When Joan's husband dies, she is forced to move with her young son, Joey, from home to home.
But at each home, an evil follows, forcing Joan and Joey to move again and again, hunted.
They never know why they’re being hunted. All they can do is run away from the constant threat until, hopefully, it gives up the chase … or they find a savior who can either end it, or help them to fight it forever.
After her husband died, Joan sold the pigs, left the farm, banked the insurance money and took her son, Joseph, into the city. The widow and child lived for a week with Joan’s friend and her husband and their two-month-old daughter. The husband was a police officer who couldn’t help but bring his work home with him. Joan watched his face as he stifled anger in front of the guests. Once, when he was in the backyard to argue in hissed whispers with his wife, Joan watched from an upper window to see the man slap the woman hard across her face. He pushed his nose against hers as his teeth chewed filthy words at her, jaw writhing like coiled snakes. The wife kept her eyes lowered, then went back into the house to wash the dishes, one of her chores. In three days, after searching ads advertising small, cheap houses, Joan took her son from the house, trailing gratitude and apologies behind her, heading for a house of her own in the city.READ MORE
She had been raised in a city, so it wasn’t a foreign style of life for her, though it was for Joseph. He couldn’t sleep, complaining about the noise of cars passing the house all night, the dogs barking, the squealing brakes of buses, sirens, and drunks shouting or singing. More noise than just crickets and frogs. He cried, wanting to go home, wanting daddy to come back to life, for things to return to normal. But Joan told him that all of his wishes were impossible to make happen. They were just dreams now, and the city and her husband’s death were reality.
Joseph hated reality. So he made dreams come true.
Joan found a small home made of red brick in an old part of the city that bordered an industrial complex. The skyline across the back of the house was comprised mainly of a highway offramp. Her son would just have to get used to the noise; the insurance money was only so much. The house sat in the loop of a cul-de-sac on a very short street. Most residents didn’t know that the street existed since it was so small; there was only a lone, barely habitable house on it. The world sped by the street, heading onto the highway.
There were a few other buildings that used the street as an address. A squat grey building housed an import/export business, no windows, a steel door fronting it, closed by five. Beside this was a vacant lot of overgrown grass and dumped cinder blocks and rusted car parts. Besides this was an automotive garage with a single mechanic who rarely had a car on the hoist; he was on disability and went to the garage to get away from his wife and kids and to drink, frequently falling asleep, saying he had to work late. Another building on the street had plywood nailed over its windows and doors, a sign from the city on its lawn, graffiti covering its front and sides and on the sign. Once a crack house, now nothing. More vacant lots took up space on the street, hedged in by chain link fences, weeds hiding condoms, syringes, and human excrement.
A wooden fence and a chain link fence with tangled, nested barbwire marked the boundaries of Joan’s tiny backyard. The former owner had put it up. The chain outside the wood, the wood raised higher than the chain and barbwire. Signs were stuck to the wood telling the world outside to keep out, to beware of the dog, and that the property was guarded and monitored by a security company. The previous owner had never had a problem with trespassers, junkies, prostitutes and their pimps, or thieves. He lived to be eighty-nine before a stroke felled him, remembered earlier times when there were no fences or highways, and the street was lined with homes filled with families.
A city was no place in which to get old.
Joan bought just the essentials to make the house livable. Beds, a table, two chairs, blackout curtains. She didn’t know how long she wanted to live in the house. When delivery vans arrived, she and Joseph peered around the curtains to make sure the van had the correct advertising on its side, and that the deliverymen wore uniforms. Then she let them in and told them which bedroom was hers and which was her son’s. Once the beds had been set down, she was polite, but made sure the deliverymen left promptly. The door was locked behind them.
Two screws on the deadbolt were loose. All locks came with the house. Yellow beans still grew in the backyard and were edible; small potatoes could still be unearthed, only a few of them black and turning to liquid. Pots and pans, cutlery, rags, cockroaches and mouse shit could be found in the drawers and cupboards. Butter in a tray in the fridge still smelled fine.
Watching the delivery van rumble out of the cul-de-sac and turn onto the main road, Joan peered at the sky. A blade of orange cloud with a red edge stretched over the breadth of the neighborhood. Night was coming. There wouldn’t be enough time to find where locks were sold. Would that be the better choice than getting a locksmith? Another person allowed into the house. One who probably knew this part of town better than she did. She preferred to be as self-sufficient as possible; she could change a lock or install multiple locks herself. ‘Locksmith’ was one of those professions that an industrious person, like Joan, didn’t need. She had no tools, not even a multiple-headed screwdriver, so the dead bolt would just have to hold for the night.
There was always cutlery, in case of self-defense.
“Hurry and eat your beans,” she told Joseph, but he knew the routine. “You’ll need your fork for self-defense.”
Joseph stuffed pale yellow beans into his mouth. Two of his teeth were lost, one swallowed in his sleep. He woke choking, pounding a fist against the wall at their old house until Joan rushed in and gave his stomach a squeeze from behind. The tooth shot from his mouth like a bullet and stuck into the wall. She broke three fingernails trying to pull it out, so it was left wedged into the drywall, and then they moved in with her friend.
Butter ran through cracks in the tiny potato on Joan’s plate. She saw how Joseph was looking at the ceiling, joined her glance to his, and saw an abandoned spider’s web wafting like a flag in a breeze which neither of them could feel. Muted engines roared in Morse code patterns. People on the offramp coming home before the moon rose.
“I don’t like it here either,” she told her son, answering the concern she saw in his eyes.
He sucked butter off the tines of his fork, then tucked the utensil into his back pocket, and ate the remaining beans with his fingers.
“Will the cars ever stop, mommy?”
“No. Never. As long as a road stays flat, some rough beast will always crawl across its surface.”
“What if the road isn’t flat? I could smash it!” He growled and flexed his little biceps.
“You could. But people are like ants. They’d sweep in and make it flat again. And ants are like people--they always need to go somewhere.”
Joseph dug two thumbnails into a tiny red potato and pried it open as if it were an orange.
“Why don’t people stay home, like us?”
“Because they’re afraid that if they stop moving they’ll die. And if they die, then civilization will die. People are also like sharks.”
“Are sharks like people?”
“No. Not at all. Sharks are like sharks. Much smarter than people.”
“Are pigs smarter than people?”
Joan’s fork shook, hovering over a potato. She grew a perspiration moustache. Tears burned in her eyes, but she held them back, concentrated on the streams of melted butter pooling on her plate.
“Please don’t mention them again, Joey.”
Pigs were the farm, pets and meat and wealth, home. The sorrow in his mother’s eyes turned Joey’s gaze to his shoes, laces hanging like strands of spaghetti. His wet lower lip jutted forward as he mumbled, “I’m sorry, mommy.”
“I’m not mad. Good people don’t get mad when sad subjects are brought up.” Fork lines scraped through potato flesh. “It’s just difficult to talk about sad things sometimes. Mummy needs a break. Okay?”
Joseph nodded without raising his eyes, feet swinging, laces slapping back against his denim cuffs.
Joan stroked his hair. “Tomorrow when we go out to get tools, I’ll get us some ice cream.”
“Won’t it melt?”
“We’ll find a place close by.”
“Will we get a car someday?”
“Maybe. For now, we have our backpacks. They’ll hold us.”
“I don’t like moving, mommy. It hurts.”
Joan sighed. She saw so much of herself in her son. And sometimes too much of her husband.
“I’m sorry. I don’t like it either. But sometimes we have to. One day we’ll find a place that will never ask us to move ever again. Then we can burn our backpacks.”
Joseph smiled the gaps in his mouth. His gaze swam across the ceiling. “I think this place is already asking us to move.”
The Morse code of motors continued. Joan touched her cracked and chewed fingernails to the wall.
“I think it is too.”
After washing the two dishes, they sat on the floor and stared at the blackout curtains shading the front windows.
“Will we get a sofa, mommy?”
Joan held a hand to her son’s head as she looked down into his eyes. His legs were crossed, his back straight, to mirror her sitting posture.
“Should we? Will we be here that long?”
“The floor’s hard.”
“Let’s get our pillows.”
Each retrieved the single pillow that rested on their beds. Dropping them side-by-side on the floor of the main room (not yet christened a ‘living room’), they sat.
“Will we sit like this all the time?” Joseph asked, wedging a thumbnail into a crack between floor tiles, prying up a corner webbed with old Sulphur-colored glue.
“Many people in other countries always sit on the floor. Very few have sofas. But I know what you’re asking. If we want to stay here, I’ll buy a sofa.”
Joseph looked at the black curtain. “And a television?”
“Yes. And vases of flowers and oil paintings and soap dishes and throw rugs. We have to decide if we’re nomads or not.”
His head tilted upward. A fingertip plucked the bent corner of the tile. “No mans?”
“Nomads. People who carry their homes in their backs. Like turtles and snails. Who never stay in one place too long.”
Joseph sighed at the curtains, and looked like a wise old man. One eyebrow arched and the other fell as he asked his mother, “If daddy was alive, would we be nomads?”
She cleared her throat, lips tight before she could answer. “No. This is a very important time in our lives. Because daddy died, we need to choose. To stay in one place or to keep moving.”
Joseph’s chin dropped and he looked for patterns in the tile’s flecks of color. Joan looked at them too, and saw multicolored stars.
“Daddy wouldn’t like to live here,” he said with all of his intelligence and wisdom.
She pulled his head towards herself and kissed his hair. “You’re right, he wouldn’t. But daddy would live where he lived and not move unless there was a good reason.”
“What’s a good reason?”
Joan smiled. “You just asked a very smart question and you probably didn’t even realize it. A good reason is whatever a person decides is a good reason. For daddy, it would be money.”
“Did you get money when daddy died?”
“Yes. But that’s not why we moved here. And it won’t be a reason for us to stay.”
“Can nomads go anywhere?”
She nodded. “Where would you like to go?”
4.0 out of 5 stars Three (Freaking Scary) Little Pigs
Reviewed in the United States on January 26, 2020
Joan is a widow and a mother to young Joseph. Joan must find the two of them a safe, secure home.
Widow is a re-imagining of The Three Little Pigs, so there are real pigs, yes, but also humans acting like pigs. When Bliss assigns pig attributes to humans, it’s really creepy and cleverly done.
I enjoyed the dream-like scenes. They weren’t necessarily full of action, but they were descriptive, stuffed with tension, and my favorite scenes.
The book is written in third person omniscient point of view. As I read, I felt pulled out of the story as it jumped around from one character’s thoughts to another (within the same scene). Even though this style of narration didn’t affect the way-cool plot, it was hard to follow at times, so I took off a star for this.
The ending let me down a little bit. I was envisioning, I dunno, maybe Joan busting out in a Teenage Mutant Ninja outfit to save the day. (Okay, not REALLY, but…) That’s not what happened. Still, the ending made sense, so no stars off.
Scary, dream-like at times, and a fun read (though not perfect). Four surreal stars.