They stand at the edge of only one of the ten-thousand lakes advertised, a jar in hand; white and gray ashes shifting around nervously inside. Glances are exchanged; silent conversations taking place with nothing but calm expressions.
"Goodnight, Dorothy." Gertrude mutters. "May the love of the Almighty Maple Leaf Spirit God Jesus Christ watch over you always."
"Really Gerdy? Really?"
"Just thought I'd cover all my bases, Buffy."
"Don't call me Buffy."
"Regardless," Attentions are returned to the jar. "Grit and Hildie wanted to be here too, but they had simultaneous dental examinations, so you'll just have to make due with us."
"That's a very tactful way of saying that they chickened out."
"Babies deserve kind lies. Besides, I can't call them chickenshits since they helped us steal a pig carcass."
"They chickened out in regards to throwing ashes; that's pretty chickenshitty."
"Are we going to stand here discussing the literal definitions of non-existent words and their grammatical implications or are we going to do this thing?"
"And the Grammar Nazi rises again."
"Snow White Buffalo Flower, do not make me withhold my next batch of fruit snacks because Almighty Maple Leaf Spirit God Jesus Christ help me, I will do it."
"Shit, fine!" Unsealing the ornate glass plug, Snow White Buffalo Flower hurls the container, without tact, into the lake as far as she can pitch it.
It bobs for a moment before sinking below the surface.
"Christ, you could have been a bit more ceremonious than that!"
"Because the pig hasn't been stuck with us long enough, right? We kind of just ripped out its heart and kidney and cut them both in half, so it might be thinking 'hell, just get this over with already'."
"Fair enough, but we could have at least given the mutilated porkpie a little respect."
"We just gave it a freaking ceremony."
"An unceremonious ceremony."
"But still a ceremony. Now let's stop arguing over whether our ceremony was ceremonious or not and just go get some McFlurries or something."
They turn from the water's edge and start back towards the parking lot where Snow White Buffalo Flower's car waited for them. As they reach the vehicle, Gertrude pauses.
"Don't call me Buffy."
"Next time, let's just do the virtual dissection."
The video plays on the screen, the woman unforgiving, opening the belly of the beast and reaching inside for knowledge. At their desks and tables, the students squeal.
"...these are the intestines." The woman drones on, her voice a dull, Northern buzz.
"What the hell is that? Cabbage?" Gertrude and Ingrid demand simultaneously, mouths pulled downwards and eyebrows pinned up in a surprised grimace. Snow White Buffalo Flower opts not to look.
The two girls exchange looks and Brünhilda laughs; the smile is contagious and they seem to forget, for just an instant, that they are minutes away from the buzzing woman removing the pig's heart and slicing it in two.
For just an instant, they are more than obligatory lab partners.
For that instant, they're friends.
Five minutes later, the teacher turns the video off and is greeted with a raised hand, the first of many questions that should be left unasked, unanswered and utterly forgotten.
"Hey Drammer, where do we get the pigs anyways? Are they, like, stillborn or something?"
Ms. Drammer takes a moment to remember that she is a teacher, a scientist; obligated to guide them through sugar cane and dandelions. She isn't there to be sweet, but to be firm and unyielding; a stone statue in a Biology class. She loves every minute of it.
"Their mothers were probably slaughtered while they were pregnant."
Hands dive for stomachs and the collective gasp is utterly feminine, as the men (lacking ovaries and knowing that, at this point in time, if they even got a girl pregnant they would be doomed to a life of child welfare) remain silent.
"Jesus-F-Bomb-Snapple-Christ." Gertrude mutters under her breath.
"I feel sick."
"I doubt that's an actual word, Gerdy."
"Am I quaddo?"
"Also not an actual word."
Gertrude rolls her eyes and scoffs. "Like it matters."
"What happened to my favorite Grammar Nazi?"
"She just heard that pigs are really big on not having babies out of wedlock."
"Pigs don't get married," Ms. Drammer informs them, hovering nearby; lured by the words 'F-Bomb' and the potential of a visit to the local dean if the profanity becomes more profane.
"So all the pregger-pigs get whacked?" Gertrude demands.
"No, some of them give birth." Drammer smiles with just a hint of the most particular malice. "And their babies end up your bacon."
Then, "I think I just turned Vegan,"
"Your spirit bear won't allow that, Buffy."
"Then maybe I'll get a spirit rabbit instead. Those are nice and vegan."
"Sure, sure. Just hit up your local Spirit Trading Post. I think I saw it over by McHeartAttacks-the one over by the library?"
"No, that's the Werewolf Trading Post."
"Whoops. Mí culpa."
"No hay problema."
"Being a French student is lonely."
"Look at the bright side, Grit. We're probably going to do most of the work on the big."
Ingrid contemplated informing Brünhilda that their looming baby dissection was, in no way, a bright side. It was not a silver lining or a golden raisin. It was them carving an unborn pig up like a Jesus-Day turkey and she was only looking forward to touching it as little as possible.
She contemplated this all before resigning herself to silence.
"Okay, okay. Step three; find and cut open the salivary gland."
"The spit gland."
"Which is... where?"
"Uh... Oh, it says it's like... here, just look for yourself, it's somewhere by the jaw." Snow White Buffalo Flower lifts the diagram inside of the binder, allowing Ingrid, Gertrude and Brünhilda a glimpse at the carnage that Dorothy was soon to become.
"Hildie, watch where you're pointing the blade!"
"... Did you get it?"
"I dunno, this feels really hard."
"Let me do that, you dope." Gertrude sighs and snatches the scalpel away, resuming the work. "... Guys, I think we're cutting into the skull, not the salivary glands. Because there's this scraping sound and it's giving me the skeevies."
"Better word than the anti-skiddlydoos."
"This is true. Drammer! Where're the salivaries?" The teacher makes her way over, peering over the carcass like she's seen an unborn fetal pig every day-and, for a week, she does.
"Right there." She jabs her latex-seal hand about a centimeter below the incision. "Give me the knife." They do and she takes over with the skill of a gamer wielding a walkthrough. "Let's see... Your pig has a good set of salivary glands. See? Right here and here. You just have to peel back the flesh; like an apple or a pear."
"Drammer, she's not a fruit."
"I wouldn't have you dissect a fruit. There's no point in that. Well, girls, next you just have to break the jaw." Glances are exchanged and faces pale. Gertrude removes her gloves and hides underneath the lab table.
"Well, Hildie, I guess it's up to you." Ingrid resigns as well with a grimace, handing the last girl standing the surgical scissors and motioning at the head.
"'Course it is." Though this is the one act of violence she'd rather not partake in, she begins to cut the tendons and bones inside of the mouth, each snip and slice eliciting a cruel pop! that makes her stomach turn. When this is through, she places one hand on the upper jaw, one on the lower jaw and-
"Guys, it won't give!"
"Christ, are you serious?"
"Yeah, it won't break."
"I'm not touching it."
"Well, neither am I. So should we get someone else?"
"You guys need help or somethin'?" Fran makes her way over to the table, lured by the sound of sheer, unrivaled panic.
"The jaw won't break."
"Want me to try?"
"Yes, please, in the name of the Almighty Maple Leaf Spirit God Jesus Christ, get this over with."
"That would be a yes."
"Mmkay." Fran takes her spot at the lab table, repeating Brünhilda's position and grab from earlier.
Underneath the table, Gertrude covers her ears with her hands.
'I don't hear a thing I don't hear a thing I don't hear a thing Idon'theara-'
Standing around the table, only three of them today; Brünhilda the Fearless has left them to their swine-related fate. Gertrude slips on the gloves and picks up the knife. Ingrid mirrors her with the probe.
It's a bit disturbing how quietly and efficiently they work; Ingrid grimaces the whole way through, looking like she'd give anything to run out of the room that instant. Gertrude's eyes become half-lidded and focused as she searches for the elusive kidney; hiding behind walls of intestines and organs that have been rendered useless.
"Found it!" She calls out and brings the knife down again. And again. And again. Snow White Buffalo Flower closes her eyes, only opening them after the organ has been cut in two, lying on the paper napkins. Only now it is worse; now they hunt down the heart.
It is far easier to find; out in the open, protected by a thin layer of tissue, nestled between the lungs like a baby bird in its home. They have no right to remove it; to take it from the sticks and spit and family it has known.
The knife glints in the harsh lab lights once more as Gertrude lifts the blade.
Snow White Buffalo Flower closes her eyes again and, this time, she does not open them.
Shut eyes can not drown out the baby bird's cries.
"So... what're we gonna name it?"
"C'mon, we're mutilating it. It's gotta have a name at least."
"We're not naming it. We're not going to call it by a name other than 'it'."
"Christ, you're abusive. How're we gonna pay our respects if it doesn't have a name?"
"Gerdy, I swear to God if you don't knock it off."
"Don't you mean, 'I swear to the Almighty Spirit'? Or 'I swear to the Almighty Maple Leaf'? Or any combination there-of?"
"No, I don't mean that. Because those are pretty chill spirits and I'd prefer to swear to one who has no beefs with striking you down if you don't shut the hell up."
"Are you two done yet?"
"Yes. For the love of the Almighty Maple Leaf Spirit God Jesus Christ, just start the damn project."
"It. Needs. A. Name."
"You can name it afterwards! When we've cracked it open and finished the freaking project!"
"Well, what am I supposed to name it until then? Because I'm gonna feel the need to apologize for every hack-'n-slash."
"Gerdy. It's dead. It's not going to feel it; it's not going to hear it. It probably never even developed enough to feel."
"It. Has. Teeth. I bet it developed enough."
Brunhilda hovers over the dead fetal pig and pries open the jaws with her plastic wrap hands.
"Jesus-fucking-Christ! It does!"
"What's that thing sticking out between the teeth?"
"That's its tongue, idiot."
"Dude, it's like, gray."
"What do you expect? It's dead. It isn't exactly going to give you kisses anyways."
"Stop calling the pig an 'it'. I'm sure the thing isn't a hermaphrodite; probs has a gender. Grit?"
Ingrid lifts her eyebrows and jabs a latex thumb at Brünhilda, whose eyes are alight with fascination at the carcass before them.
"I ain't checking it," she grumbles, wishing she could cross her arms without getting pig juice (formaldehyde, Gertrude would remind her with obvious agitation) all over the arms of her sweatshirt. "Ask Hildie."
"Yeah, because I'm obviously trusting the overexcited chick to examine the pig's man-and-slash-or-lady parts. I dunno what to look for, and Buffy won't check it-"
"Don't call me Buffy."
"Snow White Buffalo Flower here won't check it because she's worried her spirit animal would eat it-"
"The hell it would."
"-but the sooner we tie the thing down and check its parts, the sooner this shit is over with."
Ingrid spares another glance at the dead piece of pork lying on the table, then turns her gaze to Brünhilda (grinning excitedly; far too eager to start the project), Gertrude (staring at her expectantly, eyebrows lifted and high heels tapping on the floor at an uneven pace), and finally to Snow White Buffalo Flower (who simply smiles back before returning to the packets they had all given to her in the beginning, as she declared right from the start that she wanted nothing to do with the dead pig) before sighing.
Snow White Buffalo Flower and Gertrude share a high-five, the collision of skin on skin muted by the thin plastic layer separating them.
With a reluctant hand, Ingrid reaches across the table and tugs back the tail, examining what the Biology teacher stubbornly continues to call 'the anus' but everyone else in the world knew by two other names; 'the ass' or 'the shithole'. Then she pats down a bulge of skin between the rear legs.
"It's a girl."
"It's a Dorothy." Gertrude and Snow White Buffalo Flower correct Ingrid immediately.
"Don't call me Buffy."
"I thought you didn't want to name the thing."
"When did I say that?"
"... Like... five minutes ago?" The only Native American-Canadian at the lab table (or, for a matter of fact, in the classroom) smirks and waves a hand in the air.
"In my ears?"
"Auditory hallucination. The formaldehyde must be getting to you. You trippin'?" Gertrude chips in with her own smirk.
"I don't think so, as you aren't being eaten by a T-Rex right now."
"Or a T-Bone steak?"
"No, no oddly animated T-Bone steaks. I think I'm painfully sober. No Don't Ask Alice moments today."
"Always good to know."
"So," Brünhilda interjects. "Dorothy?"
"Dorothy K. Hamela." Snow White Buffalo Flower corrects, looking back down at the four packets she was supposed to fill out.
"If it was a boy, Hungry Spirit Bear and I were gonna name him Oswald Jamón y Queso." Buffalo Flower looks up and glares at her best friend, a bit tired of bearing the brunt of the multiple wisecracks. Gertrude smiles back sweetly to show that it was all in good fun and that Snow White Buffalo Flower had eaten fourteen ounces of her twenty-eight ounce bag of fruit snacks and that this was merely compensation.
"Because my imagination is a wonderful, trippy thing?"
"Fair enough." Brünhilda returns her attention to the small, black and white piglet lying on the dissection table and purses her lips. "So we're gonna have to cut her open tomorrow, huh? Gonna be a bit more difficult now that she's got a name, I think."
"Which is why I didn't want to name her." Ingrid slips off the powdery plastic and shoves her hands into their respective pockets, watching the dead fetal pig with a look of disdain; as if Dorothy was the reason for all the HIV-born babies in Africa, the tsunamis in Japan and everything else tragic that happened between the country and continent.
"Some things just have to be done. Besides, it'll be worse for Snow White Buffalo Flower. She's just watching so she won't be able to get all OCD about her and start thinking of her as a life-size model instead of a formerly living and breathing piece of pork."
"Christ. Gerdy, please just shut up."
"Sorry, sorry. What're we doing with her today anyways?"
"Giving it a bath and tying it down."
"Not cracking the egg yet?"
"Not yet. You can bathe her, though."
"'Course I can." Gertrude mutters, leaning over and lifting the tiny carcass from the dissection table. Brünhilda, with nothing to do, simply watches and never loses her smile.
Their pig is the runt; not a piece of pink paper-mache, like the others, but a small black and white baby with bits of hair and her eyes still shut.
Water gushes over the body; warm instead of cold and washing away the stench of chemical but not the feel of death.
She can see, as Gertrude washes the body, that its skin is tough and durable-not soft, not a baby's feel. Her fingers are cold and she wishes she was the one running her hands under that water because she won't be able to do anything like this.
Eventually the knob is nudged with an elbow and the upside-down geyser trickles to a halt. The still wet runt it laid down on a bed of paper towels that mask the future that lies below it; the dissecting table. It's sleeping, as far as anyone else would know
Strange that something so inhuman can break her heart so much. It's just a pig after all.
"Good night, Dorothy." Gertrude murmurs and the carefree air around the lab table is lost.
"'Night Dorothy." Snow White Buffalo Flower repeats.
Ingrid deigns not to speak and simply lowers her eyes in respect.
Brünhilda's smile falters for just a moment as she connects the name and the body and now it is not just a hunk of flesh because it is a her.