The Last County Fair

Jennifer A. Howard

My daughter is losing the greased pig contest. The pig is crying, and my daughter looks over the fence at me. I drop my camera and yell back, Go get him! She fakes it, moves to the right after he does, and then the left, but she doesn’t anticipate what he’ll do, she doesn’t shove her way in front of the other kids. The boys have it figured out. They wear knee-high rubber boots. They tackle the pig, who leaves Crisco tracks on their arms when he wriggles out from under them, and they wipe their slimy hands on the grass. My daughter is ten. She doesn’t even get her clothes dirty.

Last week, her dad and I watched her look at herself in the bathroom mirror after she put on her first bikini. She finally noticed the curve of her new hips. I’m a bottle, she said, her hands tracing the slope down from her own waist. Her dad told her then about women and hourglasses, and outlined the shape in the air around her with his hands. But she was right; she was a bottle, still narrow at the top. She said I was a bottle too, and I pretended to be insulted, stuck out my small chest to make it look bigger. Today, at the fair, she’s wearing one of my drawstring skirts, which falls to her ankles. I never wear it because on me it is too short I don’t want my husband to have to see my fat knees. She might have tripped on it had she actually run after the animal.

The pig squeezes through slats of the fence and out. When he escapes, my daughter claps. She skips to the exit, done, even though the farmers are scrambling to get the pig back in. There will be a winner, someone will pin the thing to the ground. I’m still taking pictures of the other kids while they wait for something to run after again. My girl, she’s not playing. Maybe next year, she’ll announce she’s a vegetarian and we’ll learn to add tofu to our fruit smoothies, and after that she’ll change her mind again when she remembers how much she loves fried chicken. She’ll start answering my questions with nothing much, and she’ll go in the other room when she talks on the phone. She’ll outgrow me, by a few inches, and wear clothes that hide or show too much, depending on what she needs to dislike about herself. Maybe her dad, who’s home today grading papers, will leave me for one of his pretty, pretty students. Right now, though, I turn my camera to her, so beautiful, because I’ve been warned about what’s coming. Today, she’s left the boys to torment the pig without her. At least for now, still, she’s making her way around the outside of the ring to find me.

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Jennifer A. Howard was born and raised in the Upper Peninsula’s banana belt and moved even farther north to Marquette, Michigan, where she serves as the editor of Passages North, even on snow days. Her chapbook of flash fiction, How to End Up, was published this year by New Delta Review.