With two loose teeth, how is Ally going to eat her pig? I wondered as I stirred the glaze, watching the ingredients perform a delightful alchemy, no doubt aided by the stick of butter melted into them.
“Look, Momma,” Ally had said when I picked her up from school. She lifted her lips to reveal her teeth. I don’t make a habit of looking in her mouth, so I was surprised to see how tiny and useless her baby teeth looked, next to the larger teeth growing in around them. Two huge adult teeth loomed inside her gums like cumbersome wads of over-chewed Bubblicious. They seem to have arrived with freakish speed, over the course of a single school day.
We went home and Ally got ready for ballet. After putting on one of her favorite leotards, white with a sheer skirt attached to it, she promptly fixed a compensation for her discomfort, an overflowing cup of chocolate ice cream, and jumped in the car, spooning mouthfuls as she went, the melting drips somehow missing her pristine leotard. The style of her leotard reads girl, with a sweetness that belongs to the romanticized version of ballet. She’s not worried about calories, but she is worried about not wearing a bra. Ally is dancing in the middle zone, and I sense that the serious, sinewy stage is fast approaching. It will just appear one day, like those monstrous bulges in her gum.
She was in the middle of a port de bras when her ballet teacher approached her and leaned down to catch Ally as she was bending forward.
“You shot a piggy?” she said in her Latina accent. She is petite and stylish, a former prima ballerina, who still has command over any room she walks into.
Ally smiled sheepishly as she continued her exercises. “Yes, I did….”
“You are the only ballerina I know who has shot a pig!” said her teacher.
Ally has wanted to shoot a pig for a long time. She really wants to shoot a deer, but she has to shoot a pig first. At our ranch, two pictures on the mantle display her sisters and their trophy deer. They each shot a buck in middle school, with their father at their side, a rite of passage that Ally longs to experience. But her sisters are seven and eight years older, so she has been staring at those pictures and waiting her turn for a long time.
I set the glaze aside and begin on another part of the ridiculously elaborate recipe. If anything was going to redeem the pig, this would. My preparations began last night. I was alone in the kitchen, sliding my sharpest knife along the pork loin to remove the sinew, when Claire de Lune came on, a beautiful, lyrical piano solo by Debussy. I used to listen to my father play this at night, unwinding from his day of dentistry. The serenity of his notes played back to me through time, and erased my impatience and solitude. Suddenly, he was with me.
“Can you turn that down?” shouted Cita, my high school senior, who was studying for the ACT upstairs.
Ally is 11, and her father has finally pronounced that she is physically big enough to hold the .222 rifle. After she shoots four practice beer cans in the driveway with dead-eye precision, she and her father stake out the pigs. In Texas, feral pigs run rampant, an invasive species that landowners try to curtail, to little avail, due to their rapid reproduction rate. As omnivores, pigs threaten the populations of local wildlife and destroy the topography with their endless rooting around, ravaging farm and ranch land.
I grind the spices for the rub, cloves, pepper, salt, and cinnamon, and the smell of my childhood rises up out of the mortar, evening dinners in fall, sitting around the table eating my father’s current obsession. That season, it was baked ham with whole cloves stuck into it, decorating and perfuming it like a present. I rub my pork loin with smoked paprika and other spices and put it in the fridge for overnight.
I was out of town when Ally shot the pig. The first picture texted to me showed her holding the dead pig up by its ears, with a look of victory on her face. But the next picture showed her in the truck, sitting with a bloody pork loin in her lap, wearing a look of horror and disgust as the pig blood leaked out onto her sister’s jeans, which she was wearing on the sly.
When I was young, I watched from the truck as a family friend, a boy around Ally’s age, had to gut his first pig, a javelina from deep south Texas. He was as indignant as Ally had been, but the hard lesson has to be taught: you eat what you kill. Javelinas smell awful and he retched as he did the work.
I was continuing the work, but I had the fun part.
“This is the most underappreciated job in the house,” said my husband, in gratitude for dinner. He meant it as a compliment.
“I don’t think so,” said Cita, who loves a good meal. I love to cook and my passion for it lifts it up out of drudgery, so that it becomes chef’s work, an art to be pursued. This is what I intend for Ally’s pig. I want her to see what can be done with horrible mess from the field.
Ally’s big sister, who’s in college up east, showed some of her friends the picture of Ally with the dead pig, and they were horrified.
“Look at Ally’s pig now,” I said, texting her a picture of the roasted and glazed pork tenderloin, garnished with port-glazed pecans, served over sweet potatoes.
Ally got a compound bow for Christmas last year. Her arrows whiz over the vegetable garden, across the yard to the stuffed straw yellow bulls-eye. She hasn’t been able to shoot a bird flying mid-air, like Katniss, but she did win Miss Archery at camp. I’ve got a recipe ready, a braised venison shoulder by the chef of a delicious New Orleans restaurant.