Houses of Straw
by Benjamin Davis
Harold was a wolf. He knocked. He hated straw houses. They got in his fur. They made him sneeze. He sneezed.
“Calm down, calm down, no need for all that,” Fredrick said, opening the door.
“Apologies,” Harold told the old pig.
Harold didn’t see much of a difference between wolves and pigs. It wasn’t a popular opinion.
When wolves died, they were ground down into pig chow. When pigs died, they were cut up into steaks for the wolves. In the end, Harold figured, it’s all shit.
“What are you doing here Harold? I ain’t dead yet.” Fredrick said, adjusting his glasses.
Harold sighed. “I’m a vegetarian, Fred. You know that.”
Fredrick frowned. “Right. I’d heard that. A bit disrespectful to the dead, if you ask me, but to each his own.”
Harold sighed. He dusted a few bits of straw off his clipboard. He turned it to Fredrick. The old pig raised an eyebrow at it. “So, they’ve got wolves doing their dirty work now. How appropriate,” Fredrick muttered.
“It’s a job, Fred. No reason to be uncouth,” Harold growled.
Fredrick nodded. “Just ruffled up, that’s all. How long I got?”
“A week,” Harold said, shrugging sympathetically.
Fredrick looked around at his little straw house. Harold gave him a moment. He felt bad for the poor old pig, but there was no helping it. Harold waited while Fredrick picked a few straws from his door frame and held them gently.
He brushed them off one hand with the other. One fell, stuck into Harold’s leg hair. Harold sighed.
“So,” Harold said, after Fredrick signed, “end of the week?”
“Yeah, yes,” Fredrick said, closing the door. “Yes, certainly,” he said through the crack preceding the soft thud of the door closing.
Harold stood at the closed door. He unstuck the notice from the bottom sheet of the clipboard. He plastered it to the front door. It read: FORECLOSURE.
Harold stepped off the porch. He shook himself violently. Straw flung in all directions. A few stubborn bits clung hard. He let them stay.
“What’s the use,” he moaned.
He slipped the clipboard into his bag, bent to all fours, and dashed home.
Harold looked like a wolf, smiled like a wolf, and ate beans like a wolf.
“You keep eating like that, you’ll end up pig chow before you know it.”
Harold shrugged with his mouth full. His wife sighed. He swallowed.
“Sorry,” Harold muttered, scooping the last of the refried beans into his mouth. He leaned back and took a breath, his food settling.
“Where are you off to today?”
Harold scratched under his arm. He sighed. “Another eviction.”
Harold nodded again, not listening. He got up from the table and brought his dishes to the sink.
“Good boy,” his wife said.
Harold rolled his eyes and went for his coat.
An hour later, Harold stood in front of a screen door.
He looked around. Sticks are better than straw, he thought.
“Hello!” he called through the screen door.
“Yeah, yeah,” a voice called. Heavy footsteps approached. A round soggy nose pressed into the screen door.
The pig on the other side of the door grunted.
“It’s my brother, you know. You wouldn’t believe how much I’ve lent him.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Francis muttered.
“You got to be out by the end of the week.”
“Yeah,” Francis sighed, “yeah. We’ll have to go to our brother’s.”
Harold picked at something in his ear. He held out the form. “I’m going to need you to sign, Francis.”
“Yeah, sure, let’s have it.” Francis cracked the door. Harold slipped through the clipboard of papers. A moment later, they came back out, smudged but signed.
“Will your brother be able to support you?”
Francis shrugged. “If he isn’t, we’ll just eat Fredrick.”
“Kidding,” he added, seeing Harold’s face. “I know you don’t, you know, partake.”
“To each his own,” Harold told him.
Harold waited for another minute, trying to think of something empathetic to say. Eventually, he gave up.
“I’ve got to be off, Francis.”
“Yeah, yeah. Right, you go. Thanks, or well, no, not thanks. But, you know…”
Harold nodded. He turned and stepped back toward the road.
Harold sat licking between the front fingers of his paw, staring up at the brick monstrosity before him. For the third time in one month, he’d been sent to the same family.
“My boss is a pig,” he thought. “Hell, the president is a pig. Maybe it’s just bad luck, but,” he wondered, “why couldn’t they have sent a pig? Why me?”
Harold knocked on the thick wooden door. It opened midway through the third rap.
It was Fredrick.
“You swine!” Fredrick spat, swearing. He slammed the door.
Harold knocked again, softly. Loud voices thumped against the other side of the door. Eventually, it opened.
“Hold on.” Francis shut the door.
Harold waited. He felt his heart thudding in his chest. He calmed it with a few deep breaths. The door opened.
“Hey, Harold,” Finton said. He was taller than his brothers. Handsomer, with a longer snout and bigger eyes.
“I tried, Harold. But you know how pigs are. The cleaning bill alone!”
Harold nodded, screwing up his face in what he hoped was compassion.
“Why would they send you to all three of us?” Finton mused.
Harold shrugged. “Beats me.”
“If we had been wolves, you know . . . ” Finton cocked his head to the side. “You know.”
Harold bit his tongue and bobbed his head, noncommittally.
“You’d be torn apart on this doorstep,” Finton said. “If,” he added, “if we were wolves, of course.”
“Right,” Harold said, swallowing his agitation. He held out the clipboard. “You’ll need to sign.”
Finton looked down at the clipboard. He shook his head slowly.
“You know our grandfather used to own this house before we all became so civilized,” Finton added a bite to the last word.
Harold felt the hairs on the back of his neck straighten. He bared his teeth instinctively. Finton chuckled.
“Maybe those times aren’t so far gone. Do you feel like huffing and puffing, Harold?”
Harold swallowed his own teeth.
“Sor-” he began.
Then someone tackled him from the side.
“Fredrick! What the hell!” Harold called from under the pig. Fredrick was in a rage. He pulled his head back and slammed it into Harold’s chest. Harold lost his breath. He began coughing.
Finton approached and stood over the scene. He shrugged.
“Civilization is the great equalizer, Harold. You should know.”
Harold felt a shocking pain in his left foot. He craned his neck, looking down at his feet. Francis looked up, his mouth wet with blood.
“I’m sorry, Harold, I’m so sorry,” he said, a toe falling from his mouth.
“Francis!” Finton snapped.
Francis looked up.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full.”
Benjamin Davis is the author of a novella, The King of FU, and short works which have appeared in Star 82 Review, Maudlin House, Cease, Cows, and elsewhere.
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