In which the order of humanity is determined by pigs!
It wasn’t true what Granddad had said. Gilly did agree to the book project, and he also fed her when she dropped by for the first session. Gilly’s house wasn’t tucked away in the Sandia mountains as Granddad’s was. Rather, he lived in a stale neighborhood in north Albuquerque. And in a stale neighborhood, his was the stalest of them all. The color was a drab pale desert orange contrasted with rows of brick facades surrounding the windows and running up columns. It was an older home that showed its age. It was badly in need of new stucco, for a start. The stucco was crumbling off from a central point that radiated outward, as though its destruction had been caused by an earth-shattering blast.
To find the front door, first Stephanie had to find the gate, and then the walkway. Trumpet vines snaked in and out of the fence on one side of the gate. On the other, the morning glory vines had wrapped their tendrils and opened their insidiously beautiful heads. Apparently, Gillilander—or Uncle Gilly, as she thought of him—didn’t use the front door. She looked back at the driveway that was partially cleared of weeds and assumed he made his escapes through the driveway via his car.
She broke through the vines, thinking of herself as a veritable adventurer reporter, the kind she admired and whose words she regularly read from the comfort of her bathtub. Here she was, a real journalist, breaking through the treacherous, man-eating vines of North Albuquerque. She stepped in the gate, softly in her braided flats—softly because she was afraid of snakes. Anything could be hiding in the mass of prickly and tough-stalked weeds barring her path. Judging by the moldering smell, organic substances were the best bet. Eventually, she hacked her way through the growth, found Gilly’s door, and pounded on it.
He must have been waiting, as the door cracked open immediately. He peered out. “Did you see any cars following you?” he asked.
“No. Should there have been?”
He opened the door farther, and allowed her to enter his shadowy foyer before shutting out what little light bled through the weed and desert willow infested yard. Once closed, the smells changed from moldering and organic to bookish and dusty.
“I doubt you would have noticed, anyway. They’re better than that. Sometimes, they send spy cameras in the form of dragonflies.”
“I’m never exactly sure. The government. Foreign spies. Enemies.”
“Do you have enemies?”
“Every man in my position has enemies. Is that an honest question? I’m one of the most hated men still alive today.”
She didn’t argue with that. She simply didn’t understand why spies would send drones to watch him. He was a has-been in the tech world.
He led her into the living room, cut off from the entryway by means of a brick wall, and offered her a seat on an old leather couch. She was surprised by the cleanliness of the place. That was not to say it was uncluttered, but the clutter was in neat little piles. The floor was swept tile, the furniture of a similar quality to the old leather couch. In the corner, a fat wood stove was surrounded by more brick. It was a large room, and the house itself, a large flat suburban sprawl. Gilly had tried marriage and family for a while. He had clearly never downsized, but, then, neither had Granddad.
“Uncle Gilly, this is a very nice place. How do you keep it up?”
“I’ve had the same maid for twenty years. She’s the only person I can trust to be discreet.”
“Discreet about what?”
“I still build things,” he retorted, in an impatient clipped tone. “Sometimes.”
“And I need order to work.”
“Why don’t you hire a yard worker?”
“I don’t work outside,” he said, as though it were obvious. “And I can’t trust yard workers. I’ve had trouble with them in the past.”
“Well, that makes sense.”
She hesitated. The reporter in her wanted to ask what it was he was “still building” and what exactly the yard workers had done to lose his trust. But she knew by now that questioning him along these lines would be a risky proposition. Either he would begin mistrusting her for asking too many questions, or he would bore her with hours of paranoid tales, which she certainly hadn’t come all this way to hear. She could have read them in his pamphlets, in any case.
Instead, she pulled out her recorder and teletyper. “We can get started any time you’re ready.”
From the other room, a whistle rose up in angry protest. “I was just making tea,” he said. “Do you want black, green, or herbal?”
“Um.” Stephanie didn’t drink tea. “Green?”
“Smoked or fermented?”
“I don’t know. Why don’t you choose for me?”
He waved at her as though he couldn’t be bothered with such ignorance and stalked off. This was going to be a fun interview. When he returned, it was with a tray containing a small Japanese clay teapot, two clay mugs, and a plate of Saltine crackers.
“Thank you, Uncle Gilly,” she said, and picked up a cracker. She hadn’t had saltine crackers since she was sick with the stomach flu in the sixth grade.
“They’re the finest saltines available,” he informed her.
She almost spewed the crumbs from her mouth.
“I buy them fresh every day so that they have the delicate crispiness and slight tang of salt I desire.”
“They’re, uh, very nice.” She picked up the tea mug and sipped. “Hey, do you think the soothsayer would want to speak to me?”
He sneered at her. “I disengaged her.”
“I disengaged her. She was illegal, anyway. It’s illegal to create heads with no bodies.”
Disengaging meant removal of the brain stem. It was basically capital punishment for Minäs. Why or how a head could have a brain stem to be disengaged was a little beyond her imagination.
She brushed the crumbs from her pants. “I guess we should get started then.”
“Yes, we should. My memoirs. I’ve been wanting to tell my side of the story for a long time. I can’t have Beñat telling it for me.” He glowered over the top of his teacup. “He will, you know. He controls everything. All the time. At least what he can manage to control.”
“I thought you and Granddad were best friends.”
“Best friends? No. He’s more like the brother I never had who’s a constant pain in the neck.”
Stephanie hid her smile. “Of course, he already has a lot of brothers he isn’t close to at all. He doesn’t try to control their lives.”
“No, he’d had enough of that in his youth, playing mother and father to them. I was his brother. They were his kids.”
“There was a time in my life,” said Gillilander, “when I knew I’d broken through. It started with a girl. So I tried out for the airfoot team.”
“What about the girl?”
“She’s not important.”
“Well, it’s your story. You said it started with her.”
Gillilander’s jaw clenched. “Will you just…!”
The summer before seventh grade, a cute little redhead fell for Gilly at cowboy camp. They had become penpals, as she lived with her family in Sacramento and had gone to cowboy camp with her grandparents, who attended the camp-meet every year. As for Gillilander, his mother had grown up Catholic, but had experienced a religious transformation while watching a TV preacher one Sunday. Although Gillilander wasn’t then and never became anything more than a skeptic—if one wanted to be nice about it—and an atheist if one didn’t, he enjoyed the experience of cowboy camp: brisket, beans, chile, and coffee every night; pancakes and bacon every morning; campfires with s’mores; guitars and singing; races and water balloon fights.
As it turned out, Gillilander grew to be a tall slender, broad-shouldered boy, and he was faster than the other boys at camp, if he didn’t trip and fall. He was the athlete that almost was.
To the redhead, he became the legend he always was in his own mind. He knew he was meant for great things. It was the teachers and admins at his school who’d been misguided in thinking him the village idiot. He could speak on all manner of brilliant topics, such as supercomputers, and it didn’t take much to impress her, as her life had been consumed up to that point with shopping malls and slumber parties.
That was about it pertaining to the redhead. Gillilander couldn’t even remember her name. They’d become penpals for precisely two months and then the correspondence had withered away. Gillilander didn’t have much patience for writing, anyway. He had plans: he was going to become a soccer/football/airfoot star, even after they outlawed balls. During tryouts, he’d been neck and neck with Oso as they did laps on the track. Because he could easily become winded, he had to pace himself and then let it all out at the end, where he beat Oso the first day due to the effect of surprise. Previously, nobody knew Gilly could run. Oso was not to be beat, though, and had a great deal more endurance than Gilly did. Once Oso realized Gilly was a force to be reckoned with, he upped his game.
In his wildest dreams, Gillilander saw himself as Oso’s arch nemesis. Oso was the top student, the top athlete: the boy who could interest eighth grade girls. Bit by bit, Gillilander pushed Oso out of the top spot in every class…except English. Just as Gillilander didn’t have the patience for writing letters, he also didn’t have the patience to understand literature. He could and did read all manner of nonfiction, but his comprehension of electronics manuals didn’t help him much with Shakespeare.
Nor did Oso, Gillilander suspected, but Oso was a genius at bluster. For that, Gillilander hated him. After all, if it was one piece of fiction Gilly could understand, it was Animal Farm. And it was clear from some of Oso’s rather barbed classroom comments that Oso saw Gillilander as, at most, a farm animal attempting to be a pig, while he—Oso—was clearly Napoleon.
“So, you’re a fascist?” Gillilander countered when the English teacher had, yet again, allowed Oso to run off at the mouth during a class discussion of Orwell’s novel.
“Why not? Fascism is the way of the world. Look what happened to the farmers. You know the way farmers are. They just work. That’s all they do. They can’t stop the fascists of the world, who are the ones who don’t work. Either you work, or you’re a fascist.”
Gilly’s face fell into a hard glare. “There’s nobody in between? Nobody who just works the system, makes a lot of money, and doesn’t act like a fascist pig?”
Oso snorted. He was always snorting. If he snorted, it meant he thought he was right and everybody else was stupid.
“Fascist pig,” Gilly muttered.
Oso never muttered. “You don’t know jackshit. The people in between are stupid rats, and they usually don’t make a lot of money.”
“All right,” the teacher said. “Language, Oso. Let’s get back on track.”
“See?” Oso wrote on a sheet of notebook paper and pushed it to where Gilly could see it. “Teachers are fascists. She won’t even call me by my name.”
“Teachers are farmers,” Gilly wrote back.
“Nope, they’re stupid Snowballs.”
Gilly attempted the glare again. It wasn’t that he disagreed with Oso. Every boy knew by that age what teachers were. But there was no way he was agreeing with the biggest turd in school. Apparently, Oso felt the same way about Gilly because after class, he took Gilly by the collar of his jacket and shoved him against a locker.
“Don’t ever call me a fascist again,” he said, in a tone of voice just loud enough for Gilly to hear.
Gilly gritted his teeth and made no response. Instead, he gazed levelly in Oso’s, believe it or not, not unkind eyes. Oso was bluster; that’s all he was. And impulsive—he was also that. His impulsive behavior, such as shoving Gilly into a locker in one fell swoop when it appeared the clusters of boys and girls were leaving their classroom peacefully, would be his undoing. Gilly understood this, and it pleased him. Gilly himself was anything but impulsive. You could bet that anything Gilly did had been planned out in advance.
Gilly understood more than just that. He was the type of boy who had spent his entire childhood observing others, while those others had thought he was a retard. But it didn’t take an awful lot to realize what had happened to Oso’s psychology.
Gillilander lived in the same neighborhood as Oso. But he hadn’t always. Gilly knew what had happened to Oso’s father, as the local paper, El Defensor Chieftain, had covered every new update. Oso’s dad was a subsistence farmer who had sold his homemade furniture and did contract work here and there, helping put on a roof or building a garage, until he’d bought a small piece of land where he could live in peace in a tiny house with his wife and ever-expanding family.
Unfortunately, he’d fallen behind on his property taxes, and he’d gotten in a fight with the government over the illegitimacy of property taxes and the reality of a man never being able to own a plot of land. At best, homeowners were renting from the government. It seemed Oso’s father was the originator of a grassroots movement that had a few freak lawyers on his side, as the entire country sprang up with people protesting the property tax.
Oso’s father had inevitably lost, and the movement was silenced. People’s properties were seized because the freak lawyers didn’t have big enough backers. All that Oso’s father had worked hard for was taken from him, as he was unable to pay off the taxes, not even on the supposedly generous payment plan offered him.
And so the family ended up in Gilly’s neighborhood, renting a plot where they could continue their lifestyle of subsistence farming and no-longer-cool poverty. Yes, their poverty had seemed cool for a split second when fighting against the government.
Now they were just fools. The father was a pot-smoking loafer who barely provided for his family; the mother an ever-pregnant slut. She was the last of the bohemians, or something like that. She painted awful paintings, danced like an idiot with twirling scarves at every community dance on the plaza. Oso, as the eldest by default due to his older sister’s propensity to disappear inside books, was the family bitch. If he didn’t dictate order, his siblings would be unwashed, unfed little urchins dressed in rags.
Gilly suspected that, like him, Oso didn’t really belong. Oso would be the one who would escape. In another reality, Gilly might have taken Oso into his mother’s outbuilding and shown him his various robots. Oso was actually intelligent—and he lived next door. But Oso was a fascist, and fascists didn’t have time for nobodies in their regime.
Gilly tried out for airfoot because, even though it was a farce, it was still the only way to not be a nobody. And he could run fast, which brings the story full circle.
One day at practice, when Gilly had slipped around the other boys and was near to making a goal with the invisible ball, the unthinkable happened. His shoelaces, always threatening to come undone, had done so, and Gilly tripped. He picked himself up and bent down to tie his laces. As he did so, a shadow behind him covered the sun. Before he knew what was happening, somebody kicked him on the seat of his pants, right over the goal line and shouted, “Goal! Goal!”
Before long, both teams were shouting the same.
Oso! Gillilander seethed inside. He was an asset to his team, wasn’t he? He could run fast, slip around other players like nobody’s business. The coaches did nothing about Oso’s behavior. They didn’t even seem to have noticed, with their air of nonchalance. Stupid fat pigs—that’s what they were. It suddenly dawned on Gillilander that he had to take Oso down once and for all, take him by surprise, just as he’d done by beating Oso at running that first day.
As the game wore on, Gillilander planned and lost many chances due to his hesitation. And then he saw his chance. Because he was a fast runner, Gillilander was an outfielder. Oso, with his power, was a kicker, but Oso was coming his way, directing the invisible ball toward Gilly, whose shin he “accidentally” kicked. The pain shut down the delays in Gilly’s brain. Action—reaction. He shoved Oso. Hard. And then, as Oso had been taken by surprise, Gilly punched him in the gut. And then he punched him again, and Oso fell backward onto the field. Gilly jumped on top of him and went ballistic on the stupid fascist pig’s face.