- The Noise of His Tabernacle
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[End Page 16]
I know the Lord delivered Alfred Konopacki to me. Whether he did it for Alfred’s sake or for mine alone I can’t say, but I can see His plan at work since at least the summer I was fourteen. That was the summer—late summer, October almost—that my Daddy woke me up one Saturday morning and said he [End Page 17] was taking me to work on Jim Tucker’s farm. Jim Tucker had a little place out on the way to Dalhart where he raised chickens and a little bit of sorghum, and every year at the end of summer my Daddy, a long-time skilled butcher who worked on the line at Farwell Yard, helped him to slaughter the chickens he didn’t want to feed through the winter. I couldn’t think of a more repulsive way to spend my weekend than cutting up chickens all day, so at breakfast I asked my Mama if she’d let me stay home and help her with the dresses for Ginnie Kinsey’s bridesmaids. My Mama said, “Arlene, you got fists like two grapefruits. The Lord don’t want you for a seamstress.”
So I spent all that morning bleeding broilers with my Daddy and Jim Tucker and Jim’s boy Russ. On account of being a kid and a girl, I didn’t have to do any of the butchering, but that’s not to say it wasn’t hard work; by the end of the day the tips of my fingers all felt like they’d been smashed with a hammer, and I couldn’t get the rusty smell of blood out of my nose. As we were cleaning up, Jim Tucker asked my Daddy if, before we left, he’d like to help him slaughter a hog. “Most foolish hundred and fifty I ever spent, that damn ugly thing.”
My Daddy said it weren’t legal, he’d have to have them do it at the Yard.
“I know it,” Jim told him. “But I don’t plan to sell it, just freeze it for the winter. And I want the damn ugly thing off my hands. Be happy to give you what you like off it. Take it home to your girls.”
“What the hell,” Daddy said.
Jim brought her, the sow, out to a patch of dirt behind his little tractor port. There was a shallow depression there to catch all the blood. Whether or not that was its purpose, that’s what it did. For Jim Tucker and my Daddy it was just business—who knows how many hogs they’d bled—but I’d never seen such a thing, and I watched fearfully with Russ while they prepared her. No way she knew she was going to die, how still she was when Jim braced her at the hip and my Daddy put an arm around her shoulders and with the skill and care of a real artisan, quickly, so that it happened while you were still scared of what was going to happen, so that a bright red jet of blood fired silently out from the throat and the animal crumpled into the earth before you saw the man even cock his arm, he pierced the skin and let his craft do its work.
She didn’t go quiet, despite the best work of those two men, and it was the sound she made that is most memorable to me still. What it looked like and how it smelled weren’t nothing like the sound she made. [End Page 18] It wasn’t that quiet low gurgle like the chickens. It was a damn awful shriek, like the brakes worn thin on a truck, but louder, and reaching deeper into you. And I could hear some kind of message in it, like the hog was screaming, I’m a creation of God like you and I don’t want to die and my final curse against what you done to me is this...