Territory

Territory

A Story by Laura Jean McKay
Art by Anthony Tremmaglia

Territory 1 Image

They meet in a gash of clear fell where you can see the sky. Marko turns his car engine off and the woman beside him strokes her long, black-painted nails like they’re her pets. Outside, Scotty has the buggy unloaded and gives it a few revs. His dog is still in the cage, quiet at the sound. Scotty revs again. He has a new baby and Marko knows full well: he needs the noise. After a while Marko leans out the window into the heat.
       We going or what?
Scotty leaves the buggy by some stumpy trees, half dead already from burnoff, and hands Marko a can of beer.
       They’ll know we’re here if you keep revving it, Marko tells him.
Scotty smiles around the can.
       We’ll fucken find them.
Scotty laughs with apple cheeks that look stuffed like a glazed pig. The sun is all over them now, low. Blow-job hot.
       Boars before whores, Scotty mutters.
Marko laughs silently out the window so the woman can’t see him. He finishes his can, mashes it slowly against the side of the car, and throws it into the bush.

 

       This is Sarah, says Marko.
       Sarah? Scotty sounds surprised.
       Yeah. She’s got a kid.
Sarah gets out of the car and comes around to shake Scotty’s hand. Marko can see Scotty really trying not to look at her legs out of the jean shorts.
       I’ve got a beautiful five-year-old called Amelia. Started school this year.
Scotty’s face becomes even more surprised.
       You must’ve had her young.
Marko laughs and spit comes out. He opens the car door to stand by Sarah.
       Don’t worry about Scotty, he’s shit-faced already.
       I bet he just says what everyone’s thinking.
Sarah’s hair is blond like all of them, but she’s got fox teeth and a dark mole like a beauty spot slipped down from her lip to her chin. She’s wearing a pink polo shirt. Scotty plunges his hand in the ice to get more beers. He hands one to Sarah.
       Here you go. Put hair on your chest.
Sarah opens the ring, and says,
       Best part of the day.
       Where’d you two meet again?
Scotty just wants the story.
       He just wants the story, Marko tells Sarah.
       It’s a good story, says Sarah.
She takes another swig of the beer. Scotty’s given her low alcohol but she could probably handle full strength. Love my baby, my beers and my boars, she wrote on the page and there was a photo of her looking the same as she does now—no surprises there. She got 54 likes before Marko even saw it, and over 100 in the days after. He waited to comment, let all the other guys write hi sweetie and youll love me to—then he wrote want to come with me for a creek run on Sunday? Straight up.

 

Marko’s two dogs are in a cage up the back of his pickup— the bitch called Dingo and the big mutt called Rabies. Rabies is just there to scare the shit out of them, but Dingo is the real deal. Scotty brought along his house dog with its messed up muzzle. When he opens the cage his dog looks like it’d rather stay there. Sarah is looking at Marko’s dogs, especially Dingo, who’s fluffy around the scars.
       You got a dog?
       Nah. My ex did. Stupid dog went for a swim and we never saw him again. My ex said maybe he’s just living on a community or something.
       Marko shakes his head, Croc meat.
       Sarah nods. Stupid dog.
       Marko went swimming in the East Alligator River, Scotty pipes up.
Marko drains his beer and pegs the can at Scotty’s guts. But Sarah’s looking. Marko takes a breath and the air is hot. It’s too late for a run. Scotty will just fuck around with his buggy all day if he gets half the chance.
       We were road running, says Marko.
He gets the metal chest plate out and straps it to Dingo, who gets a different look in her dog eyes: chest plate means working.
       Anyway Dingo here got in the water and I called her but she was swimming over to the other side—same as your dog probably—so I just jumped in and got her.
Sarah glances at Scotty and they laugh.
       In the East Alligator?
       Marko swam halfway across the thing—what’s that, a hundred meters?—crocs fucken everywhere, so black you couldn’t even see, and then he swam all the way back with the dog.
Scotty’s lips are wet with beer.
       Had to get lifted out because the sides are too slippery and so there he was waiting in the water, in the dark, with his dog and the crocs.
       She’s a fucking good dog, says Marko. I wasn’t willing to let go of her. A tough, mean, fighting machine dog that don’t take shit from nothing.
They all look at Dingo, who looks back at them with dark, working dog eyes.
       Just like you, aye Marko? Scotty says.

 

Sarah gets into the buggy next to Scotty and Marko stands on the tray at the back with the dogs. Sarah is mashed up against the gear stick and Marko can see Scotty’s hand through the window, pressing on Sarah’s thigh every time he has to change gear. The road is blocked by a log so Scotty turns off the track and knocks over three stubby trees. They get stuck on one and Scotty revs the engine until that’s all there is. They’ll be heard in the hollows and all along the creek. Scotty drives the buggy up over it and the dead trunk cracks like bones. They lurch back onto the dirt road. The dogs grip the metal tray.
       Go right here Scotty!
They fork off the track and into the bush. Scotty smashes a few more trees. Marko raps on the roof and they stop.
       I’ll drive you up to the creek, Scotty shouts over the engine, but Marko jumps down and Dingo follows him. Marko has to order Rabies down. Scotty’s dog peers at Marko over his busted muzzle, but doesn’t leave the tray.
With the engine off it’s just the sound of their boots cracking the ground. Marko hears Scotty pull the ring on another can back in the buggy.
       You don’t have to worry, Sarah says to Marko. I used to go out with my ex all the time. I won’t talk once we’re out there.
Marko stops and smiles at her.
       It’s pretty ace that you know the drill.
He glances at the strap around her shorts.
       Even got your own knife.
Sarah touches the fake leather sheath.
       It’s his spare one—I’ve never used it, but.
       Might get lucky today, Marko tells her then he starts to blush. He turns and starts walking through the bush. He can hear Sarah’s footsteps behind. The ground glints with dead leaves but the dirt underneath it has been gnawed by the dry. They turn off and slope down and it gets cooler and cooler until they’re at the creek bed. In a few months where they’re standing will be under water, churning with crocodiles. Marko watches Dingo put her face to the dark shallows and test them with a few licks. Sometimes a croc wanders too far from the estuaries and gets stranded and hungry in the seasonal creeks. Marko glances at Sarah—she’s watching the dog—but then Dingo takes off downstream. Marko follows. He can hear Sarah behind him. Her footfalls are heavy but she’s still better than Scotty. They come to where there’s more mud than water and Marko points to it. It has been trampled in with hooves and wallowed in, cool and wet under the pandanus trees. They probably took off when Scotty started revving, almost an hour ago. He can’t even smell them, but Dingo has something. Or had it. The dog looks desperately up at Marko then away again.
       Good girl, Marko mutters and Dingo tries again. She sniffs along the creek away from the hollows, to where the water pools green, then black. It’s so still there’s a skin of dust over the water. Dingo stops again and so does Marko and after a moment Sarah’s footsteps go quiet behind. They can still hear Rabies tromping around on the bank above but Dingo is stock solid beside one of the pools. The quiet water swells. Marko hears Sarah take a breath. He puts a hand on his knife. An insect skids over the surface, breaking through the dust to stick to the water underneath.

 

The dog takes off again, up the bank. Marko can hear Sarah scrambling and slipping, but he leaves her to follow Dingo because the dog has started skipping on scent. She dances over it for a while, then changes direction and bolts off through the narrow paperbark trees, ahead of Marko for 100 then 200 meters. Dingo reaches a high bank that buckles over the creek bed and then she’s gone. It takes Marko seconds to reach the bank but Dingo is already barking, sharp as birdsong. Marko clears the edge and drops down to the dry creek bed where the dog’s snarls ring out from a clay cave and Marko can see the hind of a boar, its tail curled up and away from its heavy black balls. The boar disappears into the gloom but Dingo barks it out. In the brilliant light the pig turns. Marko can see big white tusks at its jaw before the pig twists its body back to fight but the chance is gone. Dingo makes the hit up—a high yelp that bounces around the river bed—and locks on to the pig’s thick ear.

 

Rabies appears on the ridge and makes his way down to keep the pig in place with deep belly barks. Marko wraps his hands around the boar’s bony hind legs and grunts to lift him up. The pig has no neck—none of them do. It can’t turn or move. Dingo is locked on, her body tucked in close behind the boar’s ear so she can’t get bitten. Marko strains to see again and catches the flash of bone from the lower jaw—teeth that hook in unbroken white arcs up past its snout and towards its little eye. The pig can’t even close its mouth. He shouts up the bank.
       Does it have fucken massive hooks or what?
Sarah is staring down at them.
       Big. Real big.
Marko shifts his grip to hold tighter. Rabies barks and snaps at the boar.
       Come on then, Marko calls up to Sarah.
She scans the bank, jumps and lands heavily but stands easily enough. Marko flips the boar to expose its chest. The pig is still now and hopeless. Sarah looks at Marko.
       My ex always did this bit.
Marko moves his weight against the boar’s.
       Time to get the fuck over him?
Sarah scowls but steps in. Her knife’s sharper than his and it goes right through the neck, but the pig is still breathing. Again, says Marko. She plunges it past the layer of black hair and pink skin so it’s held in place by the flesh. Marko puts his hand over hers and jiggles until it starts gurgling with thick dark blood. The pig feels it then. Takes a final breath and dies quiet.

Territory 2

       How’d Sarah like it? Scotty asks when Marko runs back to the buggy.
       Yeah good.
Marko puts his hands on his knees and looks back through the bush to where Sarah would be if all the trees were gone. Scotty gets out of the buggy and points his hips at the side of the road. His piss sends up a low cloud of dust.
       She’s a nice girl, Scotty says over his shoulder. I’d fuck her.
He does a little jump to shake, and tucks himself in.
       Would you fuck her?
Marko shrugs.
       She’s still hung up on her ex.
       But if she can stick a pig. . . .
Marko nods.
       You should see the fucken great hooks on him.
Scotty hoots and climbs in the buggy. They drive over the rough ground until Scotty gets stuck between a rock and a tree. He revs the buggy like a thing dying. Marko climbs out and runs. The sweat that dried starts up again and his legs take up their familiar burn. He runs until he reaches the bend at the end of the hollow where Sarah is crouched down in front of the boar. She has one hand to her ear and the other touching the dried black hair on the pig’s bloodied snout. She looks like she’s having words.
       You right?
Sarah jolts and moves her phone from her ear to her pocket. She lifts her eyebrows. Still looks the same as in the profile picture. The angle of her head even. Marko grins.
       Thought you were talking to the pig.
Sarah opens her mouth to answer but the sound of the buggy burning through the bush eats up her words and Scotty appears, swerving and bucking. He hardly stops the buggy before he gets out and lurches towards the boar.
       Fucken rippin’!
He gets down to pull out the stick that Marko shoved in its mouth. The jaw slips half closed against the tusks and then stops frozen, mid bite forever. Scotty grips the sticky head and plants a kiss on its snout.
       Ripping hooks!
He gives Sarah a high five, his hand black with blood.

 

Scotty asks Sarah to take their picture. She lifts the screen of her phone and Marko and Scotty pose behind the pig. Their teeth on show.
       Ripping hooks.
Scotty steps around to admire them.
       Your turn Sarah, cover of Bacon Babes for sure. But you got to take your top off for that.
Sarah glances at Marko who shrugs.
       If I had tits and I caught a boar like this. . . .
Sarah looks at the pig like she might touch it again, her black nails shining like beetles, but she pulls off her shirt and hangs it over a branch. Her bra is gray—white and the strap twisted. Marko stares at Sarah’s fleshy breasts, one more bulky than the other, and Scotty grins like it’s his birthday.
       Awesome, he says and takes a photo of Sarah posing next to the boar. Awesome.
Marko looks at the web of stretch marks over Sarah’s brown skin. She stands and laughs and pulls her shirt back on.
       Never gone nude in the bush before, except for this one time—
       Not every day you get a boar like this, Marko interrupts. You were great, the photos’ll look great.
       The cover you reckon?
Sarah arranges her hair back around her shoulders. Marko stares at her breasts through the pink shirt.
       With your looks for sure.
Sarah smiles with her eyes.
       What about my personality?
       Come on lovebirds, Scotty calls, or we’ll miss the weigh in.

 

The pigs are a pile of black, except where they’ve swelled in the sun and split their pink skin. Some of the guts remain, bloated like faces. The stink of sweet rot sits heavy on the air where Marko, Sarah and Scotty line up around the outdoor bar to get beers. They watch their boar get weighed but it comes up small compared to some of the other fat bodies that still look alive, like they’ve just finished a feed. Scotty leans towards Sarah.
       They stick them in water, get them all heavy—we should’ve done that. We should’ve done that, he tells Marko.
Marko sucks on the edge of his can.
       With hooks like that who gives a fuck about the weight?
       Too true. He lives for pigging, Scotty tells Sarah. Don’t try to get him excited about anything else. You want to give him a hard-on: stick a pig in the bed.
Sarah splutters her beer and it sprays yellow.

 

The other piggers stand around to admire the hooks on their boar, now on the pile with the others, forever leaping with stiffened legs.
       Those hooks, they say, they’ll win for sure.
       You should’ve seen Dingo go after him. She’s small but she’s a good fucken pigger.
       Sarah here wasn’t bad either.
       Fuck off Scotty you weren’t even there. But I meant you were good too.
Marko glances over at Sarah. She smiles at him but not with her eyes. In the paddock beside them, little kids are throwing pig legs to see who can get the farthest. One girl watches the others, toying a severed leg with her bare foot. A woman sidles up to Sarah.
       Haven’t seen you here in ages. Where’s your kid?
       With my ex’s mum.
       I thought I saw him here before, says the woman and they both crane their necks to look through the crowd.

 

More people arrive and the sweet pig smell is mixed with dust and sweat and beer. Marko loses Sarah between the swollen guts and pink bodies of Scotty and his mates. He stumbles through, looking at the women in jean shorts and black or pink polo shirts and blonde hair. He drinks two bourbon and colas, then takes his shirt off and loses it.
       You’ll do, he says to one woman.
       What?
She’s prettier than Sarah but she glares at him ugly.
       Nothing.
Over by the bar, two of the lads push each other down and scramble in the dust. The blood paints their faces.
       This is a family event, a man calls over the loud-hailer. For families.
The men stumble off to the car park to hit each other there. The man with the loud-hailer says they’re going to judge the tusks and Marko pushes towards the front. Their pig has been hauled out—just a head now that ends at the neck. Its big teeth look like they’ve been carved and shoved in a pig’s mouth. They bring out another, a massive great thing with some serious tusks, and lay it in the line. The judges take their time with the measure at the mouths and Marko shuffles side to side. When they announce it he nearly pisses himself. The hog head gets lifted up and he props it on his bare shoulder with flies buzzing about his eyes and pig fur dried in solid clumps against his skin.
       Wait up there’s more of us.
Marko looks for them, unsteady with the weight of the boar. He can feel the fleas leaping from the dead pig to him. The man with the loud-hailer calls for Sarah and Scotty but after a while they take the photo of Marko alone.

 

       I must’ve been on the toilet.
Sarah is propped up against the bar. Marko’s voice and body drag.
       We fucken won. We’ll split it three ways, right? You, me and Scotty, when the money comes through. Because we fucken won.
He shows her the medal—a little metal pig on a wooden stand—and they order the pork roast and eat it at a table in the pub, away from the stench. Marko can still feel the fleas on him and he scratches at his head. Across the beer garden Scotty is laughing hard at something. He catches Marko’s eye and gives him the thumbs up. Marko shoves more pork in his mouth and turns back to Sarah.
       About your ex, he says through a mouthful. I mean you can get over him if you want. But only if you want to. You know?
Sarah laughs around her beer.
       I’m think I’ll be right. I’m pretty confident. Being a mum, you have to be. For your kid’s sake.
       Oh yeah. You like kids then?
Sarah laughs again.
       I thought it was girls who asked that.
       What?
       I like kids, who doesn’t?
       Scotty. I mean he likes kids, he just wishes he doesn’t have one.
Sarah glances over.
       Maybe he hasn’t met the right girl.
Marko launches out of his chair and it tips and clatters back. He just makes it to the bushes around the corner of the pub to piss until he’s empty. When he comes back around he sees Sarah is still sitting alone. She’s finished her beer and is rubbing lip balm on her lips. There’s a loud roar from Scotty a few tables over and Marko flops into a chair beside him.
       Marko’s taken up with a shit-hot pigger, Scotty tells everyone.
       Nah she touched the pig.
Scotty leans forward. His smile splits his face in half.
       She touched the pig?
Marko leaps up and starts humping the air, squealing. Scotty chokes on laughter. Marko cranes his neck to look at Sarah, who’s half facing them and half not. He lands in his chair again.
       Nah just kidding. She just patted its nose or something.
Scotty paws Marko’s face with his bloodied hands.
       Oh I love the little animals, he squeaks. Those piggers should be stabbed.
Marko laughs and pushes him away. He looks at Sarah again but her chair is empty.
       Boars before whores, Scotty tells him and drains his beer.

 

Marko calls through the door of the empty ladies’, where toilet paper is streamered over the cubicles. In the mirror the dried blood from the pig’s head makes it look like half his face is coming off. He moves outside and peers through the dark to the pile of hogs. There’s a figure hunched over, hand outstretched and teeth white in the shadows.
       Leave her there, Marko says to himself but he stumbles over.
Sarah doesn’t move when he calls. He gets right up close but it’s not her, it’s just a dead sow, legs stiffened, black nails shining. The smell hits him. He makes it over to his pickup before he chucks up his guts in a rush. Dingo’s eyes glint from the cage. He wipes his face and lets her out and shuts Rabies back in. Marko and Dingo weave back through the bodies of the hogs to the bar. But Scotty is gone too. The music rattles over the empty chairs and tables. The little metal pig sits next to two half finished beers—Sarah’s lip balm is caked around the rim of one. Marko drains both, then walks off into the black. The pub lights bleed away behind him and his knife beats a rhythm against his leg. The dog is beside him on the dirt. He starts to run.

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