I stared up at the moon, large and round in the sky, clenching a fistful of pebbles.
I donʼt know what time it was. I suppose it must have been around midnight. Just beyond the cinder-block wall all the second-story windows in our neighborʼs house were dark. Just as the windows of our house were dark behind me.
I stood in the back garden. I say “garden” but in fact it was nothing more than a narrow strip of dirt separating the rear of the house from the high wall. Iʼd never been out here before. Even in the middle of the day it was dark and gloomy and Iʼd been told that it was crawling with centipedes and spiders. Still, I wasnʼt afraid. The moon was shining brightly and Mother was standing right next to me.
She had been digging for a while now. She was so focused on the hole that she seemed to have forgotten about me. Each crunch of the shovel against the earth filled the air with the acrid smell of bitter grasses and weeds.
I grew restless and I threw one of the pebbles I had been clutching at the cinder-block wall. It hit the wall with a hollow “thud” that echoed loudly in the quiet of the night. I looked up at Mother in surprise.
Mother ceased her digging and fixed me with a stern glare before holding her index finger up to her lips. I hurriedly crouched down and let the remaining stones slip silently from my hand onto the grass. Mother gave me a wordless, approving nod and started digging again.
It was clear even to me that Mother wanted to be alone. I woke up in the dark and, noticing that she wasnʼt next to me, ran about the house in a state of near-panic, searching for her. When I finally found her by the kitchen door she already had a pair of work gloves on and one of her hands was poised to turn the doorknob.
She furrowed her brows irritably at the sight of me. After a momentʼs consideration, however, she leaned over and whispered in my ear. “Not a peep, OK?” She helped me on with my sandals.
In the moonlight I could see Mother clearly from her chest up. My eyes had grown accustomed to the darkness but even so I had trouble making out her hands or the hole in the ground. I walked around behind Mother and, crouching down, started pulling at the stunted grass. I couldnʼt see what I was doing in the dark so I just reached out and pulled at whatever my fingers touched. Soon the sound of digging stopped. Looking up, I saw her lean the shovel silently against the wall. She took something from inside her pocket and dropped it in the hole. It hit the ground with a soft clatter. The smell of damp earth rose from the hole.
She picked the shovel up again and started filling the hole.
“What did you bury,” I asked timidly.
“I didnʼt bury anything.” Sheʼs lying, I thought.
“I want to know. What did you bury?”
“Asako, how do you like this dream?” She asked, not turning her head from the hole.
“Thatʼs right. This is all a dream. When you wake up in the morning itʼll all be gone.”
I looked up at the moon in the sky and then at Motherʼs face. “A dream?” I asked again.
The hole filled up surprisingly quickly. It went much faster than when she was digging it.
“Thatʼs right. Itʼs all a dream. Thatʼs why the moon is so big and bright. Now, letʼs get back to bed. If you donʼt get back to your bed you wonʼt be able to wake up.”
I suddenly felt frightened. I didnʼt want to be trapped in the dream. Mother took off her gloves and held her hand out to me. I clutched her cold fingers as we walked back inside.
When I woke up the next morning it was still dark inside the house. It was raining outside. It had all been a dream, I thought. In my dream the moon had been so bright in the clear sky.
I pulled my hands from beneath the warm covers and rubbed my eyes. They smelled faintly of grass.
It was a company house that we had just been renting. We moved the following year when my father was transferred again. I never had a chance to go back to the garden. I donʼt even remember the name of the town now.
Mother and Father both passed away long ago. Iʼll never know whether or not it had been real, whether or not it had just been a dream.
My daughter Ami was the one who first suggested we get a pig. Of course I knew she wouldnʼt take care of it but it had been so long since she had spoken to me I agreed at once—knowing full well that I would be the one to look after it. I searched online pet shops for miniature potbellied pigs and ordered one. Today, it arrived.
I paid the deliveryman and took the box. It was a cube, about twelve inches long on each side. Perhaps because there were several small round breathing holes on each side it looked a little like a die. Something rustled inside the box. I suppose it wanted out. But where in the world should I put it? I hadnʼt considered that.
I lifted the box gently. It was much lighter than I expected. Leaving it in the box, I brought it to the Japanese-style tatami mat room by the entrance hall. The tatami room faced north and got little light even in middle of the day. When we were building the house some ten years ago my husbandʼs parents said that they wanted to move in with us as soon as it was finished. So we put this room in just for them. Yet, when they came to see the finished house they changed their minds. They complained that the steps from the street were too steep, they didnʼt want to stay in such a gloomy room and so on. In the end they sold their house and bought a condominium near my husbandʼs younger sister.
Since we had a four-bedroom home but only three people it stands to reason that there was an extra room. The Japanese-style tatami room gradually came to be used for storage. I doubt if anyone but me had set foot in it for years.
I shifted all the clutter over into a corner and, digging around in the closet, I eventually found the blue vinyl sheet that had fallen behind some storage bins and boxes. I folded it to about one yard by two yards—roughly the size of a single tatami mat—and spread it out on the floor. I had no idea how much space a pig would actually need so it was really just a guess. Then I thought that, since it was still only a piglet, maybe it would be best to just put it in a big box to start.
I went out to the storage shed in the back garden and, finding a cardboard box, brushed the dust from it. The neighborʼs curtain jerked slightly and I knew she was spying on me from between the curtains. It had been like this ever since the day we moved in. Though she looked the other way and pretended not to hear me if I said hello on the street, whenever I went out into the garden she would be spying on me. I had secretly taken to calling her “the Watcher.”
At first it bothered me but I was used to it now. What really bothered me was the trash. I could only see part of her yard over the fence, but in just that one part there was a washing machine, an old futon mattress half sticking out of a garbage bag and a rice cooker. The front yard was even worse. When we first moved in her yard was overgrown but there hadnʼt been any trash. That started about five years ago, right around the time her husband died.
Yet, oddly, I never actually saw her dump any of it. One day the washing machine appeared, another day the futon. Of course she didnʼt toss her trash onto our property, but it wasnʼt very nice to have to see a big pile of garbage each time you happened to look in that direction. I was afraid that it might get worse, to the point of the “hoarder houses” I saw on TV, with garbage overflowing from every corner. If it got to that stage it would be a real fire and safety hazard.
Clutching the box, I looked around my garden. Weeds were starting to sprout. Probably because of the rain we had last Sunday, I thought. The tulips were on their last legs. I would have to cut the blossoms back soon or the bulbs would weaken.
I had to take care of the pig first. I brought the flattened box into the tatami room and unfolded it, taping the bottom shut with duct tape. Then I cut open a garbage bag with a pair of scissors and spread it out on the bottom of the box. I suppose it wouldʼve been best to put some straw down as well but I didnʼt have any.
Having finished my preparations I picked the unopened box up and placed it in the center of the room. Again I heard a quiet rustling.
I didnʼt want to use a box cutter so I peeled the packing tape off with my fingers. Opening the lid slowly, I peered inside to see a tiny peach-colored animal. She was small enough to fit in my hands and her back was shaking and quivering in the box. She was covered with a sparse white hair and looked like a large mouse.
Tentatively, I reached down and stroked the pigʼs back. Her hair was soft, the skin of her back smooth and warm. The pig just lay there. She didnʼt seem to notice that I was touching her at all. I reached down with both hands and lifted the pig from the box.
I turned her around so that she faced me and saw the flat nose—she was a pig all right. Small eyes were set far apart on either side of her head, but they were round, deep black and, I thought, extremely cute.
I sat the pig on my lap and stroked her back. She wasnʼt a cat so naturally she didnʼt purr, but I could hear the faint whistle of her breathing and thought it must be a sign that she was content.
“Are you hungry?” I asked. Of course I didnʼt actually expect the pig to answer. She just stared back at me with her pitch- black eyes.
I wondered what pigs ate. When I was in elementary school they sent the lunch scraps to a pig farm. I supposed she would probably be happy enough with whatever we ate. With the pig still on my lap I peered into the box. There was a piece of paper that appeared to be some kind of manual. I looked it over but couldnʼt make much sense of it.
It did say that the pig would eat leftovers, dog food, cat food or the like, but it didnʼt say anything at all about what to do with its waste or if it needed a cage or anything like that. At the bottom of the page, in bold, capital letters, it read, “THE PIG WILL GROW TO YOUR HEARTʼS DESIRE.”
The pig sat twitching atop my lap and pressed her snout into my palm. The sudden wetness of her nose took me by surprise but I resisted the urge to pull away. The pig licked at my palm.
Well, now that I had the pig I had no choice but to raise her as best I could. Cradling her gently in my hands, I placed her into the box I had prepared. The pig looked up at me and let out a tiny squeal.
I went to the refrigerator and took out the fried egg and salad I’d made for Amiʼs breakfast. She hadnʼt touched it. I took an old bowl down from the shelf. The pattern on the bowl had started to fade and I had been planning to throw it out soon so I supposed it would do. I scraped the food into the bowl and carried it to the tatami room.
I placed the bowl in front of the pig. She gave it a sniff and then went to work on the fried egg. I thought there might be too much for such a small pig but in no time the dish was clean.
“Did you like it?”
The pig bobbed her head slightly, as though nodding in agreement.
“Oh, I forgot to get you water . . . Just a minute.”
I got a small pot that was missing its lid, filled it with water and put it down in front of the pig, next to the food bowl. She plunged her snout into the water, splashing as she drank.
I gazed down at the pig, thinking she was adorable. I hadnʼt owned a pet in ages—not since elementary school. We had a cat then, but I was just a child and though I would pet it from time to time as it slept, I never really paid much attention to it.
Besides the cat the only other thing I had was my daughter. However, since people donʼt usually think of children as pets, I suppose you could say that this was the first time I had really owned a pet.
The pig stood there for a little while, her snout twitching away, but soon she lay down, closed her eyes and fell asleep. I left the bowl with the water but took the empty food dish with me, sliding the door shut as I left the room.
I went back several times to check on the pig but she was fast asleep. Perhaps the excitement of the new surroundings had tired her out. I suppose this made sense given that sheʼd been stuck in that small, die-shaped box the whole time she was being shipped.
Ami got home at seven. “The pig arrived today,” I said as I made dinner. “Oh?” She didnʼt even look at me. These days she was always like that. “What should we call her?” I asked. Ami finally looked over at me.
“Whatever you want,” she said and, without another word, started eating her dinner. More than half the food was still on her plate when she got up and went to her room on the second floor.
My husband didnʼt get back until a little after eleven. I didnʼt tell him about the pig. I didnʼt think heʼd be interested.
He didnʼt even touch his food. With a brusque, “I ate,” he went to take a shower and bath. I scraped both their meals into the pigʼs bowl and put it in the refrigerator. It occurred to me that I wouldnʼt have to worry about the pigʼs food for tomorrow.
Neither of them ate breakfast the next morning either. I added their breakfasts to the bowl with the previous nightʼs leftovers and brought it to the pig. The bowl was overflowing with food but she polished off every last scrap. I gazed down at the pig, watching her eat from start to finish.
Suddenly I remembered the old bath towel in the closet and, taking it out, I used it to line the pigʼs box. I placed the pig atop the towel and she lay down and closed her eyes. I tiptoed out of the room.
When I finished cleaning I went out to the local home-supply shop to look for something I could use for pig food in case I ran out of leftovers. However, the shop didnʼt have any pig food. I stood for a while trying to decide between the dog food and the cat food but in the end I opted for a dry dog food.
Back home, I went to put the dog food in the pigʼs room and saw that the she was still sleeping. I wondered if pigs always slept so much. I didnʼt know anything at all about them.
At noon I went to the tatami room to check in on the pig before making lunch. Thatʼs when I noticed her droppings. They were dark and about twice as big as a rabbitʼs leavings but, maybe because they were so dry, they had almost no odor whatsoever. I picked them up with a pair of disposable chopsticks and, wrapping them in a tissue, flushed them down the toilet. I thought pigʼs leavings were supposed to be smelly but maybe this was an improved breed of pig.
In the afternoon I put on my work gloves and hat and went out into the garden. The weather had been warm and sunny lately and the grass and plants were growing, as were the weeds.
I could feel the Watcherʼs eyes on me the whole time I was weeding. She was peering out at me from behind her window. What was so fascinating about someone weeding her garden? If she had so much time on her hands she might do something about sorting out all the garbage in her own yard, I thought. Apparently that idea hadnʼt occurred to her.
I took care to pull out even the smallest weeds. No matter how much care I took with my own garden the effect would still be ruined by the mess next door but I had resolved to ignore that. There were some things I could change and some I couldnʼt. It seemed to me that the most practical approach was not to let myself be bothered by the things I couldnʼt change.
The pig grew bigger and bigger each day. For the most part she ate the familyʼs leftovers but on some days I added dog food as well. She ate both with the same gusto.
It was two weeks since the pig arrived. Ami hadnʼt been in to look at her once but I didnʼt care. I realized that I didnʼt need to worry about giving her a name either. The pig seemed to recognize me and, even if she was asleep, as soon as I slid the door open she would be on her feet, snorting away.
I sat her on my lap and felt the full weight of her pressing down on me. With her on my lap I twisted around to look at the die-shaped box she had arrived in and then back at her. There was no way she could fit in that box now. I supposed she was only going to get bigger still. Yet, for the moment, the box she used for her bed was big enough. In any event, she was only a miniature pig so I neednʼt worry too much.
Eyes closed, the pig dozed atop my lap. Soon my legs started to grow numb so I picked the pig up and put her back in the box.
I went to the living room and turned on the computer to check my phone bill. As soon as it started up a message appeared on the screen saying I had new mail. It was from the pet shop that sold me the pig. The subject line read, “Out-of-Stock Notice.”
It was an apology from the shop. Theyʼd been expecting a shipment of miniature pigs, it said, but it hadnʼt arrived. Since they couldnʼt say when the next shipment might arrive they were cancelling my order.
I stared at the email, puzzled. The pig had already arrived and I had paid for it. It must be some kind of mistake. Perhaps Iʼd accidentally submitted a duplicate order. In any case, the pig was here now so it didnʼt really matter. I deleted the email and went back to looking up my phone bill.
Click here for Part II.