By Joy Williams, from Ninety-Nine Stories of God, which was published last month by Tin House Books. Williams is the author of four previous short-story collections and four novels, including The Quick and the Dead.
One of the schools I attended as a child arranged for our class to visit a slaughterhouse. This was to prepare us for what the authorities called the real world as well as to show us what real work, rather than intellectual labor, sometimes consists of. We were bused to the facility, but there, more sensible heads prevailed, for we were not allowed inside. We neither saw nor heard any pigs, but we did see vast brown lagoons, which we were told were part of the operation, as well as a number of gleaming refrigerated trucks, their engines idling. There was also a smell that we had never been subjected to before.
Later in the semester, someone brought to our attention a newspaper article concerning a pig who saved a man from drowning. This pig, a pet, was swimming in a lake with her master. There were a number of people playing in the lake at the time, this being a holiday weekend. The pig, noticing a man in distress, swam over to him and by her actions indicated that he should grasp on to the harness, which she always wore, being a pet. She then towed the fellow to safety.
The newspaper, which was a reliable one, maintained this story to be true. Later, the reporter mischievously posed this question: Would the pig have rescued the man if she had known that he and his companions had just enjoyed a picnic of ham sandwiches?
The pig’s owner replied that pigs are intelli-gent, more intelligent than dogs, but they are not omniscient.
The Lord wants to give a dinner party but can never come up with twelve guests.
Whatever steward He has at the time suggests many names, but the Lord can’t get excited about any of them.
At least the menu was determined long ago. There would be a mixture of fifty pure chemicals — sugar, amino and fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, all made from rocks, air, and water, without any killing at all.
Jack and Pat were in their seventies now and had no pets, although they had had several in the course of their days, mostly dogs, but once a bird as well. Their most remarkable dog, Jack and Pat said, was a pit bull, Peggy. She was the sweetest, smartest dog, they said.
This was long ago. The boy they adopted as an infant is in his thirties now. When they brought the baby home, Peggy was curious about him and protective and adoring in a way Jack and Pat increasingly found to be alarming. Jack, a physician, decided that for everyone’s peace of mind, Peggy should be put down. From the pharmacy at the hospital where he worked, he procured a large amount of expired Valium. The plan was to mix the crushed Valium with a pound of ground sirloin. Ground sirloin was Peggy’s favorite food. When she was a very good dog she received it, and Peggy knew that when it was presented to her she had been a very good dog or for one reason or another had pleased Jack and Pat.
Jack and Pat discussed at length the sad necessity of putting Peggy down for everyone’s peace of mind, but when the moment came, Jack could not bring himself to lace the ground sirloin with the crushed Valium. Nor could Pat perform this act. Peggy was a good dog, she would not harm their little child.
Relieved to have made their decision, Jack and Pat filled Peggy’s bowl with the untainted meat and placed it before her.
But Peggy would not touch it. She gazed at it, then gazed at Jack and Pat and left the room. Sometimes, for years, when Jack and Pat had friends over for dinner or cards, they would put a bowl of ground sirloin before Peggy and she would never touch it. Of course the story was told again and again. The guests were always amazed.
The Lord was living with a great colony of bats in a cave. Two boys with BB guns found the cave and killed many of the bats outright, leaving many more to die of their injuries. The boys didn’t see the Lord. He didn’t make His presence known to them.
On the other hand, the Lord was very fond of the bats, but had done nothing to save them.
He was becoming harder and harder to comprehend.
He liked to hang with the animals, everyone knew that, the whales and bears, the elephants and bighorn sheep and wolves. They were rather wishing He wasn’t so partial to their company.
Hang more in the world of men, they begged Him.
But the Lord said He was lonely there.