The rifle was too big for him.
Daisy stood behind her younger brother Julius and watched his fumbling hands try to line the gun up to its target. The butt of the rifle floated well past his head. His right hand barely covered the forestock. His pointer finger was just long enough to graze the trigger. His hands, the gun—everything trembled in unison.
“What you’re gonna do,” their grandfather Joe began, a hand on the back of Julius’ head holding it steady, realigning the rifle just slightly so it pointed towards the pigpen, “is hold that gun still right there until you get a shot you like. Just wait a minute.”
Daisy wiped a line of sweat from her brow, the droplets collecting on the back of her hand. She blew a cool breath and watched the droplets silently run away from her into the crevices between her fingers. Heavy morning humidity hung in the air and it hadn’t even crossed 10 a.m. yet. Daisy figured it would be the only cool air she’d feel on her skin all day and enjoyed the slight reprieve of her own making, even just on the back of her hand.
“How do I know I got the right one?” Julius’ small voice still carried the high pitch of youth. It reminded Daisy too much of their older brother Cotton, when they spent their days riding their bicycles around the neighborhood, fighting each other with misshapen rocks and jagged sticks until someone’s skin broke open. That was years ago, before the house was filled with anger. Once, Daisy spied on a fight between her grandfather and Cotton. She crept out of her bedroom and into the hallway, making sure to avoid the squeaky floorboards that usually announced her arrival. She went just far enough where she could see the outline of each body in the living room. Cotton and Joe were shoving each other, both of their hands caught in the other’s shirt. Cotton’s back hit the wall with a hollow thud. They were huffing, their eyes glaring at one another. Daisy held her breath, afraid she would break the uneasy balance that settled over the room. She felt her chest burn with expired air until Cotton pushed himself away from the wall Joe held him against and staggered out of the house. Daisy crept a few inches forward and saw her mother sitting in the gray loveseat, a cigarette dangling from her fingertips. She hadn’t said a word the entire time.
“You’ll know it,” said Joe. He receded behind Julius, his shadow falling from view. Julius took a deep breath. His trembling hands calmed to tiny tremors. Expectation settled around them all. With Cotton gone, the only person Joe wanted to teach how to shoot was Julius. Not Daisy.
A group of gnats settled around Daisy’s head. She waved them off but their miniscule bodies kept attacking and settled around her neck. She slapped at them with the palm of her hand, her hand making a loud pop against her neck. Before she could pull her hand away an overwhelming boom startled Daisy, and her body jumped instinctively from the shock of the noise. When she looked up she saw Julius he was still stumbling around in a thin trail of white smoke.
“Goddammit Daisy.” A wad of spit landed on the grass. Joe’s voice was little more than a whisper, but it seemed to travel through the smoke-filled backyard.
“What? I didn’t do nothing.” Daisy scratched the side of her neck. A smashed gnat caught underneath her fingernail. She flicked the remains away.
“You scared him! Julius shot before he was ready.”
“He was gonna shoot anyway, weren’t you Julius?”
Julius was silent. He stood in front of the dead pig that lay inside the makeshift fence Joe built ten years prior. Singed skin marked the bullet’s entry. A thick trickle of blood rolled through the hair and sweat of the pig until it finally dripped onto the ground. When Daisy got near the collecting pool of blood she prodded it and the dirt together into a paste with her scratched up Mary Janes.
Joe came up behind them and clasped the top of Julius’ shoulder. “That’s a good shot. Couldn’t have done it better myself for a first time.”
“Cotton got it in the eyes his first time,” Daisy said.
Joe tightened his grip on Julius’ shoulder. “Now the next part is cleaning it up. We gotta get this hair and dirt off him.” Joe hoisted the pig over his shoulder, its blood staining the back of Joe’s blue t-shirt. A constellation of tiny maroon specks formed across his left shoulder. Joe and Julius left Daisy staring at the pen, her eyes scouring over the five remaining pigs clustered together in the far corner that was nearest to the woods. She knew they wouldn’t come back over until food was added to the trough. Some of the food they put in the trough were the leftover parts of the pig that wasn’t eaten or given away. Sometimes Daisy wondered if the pigs knew what they were eating. Cotton once said that pigs were dumb animals, but something about the way they always huddled together on the days when Cotton or Joe came out to kill one of them made Daisy think differently. They knew to protect each other in numbers.
Daisy went inside the house, happy to get the burning sun off her skin. She followed the sounds of her mother’s record player to a half-opened bedroom. Inside, her mother Janine was half-dressed with black stockings, a skirt, and a bra covering her body. Janine shimmied to Sam Cooke while applying eyeliner. She looked at Daisy through the mirror. She held up the eyeliner to her mouth like a microphone.
“I try to forget, I have no regrets, this love of ours could always start anew,” Janine sang, her voice overtaking Sam Cooke’s. She nodded at Daisy and Daisy put her own hand up to her mouth, pretending she had her own microphone.
“Just call my name, I know I’m not ashamed. I’ll come running back to you,” Daisy finished. Janine loved the song, but Daisy didn’t particularly care for it. No one ever really came running back.
“You finally tired of them pig killings?” Janine asked. Daisy shrugged. Her mother never cared much about the actual killings, only the meat Joe butchered up to cook afterwards.
“Granddaddy never lets me shoot.”
“He’s never gonna to let you shoot.”
“Cause I’m a girl?” Daisy asked. “Cotton said I was better than him when we shot cans in the woods.”
The song finished. Janine carefully removed the needle from the record, putting it to the side of the player, and went back to applying her makeup. She placed the slanted tip of the lipstick to her lips, painting them a sharp red that would stand in contrast to her monotonous black and white secretarial uniform. Presentable, Janine had told Daisy once. Don’t wear nothing that can get you fired. They’ll do it to us the first chance they get .
“You need to stop bringing Cotton up so much. He made his choices.” Janine put a delicate tissue between her lips and pressed her lips together. A perfect red print of her lips were left on the tissue. “And mentioning him so much is only going to make your granddaddy angrier.”
“It’s not fair!”
Janine raised her eyebrows. “You’re twelve now, Daisy. You should know it’s never gonna be fair.”
Daisy kicked at the bed in frustration, hoping some of the blood had fallen onto the rug below. It was an old conversation now, the one about how Daisy was supposed to conduct herself. Take off your school clothes before going out in the woods behind the house. No roughhousing with the neighborhood boys. Cover up. Be respectable out in public. Don’t smart off to the white people in town. These rules hadn’t applied to Cotton and Daisy knew the rules wouldn’t apply to Julius, either. During one of their arguments, as they were washing dishes, Daisy asked Janine why she was expected to do more than Cotton. And without breaking her rhythm of soaping up a dish and rinsing off the suds, Janine answered Daisy with a simple, “You’re a girl.”
Janine finished dressing – white buttoned shirt, uncomfortable black heels, straight hot-combed hair— before she stood in front of Daisy, the red lipstick tube in hand.
“I suppose,” Janine began as she grabbed Daisy’s face between her fingers, squeezing just enough to pucker Daisy’s lips before gliding the wax on Daisy’s own pout, a smaller version of Janine’s. “You’re too much like Cotton for your granddaddy to stand.”
Daisy wanted to protest in between her caved-in cheeks. She wasn’t like Cotton. She was still here, wasn’t she? But Daisy didn’t say anything. Janine turned around and hummed the Sam Cooke song they had just sung. That was the end of the conversation. Daisy looked at herself in the mirror. She rolled her lips together, smearing the red lipstick past the perfect outline her mother had created. Daisy wiped away the smudges. She liked it when her lipstick was perfect too.
“Take this over to Charles at the pharmacy.” Janine held out a white envelope, her delicate script covering the front in blue ink. Daisy hesitated, only taking the envelope after Janine had raised her eyebrows again. She snatched the letter from her mother and stuffed it into the front pocket of her dress.
“Tell him I said to write back this time.”
“Why can’t you give it to him? You work close to the pharmacy.”
Janine’s responding smile was large and unnatural. “Because I can’t.” Her fingers skipped over the outline of Daisy’s face before taking hold. Janine tiled Daisy’s head up so Daisy had no choice but to look up into her mother’s eyes. “You don’t read the letters, do you?” Janine asked, her voice dropping. Daisy shook her head no. Janine searched into her daughter’s eyes, taking in one then the other, before nodding, her smile reduced to something wistful and sad.
“By noon, please.” She let go of Daisy and left the room. A shouted “goodbye” to Joe and Julius and a slammed door announced her departure from the home.
Daisy pulled the envelope out of her pocket. The envelope had crinkled a little, but was still intact and, most importantly, readable. She traced the blue letters, one at a time, until she came to the end of his name. Charles. The letters started out being addressed to a Mr. Franklin, then a Mr. Charles Franklin, until finally, with the last several letters Daisy carried post-Cotton, Charles. Charles, written in her mother’s perfect cursive with the proper loop at the beginning of the C and another loop at the end of the S.
When they were still addressed to Mr. Franklin Daisy took them to his house, an old three-story Victorian that sat outside the town’s color divide. The house came into view one small increment at a time until finally the entire massive structure stood before her— bold, intimidating, and white. Daisy never dared to venture up the porch steps, always choosing to place the letters in the mailbox that was next to the road. That didn’t stop Mrs. Franklin from looking down at her while she sat in her porch swing, still and silent, wearing the same unreadable look Daisy had seen on her mother. This continued until one day it wasn’t Mrs. Franklin looking down at her, but Mr. Franklin. Daisy heard each hollow step as he made his way down to her. He stood on the road with her next to the mailbox, his height lording over her. Don’t come here anymore, he said quietly but aggressively. He handed her a chocolate bar before walking back into the white house, the door closing with a resounding hollow thud. Underneath the candy was a folded piece of paper taped shut with Janine’s name on it. After that, Daisy was instructed by Janine to take the letters to the pharmacy. That was fine with Daisy. She didn’t like avoiding curious white eyes wondering why she was in a neighborhood she didn’t belong in.
She had shown Cotton the letters once when they were left alone, their only instructions being to take care of a toddler Julius, and, for Daisy, to take the letter to Mr. Franklin. Before she left for the pharmacy, Daisy held up the letter to Cotton. Look what I get to do, she said with a smile, but Cotton ignored her and snatched the letter from her hands. He carefully opened it to Daisy’s fearful protests and read the letter. He laughed. He placed the letter back in the envelope, using a bit of glue to seal it back shut.
“Your mama dumb,” Cotton said.
“She your mama too,” Daisy cried out. Cotton shrugged.
“She still dumb.” He hocked a loogie next to her shoe in the middle of the living room. He walked away. She didn’t show him anymore letters.
Daisy put the letter back into her pocket and walked back outside, pass the male voices coming from the shed, and the pen where the pigs began to spread out. The mating calls of frogs, crickets, and birds welcomed her into the wooded theatre that lined the back of the house. She hiked half a mile until she got to the ransacked shack that barely stood in the middle of fallen trees. Chipped and faded paint tried to mask rotting wood that splintered into uneven chunks. The steps were difficult to maneuver. Daisy had to jump from one piece to the next, holding onto an uneasy column that jostled just a little too much for comfort, always feeling one hard yank away from toppling over. But it wasn’t enough to make her leave the house and never come back.
Daisy kicked around discarded potato chips bags and candy wrappers and went inside. The brown and white cat that came with the house was sleeping on the windowsill. His body casted lumpy shadows on the floor. Daisy shuffled her feet towards a corner and knelt down. She banged on each floorboard until she found the loose panel and freed it from the others. She looked down at Joe’s second rifle.
Cotton had found the house a year before. It wasn’t nearly as worn down then, just abandoned in the middle of the woods with a few loose wooden steps and an outside that wasn’t useful to anyone. He brought Daisy for the first time one winter afternoon after a light morning snow had covered the ground with a dusting of white powder. Cotton carried a heavy bag and Daisy held on to bologna sandwiches she wrapped in the good tin foil Janine reused. Before they got to the cracked stairs, Cotton grabbed Daisy’s arm and led her around the back of the house. Their boots crunched loudly against snow, sticks, and glass as they arrived to an outhouse. Daisy saw where the glass came from. The windows in the outhouse had all been shattered, the majority littered on the ground underneath it. There were seven tin cans sitting on the windowsill replacing the windows, all of them holding a bullet hole.
“What we doing here, Cotton?” Daisy asked. She looked around and saw nothing except for snow-covered trees. He ignored her and dropped his bag onto the ground. He unzipped it and pulled out two gray blankets, a long mahogany rifle, and a box of bullets.
“That’s Granddaddy’s gun!”
“I know it’s Granddaddy’s gun, calm down.” Cotton stood up with the gun in his hands. He situated it on his shoulders before pointing it towards the already damaged cans.
The shot rang out. She covered her ears too late and her ears started ringing. She couldn’t do anything more than look at Cotton and the cocky grin he wore.
He pointed at the cans. “Look.” Daisy looked at the outhouse. The leftmost can had fallen on top of the shattered glass.
“I’m gonna teach you to shoot,” Cotton said. “Granddaddy’s gonna need someone to kill the pigs. He can’t do it. He can barely cut up the pig when it’s dead.”
“But you already kill the pigs,” Daisy said when the ringing had dulled into a gentle buzzing in her ears.
“He’s gonna need someone to kill the pigs when I’m gone.”
Daisy narrowed her eyes. “What are you talking about?”
“I can’t stay here anymore, Daisy.” Cotton paused as the gun swung back and forth in his hands. “Granddaddy talking shit every day. Mama just sitting there and letting him. I gotta go.”
“He does that to me too, you know.” Daisy stepped closer to Cotton and the gun, close enough to touch him if she wanted to. She didn’t.
“Yeah, but he ain’t going after you like he do me. You ain’t the oldest.”
“So you’re just gonna leave me here by myself?” Daisy bit her lip. The faint taste of iron filled her mouth.
“He hates me like he hates my daddy. They think I don’t know, but I do.”
“Know what, Cotton?”
“But I know.” Cotton’s lips grew thin and his grip tightened on the rifle. To Daisy it looked like he was trying to break the gun into two pieces.
“Is that why you bring me here?”
Daisy’s voice seemed to bring Cotton back from wherever place he had been. He turned to Daisy, brandishing a new smile. “This place is too good for it to go to waste. I’m gonna teach you to shoot right now. C’mon.”
He grabbed Daisy’s arm and pulled her into his previous position directly in front of the outhouse. He handed her the gun. The rifle was heavier than Daisy expected, but not uncomfortable. She could hold it, lift it, hoist it up on her shoulders like she had seen Cotton and their grandfather do countless times.
“Alright, now position the gun to the cans.” Daisy turned towards Cotton’s voice and he ducked before the gun could hit him in the face. “The cans, Daisy, not me. Damn.” He stood up and positioned Daisy back to her original position.
“Put your left hand on the stock, like you’re cradling it. Now put your right hand on the guard. Let your finger just barely touch the trigger. I know you know how to do this.”
She did know how to do it. She had watched as Joe taught Cotton and imitated Cotton’s every movement while she observed the two of them from the safety of the woods. Joe gave a direction, Cotton listened and followed his direction, and Daisy followed Cotton. There was something in shooting the rifle that Daisy understood, even without holding one. How it became an extension of your arm. How it needed a precise touch. It felt natural to her.
“And when you’re ready, fire.” Daisy aimed the gun at the now leftmost case. Her eyes opened winder. She pulled the trigger.
The recoil forced her to stumble backwards two steps. When she glanced at the can it was still standing tall on the windowsill.
“That wasn’t good,” Cotton said.
“I know,” Daisy said defensively. The rifle hung from her hand, the muzzle digging into the snow.
“We’re going to try something different.” Cotton circled Daisy until he stood just behind her. “Turn around here like this.” He firmly touched Daisy’s waist, twisting her to face the shack and not the cans. She had to look over her left shoulder to see them.
“Now separate your feet a bit.” He kicked at them until she moved her feet shoulder width apart. He placed his own feet on the outside of hers.
“Hold up the gun. Put the butt of it on your right shoulder and let your left hand lead it up to the cans.”
Daisy followed her brother’s directions. Cotton planted himself against her back, his left hand cradling her left hand cradling the front of the gun in a rounded V shape, his right hand sitting on top of hers that still held tight to the guard. He pressed against her back, the gun not moving in either of their grips. His fingers traces over hers and she jumped, stopping just short of pulling the trigger.
“Don’t point at the cans exactly,” he whispered from somewhere above. Daisy could feel Cotton’s chin on top of her head. The pressure was starting to seep into her head. “That’s the trick. If you point too directly you’ll never hit it. Just near enough.”
He was calm. Sure. She took a deep breath. She made herself calm. And sure.
“Pull on three.”
She nodded. His chin dung deeper into her head and Daisy ignored the sharp pain that came with it.
They pulled together. She heard the ping of the can being hit by the bullet, the crack of glass as the can landed on top of the shards, her heart beating faster and faster in her chest.
“See? Easy.” Cotton grinned. A tooth on the right side of his mouth, a canine, was slightly discolored. It was a poor yellow stain in a sea of bright white teeth.
“Easy,” Daisy answered back, flushed.
She pulled the rifle out of its hiding spot. Daisy never had the nerve to steal from Joe’s dwindling supply of bullets, so she just aimed and imagined the sound of the small explosion. Sometimes she took the rifle back outside and aimed it at silver cans only she could see. But on days when she could feel the sweat on the back of her neck she preferred the shade of inside, picking random targets. Today it was the cat, and Daisy trained the gun on the sleeping animal, holding the trigger slightly, just enough where she could feel that initial increase of pressure on her finger, just enough to make her use more force if she wanted to hear that click, that bang if a bullet was in the chamber. But she stopped short when the cat opened its right eye and looked at Daisy while the pointed rifle was directed towards its face, almost daring Daisy to pull the trigger, before closing its eye again and ignoring Daisy altogether.
“Stupid cat,” Daisy said, before tucking the gun back into its hiding place, boarded up and undetectable so that when she stepped back, only she knew where her angry was stored.
She left the house and walked another half mile through the thick greenery until she heard the busy sounds of the downtown area filtering through the serene of the woods towards her. It wasn’t long until the vegetation grew thinner and she could smell car exhaust and burnt cooking oil intermixing with one another.
She entered a small alleyway that barely held two overflowing trash cans and a mangy mutt sniffing around them, scratching on the silver cans until they toppled over. Daisy quickly walked around the dog and entered into civilization. She heard laughing and found two older women sitting in white chairs, unfinished food on their table. She stared at them until they began to stare back at her frowning and waiting to judge her next move. Daisy smiled, something Janine had taught her to do around old white women.Smile and let them call you a good colored child, Janine had said.You can usually walk away without causing nothing. You may even get a few pennies out of them. The advice usually worked, but the women at the table continued to stare at Daisy, their frowns cutting deeper into their lined mouths. Daisy wondered if she was too old for the trick to work anymore. Janine had warned her against that, too.
Daisy waited for the light to change. The first time she had tried to cross the busy street it was with Cotton. He waited until the opposite light was green but with a noticeable gap between cars to dash across the road, making it to the other sidewalk with ease. Daisy followed, but tripped onto the yellow lines, the shock of the fall and the coming cars leaving her crying in the middle of the road. She remembered the shock on Cotton’s face as he ran back and picked her up. She remembered his tight grip, his fingernails digging into her upper arm so much that when she tried to wiggle away they only entrenched themselves deeper into her skin. It was the first day of spring, and she had switched into a sleeveless dress once her mother had left for work. When they got home, Daisy placed a Band-Aid on her fingernail created cuts and put back on the short-sleeved dress Janine had laid out for her that morning.
When the light turned red Daisy ran until she was safely on the other sidewalk. If she took a right she could go and see her mother at work, watch as Janine answered phones and brought coffee to the white insurance agents she worked for. But she took a left and slowly jogged three blocks, passing the furniture store and the outlet store, until she got to the Coke machines outside of the pharmacy. She placed her head on the cool machine wishing she could see the ice-cold cans inside, wishing she could place one on the back of her neck. It was nearly noon and the July summer was making itself known.
Daisy entered the pharmacy and sighed as the goosebumps rose over her skin as the air conditioner settled over her. The pharmacy was one of the few stores in town that could afford to have air conditioning, along with the grocery store and the hospital. She browsed from one aisle to the next, picking up an item and sitting it back down on the shelf, making herself look busy until Mr. Franklin became free. He stood behind the counter helping an elderly woman who insisted on opening her white prescription bag right there and making sure she was given the correct medication. A smiled crawled over Mr. Franklin’s face. Daisy knew better than to think the smile was genuine.
The old woman said her goodbyes and Daisy grabbed three chocolate bars and headed to the counter. As they passed one another Daisy could smell liniment and floral perfume trying to combine into one harmonious scent. They didn’t. Daisy held her breath as she got to her counter, plopping the candy on top. She looked up at Mr. Franklin, his face frozen with a different smile than the one he had just given the elderly woman. This smile felt more appraising, more like he needed to take inventory of her. His eyes followed the smile’s lead, looking Daisy over from the top of her head and slowly wound their way down until his sight was cut off by the counter. Sometimes he would leant over the counter gaining greater access to the sight of her. And then he stared, as if memorizing her. It made Daisy uncomfortable and left her wanting the days of Mrs. Franklin’s cold glares. When the sound of the woman’s cane disappeared Daisy took the letter from her pocket and placed it next to the candy.
“I’m taking them.” It wasn’t quite a demand, but Mr. Franklin nodded and they both pocketed their goods.
“What’s that on your face?” Mr. Franklin took a finger and swiped it across her lips. Daisy jumped back. There was a bright red line on his finger. Daisy rubbed her lips together, trying to replace the lipstick.
“Janine letting you wear lipstick now?” His tone was disapproving, as if he controlled Janine and what she allowed Daisy to do and not do.
“And I need money for the Coke machine. It’s hot out.”
“I can’t just give you money, Daisy.” Mr. Franklin shuffled some loose paper together. He didn’t look at her.
“Why not? I just want a dollar or two.”
The bell above the door rang and in walked the two older women Daisy saw eating lunch.
“Because I can’t. How do you think it looks me handing out dollars to some girl?”
“We can ask them.” Daisy glanced over her shoulder and spied the two women huddle together looking at alarm clocks, flipping one box around and around, doing what she did not five minutes prior.
“Daisy.” There was warning in Mr. Franklin’s voice.
“I come here all the time.” Daisy raised her voice, hoping it would catch the attention of the women. It worked. When she glanced at them this time they dropped all pretenses of looking at the merchandise.
“And every time I’m here, you always lean over the counter to look at me. What you be looking at, Mr. Franklin?” She rolled her body, her left hip sticking out and posing like she’d seen in magazines. She didn’t have to look back to know they were staring at her. Maybe their mouths were opened or they were still frowning. She didn’t see their faces, but she saw Mr. Franklin’s. A furious icy glare. Good. She knew it would be easier to get the money that way.
“You should probably give me the money before they come over here,” Daisy said under her breath. The words were barely out of her mouth before footsteps began making their way towards them at the counter. Daisy smiled.
“You watch yourself, Daisy.”
“Or what?” Daisy rubbed her lips together again. She could feel the slick waxy lipstick replace what Mr. Franklin took away. “What are you actually going to do?”
He pulled out four one-dollar bills from the register. “This the last time. You better make them last.” His voice was low and brisk and held a warning within it.
A throat cleared behind them. Daisy swiped the money from the counter.
“Mama says to call her when you can. I’ll tell her you appreciated the letter.” She didn’t wait for his response, fleeing from her scene and only stopping once she reached the Coke cans outside. She put one dollar into the machine, put the other three in her pocket, and pushed the second button once, then twice. She gathered her two cans of Coke and ran back the way she came – the three blocks, across the street, through the alleyway, and back into the thick woods. She paused at the black shack catching her breath. The second can of Coke used to go to Cotton. They would drink them at the shack because Janine never wanted them to drink soda. They would toss the new cans onto the floor that joined old crushed or bullet-ridden cans that already laid claim to the floor. Cotton usually spoke so much Daisy didn’t need to talk. But then Cotton didn’t speak, and Daisy felt like she had to fill the air with something until she gave up and decided it was better they just sat in the silence. Daisy had forgotten he was gone that first time after the fight. She got the two cans of Coke and sat on the uneven porch waiting, until she remembered. She sat the extra can of Coke on the outhouse windowsill, got the rifle from the floorboards, and shot it, without waiting, without setting up the way Cotton taught her. It took her three tries, but she finally nailed the can, the brown liquid spraying everywhere, far enough to stain her clothes. It felt satisfying.
But this time, after catching her breath, she kept on walking until she found the clearing and then the pen. The pigs were roaming around again. The dead pig hung upside down from a tree over a metal tub filled with hot water underneath it. Daisy sat in the grass at the bottom of one of the oaks that framed the edge of the woods and placed the Cokes on the ground to let the fizz die down. Julius was running around, trying to get Joe to let him do something, anything, with the dead pig. She didn’t know why Julius wanted to help with the cleaning. It was the foulest part of the job. First, the hair had to burnt off the skin. Then, a knife had to be run through its belly to remove all the inner organs and whatever blood was left. And the only way to remove the inner organs of the pig was to stick your hands inside the pig. And after that it could be chopped into parts for eating. But first was the hair burning with the hot water, and when the pig came out it always smelled like boiled scorched pork. Daisy didn’t want to be a part of that job.
She opened her Coke and took a sip of the now warm liquid. She pulled the chocolate bars from her pocket. They were melted, and she pushed around the nuts before tearing one of the wrappers open and licking off the chocolate. She spat the nuts onto the ground. The squirrels would find them later. Once, a squirrel had jumped from a tree while she was still sitting there, watching Cotton and Joe cut open a pig. She yelped. The squirrel looked at her, grabbed its treasure, then ran back up the tree.
She was almost finished with her second bar when Julius ran up to her, plopping himself down next to her by the oak. He smelled faintly of boiled scorched pork. Daisy held her nose and tried not to gag as she handed her the final bar and the other can of Coke.
“Granddaddy said I did good today,” Julius said after he ate the chocolate and was still chewing on the nuts. “He said that I’m going to help him with the next pig, too.”
“That’s great,” Daisy said with her voice flat.
Julius hummed his approval. “Granddaddy said you’re just jealous you don’t get to shoot the pigs.”
“I can tell Granddaddy to teach you.”
Daisy shoved Julius harder then she meant to, but she didn’t apologize. She learned from Cotton that you don’t apologize to siblings. Not for anything. “You can’t tell Granddaddy nothing. Just drink your Coke.”
Daisy leaned back on the tree and looked at the pigs. They weren’t dumb animals, she decided. Not dumb animals at all. Just trapped in a pen. Maybe they knew they were caged. And maybe they knew they were going to die, they just didn’t know when. One of the smaller pigs— too big to be a piglet, not big enough to be killed just yet— sniffed around the wooden leg where Julius’ pig was shot. Daisy didn’t have to imitate holding the gun. She felt the gun on her shoulder. She felt the trigger underneath her finger. She heard the bang.