Edwin decided that he was the most peculiar member of his family. He had plenty of things in his favor: he always wore flip-flops while swimming, he collected the jokers from decks of cards in a photo album, and he was the only eleven-year old vegetarian he knew. Despite the last, he still had a healthy pudge around his midsection, which set him apart from his relatively fit family members.
The young boy had just recently picked up another peculiar habit. When he was lying in bed with the covers tucked under his feet to keep his toes warm, he put his hands together and prayed, not to God or Jesus or the Virgin Mary but to his grandpa Oswald.
Oswald only been dead for two weeks, so maybe he wasn’t taking messages just yet, but Edwin still confided in him about how mom had been staying at a friend’s house, and how dad was using up all his sick days, and then he shared his wish: He wanted more than anything for his parents to stay together.
Oswald’s funeral took place at St. Matthews, still the tallest building in town even after 150 years. It had been raining all week, but had cleared up for this one day. The service took place right outside as planned, protected from the sun by the church’s shadow. Edwin sat between his parents in the second row of folding chairs, thinking about the belt cutting into his stomach.
His father, Brian, had been growing out his beard for a while now. It looked strange with his suit: messy and neat, side by side. His mother Cassandra, on the other hand, looked pristine as always. Her golden hair, styled in heavy curls, rolled down her back. Edwin inherited some of his father’s handsomeness, but there was that touch of feminine perfection that he got from his mother.
Off to one side, Edwin noticed his little cousin Enoch sitting on the ground, driving his toy tractor across the seat of his folding chair, making engine noises. Other than that, everyone stayed silent. They listened to Father Jeremiah’s fond words about Oswald and dabbed their eyes with black handkerchiefs.
About halfway through the ceremony, the mourners were disturbed by some racket. Narrowed eyes looked over shoulders for the culprit. Was one of the children too young to know you’re not supposed to talk during a funeral? Or maybe it was uncle Manny grumbling to himself again about how the bar wasn’t serving until after the ceremony (what’s a wake without booze? he said).
For the most part, Edwin’s family ignored the latecomer trotting around behind their backs, who was not even wearing black but a muddy-brown jacket. The hood was up, concealing his face. Attendees winced as he bumped into empty chairs in the back and, white-knuckled, tolerated the sound of his sloppy breathing. But the last straw was when he wandered over to the tables filled with untouched food—crock-pots and deep dish pans and platters, pot-luck style—then leaned over a platter, and started gulping it down.
Edwin’s grandma tried to go on listening to the priest despite the noises of open-mouthed chewing, slurping, and the flop of slobbery excess hitting the ground. Edwin’s mom, Cassandra, shushed the newcomer when he started digging through the ice-filled cooler for a drink. Edwin’s aunt looked around with her nose high as though to signal a security team to cart off the noisy guest.
It was Edwin’s dad, Brian, out of undying respect for his late father-in-law, who finally said something.
“Hey!” He rose from his chair. “Who do you think you are?”
The raucous party-goer stopped eating. All eyes were on him as he turned around. He looked a fright: mustard from mini-weenies smeared across his snout, remnants of cheese cubes filling the spaces between his flat yellow teeth, and cracker crumbs ensnared in the wiry hairs of his chin. He had a nametag plastered to the jacket. Written in sharpie in angelic script was Rupert.
For the longest time, no one said a word. Some scanned the figure, searching his neckline for the edge of a mask to be torn off in the most ill-conceived prank in history. But the stranger, the Pigboy, watched with dull-green eyes. In one hand he held a fistful of honey-roasted nuts, and in the other a mostly-finished beer.
“I know who that is,” Manny said, clapping his cousin Dan on the back. “You didn’t tell me your wife was coming, Danny-boy!”
Manny cracked up at his joke. Despite the closed bar, he had already helped himself to three shots of whiskey. Others chuckled, watching the newcomer and trying to place where they’d seen him before. Manny got up from his seat and strolled over to Pigboy like an old pal.
“Well, if he’s raiding the bar, no reason I can’t too.”
Manny fumbled with the lid of the cooler, grabbed a beer, and pried the top off. Then he held it up to Pigboy. The creature looked at his outstretched hand, unblinking, and then clinked his bottle with Manny’s, laughing to himself with a charming ree ree reeeee!
A few people softened their glares. Some went over to join the merrymakers. The ceremony was done—it couldn’t proceed after such an interruption—and even Edwin’s grandmother moved towards their guest to examine him further. The family regarded Pigboy with a certain level of trust. The children knew why. Grandpa Ozzy had been telling them about this half-man half-pig for years, passing the legend down to Edwin and his cousins.
When Pigboy shows up, you know good things are going to happen, Ozzy had told Edwin. So long as you feed him. That wasn’t a problem; already his grandma was cutting Pigboy a slice of her Cream Bundt Cake. He didn’t bother trying to work the fork, instead sticking his snout right into the dessert.
“Oh shame on you,” she said, playfully hitting his shoulder.
Family favorites emerged from behind the bar, and someone poured shots of Jim Beam Honey Whiskey.
“To Oswald,” Brian said, holding up his glass. Somebody passed one to their guest, and they drank together. Pigboy shuddered, and his ears twitched. Manny clapped him on the back and said something about it going down smooth.
Soon enough, Pigboy was tossing peanuts in the air and catching them in his mouth. He hadn’t missed one yet, and Brian challenged him to catch one at a distance. He tossed it, and Pigboy snatched it out of the air. By now his cheeks were growing pinker, the shots taking their toll. The next peanut missed his mouth and plopped into one of his gaping nostrils. When Pigboy tried throwing one to Manny, he missed and hit Edwin’s grandma.
Everyone ate and drank and made merry, at one point gathering around Edwin’s father to hear a story about Ozzie. Cassandra stood back and watched him in a way she hadn’t in months. Not since that first visit to the hospital, where she had to face her father’s mortality. Why had she been so quick to distance herself from her husband? Why hadn’t she waited until she had a clear head to put divorce on the table? Why hadn’t she listened to Oswald, who loved Brian like a son?
“And then he said ‘That’s the stupidest fucking thing—”
“No, no, say it like Ozzy,” Manny cut in.
“Oh, right. ‘That’s the stupidest fooking thing I’ve heard in me loife.”
She didn’t have time to overthink it. With the story finished someone found a boom box behind the bar, available but rarely used for wakes. Then, none other than Pigboy grabbed Cassandra by the arm and pulled her into a jolly dance. They spun around arm-in-arm, and after a few turns, switched partners. Edwin joined his cousins Lily and Justine in their own miniature version, and eventually little Enoch danced along with them. He thought about that other Pigboy story. When he’s around, you can’t help but dance like no one’s watching.
When dusk approached and Father Jeremiah realized the family had no intention of leaving, he turned on the outdoor lights for them. With plates full of Shepherd’s Pie and Twice-Baked Potato Casserole and slices of Beer Bread, they told stories and laughed and cried together. It wasn’t long before Edwin’s grandmother sang the first words of “Cockels and Mussels.”
In Dublin’s fair city,
Where the girls are so pretty,
I first set my eyes on
Sweet Molly Malone.
One by one family members joined in, adding their voices to Ozzy’s favorite song. And although Pigboy seemed unable to form the words, he sang a heavenly high note, an accompaniment to the song plucked right from a church choir.
As she wheeled her wheelbarrow
Through streets broad and narrow
Crying cockels and mussles,
Edwin didn’t understand the song, but he’d heard it so many times growing up that he sang the chorus with the adults, many of whom had thrown their arms over each other’s shoulders and were swaying back and forth. Everyone had tears in their eyes. Pigboy cried hardest of all, fat tears that poured down his cheeks and a drizzle from each nostril.
Most of the ice in the cooler had melted by now. Manny, tired of plunging elbow deep into chilly water whenever he wanted another beer, dumped the cooler out onto the church yard. With the grass as sparse as it was, everything in a five-foot vicinity of Manny and his cooler turned to mud.
When he tried to stand, his feet were tugged out from under him. While his suit got a nice glaze of filth, somehow he managed not to spill his beer. Laughter ensued.
Manny found his footing. He stood at the edge of the pit, drooped his head down to his filthy suit, and raised it back up again.
“Brian,” he said, holding his arms out to the side. Edwin’s father shook his head. “Come on, man. You need a good hug. Hell, I need a good hug.”
Manny stepped up to Brian, who had surrendered to this fate. He wrapped his arms around his brother-in-law, leaving the imprint of his body on the suit, and a caricature of his face nestled in the white fabric of Brian’s bosom. Pigboy approached the pair, sniffing, sniffing, sucking in great big whiffs of the mud. The three of them shared a certain glint in their eyes, a secret that only this little family in this church yard would ever know.
Brian hulked right out of his embattled button-up, and strolled over to the mud pit. He added the water from a second cooler, then turned to Manny and beckoned him.
“How about it, Emmanuel? Are you up to the challenge?” Brian asked.
“Let’s get ready to rumble!” Manny cried out, dropping his beer and charging Brian. He had the advantage of strength, but his inebriation gave Edwin’s father all the help he needed to bring him to his knees. Edwin cheered him on. Pigboy squealed with glee. Round one ended in an undeniable victory for Brian.
The mud, however, seemed to sober Manny up. He stripped out of his shirt as well, and with two fingers from each hand, scooped up a few dollops of grime to smear across his cheeks.
They circled around each other, crouched, muscles tensed, making false starts on occasion. The rest of the family pulled up chairs and started making bets.
“If Brian doesn’t win hands down, I’ll take two shots of Jameson.”
“That hardly seems like a punishment. How about one shot of Jameson, but it’s a belly shot off Pigboy!”
Upon hearing the bet, Pigboy blushed madly.
Manny ended up evening the score between them with a victory. One win apiece. The sun set fast, until only the exterior lights of the church allowed them to see. Some of the mud on their bodies had hardened into plaster, until a new wet layer covered it up. Manny managed to get a sleeper hold on his opponent, but Brian was slick enough to squirt right out of his grasp and pull Manny’s feet from under him. The championship went to Brian.
The crowd cheered and whooped. And squealed. Pigboy, delighted, mimicked the two mens’ actions from earlier, tearing open his jacket and standing shirtless, showing off the rosy worn-leather of his skin, dotted on the front with little wiry hairs like miniature pig tails. He charged forward and dove into the mud pit, his porcine heft sending a tidal wave of muck over the on-looking crowd.
Cassandra in particular got sprayed, painting the front of her little black dress. But she had the good humor to laugh about it. No one was leaving this funeral clean. Her husband knew that best of all. Edwin saw his mother’s smile. Thank Pigboy.
Brian stood just under one of the yellow lamps with Manny, watching as Pigboy tried to cover every inch of his body in mud. Brian’s body was warm. The wrestling match had really gotten his blood pumping, to the point where he seemed indifferent to the night’s chill. In fact, wherever his wet skin met the air, steam came off, drifting lazily through the buggy glow of the lights. Brian looked up, realizing that his wife was watching. He met her gaze, and held it, for a moment unsure how to respond. Then he decided on a smile, a generous smile, and Cassandra smiled back. The chorus of family members, off in some other world now, resumed their singing. Pigboy had his arm slung around Edwin’s shoulder, and added his sweet voice to the last few iterations of Alive, alive-O!