12 Days of Significance (3)
By: Matthew De Abaitua | Categories: Fiction

Third in a holiday-season series of posts that will reprint short fiction written — by twelve HiLobrow contributors — for the collection Significant Objects: 100 Extraordinary Stories About Ordinary Things, eds. Rob Walker and HiLobrow’s Joshua Glenn (Fantagraphics, August 2012).

The following story is by Matthew De Abaitua. Enjoy!

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PIGGYBANK

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My Daddy shouts at me when I go near the piggybank, and he screams when I turn it upside down. So l leave the piggybank alone and tell my baby brother and sister to leave it alone too. The piggybank is the family curse.

One day a week my Daddy is good to me, and he teaches me that words that sound the same can mean different things. Like were and wear. Like sentence and sentence. He listens to me as I read my stories and when I am finished he tells me how talented I am. I like those days. But on working days he is mean and tells me to shut up, before he has even heard what I am going to say. My Daddy’s working days are hard, so hard. You wouldn’t believe how hard they are.

Because of Grandad, our family has to keep the piggybank with us always. Grandad met the devil coming out of his wardrobe and the devil promised him death, death right there and then, and Grandad said no, and so a deal was struck. If the piggybank goes out the back door, death comes in through the front door.

On pay day, one half of all the money that crosses the doorstep goes into the piggybank. Daddy comes back from his job making safe the gas in the iron lungs that rise and fall across our town, rise and fall like the valves of the trumpet he plays on our birthdays. He takes out his pay packet and pinches half of the notes between his fingers and hands the money to Mummy, without looking at it. It is Mummy’s job to place the tribute into the cursed pig.

Daddy gets angry so suddenly, it makes it hard to breathe. I know he doesn’t mean it. I tell him not to be so angry with me and he stops, and he looks sad. I’m a big girl. I know how hard the days of grown-ups can be, so hard you wouldn’t believe.

Saturday is shopping day. Mum and I look around the shops. In the toy shop Frank, my little brother, plays with the train track, and he screams when the time comes for us to leave. None of the clothes fit Mummy right. There is nothing for us to buy. I see the scooter I want, the one with the special wheels. I go to the pig to see if there is money in it but the pig has eaten all the notes and left only coins.

Once I walked into the living room and found the piggybank choking on our money. Greedy piggy. I slapped it on the back and the money rattled back into its belly. When I turned it upside down, the money had gone.

This is the family curse, the same thing every week, the same for my Daddy as it was for Grandad and the same it will be for me, when I am older. Mummy looks for the bad hairs on her head and pulls them out. Daddy rolls moaning in his bed. I take a deep breath. The pig swallows and winks.

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Matthew De Abaitua's debut novel The Red Men was a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award.