The Rack, fiction by Mather Schneider

I need­ed to make a rack for the back of my old green truck, so I bought these 2 X 12 boards, treat­ed cedar, from the lum­ber yard. I was from Chica­go, new to Arkansas, but I was learn­ing my way around. We had been in those back­woods for a year, me and Clare and the two kids. Clare and I were fight­ing again, and she was pissed off at how expen­sive the lum­ber was. We were so iso­lat­ed out there. A mil­lion things need­ed to be done and mon­ey always need­ed to be found. I want­ed to kill Clare some­times, but I nev­er so much as slapped her. The kids either.

We had bought two young pigs when we arrived, and in that year’s time they were ready for the butch­er. When we first brought them home we car­ried them in the cab of the truck. The kids held the piglets in their laps like babies. I warned every­body not to get too attached to them, because they were not pets. We were rais­ing them for one rea­son. The kids knew what that rea­son was. They were old enough—my son was 10 and my daugh­ter was 8—to know.

These hogs were now huge, and I knew I need­ed a good sol­id rack on that old truck or they would just bust their way through it on the way to the butch­er. I had some 3 X 3 posts and stuck them in the holes in the walls of the truck bed. Then I took 6 inch bolts and put them through hand-bored holes and fas­tened the 2 X 12s onto them. The rack was 5 boards high, stacked one on top of each oth­er like a fence, with an inch of space between each board. It was almost 6 feet tall when I was done, tow­er­ing over the cab. It was heavy, very heavy, and not some­thing that could be tak­en on and off eas­i­ly, but I’d be damned if those hogs would make a fool of me.

When we first moved to Arkansas, we came with our best friends, Bill and Sharon, and their two girls. We camped out at first, had no elec­tric­i­ty, bathed in the creek, and tried to tame the land with our mow­ers and chain saws. The idea was to live togeth­er and raise our kids togeth­er, have some ani­mals and a big gar­den, live off the land, help one anoth­er. It was like a com­mune.

One day not long after we arrived in Arkansas I stum­bled upon Sharon while she was bathing in the creek. Sharon was a knock-out. We had had a fling, years before, right after we were both mar­ried. To this day I won­der if their old­est girl is mine or Bill’s. She has my eyes. Sharon and I dove into each oth­er that day at the creek. I remem­ber being wor­ried my boy was out there in the woods some­where, watch­ing us. It kind of spooked me, and I hur­ried and got dressed after­wards.

Life was fun for a while with all of us sit­ting around the camp­fire at night, while the chil­dren played down by the creek or caught fire­flies, but soon ten­sions began to devel­op. It seemed, after a few short weeks, that Bill and Sharon were just wait­ing for an excuse to give up on the com­mune and go back to Chica­go.

They left one night after they dis­cov­ered my son on top of one of their girls. I didn’t see any­thing wrong with it, she was the same age as him, and any­way they weren’t actu­al­ly hav­ing sex. But Bill and Sharon didn’t think that made a dif­fer­ence. They packed up their stuff and went back to Chica­go to stay with her moth­er.

There was a big barn on the Arkansas prop­er­ty, and in the fall we moved into the loft. I planned to build a log cab­in, com­plete­ly by hand, on the hill at the oth­er end of the prop­er­ty. It was the hard­est place on the prop­er­ty to get to, but there was a hell of a view. Tree cov­ered moun­tains over­lapped and fad­ed away into the dis­tance. You could only see one man-made build­ing from up there, off to the south, if you real­ly looked for it.

I don’t know when it was exact­ly that I real­ized my job back in Chica­go had been a decent one. I hat­ed it at the time and want­ed noth­ing more than to leave, leave the job, leave the city, leave the house we lived in, leave every­thing. But in Arkansas I looked back and that life in Chica­go didn’t seem so bad after all. If I would have done some things dif­fer­ent­ly. If I just would have told my co-work­er Jill that I had to go home that night, and not gone to have a beer with her. If she just could have let things lie, instead of call­ing me all the time, instead of lying to me and telling me she was preg­nant.

We left our fam­i­lies up there in the city. Our par­ents couldn’t under­stand why any­one would be tak­ing such risks. They didn’t see the appeal. The clean air, the mag­ic of the woods, the self-reliance. Clare’s par­ents warned us of the dan­gers we would face: scor­pi­ons, snakes, cougars, spi­ders, razor­backs, skunks, coy­otes, red­necks. We were warned of every dan­ger except the one that got us.

When the rack was fin­ished it was time to load the hogs. I backed up the truck to the hog pen and the hogs imme­di­ate­ly sensed doom. They squealed and ran to the very back of the shed we built for them. Pret­ty soon the whole fam­i­ly was down there in the mud try­ing to wres­tle these 200 pound hogs up the ramp to the truck. The rack loomed above and the hogs had very low cen­ters of grav­i­ty and were as strong as lit­tle oxen and we didn’t make any progress at all.

We gave up and sat down in the grass to think it over. I decid­ed to take the boy and dri­ve up to see Old Man Robin­son who was our near­est neigh­bor a cou­ple miles up the grav­el road. We need­ed some advice from a long time Arky. We drove on down to see him. Old Man Robinson’s place was like an antique junk yard. Old cars, dor­mant farm imple­ments, ancient and rusty bicy­cles, anachro­nis­tic tools, etc. lay scat­tered about the place. He lived alone in a two sto­ry dilap­i­dat­ed frame house that had once been white. He was 81 years old and extreme­ly skin­ny. His dirty over­alls hung off of him and he smelled ter­ri­ble. His skin was falling off. He was like an old snake get­ting small­er instead of big­ger each time he molt­ed.

Hiya, Mr. Robin­son,” I called as we got out of the truck.  He waved but was too old to call out.

Hi'uns,” he said as we got clos­er.

How ya doin Mr. Robin­son?” I said.

Jes' fine,” he said, “thank'ee.”

It was not very hot out­side but I was sweat­ing. I always sweat­ed. I sweat­ed more than any­body I ever knew. Some­times the sweat would pour off my nose, not drop by drop like most peo­ple, but in a steady stream.

Boy,” Mr. Robin­son said, look­ing at me, “if sweatin was sin­nin, I reck­on you’d be the dev­il his­self.”

Mr. Robin­son, I’ve got a prob­lem, I’m try­ing to get my hogs onto my truck and I can’t seem to…”

Thas­s­er mighty fine rack you got there,” Mr. Robin­son said, look­ing at the truck.

"Thank you.”

You know some’uns would just make a flim­sy rack,” he went on, “some­thin that’ll fall apart in a wind­storm.”

That’s true,” I laughed.

But that’s a good­en strong rack,” he said.

"Well, yes, but I have this prob­lem…”


Oh yes.”

Kind­ly burns some fuel don’t she?” he said.

That too,” I said. The cost of gaso­line was one of the things Clare and I argued about. “But, the thing is,” I went on, “I have these hogs and I have to take them to get butchered.”

Whyn’t you jes' slorter em yer­self?” he said.

I would,” I said, “but, well…”

Every­thing I knew about liv­ing out there, about home­steading, I learned from books. We had already tried to butch­er a small goat and it turned into such a bloody mess my girl still says she has night­mares about it, although I don’t real­ly believe that. The whole scene was pret­ty grue­some, though, I have to say, with that damn bil­ly goat scream­ing and kick­ing and whin­ing. Jesus.

A mat squea­mish?” the old man said, this time to the boy. The boy just looked at him. He was a strange kid. He nev­er talked much. He spent hours, whole days some­times, run­ning around in the woods by him­self. He would come home wild-eyed, like an ani­mal. Even­tu­al­ly he would calm down and some­thing human would return to his eyes, like when Clare offered him some toast with home­made goose­ber­ry jam. I always feared he would go off one day and nev­er come back. Some­times, though, I almost wished he wouldn’t come home. It’s hor­ri­ble what goes through your mind. I can’t explain it. One less mouth to feed, one less mouth to com­plain, one less set of eyes to judge you.

I just don’t have the time to butch­er them,” I said.

Wayell,” the old man said, “yer rack looks like she’ll hold.”

But we can’t get the hogs into the truck.”

Hayell, son,” the old man said, “they don’t want to die no more’n you.”

They’re strong bas­tards.”

Ah done heard.”

He stood up slow­ly on his cane and head­ed for his screen door. “You’uns won’t some lemon­ade?” he asked.

No thanks,” I said. I was thirsty but I had tried Mr. Robinson’s lemon­ade before. We wait­ed for a few min­utes. I stood there in my shorts and work boots. An old chick­en came up behind me and took a hunk out of my calf. I turned around and tried to kick it. It flut­tered away with that dis­ap­prov­ing gur­gle, cock­ing his head this way and that.

Mr. Robin­son didn’t come out so I walked to the screen door and yelled inside. “Can you help us Mr. Robin­son?”

Watcha need?” the old man squawked from inside, “I’m kind­ly busy makin’ lemon­ade.”

He came out with his glass and sat back down.

Do you know how,” I said, “to get those hogs onto the truck?”

Wayell,” Mr. Robin­son said, “no, not right­ly. Nev­er had any hogs mis­self. Nev­er could stand the smell.”

I walked with the kid back to the truck in dejec­tion.

I didn’t want to go back right away so I pulled the truck off onto an old log­ging road and went up to a lit­tle place I knew. I had no idea whose prop­er­ty it was. There were no fences out there, no signs, nobody liv­ing any­where, just occa­sion­al deer paths and old log­ging roads from 100 years ago. I parked the truck where there was a lit­tle view of the moun­tains. I turned to my son.

"I’ve been want­i­ng to talk to you about some­thing,” I said. He looked straight ahead. I could tell he was ner­vous, we didn’t talk much. But Clare had told me I should have a talk with the boy about sex­u­al mat­ters.

I know you’re get­ting to that age where you are think­ing about girls,” I said, look­ing off into the moun­tains and rolling a cig­a­rette. “When the time comes and you think you want get mar­ried, I want you to promise me some­thing.” I looked at him. It’s strange look­ing at a child and know­ing he’s yours, know­ing he came from you. “I want you to promise me before you get mar­ried you’ll take at least ten years to think it over, to real­ly think the sit­u­a­tion through.”

He didn’t say any­thing. “I want you to promise me,” I said.

The kid gave a laugh and then looked at me. “Ok, dad,” he said.

By the time we got home Clare had made a dis­cov­ery. If you put an emp­ty slop buck­et over a hog’s head, in an effort to get out of the buck­et the hog will walk back­wards wher­ev­er you guide it, even right up a ramp onto a truck.

Instead of try­ing to bust through the rack the hogs just set­tled down into the straw we threw in for them. They looked at us like they knew some­thing was going to hap­pen but there was noth­ing they could do to stop it. I could have made a rack out of clothes­line and it wouldn’t have mat­tered. All four of us piled into the cab of the truck. It was a 5 speed and the gear shift shot up from the floor about 2 feet. The boy sat next to me and when I shift­ed gears I hit him in the knee. Clare and the girl were both cry­ing. Those hogs had become like fam­i­ly, no mat­ter that we knew from the begin­ning the pur­pose for their exis­tence. I myself felt about like those hogs. It seemed very clear in that moment that noth­ing was going to work out like I want­ed it to.

It was a thir­ty mile dri­ve to the butch­er. We hadn’t gone more than a few hun­dred yards when we met a black snake crawl­ing across the grav­el road. It was so big it stretched all the way across the road like one of those hoses that dings at the gas sta­tion. Black snakes are the friend­ly kind, not like the cop­per­heads and the moc­casins and the rat­tlers, but still, the whole thing just seemed like bad luck. I stopped the truck and we sat there while the snake crossed. It took a while. He was slow and looked like he’d recent­ly eat­en. We were all hun­gry. I let the truck idle for a few min­utes until Clare glared at me, reached across the kids and turned the engine off. And then it was just real qui­et while we sat there.

Math­er Schnei­der is a 40-year-old cab dri­ver from Tuc­son, Ari­zona. He is hap­pi­ly mar­ried to a sexy Mex­i­can woman. His poet­ry and prose have appeared in the small press since 1993. He has one full-length book out by Inte­ri­or Noise Press called Drought Resis­tant Strain and anoth­er full-length com­ing in 2011.

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2 Responses to The Rack, fiction by Mather Schneider

  1. Gra­cias, Capri­chos.

  2. i love this man's view of life and the peo­ple in it. there is noth­ing going on here but the ordi­nary, day to day exist­ing that schnei­der seems to have been qui­et­ly observ­ing, notat­ing and stor­ing for just such a sto­ry as this. would that every writer out there had his grasp of human­i­ty.

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