pig, slaps him and makes him grunt, tickles the pig’s crooked gash of a mouth with a piece of strawcontinues to mess around fondly with this pet of his, this huge and indolent pink-fleshed buddy. Suddenly, in a pen of three, then in a pen of four, finally in a whole pig neighborhood of the barn, there begins a Walpurgis Night of hysterical, high-pitched, almost metallic squealsas though a dozen street cars were coming to a haltwith a Boris Godunov-basso profundo counterpoint added by other hogs. Something is in the air, some threat or need or excruciating delight, and pigs join in a swelling, sustained swine chorus. Each day the exhibitors lead their animals into the arena where a judge, godly in hat and tie and boots, moves carefully about, saying nothing, his gaze continuous, penetrating; he stoops here to feel the flesh on an animal’s back, there to inspect its hindquarters or brisket; he straightens up, moving about some more, the contestants watching him constantly, their eyes riveted to his face, waiting for a nod or hand gesture that means they are to move to first or fifth or 18th place. Each day spectators sit in the stands and watch a girl parade by in tight jeans and a white T-shirt that says “Flick My Bic.” She lopes around and around the arena, followed by a trim-bodied, blackfaced sheep, obviously a pet of long standing. The girl, somewhat boyish, rocks tirelessly in a side-to-side gait, and the lambneurotically dependent now on the neat-jeaned buttocks in front of itdutifully goes lap after lap, black ears rhythmically flopping. Each day townspeople wander through the barns, fathers wearing softshiny leather jackets and checkered dress pants from Union Fashion. They are squeaky-clean, BankAmericard middle-class, as conspicuously out of their element as the kids from the Paisano projects. They stroll by, hands in pockets, tolerant, detached, Saturday casual, viewing horses in stalls as they would giraffes in a zoo. Finally, after the last lamb has been judged and the last ribbon draped across a Duroc hog, the winners line up behind the auction barn; the prospective buyersfrom the gas and electric companies, the banks, the service clubs, the shopping centers, the automobile dealershipsget out small calculators and take their seats among the spectators in the auction room, and the stock show draws to a close. Amid cheerleader clapping by mothers and friends from Alpine and Fabens and Las Cruces, the exhibitors, one by one, lead their animals into the ring and the auctioneer begins his tongue-twisting chant, “Sayyyyy-I-haveone-fifty-one-fifty-one-fifty-one -fiftv. The auction assistants roam about in front with rolled-up programs in their hands, seeking out the bidders in the stands, pointing to them, waiting, catching an affirmative nod, signaling with a sharp “Yaa-000hhh!” to the auctioneer, moving on. The bidding over, the exhibitor leads Madge or Curly or Whimpythis lovingly groomed body with its prize-winning conformationout of the ring to the back lots where packinghouse trailers wait to carry it off to slaughter. The show is over. Dust hangs in the air as trailers and pickups pull out through the main gatepast the same county sheriff cars that have been parked there all week. Pigeons return to the sheep pens to peck in the spilled grain. Sparrows fly in through the barn windows and talk wildly to one another in the rafters: the empty stalls, the aisles, the sun rays are theirs again. Broken styrofoam cups lie in the scattered straw. And in the doorway of the judging arena the five maintenance, crew Indians, in their faded jeans and red headbands, lean on rakes and hoes and stare out at the deserted grounds. Two of them are smiling. Elroy Bode’s West Texas pieces have appeared in the Observer since 1963. The author of four collections of sketches and short fiction published by Texas Western Press, Bode is a high school English teacher in El Paso. Relax, and take a break for lunch or dinner, and W atch the river go by. The drinks are ample, and the cheesecake is our own. We have sandwiches to seafood, from 11:30 until 11:30 every day of the week; open till midnight in the Metro Center, San Antonio, Texas. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11
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