The Skin of a Hog

by Luke Otley

Are you ready? 
Hell yea! 
Damn right! 
Hotty Toddy, gosh almighty, 
Who the hell are we? 
HEY! 
Flim Flam, Bim Bam, OLE MISS BY DAMN!

– Ole Miss football chant

I have never had a keen eye for strategy in any field. Predictably, the intricacies of American football are lost on me. I thought I could breeze through this pale existence without the particular ache that comes with the repeated mis-throw of a hog skin – Pfft, how wrong can one man be? When one of your few friends decides to begin collecting budget brand American sports equipment in a fetishistic manner, what choice do you have? I am certainly in no position to pick and choose my limited company based on the irrationality of their individual purchases…

I stood outside a bank resting a baseball bat lightly on my hunched shoulder. Elliot left with clear instructions to remain ‘inconspicuous’. There were dark stains ingrained into the bruised maple; dried blood. I thought I would plaster a smile on my face to assure the general public that I was safe, and keep my gaze shifting easily from one person to the next, not making any passer-by uncomfortable. When Elliot returned to the street, I watched him jump as if a fog horn was just blasted into his ear. He hurried over:

“Luke! What the hell do you think you’re playing at! You look like a raving lunatic!”

It was true. I had negated the fact that the front of my t-shirt was covered in the previous night’s dinner, as I have trouble using knives forks and spoons. The crusted orange stains threw the ‘friendly face of Truro’ image askew. My positioning also wasn’t ideal; I sat on the edge of a flowerbed three feet away from where a magician was giving a free show. There were five or six children participating, and my ominous shadow cast over the small crowd, causing them to periodically shudder as if touched by a ghost. The poor blighters probably thought I was part of the act – any child who didn’t applaud enthusiastically enough was duly followed down the nearest ally, wherein their skulls were crushed with one swift blow…

What I thought had been a reassuring smile had gradually turned into a bucked tooth grimace, my rotten teeth jutted at wild angles like the weathered headstones of unmarked graves. My pupils were spinning like a pair of stray black socks in a washing machine set at high speed. My posture was so poor that my chest had apparently caved in on itself, and each breath that rattled outwards sounded like it was the last. I could tell that Elliot was questioning his association with me, and that he was blinking rapidly to hold back tears. We swiftly departed the scene of the crime, never to return. “So long suckers!” I yelled over my shoulder, as I stepped in one of Truro’s abnormally deep and filthy gutters.

Against my advice, Sam was visiting the dentist. I told him, “Those are some real bad guys; you don’t want to fall in with that crowd” as he clutched his mouth and wailed incomprehensibly from tooth ache. “Let’s go to B&Q and we’ll get some pliers, it’ll be quick and painful” I said, but he shook his head and screwed up his eyes with such child-like venom that I left him alone. He was due to meet us at a local playing field in an hour.

Elliot and I arrived to the sight of frolicking children. It was a beautiful July afternoon, and the golden rays of sun licked my lacerated face like a lioness cleaning her young. We made our way out to a pile of dirt that we presumed was the baseball pitch. Elliot was the first to bat, and I pitched a ball seven feet to his right. The following eight throws were much the same as the first, and as we had no catcher, Elliot had to run all the way to the back of the field each time I missed.

Imagine being three years old again. You are playing in the sandpit when a white ball rolls gently to a stop next to you. It grabs your attention, you begin to lift yourself up and stagger towards it. Suddenly the ground begins to shake, and you lose your footing. You fall to the floor and begin to cry, but when you look for your mother, all you see is a giant chimpanzee barreling towards you. It is the most terrifying and disgusting sight you have ever seen. Its nostrils are flared to the size of planets. It has no eyes.  It wields a club in one hand, and claws desperately at the air with the other, as if drowning on land. It screeches so piercingly you try to bury your head in the sand like a confused ostrich. Almost at once it is upon you. All you can smell is the pungent sour stench of the ape’s sweat, you begin to retch.

Your mother screams, she’s here at last. The corners of your vision begin to blur, and quietly a corner of your brain acknowledges that one day you will recount this tale in a therapist’s office. The chimp tries to apologise in its own tongue, but it comes out as a series of clicks and hisses that your shaken mother refuses to understand…

No, we didn’t last long at that park. But there are always others, and sometimes we have a pretty good stretch. Bad luck just seems to follow us like a foul stink, and although I’m normally a rational person, things are getting desperate. I’ve started stepping over cracks in the pavement and avoiding black cats, and my mother can’t work out why we’re always out of salt…