Note: the following short story is an excerpt from the novel Interstate 90 by Greig Roselli
Standing akimbo on the seawall, Francis dives into the Tchefuncte River.
I take a last drag from my cigarette. I put out the butt, pushing it into the soft ground. Watching the embers fade into the coffee stained earth, I look down at my grainy hands. Then. I look up.
Wait. Francis. He has not come up yet. No one speaks. Only the sound of breathing. It feels as if time has been swallowed.
Boys. Scatter. Then wait.
“1, 2, 3 —” I say.
Finally, Francis breaks the surface of the water.
He screams, horrified.
“I hit something. There's something in the water.”
He scrambles up the seawall, his raw skin scraping against the rough embankment. Francis picks up his tee shirt and brings it close to his body. “Look.” Francis points again, his hair Medusa-like, his face slightly rigor mortis. I am the only one who notices.
“I saw it.”
“I swam to the bottom.”
“There’s something alive down there.”
“Dude, it ain’t the pig people, so just shut up the fuck up,” Malcolm says.
“I didn’t say what it was, Malcolm.”
“Well, you sure as hell always go on about shit you never seen and shit you scared of.”
“Leave him alone,” I say.
“Oh, you're his boyfriend, now?”
Timmy, one of the boys, gets up, and rudely points. While the other boys laugh, something big bubbles to the surface of the water. We all hear the unfamiliar disturbance in the water. A boat in the middle of the river causes a wake as it speeds by on the way to the marina. Everyone looks.
The corpse of a young calf has floated to the top of the water. It had risen up from the depths. Bloated. The eyes of the creature stare up at us. Yellow, pasty eyes. Passed along by a farmer from down river to here, near the mouth. Thrown in for the alligators. Even though the carcass has eyes, I cannot see into its soul. Even though I try.
“Gross. What is it?”
“It’s a bloated cow. Look. I can poke it with my stick and it farts.” Standing on the seawall, Malcolm continues to jab at the carcass with a tree limb.
"Stop it," I say.
"No. It's just a dead cow."
“Shut up Malcolm.”
We get our clothes.
“It’s an omen,” Francis says.
“What’s that?” asks a kid I don’t know.
“It means bad stuff’s gonna happen, shithead,” says Malcolm.
Malcolm pushes his glasses violently into his forehead. Someone says, “I know. Look at it. It came from the bottom of the river. A kid caught a nurse shark here, in this same spot.”
“But, rivers aren’t supposed to have cows and sharks swimming around in ‘em,” Timmy says.
Francis stands up. He puts his arm on my shoulder and asks for a cigarette. I light him my last skinny cig. He takes a drag and coughs enough to show he's not a smoker. Normally the other kids would have laughed, but they wait to hear him talk. Jackson stands on the embankment and tells us the dead corpse is brushing against the sea wall.
“Let’s get out of here, guys.”
“Friggin' cow polluting the river.”
Timmy brushes passes me. “You guys staying here?”
“Yeah, we’ll catch up with you later.”
I listen to Francis as he gets dressed.
He turns to me all solemn like. “I saw its eyes, man. It was alive down there. It’s what the pig people eat. “They live under interstate highways. In some cities, they’re called the ‘pig people.’ People say they're cannibals with their noses upturned, like a pig. My dad tells me he’s going to give me to the pig people when I talk shit. He threw me out on the side of the road, where the old highway ninety is and showed me the pig people. Pushed me to the grill in the concrete where you can see their yellow eyes, dude. In the culverts, and shit. They live in the ditches, where they’re going to build the interstate.”
Francis turns to face me. The other boys have ridden away. We both sit up.
We're quite for a long while.
“Hey,” I say. “I’ll jump. Here hold this.” I take off my jeans and hand Francis my glasses.
"Lane, you're crazy! There's a fucking heifer in the fucking river."
I jump anyway. The water is warm. I open my eyes underneath the waves and the vision is brown stems, dirt, the veritable detritus of river water, but no aquatic pig people. I pump my hands outward and swim back to the surface. I am afraid I am going to wade back into the corpse of the dead cow, afraid the pig people will pull me under. The river is known for its nasty current but people still swim here.
“Hey, Lane, swim back, it’s getting dark,” Francis yells.
I swim back to the steps. “That felt good. I hate putting on jeans when I’m wet.”
“What you humming?”
“Cats in the Cradle.” Francis sings as if he is alone in the shower. “Cats and the cradle and the silver spoon; Little boy blue and the man on the moon; When you’re coming home Dad I don’t know when; We’ll get together then son, you’ll now we’ll have a good time then.”
“Why do you like that song?”
“I dunno know. Just do.”
“You always turn it up when it comes on.”
“It’s kinda sad.”
“It is a good song,”
“That’s where I saw them.” Francis points. He sings a made up tune.
“In her concrete bosom the pig people sleep.
the pig people live and eat.
the pig people, the loup garoux, the boogey man,
the monster in the closet, the fear out to get ya, man.
boom, hear that? y’all.
yeah, bitch, she’s keen on your hide,
her nose upturned like a pig snake, like a pig,
like a celluloid freak from the comic pages of your friendly horror page;
an immaculate mother, slouching toward bethlehem --
“Dude, stop saying that. Where do you make up this shit? There’s no such thing as pig people.” I unzip my fly and turn so Francis cannot see me. I urinate a steady stream over a column of pre-stress concrete. This area by the river is filled with old pylons the state put aside in case of an emergency. “You probably saw the lights of cars or something.” I feel like I am telling the truth. The interstate overpass is constructed of two separate bridges, one larger than the other. The cars on the smaller overpass flicker as they pass by, obstructed by the pre-stress concrete columns that tend to hold everything in place. At dark, it does look like lighting bugs flickering by, or eyes, depending on how scared you are. “Look, I can see why you would think that, especially if a train comes; the lights and stuff come through.” The sound of traffic is deafening. From where we stand, swamp surrounds us. The old highway is two and half miles north, where my mom’s store is and where my house is. In a few weeks they’re going to block off this road and construction workers are going to build an extension to the interstate, to connect us to the outside world. I laugh.
We roam the streets because I feel like avoiding Janie. I regret jumping in the river and I am out of cigarettes. The close of day depresses me. I figure I might as well walk with Francis but I am afraid of walking underneath the overpass, near where Francis says the pig people live, even in the daylight. The interstate is where they live; through the holes in the hollowed sections you can see the slits of their eyes, turned diagonal and green, did he say? Franics and I walk back with our bikes. My bike is bright green, with a streak of black across its aluminum frame; it has five speeds that I can control from the handlebars, and an orange reflector on the back, a pedal-operated light on the hand rest that glows with fierce intensity through the night. I won the bike at the Refinery fair last year. Francis and I don’t talk much as we walk. The roadway is forest and swamp along the stretch of road that leads to the pier. The interstate overpass that leads to the city is up ahead.
There are two bridges in Pre-stress, side by side where the interstate cuts through the swamp, (the Tchefuncte river a faint treacle of music) trailed by the railroad, intersected by the Bonnet Carré spillway, where one hump lies, a measly device made from pre-stressed concrete, hardly a limp over the bog, standing next to the integrated interstate, carrying its burden, finesse — (cutting, slicing, bifurcating, dividing) we don’t even notice the smaller bridge until we come down the ramp to meet it and Sidney expounds on the merits of democracy, (Francis takes US history) and I mention that you only have to whisper to this little brother, listing to the side, an experiment in contrast and from here, at the bayou’s edge, the watery pass, drenched with sweat, blood filled frogs, dragonflies, rotten fish bait on the side of the service road; you can notice the smudge of water, at this more introspective level, the whirr of transit on the interstate above, seemingly distant, the one, two, three car salute on the smaller bridge, thumping along — the transition of life, squirming, unconscious, almost, impervious, almost, to the apparent arrogance of the interstate above, looming almost, carrying its burden of trucks and eighteen wheelers, little foxes and patrols, sharing secrets — see, you can go a quarter of a mile, cross over Maurepas Pass, and come back over the yellowing trestle, and then go back again onto the Eisenhower Interstate Interchange, in an agreeable neverending circuit; back again, back to the bogs, and the suspended water minnows, a secret every time even though there are some secrets that can never be told, for they are too much to hold, too much of a burden, if I can call it that; these are the secrets that I save for later. We both feel complete, satisfied almost, even if a little relieved, and in the quiet space of an afternoon, the stench of that morning’s fishing still in the air, after throwing pebbles at the wasp husks underneath the interchange, the water the color of chicory, brown as the coffee I drink from the Tchefuncte; I take a fake nap on the concrete trestle, our secrets, for now, floating in the dragon flies flying through the air and I think I am so lucky, the luckiest guy in the world.