Issue #120: Pigs

I have a special relationship with my mailman. His name is Paul and his unflagging exactitude is noteworthy. I live in a building owned by my sister and brother-in-law and for a while, all three apartments in that building were rented by members of my family. All three mailboxes had “Holt” on them, which could have led to some confusion, but Paul is a stickler so our letters and bills were never mixed up. I don’t know much about Paul, really, but he is a constant and reassuring presence in my life. And I feel like he knows me, that somehow his knowledge about which magazines I subscribe to and how many wedding invitations I receive might translate into some deeper understanding of my psyche. We exchange the usual pleasantries when I see him and sometimes he rings the doorbell with inquiries. (“Who,” he asked me the other day, “is this person?” about an addressee whose name he didn’t recognize. I explained that it was a friend who is staying with my sister for a month.) Nothing escapes Paul’s attention. The United States Postal Service is lucky to have him in its employ.

And because of my relationship with people like Paul, Craig Hartglass’s “Pigs” really captured my imagination. “Pigs” was an unsolicited submission that arrived in my inbox last fall without a cover note or author bio. Its strong voice hooked me from the very first paragraph and when I passed the story on to other readers, we all agreed that this belonged in One Story. “Pigs” is about the relationships we have with the people we don’t really know. The connections–however limited–we make with the people we see regularly at the gym, the library, the coffee shop or the bank often make up for deficits in our lives. These strangers become regular players in our imaginations and landmarks on our personal maps. Sometimes these relationships are the most stable ones we have. Our marriages may unravel, our parents may die, but if the same barista is steaming our milk, everything seems manageable. And in this digital age,when so many of our connections are made online, the prosaic face-to-face exchange assumes added meaning. In this story, a relationship that is entirely transactional (between a bank teller and a regular customer at the bank) evolves over many years. We never see these two people interact outside the bank and we never know their names. Author Craig Hartglass offers no neat conclusions, but his keen observations about these characters evoke two full lives. Read this Q&A with Craig Hartglass and feel free to share your comments about this story.

11 thoughts on “Issue #120: Pigs

  1. This was my favorite ‘One Story’ story in a long while. Thanks for running it. I agree: the voice grabs you and pulls you in. The language is precise and there is a music to it. I loved the observations of the teller, especially the image of her jumping rope as a snotty little girl, and the pigs on the fingernails made me crack up. I hope to see more from Craig Hartglass.

    AJG

  2. He had just finished writing a story.
    Though he was not certain of that. It was almost one of those pieces from a writer who might have shared the narrative style of a classmate, but not like the work of someone who discovered books while laid up with polio because polio had been eradicated for the most part, for Chrissakes. And thinking of how he and she, the girl with the overly thin–almost nonexistent! eyelashes, developed and conducted their contact–it wasn’t even verbal at first, was it poor man’s telepathy?–how he and how she, as they looked in the too-much handled photo he kept pointing at, the one on the wall next to the brownish-red stain by the clock.
    The nagging feeling that he…forgot to add a conclusive verb to that last sentence. Sonofabitch!
    The nagging feeling that he’d share forever her tenure in that sterile but public space where they were cultivating things would show itself as they–

    OH, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD! ENOUGH!

    Bulwer-Lytton is alive and well, but he often forgets his meds.

  3. To leave my own neurosis out of the picture, I’ll allow Scott to flex his in all of its glory here.

    I enjoyed Craig’s story, and feel that the flow was well-tailored, beginning to end. Good mundane images, and a conclusion that need not be so fanciful that it shows up the rest of the story.

  4. Well, JV says it all–strictly Junior Varsity.

    Dude, when last I checked, the words “good” and “mundane”, when presented in the context of anything worthwhile–not just literature–had no right to sleep together.

    And, while you’re correct that a fanciful conclusion can wipe out the credibility of good writing, real stories still have a strong narrative arc.

    Have you not read enough to realize that retro-modernism is the new dull, the new Ward and June Cleaver, the new DeSoto?…Ahhh, you’re probably too young. Never mind.

    Please also refresh your concept of neurosis, which does not equal informed opinion.

  5. Craig Hartglass’s story is beautifully told, with the convincing, understated theme of connection. I also enjoyed reading Elliott’s essay about what drew him to the story, and Craig’s answers in the Q & A interview.

    Rude, mean spirited rants always amaze me. They serve no purpose other than to make the author of them appear cruel, ill tempered, and jealous of a writer’s well-deserved success.

    Congratulations, Craig, on a well written, logically constructed, meaningful story! Earlier today, before reading these comments, I’ve been promoting “Pigs” and One Story on my blog. Thank you, Craig, for writing it, and One Story for publishing it.

  6. .

    When I finished this story I was left asking myself Is this their story? or Is this the preface to their story?

    I don’t know the answer.

    I don’t know if it matters.

  7. It’s like this, Annie: When you read several examples of a particular kind of literature, don’t care for them, and all you see is a string of syrupy valentines addressed to them, you’re going to react…that is, if you’re any kind of thinking individual. I’ve been subscribing to OneStory for one year now, and I’ve seen only gaga responses and maybe one or two half-hearted quibbles. A word choice is a word choice, a typo is a typo, but when a specific style just reeks of pretense and sad-sack emptiness, I’m going to say something.

    I call them as I see them, so get over it. And get some skin on ya! For God’s sake, you’re not even the author!

  8. Count me among those who love this story.

    The overall idea — a years-long minuet between a man and a woman that ends in a half-accidental, half-purposeful touching of hands — is appealing enough, but the story is full of beautifully imagined detail. The man has constructed an entire identity for the woman out of the few clues available to him.

    There is also a sly, dry humor at work here: Consider the bank manager who mysteriously and ingratiatingly appears when the man has made some money, and disappears when the money goes.

    I’ll be on the lookout for more from this author.

  9. This story reminds me of Jim Jarmusch’s approach to directing. As a director, Jim Jarmusch edits into the film those subtle moments most filmmakers (all mainstream directors) edit out. It is in these “lesser” moments (I mean less obvious) that the truth about the characters is unveiled. This is what I find most interesting about “Pigs” as a short story. I think it has a subtle way of captivating the reader and getting to some basic truths about the nature of human relationships.

    When I think of good story telling, I contemplate our ancestors huddled around the campfire spinning yarns about the hunt. There are many ways to tell their story. One caveman swings his spear in front of his audience. Another dances and barks at the moon. Another whispers his tale to a few sitting around the fire. Some never hear his whispers. Others go off to sleep and dream of what was whispered. The truth may have nothing to do with any of it.

    I think the narrator said it best when commenting on this author’s story. It demonstrates an original voice that uses the short story form, not like the man swinging his spear, or the one boldly barking at the moon, but like the man who whispers his tale to those sitting around the campfire sensitive enough to hear it. This is the audience who will appreciate what might have been left on the editing floor in some Hollywood studio but would be made legendary by a director like Jim Jarmusch. The same is true of the structure and writing of music. There is value in the space between the notes, as Miles Davis once alluded to in his autobiography. It is those readers who are willing to listen to the whispers that will take this story with them into their dreams.

  10. This was a beautifully written, thoughtful story about two ordinary human beings who somehow manage to relate to each other. Admittedly, it took the bank teller a little longer to realize that every person has a worth, every human transaction adds something to our lives. Craig Hartglass manages to open our eyes to the minuscule signs of our humanity without banging us over the head with the obvious. Keep on writing, Craig, I’ll be looking for more wonderful stories from your perceptive imagination.

  11. Paul Brooks is my mailman’s full name. The United States Post Office should give Paul Brooks a raise.

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