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Three Stories

Bart Smout

Illustrations by Rachelle Meyer



The Films of the Pig


1


The pig goes to the film academy. He wants to become a famous director by visibly capturing the suffering of his fellow pigs. He is subjected to laughter and scorn. A pig for a director? That’s impossible! But the pig works hard and takes to studying endlessly. By the time he receives his degree, people call him a promising talent.


2


The pig’s first film, Pig House, is a forty-five-minute-long indictment of the cattle industry, shot in black and white and full of gruesome details. A few positive reviews appear on certain websites, but the film only reaches a select audience. The pig does, however, steadily build up his reputation in the film industry, so that for his next production, Samurai Pig: Back to the Farm, he has a much larger budget at his disposal. It becomes a hit film. The pig marries a celebrity sheep. The day after the wedding, the tabloids reveal that three hundred fifty bottles of champagne were consumed at the party. The pig corrects them on Instagram: four hundred twenty, not one bottle less.


3


The films that succeed Samurai Pig: Back to the Farm each turn into blockbusters. The pig shoots to international fame, buys an exclusive Lamborghini and, one day, crashes into smithereens against a tree. The film industry responds, astounded. The celebrity sheep the pig was married to bleats that he was good and great, like Gandhi, Jesus, and Malcolm X. One of his actor friends says that the pig has changed the world for good with its films. One producer claims the pig set an example for everyone, because he showed everyone that dreams can come true, if only you believe. A critic describes the pig as ‘six hundred pounds of pure willpower’. At the funeral, to which more than a thousand people are invited, famous crooner Pascal D’Azzurrio sings a song he wrote especially for the pig. The lyrics to the chorus are as follows: An oink will never again be an oink / A film will never again be a film / You showed us what was possible / You showed us how things can be done differently.


4


Just one journalist comes up with the idea of asking the pig’s congeners what they think. Armed with a microphone and a cameraman, he journeys to the supermarket. First, the man sits down next to a piece of ham wrapped in plastic. He asks the ham what it thinks of the pig’s achievements, then moves the microphone towards the plastic. The cameraman zooms in. The journalist poses the same question consecutively to the bacon, the pork chops, the sirloin, the spareribs, the tenderloins, the medallions, the ham hocks and the bratwurst. Once the journalist has interviewed them all, he looks straight into the camera. ‘Speechless,’ he says. ‘They’re all speechless.’

 

The School That Turned into a Riding School


1


When the kids arrive at school on Monday, they see that the classroom has been turned into a riding school. The chairs and tables have been removed, and they sit down on a large floor of sand. ‘Good morning, children,’ the teacher says. She’s wearing breeches and a riding helmet. ‘Today, Miss Storm will teach us how to whinny.’ A brown horse walks into the riding school and opens her mouth wide. The children mimic the sound as best they can: ‘ee-hee-hee-hee-hee-hee.’


2


The next day, the kids are saddled. Bits are put in their mouths, the teacher pulls on the reins. ‘To the left!’ she yells. Or: ‘To the right!’ The kids complain, saying that it hurts. They cry, they scream, they stomp their feet. ‘Don’t complain,’ the teacher says, ‘just whinny, like Miss Storm taught you!’ In the breakroom, she tells the other teachers: ‘Kids today don’t have any respect anymore. What will become of them?’


3


Luckily, the teacher doesn’t give up that easily. She’s dedicated, she believes in good education: school is the anvil shaping one’s future. The teacher can sing well, too. Each Friday, just before the weekend begins, she strikes up a song:


Horsey, keep your tail up

Past the fences and moats

But be careful – don’t break your bones

Horsey, keep your tail up


Horsey, don’t eat the straw

I will buy the horse some oats

So it can gallop over the moats

Horsey, don’t eat the straw


4


After five years, the kids receive their degrees. During the ceremony, the teacher hands each kid a pair of blinkers and a carrot. ‘I’m just so very proud of you all,’ she says. ‘You’ll do a great job!’ Full of excitement, the kids gallop towards the dressage field, where there is a free oat buffet. You hear whinnying everywhere.


5


Only two kids fail the final exam. The first kid lets itself be processed into hamburgers and fried snacks at the age of thirty. The second kid disappears without a trace right after the graduation ceremony. Years later she returns, in the teacher’s dreams. She sings a song for her each night, a song that sounds like a metal bar being driven through two cogwheels.

 

How the Elephants Became Wise and Sad


1


In the depths of the jungle, a woman plays the piano for the elephants. Her black, lacquered instrument stands in the middle of a clearing between the trees. Each night, she plays Satie, Chopin, Debussy and Beethoven. Each night, the elephants come to the clearing. They stand still, flap their ears. They relax their shoulders, and tears fall from some eyes. If you look at the scene from above, you’ll see a tiny dot sitting at the black piano, with a fan around it of gigantic, grey bodies.


2


First, the monkeys join them. They also want to listen to the enchanting piano sounds. The elephants are okay with it—the monkeys sit in the trees, they take up no space. They can tolerate the snakes as well. But when the tapirs come, and the jaguars follow shortly after, the elephants decide they need a system. They knock down some trees and stack the trunks. Within a day, the clearing is enclosed. The elephants take turns sitting behind an alcove in the wooden wall to sell tickets. A drawbridge, raised and lowered by their snouts, gives ticket holders access to where the woman plays the piano. The bigger the animal, the more expensive the entrance fee. Only the elephants are allowed to listen for free. But the elephants aren’t listening anymore; the elephants are selling tickets and operating the drawbridge.


3


One day, the woman hears a cracking sound coming from the enclosure. A rhino is trying to break through the barrier. There are cheers of encouragement, and various species rally behind the rhino. The elephants trumpet fearfully; there are too many animals, and the rhino is too strong. The enclosure is hit again, several tree trunks start splitting. One monkey uses a vine to climb down from a tree, and stops when he’s suspended right above the woman. ‘Come,’ he says, and he extends his hand. ‘That wall won’t hold much longer. You can escape via the branches. I’ll get some friends to grab the piano.’ But the woman shakes her head. She keeps playing. Hits the keys louder and louder, until she explodes into a scale and disappears behind the clouds. When the enclosure breaks down and the animals reach the piano, pushing and pulling, there is no music. The piano looks like a coffin on legs. All kinds of bodies, big and small, taken aback, gather around the black, lacquered silence. From that moment on, the elephants are and will forever be the wisest and saddest animals in the jungle.

 

Bart Smout (1983) is a writer. He published two novels, De geboorte van schuld (The birth of guilt, 2019) and Lege Lijnen (Empty Lines, 2009). He also wrote for publications such as de Volkskrant, De Gids and De Optimist. He’s part of the editorial team at Wobby.club, a platform for autonomous illustrations, visual art and literature.


Illustrations: Rachelle Meyer is an American illustrator, artist, and writer living in the Netherlands. Her cartoons and comics have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Austin Chronicle. Her artwork is distinctive in its expressive line, harmonious color palettes, sensitivity, and humor.


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