Mrs. Tobin decided. “How did you get here then?”
“We rode the bus,” said another stick, though not so loud as the first, now that they were closer.
Mrs. Tobin brought her neck back in, satisfied with this first exchange of blows. ‘That’s the girl.’ Mrs. Tobin confirmed in her mind.
“And walked!” hollered the boy. His mother glared at him.
They stopped at the gate to her lawn, staring over the white picket fence. She couldn’t decide what they looked like, tired cows, or pigs, yes that was it, tired pigs with their dirty faces and beady eyes.
Mrs. Tobin clasped her hands together and stared at them for a moment. The boy was about fifteen but looked like a five year old, with his stupid grin. His clothes were dust covered and his face had two little white dots that might have been eyes in a puddle of mud. Mrs. Tobin shifted her glance to the girl who was plain and wore a cotton dress not unlike her own, only perhaps with a little more room in it. Her hair was tangled and a dirty brown. Mrs. Tobin now shifted to look at the mother. She was met with a furious blaze. Mrs. Tobin took a step back with a cry. She quickly stifled it and began to make her speech. She had paced back and forth practicing it in her room for days now, all the while envisioning the looks that would come to their faces.
“Now,” she began “welcome to the Tobin family farm.” She stressed the Tobin part and looked at the woman as she said it.
“We are all glad you’re here, even the n------s.” She savored this phrase. “We have a special room for you all to share, with a toilet all to yourselves.” She smiled as if she were giving a small child a candy that it had never had before.
“We want you to enjoy your stay but we do expect you to share the load.”
“When do we eat?” asked the boy, letting his tongue hang out.
Mrs. Tobin glared at him briefly, but then smiled with pity and said, “We have some nice meals planned for you. You all can eat in your room whenever you want.”
Her voice rolled out the phrases with the same variation in pitch; up and down, up and down. The mother rolled her eyes.
“Well what are you standing there gaping for? Come see where you’ll be kept,” she halted, was that a mistake? Yes it must be; it was too soon for that. “Ohh” she chuckled, “Forgive me, what was I thinking, you’ll be staying in here.” At least that was what she intended to say, she said kept. This was not how it had been rehearsed. The first time she had caught herself, this time she said nothing. She pushed open the door to her sunroom and let them pass in by her.
“If you need a hand with your bags, tell my n-----s, they’d be more than happy to help.” She paused, “Oh I forgot, this is all you brought. You don’t have a car.”
She shut the door and went up her front steps and in her front door. She collapsed on her dusty faded sofa in the living room.
“Oh it’s such a drain, all these people coming to eat off me, like swine.” She sighed. “You’d think I was carrion.” She laughed wearily. “You wouldn’t let them do that to me, would you, Bill. You wouldn’t let me starve to death with these pigs feeding off me. Taking away what’s rightfully ours. She’s not even my flesh and blood; she’s my brother’s wife!” Mrs. Tobin spoke to the ceiling, or at least it seemed that way to the mother as she walked up the steps to the house.
She was furious. She wouldn’t stand this. She wasn’t going to be treated like swine, and she wasn’t going to let herself be beholden to that woman for anything. She meant to come in and change that woman’s attitude toward her. Because it stunk, stunk like a piece of road kill that the maggots had got to, or the bus they had come over on. It all stunk, everything.
She drew a breath and marched in uninvited. She stood with her legs spread apart and her arms by her side.
“Mrs. Tobin, if I may say, you are most disgraceful in your treatment of us.” She spoke forcefully at the inert figure of Mrs. Tobin who was still breathing heavily on the dusty faded coach. Her bulk shifted at the intrusion, but she remained splayed on the sofa.
‘That is what swine like you deserve,’ Mrs. Tobin observed to herself, but she didn’t move.
“What are you going to do about it?” Plied the mother.
“Exactly what I’ve been doing,” Mrs. Tobin decided, to herself again.
“You’ve been treating us like, like swine,” the mother steamed.
“Oh, I’m glad you noticed.” Mrs. Tobin remained silent and motionless.
“We are people not animals, and what’s more were related to you.” The mother was beside herself.
“Why should I care?” Mrs. Tobin asked herself. She was becoming disinterested with this one-sided conversation that merely stated the obvious. She went back to her own world with Bill. More was said but it all went unheard.
“Oh, you don’t like your brother.” The mother began again. “Would it change how you relate to us if you knew that I’m not his wife, I’m just the mother of his children. Does that change anything?” The mother's face was a deep shade of fuchsia.
Mrs. Tobin was now completely disinterested but this last bit of information caught her attention. Slowly she sat up and faced the mother. She stared at her blankly for a split second before whispering, “No.”
Mrs. Tobin got up slowly and pushed the mother of her brother’s children out of the way. She strode out the front door with her feet barely catching her weight as she fell forward on them. She kept saying, “No.”
She kept walking, “No.” The sky was blue and it contorted itself to fit the shapes of the clouds.
“No.” She could hear the swine in their pens squealing and grunting. The ground rolled in waves into the road which, like a hungry whale, swallowed each one in its turn and waited eagerly for the next. The tree tops bent over backwards but still managed to touch the twisting blue sky. The yellow leaves began to switch places with each other and the road moved closer to her.
Mrs. Tobin continued stumbling towards the road, she could hear the faint roar of pigs as they began to muster themselves running toward her in a pack, black and ugly. They were still far off.
“No.” She said again louder, much louder.
“No.” She was shouting now at the pigs that were running toward her and at the mouth in the road that kept swallowing the ground in front of her and at the yellow leaves that were furiously switching places in a blur. She moved more quickly toward the mouth in the road, she was almost at the mouth when she heard a shout behind her and saw the mother running at her with all the hordes of swine at her back. She turned and broke into a run, the road was upon her, the roar was deafening; the pigs leapt at her throat. She dove into the mouth of the road and the roar hit her in a flash of yellow and a blast of sound.
The mother stopped running and looked up at the bus, it was the very one they had come on; she turned quickly and walked back up to the house. The sky was calm now, the leaves had stopped moving, the tree tops stood upright again, the only disturbance to the quiet was the sound of the bus backing up to drive around the object that lay in its path.