Swans Commentary » swans.com April 8, 2013  



Ricky Reckon Dines Out


by Peter Byrne


Short Story



(Swans - April 8, 2013)   They found the story of his life too familiar, dull as a drizzle. They were his parents, teachers, social workers, psychiatrists, lawyers, and finally the officers on death row. He himself had never known tedium, even when locked away. For him his life had been high drama, a scroll of excitement. Nothing was missing of what folks said made a great movie.

Even now, as his turn came closer, he thrilled to his story as he replayed it in his head. He was always Ricky Reckon, not Richard W. Rech, as the paperwork claimed. Ricky didn't blame them for finding Richard a bore who made them nod. The kid came from a troubled family, like any Tom, Dick, or Harry. He couldn't be kept in school. He played with guns and fooled with cocaine. The guardians of society were right to yawn. His armed robbery and time served were so inevitable and routine that the minds of the public servants strayed as they flicked through Richard's dossier. To refocus they had to think over yesterday's plane highjack by a granddad in a wheelchair and last week's rape of a mother and daughter by a four-foot eleven-year-old.

Richard's lackluster life made Ricky sleepy too. His own story had never stopped amazing him. In jail it kept bolting forward as it had on the street. There were lively meetings with lawyers and all sorts of busybodies as the appeals went ahead. Fans came up with some strange requests and it was fun answering their mail. Ricky even discovered law books and long words that were all about his doings. One thing he was so sure of he never even thought about it: His own life in and out of jail had nothing to do with a brutal father, loveless mother, zero schooling, vicious pals, drug diet, or gun love -- that was Richard's drab itinerary.

Even after his appeals had been turned down, Ricky found his days a gas. Of course it was different from when he'd been waiting for the courts to say yes or no. But he still had his moments. What he liked most was the talk. People thought death row was all solitary confinement, a big door opening every couple of days with a metal screech to let in a single beam of light. Silence? Ricky had never got into so many gabfests as in jail after his fate had been decided. On death row there were plenty of chances to make friends and chew the rag with other inmates or staff.

Ricky was buddy-buddy with Harold R. Furrow. Harold, also on the row, was the next offender down the line. They didn't talk about the future and their present wasn't spoiled by any old-fashioned melodrama. When a guy went for the chop these days, nobody clanged tin mess plates. The dinnerware was rubbery plastic. The light wouldn't dim either. Why should it now that the electric chair was history? Once both Ricky and Harold's final appeals fell through, they left off discussing big house folklore for good.

"Some gotta go," said Harold. "It's for what they call the common good."

"Is that what they call it?" said Ricky. He added, thinking of Richard, "You kinda think they'd keep it for those downbeat types."

Harold was an enthusiast and a militant. When you talked to Harold you talked about pigs. Ricky didn't mind because Harold's tongue wagged like a happy tail. He always seemed on the verge of setting out on a crusade that would revitalize the world by means of improved pig farming. The two friends didn't seem to know they were never again going anywhere in that world and that neither would ever see a squealing pig again. They kept smiling.

So worked-up was Harold that Ricky, who had never got near enough to sniff a pig, would have liked to examine a specimen up close now. Harold had farmed in Missouri and in a difference of opinion over what kind of pigs to raise he'd blown away the family that worked a farm beside his. Just as Richard had been labeled an ordinary deprived kid, Harold was filed away as a single-issue fruitcake of a pig freak.

In no time Ricky had absorbed the basics of pig appreciation. As mammals went they were bright, sensitive ,and companionable, no more spiteful than your average Joe or Jill. Their intelligence quotient was right up there with sewer rats. Some could be downright cute. Harold had his tales of pigs he had known. Sure, you had to watch out they didn't eat their young, but everybody's family values slip once in a while. For Ricky such facts were a lot more interesting than the other prisoners' blather about their sexual prowess or how they'd been railroaded. A human being was only someone like Richard W. Rech, while a pig that Ricky had never met was, well, surprising, something like himself, Ricky Reckon.

For Harold, though, these endearing character traits were only the rudiments, elementary pig lore he'd picked up as a boy. His adult life he'd devoted to the very special task of saving a perishing porcine breed, the mulefoot pig. They were the only swine known not to have a split or cloven hoof. Their hoof was a normal one, or anyway a hoof normal for mules. The mulefoot had just about disappeared when Harold got wind of them. By chance a sty or two remained in his very own state of Missouri. He managed to acquire a boar and a sow from an old man who told him, "You can have them cheap. There's something irreligious about those feet."

When Harold set up a piggery dedicated to breeding the mulefoot, the old man's words came back to him. Weren't there stories in the Bible about pigs and their spliced trotters? Indeed, and Bibles were not dying out in Missouri like this splendid animal. Harold's wrestling with the printed page left a deep dent in his mindset. If the mulefoot could be brought back as a thriving breed, then several of the world's major religions would be thoroughly reinvigorated or anyway shaken up. Their adherents could honor the taboo on eating cloven-foot beasts and still devour the mulefoot pig from snout to tail cooked smoked or otherwise. Think of those elegant uncloven feet pickled in a jar.

This was no small idea for a Missouri man. If you added up only the Muslim and Jewish population of the earth, and threw in the Seventh-Day Adventists, you had a couple of billion souls. No wonder Harold couldn't keep to himself what had become his obsession. His passion, which so stirred Ricky, got Harold in other trouble even before he was sent up for dealing summarily with his neighbors. For there was another type of pig lover abroad. These folks, in growing numbers, were so struck by the sharp wit, delicacy, and cuddle-potential of pigs that they would do them no harm, which of course ruled out eating pork at all, cloven hoofed or not.

Harold was at first dismayed when the live-pig fanciers picketed his farm with placards saying "Pigs yes, pork no." His Bible reading and obsessing, however, meant he wasn't at a loss for a rebuttal. He invoked the good old common good:

"My friends," said Harold, "no one loves pigs, dead or alive, more than I do. But I've taken on the task of saving a breed vanishing from the muddy face of the earth. I'd gladly overrun the world with mulefoot until they outnumbered human feet treading the seven continents. But that wouldn't pay my bills. I'm sad too when I cut their throats, but some of these beauties have to go into the frying pan so that the rest can survive. Got me?"

The protesters understood him all right but disagreed. They built his paradox into a couple of snappy protest chants whose refrain went, "He's saving them by eating them." Harold should have brought up spiritual matters since that regularly shuts people up. He could also have revealed his larger, global aim. Would its grandeur have pacified the crowd? Probably not. Protest is about getting out in your heavy shoes and shouting that you're on the side of livestock and the angels. Nobody wants theology on a sunny morning when he can fill the air with his own voice.

What did all this have to do with death row and Ricky and Harold in adjoining cells? Just this. Though capital executions are put off endlessly to keep everyone guessing and not let the suspense die, they eventually still take place. Richard W. Rech's time had come; or more exactly his time was over. All the same, Ricky Reckon envisioned his own soon to be abbreviated career with his usual spirit of adventure. He would go along with the plan or, rather, menu that Harold had proposed. In the Land of the Free one fine old democratic tradition had not been scuppered by the War on Terror. Condemned men could still have their choice of a main dish for their last meal. Ricky, and Harold when his day came, would insist on roast head of mulefoot boar. It would be a final effort to save the breed.

There was something sentimental in making Ricky's big feed fall, like Thanksgiving, on a Thursday, although it wasn't the last Thursday in November but simply Ricky's last Thursday. The top official, who was no longer called the warden as in old movies, personally interviewed Ricky. The public servant was a liberal who had no strong feelings about pigs or anything else except gliding on to retirement. He hemmed and hawed with Ricky over his unusual choice, just to check if the condemned man hadn't lost his marbles. Ricky remained calm and determined about his roast head of mulefoot. The fatherly official tried a bit of humor to work loose what he saw as the prisoner's fixed idea and suggested that a real man's last plateful would be more like sirloin and fries or a stack of burgers a foot high. Ricky only chuckled affably. He'd already proven his manhood twice over with his trigger finger.

So it was decided and time flew on, especially for Ricky. He kept looking forward to the night before his last day more than the day itself. That morning would be an adventure too and full of surprises, but it would be short on leisure afterward for mulling over them. When Ricky was finally led away for his meal to end all meals, Harold, next door, was at his peephole to wish his pleasure-bound buddy bon appétit with a silent heartfelt wink.

It was all new for Ricky, novelty after novelty. First of all there was a linen tablecloth that wrapped the occasion in class. On a side table somebody had put a cardboard vase (crockery or glass being weapon material) of yellow roses (not artificial but with thorns removed). Ricky couldn't get over how thoughtful that was. Someone, probably someone else, had put a black Bible discretely behind the vase. Ricky wasn't hot on the holy book like Harold but he appreciated the Christian gesture.

Of course the pièce de résistance was, well, the pièce de résistance. The mulefoot boar's head lay back on a big platter, eyes closed. But for the roast apple in its mouth and fluorescent light overhead, it could have been sunbathing. Ricky sat down and stared. "What an ugly bugger," he thought, "old Harold must not have had much scope for kicks out there in the boondocks." Then another guard came in, this one wearing a white jacket. He had a chef's knife chained to his belt. He asked Ricky with a cheerful half-smile,

"You want to start on a cheek?"

"Sounds good," said Ricky. "We'll save the ears till last."


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published April 8, 2013