Real Mail by Robert Long Foreman
Weird Pig told the mule to send him email. Send the real kind, he said. All right? The mule was at a loss. He had heard of email and mail, but mules were prohibited by law from sending or receiving either one. He wasn’t sure exactly what they were.
Weird Pig didn’t know what email was either, but he had overheard Farmer Dan talking about it with one of the chickens. He thought he should let on to someone that he knew what it was. It might improve his status on the farm.
An hour after he’d mentioned email to the mule and walked away, his status had gone nowhere, so he swallowed his pride and went to the tree where on a branch an owl would sit and let on that he was wiser than the other animals.
Email, the owl told Weird Pig, is a secret mail system that human beings use to communicate with each other. Have you read The Crying of Lot 49?
No, said Weird Pig. I haven’t read any books.
Okay, said the owl. He thought for a moment. How to describe a book like that to someone who’s never read a book? It’s a novel, he said, about a woman—
Why is it about a woman?
Oh. I don’t know. It just is.
Is it by a woman?
As in, did a woman write it?
That’s messed up.
Not really, Weird Pig. But if I may continue.
The woman character—
I still think it’s weird that there’s one of those, said Weird Pig, shaking his head like there was something wrong with the book and not with Weird Pig.
Okay, said the owl. It’s okay. Just go with it.
The woman in the book discovers a secret postal system that’s at work all around her that she never knew about, that almost no one does know about. It has a history, and once she starts looking for it there is evidence of it everywhere.
Okay. Right. What’s it got to do with me?
Well, Weird Pig. At this moment in time, you’re like that woman. You know there is a communication system that people use. You don’t, though, have access to it. You can’t use it yourself.
After a long pause, Weird Pig said, I don’t get it.
That’s not surprising, said the owl. There’s a lot you don’t seem to get.
Weird Pig looked away. You think I’m dumb, he said.
No, Weird Pig, said the owl. I have never thought that.
I don’t believe you.
Really. I don’t think you’re dumb. You just haven’t done anything to make yourself smarter than you were the moment you were born. You don’t read; you don’t really do anything.
The owl paused. Oh, now, Weird Pig, he said. Don’t get upset.
I am a young pig, said Weird Pig, his voice quivering. There’s a lot that I don’t understand yet.
I know, said the owl. I know.
Weird Pig walked away, rubbing his eyes. He went right back to the mule and said, I didn’t get your email.
Oh, said the mule. He thought Weird Pig would have forgotten about that by now. I’m sorry, the mule said. I’m still getting it together.
I hope you are, said Weird Pig. I really hope that. He glared into the mule’s right eye for a moment, before walking away.
He returned five minutes later, eating the rest of an apple he’d found in the trash, and said, You got that email for me?
I’m so glad you’re here, said the mule. I’ve got it right here, as a matter of fact.
At the mule’s feet sat what Weird Pig would have called a clump, had he not known to call it an email. He didn’t know what the email content was. He approached it, and saw that it was primarily some sort of mush with pieces of other things in it that weren’t mush. It didn’t smell good, but he couldn’t place the smell.
The mule watched Weird Pig, who watched the email, wary in case it should leap at him, or should something leap out from inside it. The silent watching lasted a while.
Looks great, said Weird Pig, stuffing the email in his mouth and swallowing hard. He tried to keep the displeasure from his face, and look pleased, to preserve the mule’s feelings.
Weird Pig started to walk away, but then turned and said, Great work on this, mule.
Thank you, said the grinning mule. I appreciate that.
I mean it, said Weird Pig. Keep it up. He gave the mule a wink before exiting the barn and throwing up on the grass. On his knees, now, he puked until there was nothing left in him, and when he was done he wished there were more. He wished there were something inside that would come out.
He tried taking a long bath, and still felt unclean, still felt that something was in or on him that wouldn’t come out or off.
He could taste the email in the back of his throat for the rest of the day. He tasted it even as he was going to sleep. He prayed—he actually prayed—that in the morning the taste would be gone, and as he slept that night he dreamt of the taste in his mouth. It was not only a taste but a color, too, one that had never been seen. It was a voice and a cloud, and when he woke the next morning he felt heavier than he ever had before.
Robert Long Foreman is from Wheeling, West Virginia. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared most recently in Copper Nickel, Juxtaprose, Booth, River Teeth, and the 2014 Pushcart anthology. He is The Cossack Review’s Fiction Editor, and he is writing Weird Pig: The Novelization. You can find him on Twitter @RobertLong4man.