Rosie Septic, by Matthew Kerber

We had 4000 gallons of rose gold, liquefied pig shit in the back of our truck and we were

in a $10,000 rat race to get to South Carolina. My colleague (Joey Gent, as in gentleman) and I

(Johnny James) picked up the job a little before sunset yesterday. Bring our septic truck, drain a

tankful of this pig factory’s “lagoon,” and dump it in a station in little place called Ketchuptown

in South Carolina. An extremely weird job, for sure. But ten grand for 60 miles? You can’t pass

up that kind of dirt.

Joey and I were septic tank pumpers. We worked on the outskirts of Lumberton and all

down 211 clearing out people’s tanks. Joey was a good kid. He chose decent music and was

smart, but just dim enough sometimes to be quite an entertaining partner. I started working the

truck with my father right after high school in ‘93, about fifteen years ago. Then when my old

man had to quit a little over a year back, I found Joey, fresh out of Lumberton High, just like I

had been. My father knew Joey’s father’s brother and somebody said something about the kid

needing both a bit of discipline and bit of money.

“You ever cleared a septic tank?” I asked him after his daddy dropped him off for his first

“Once with a cherry bomb,” he said.

He got the job.

We met the guy with the job off of 95 a little outside St. Pauls. He was from the

Smithfield plant over in Tar Heel. The best dressed and least southern farmer in North Carolina.

One of those sleek types that doesn’t know a thing about a pig except for how much a warehouse

full of them is worth. “How much does it hold?” The man asked. Joey bragged about our 4500

gallon tank. I slapped the side of it with a dull empty echo. Bright blue with bold white peeling

‘SEPTIC’ painted in a block on the hull.

“That’s plenty.” The man peered under a paper on a clipboard.

“What do you have there?” I mocked.

The man tilted it back towards his body and let out a cough halfway between a laugh and

a sigh. “We need the excrement gone as fast as possible. We were just notified about a surprise

inspection tomorrow and if we’re over capacity on our pools again, which we currently are, we

will face all fucking hell from the EPA.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “So on top of the ten

thousand we’re paying you and a dozen other septic crews, we’re dishing out a twenty grand


“Hold on a second,” I said, “thirty grand? For a morning of work?”

The man shook his head. “That bonus is if, and that’s a big if, you two are the first ones to

unload your 4000 gallons in South Carolina.” That sonofabitch didn’t think we could do it.

“You must really want it gone,” Joey said.

The man nodded. “You have no idea, kid. We’ve got less than 24 hours and we need it

far, far away from anyone who cares. So keep nice and quiet about it if you want to get paid.

Smithfield might be losing a factory if someone catches wind of this.”

I really wouldn’t have minded that.

This was the shit, the real shitty shit. There were a dozen other vacuum trucks in line at

the gate of the lot when we got there a little before 7am. They were all clunkers, couldn’t suck

the jelly out a doughnut. All but the one at the head of the line. After no more than a minute of us

sitting there, a kid of no more than thirteen ran out and unlocked the gate letting the line of us

through. We all circled around one of the lakes in the clearing spread out about five miles from

Tar Heel. The “lagoons” were raised embankments about ten feet tall, half a football field in size,

and held eight deep feet of shining maroon pig liquids. There were two, both paired with a set of

longhouses squealing with stationary pork which were connected to a long row of pipes running

out the side to drain into the pools. A really terrible way to raise pigs. The meat came out tasting

so much worse from all the stuff they pumped into them. Whoever “owned” this “farm” was for

sure getting screwed over by the guys that hired us.

We took a spot near the end of the closest pool and parked, fed the hose of the truck out

as far as it would go, locked it in tight, then kicked the sucker into high gear. Joey hopped up on

the side of the truck and grabbed two buck lawn chairs wedged in a rack attached on the side of

the tank. He tossed one down to me and jumped off the side with his tucked under arm. We

unfolded them in step, just as the sun peaked over the tops of the trees, lounging back on the

crest of the gently rolling bank on the edge of our lagoon that held back a flood of shit and blood.

Our truck was old but we had just put in a new Fruitland compressor that was sucking as

fast as it could dump. Got it off an antiquer in Fayetteville who was trying to get rid of a busted

up vacuum truck. That thing didn’t have an intact piece on it but the pump looked like it was

fresh off the line. He didn’t have a clue he should be asking about eight grand. I got him down to

900 bucks.

So we leisurely watched for the hose to catch something too big to swallow, it would start

wiggling and gurgling louder, but it was flowing smooth as a creek. Ripples circled outwards

from above the roundabouts of the hoses shoved into the lagoon. Our ripples were the biggest,

Joey knew with an eager look on his face. The other guys knew too. Last ones to start, first tank

full. We’d be out of there in an hour, tops.

The truck next to us was from Dogwood Drainers; the most stupid sons a bitches to ever

clear a septic tank. They set a little old lady’s house on fire a month ago when the boss’ son lit a

cigarette while he was leaning over the manhole. One of them had been staring at us for a good

five minutes before he stuck his thumbs in his waistband and walked on over. Big, slow, dumb

looking strides. Randy Owens, owner and boner: “Looks like you boys got yourself a new

pump,” he had to shout over the dense drone of compressors all around the lagoon.

We got up and walked down the bank no more than two yards from our chairs. “Yessir

we did. A Fruitland W1600, water cooled. Can’t beat it,” Joey had the most perfect shit eating

grin on his face. Randy was too old to be such a smug ass. He was more salt than pepper, a short,

patchy, but well-hidden, beard. 55 years of being a piece of, and disposing of, shit. “We should

be out of your hair soon enough,” I said catching Joey’s grin.

“Sure, sure you will, son.” He spit off to his side. “Me and my boy will be finishing up

right soon now,” They were feeding in two hoses with two Jurop Lc420s, a great lower top of the

line pump, to a single tank. Excessive, he knew it too, and louder than hell, but their truck was

nice enough (brown with ugly white flowers) to run them both and run them well.

Little Randy Owens (Leslie Owens) who had been sitting against the front right tire of

their truck picking at his elbow since we got there, walked on over to join his daddy in the

banter. “Nice truck,” he said, “think it’ll make it all the way to South Carolina?”

“Jesus, God… Leslie, shut the hell up,” Joey rolled his eyes far enough back in his head

to get a glimpse of our blue beauty. Joey graduated from Lumberton High in ’06, a year before

Leslie. Before either of us even realized that I already knew for myself, Joey used to (and still

does) tell me about how much of a dumbass ‘this kid Leslie’ at his high school was.

“Fuck you too, Joanne,” little Randy shouted.

“With all due respect, Mr. Owens,” Joey turned just the slightest to face him, “I will not

hesitate to hit your child.” I snorted and gave Randy a look that said I mean come on that’s pretty

Randy slapped Leslie on the back of the head, I mean hard. “Get your ass back over

“Well we’ll see you in Ketchuptown, Owens!” I said through mine and Joey’s laughter. A

sharp gargle cut through the drone of the Owens’ overcompensating twin Lc420s and crackled

behind us. Our hose started to pitch.

“Shit, shit, shit, Joey go kill it!” He ran over to shut down the pump.

“Might wanna get that fixed before you head down to South Carolina,” Old Randy said,

“We’ll wait up for y’all once we’re there, Johnny.” He slitted his eyes, grinned, and walked back

over to his truck.

I gave a strong tug on the hose, cussing to myself. It budged a little but was stuck on

something. I kept a steady hold and followed it up the bank. Out there in the middle of the

crimson sea was the most unfortunate pig floating along, squealing its head off, trying to stay

above the surface. I couldn’t hear it over the ruckus around the lake, but its mouth was wide and

yelling. I gave a hard tug on the hose and the pig inched towards my edge of the bank.

“Goddammit,” I groaned. The hose was stuck tight around its back leg. The pump was done

sucking but the hose wasn’t done sticking. I started reeling it in. “Joey, come help me with this!”

He ran up next to me and grabbed the hose and pulled it with me. “What’s it stuck— what in the

hell is that?”

“That’s a pig Joey. It’s what made this goldmine of a mess. And it’s stuck in our hose.

Come on, come on, pull the thing.”

We got a grip on the hose and started walking it backwards down the bank. The pig came

out of the liquid, we couldn’t see it but felt when the hundred lbs. of pork slid up onto the plastic

liner of the lagoon. We gave a few more big ones and then a final heave and could see the pig

make it just barely to the top of the bank flailing around unable to stand up. We rushed up to it. It

was a shoat, probably just barely small enough to slip out of the factory. The little thing was just

squealing its head off trying to run somewhere but stuck halfway on its back and halfway on its

“Hold him down for me, Joey.”

He tried his best to get a grip on the pig, but his hand just slid right off, wiping big wet

patches of some really awful slime down the side of it. He couldn’t get a hold so he just sat down

on him and put the shank with the hose stuck on it in between his own two legs. I gave the

biggest yank I could and I’ll be damned if I wouldn’t have torn the poor thing’s leg clean away if

the hose hadn’t have come off. It gave a loud wet suction pop and I fell backwards, almost down

the bank, letting go of the hose. Unfortunately for Joey, who hadn’t been working a septic truck

anywhere near as long as about every guy out here, he forgot the cardinal danger of septic

vacuuming: backfire. Every once in a while, when a hose goes and gets clogged, there’s a pretty

big buildup of pressure. Now the pump takes care of most of that pressure with some sorts of

safety release valve, but not all of it. And when the blockage is cleared, the pressure takes the

easiest route out.

Joey got up off of the pig, which sort of hobbled to its feet and started running in circles,

and he picked up the hose. A spray of something a little too red and a little too chunky careened

out of the end of that thing like it had somewhere to be. Backfire.

I tried to clench my jaw shut. I tried to keep from saying something. I really did. I nodded

toward the pig. Giving a terrible attempt at holding back a smile, “How embarrassing. You two

wore the same thing.” I about passed out from laughing. He threw the hose out into the lagoon,

flicked me off, walked down to the truck and started the pump back up. “Aww come on man,

I’m just messing with you. It happens to everyone.” He pulled off his gloves first and then his

clothes all the way down to his white and red heart spotted boxers. We had a huge water tank

above the pump for flushing jobs. He pulled off one of the hoses to it and started washing off the

maroon that had covered him head to toe.

I made a clicking noise in the side of my cheek and called the pig over. He had stopped

running in circles and seemed fairly calm, limping a bit, but fine. I called at him again. He slowly

hobbled on over keeping his head close to the ground. I put my hand out to him and he sniffed at

it. “You must be some kind of Houdini getting out of that hell hole.” I patted him on the head,

appreciating the nice layer of glove between us. I called over to Joey, “Hey why don’t you clean

off plopper here while you’re at it?”

Joey flicked me off again. I walked her (as I found out) over to the truck. The pig took a

quick liking to him. I guess she felt a little at home, smelling something so similar. They can

smell about ten times as well as dogs. We had a plump little Yorkshire pig when I was growing

up. He was the runt of the litter. The classic tale of my father wanting to get rid of it and my

sister and I being just the right age to plead to keep it. My dad was a pig farmer, and a damn

good one. My family had a decent sized farm on the edge of Elizabethtown, about twenty miles

from Tar Heel. We kept about 150 pigs on a nice big slab of land. Then Smithfield rolled up in

’91. It only took two years before we had to sell the farm. Dad took his old hog feed truck and

slapped a vacuum on it and started clearing septic tanks. I joined in a year later.

I checked the level on the tank. “We’re at 3950 gallons.”

“Nah shit. I checked,” Joey said. He was cleaning the pig now, which actually was

washing off pretty well. Couldn’t have been out there too long.

“Man calm down. It’s a rite of passage.” I made a grand gesture with my hand.

“Everybody gets backfired on once. It happened to me when I started working with my old man,

second month on the job. And it happened to him the first fucking tank he drained,” I laughed.

“You’ll never make that mistake again. I sure didn’t.”

That seemed to make him feel a little better. “This guy is kinda cute,” Joey said as he

scratched her between the ears. She slowly lifted her snout to the sky as he did it, in a way that

only pigs do, and she looked up there for a while, even after he stopped scratching her. “I wonder

why he’s so calm around us.”

“It’s a gal, actually. It’s the first time she’s been outside. Pigs love people too. Let’s cap

it right at 4000, and get this show on the road.” Her fur was stained light red fading in from her

middle down. Joey was still in his boxers and drying her off now. “The Owens over there are

about done. Twenty more grand, man. That’s fifteen skins for each of us.” They were doing the

same thing. Standing, watching the gauge impatiently. Little Randy had clothes on though.

“What should we do with her?” Joey asked. “Should we tell someone in one of the


“Nah they’ll just toss her in the scraps. They’re not gonna use anything that’s been in

that.” I tilted my head towards the lagoon.

Joey looked down at the pig who was sniffing his feet. “We’ll let her ride with us then.

We can find some farm to take her on the way back from South Carolina.”

I gave him a real disapproving look. “No,” I said. “We’re about to hit 4000. Go put some

clothes on.”

Both of the lagoons looked to be about half empty now. There was a change in the air.

Everyone heard it. Even through the drone of a dozen trucks pumping away. The twin Lc420s

next to us had been cut off. “Joey,” I shouted to him on the other side of the truck. I followed the

hose up the bank and got ready to pull it out. “Joey, what’s it say?” Where the hell was that kid?

The Owens had reeled in the hose and were getting in the cab. I casually flicked Randy off.

“Joey!” He came around the back of the truck, still in his heart boxers. He killed the pump.

“We’re good, we’re good! 4000! Pull it!” he yelled to me. I reeled that hose in, and Joey wound

it up and cinched it so fast that we should have timed it. Bits of filth flung every which way. We

were climbing up into the cab soon as Big and Little Randy had started rolling away from the


There was a pig in the middle of the cab. She looked me square in the eyes when I

opened the door. “God dammit Joey!” He jumped in the passenger side and gave me a timid grin,

still in his boxers. The Dogwood Dumbasses were making their way well down the road now.

“Put some fucking pants on.” I slammed the door, shoved the pig over into the middle, and

jammed the clutch in way too hard.

They were a good bit out ahead of us after we left Smithfield, but still in sight. Didn’t

seem like we were losing or gaining any space. Their truck might have been a hell of a lot newer,

but it was way too big for that to make a difference. We were passing through the main strip of

Tar Heel: a middle school, a gas station and a Subway. They didn’t turn where I expected them

to. “Damn, I thought they would go through Lumberton. They’re taking 131. That’s my route.” I

took my next turn a little too sharply. “Well we’ll go the other way and see if we get lucky.”

The pig had such an oddly familiar smell. I rolled my window down and told Joey to do

the same. It was rancid as could be, but it wasn’t her fault. Joey, who was still in his boxers, was

scratching her ear and the thing had a dumb content smile with its head cocked and mouth

halfway open. “I’m gonna name her Rosie.”

I sighed. “Well shit, Joey. Now you have to keep her.”

We headed along 72 to and passed through Fair Bluff right on the border. That’s where

we’d see the Dumpholes again if we had kept at the same speed. But we couldn’t tell if they were

five miles ahead or five miles behind.

We pull up to a red light just on the inside edge of the border, probably the last one for

miles. We couldn’t have been more than fifteen minutes from Ketchuptown. Rosie had her head

in Joey’s lap. I start to pull through the intersection when I heard a squeal from the pig and

another from Joey.

“Rosie! She just leaped through the window, man!” Joey stuck his head out the window

to look for her. We weren’t going fast, so she’d probably be all right, but that was a tall fall.

“Pull the truck over,” Joey said.

“Oh no. No way. This is your own damn fault,” I said. No pig’s worth twenty grand.

“The hell do you mean? We can’t just leave her out there,” Joey said.

“Joey, we’re ten miles away.”

“Please pull the truck over, Johnny. Please.” I had never heard the kid so serious.

“Goddammit, Joey!” I grumbled. I yanked the wheel a little too hard to the right and

brought the truck to a stop about halfway off the road. We were out in a long stretch of corn

running on either side of us with the road sliced down the middle.

“She’s up there,” Joey pointed up beyond the truck as we climbed out, Joey still only

wearing his boxers and boots. I decided to start bringing spare clothes after that. Somehow Rosie

had gotten in front of us. She was sitting in the middle of the road looking up at the sky. “Come

here Rosie! Here Rosie!” Joey called out.

“Great job. I’m sure she’s got her name really locked down by now,” I gave a little soo-

wee and she looked down from the sky at me.

A green four door appeared at the edge of a bend in the corn up the road. It came

barreling down behind Rosie with no sign of slowing down. We jumped up and down waving

our arms and shouting. Joey started to run towards her but I grabbed his shoulder before he

could. The car was too old for anti-lock so it skidded and pulled a ninety degree turn completely

to its side. It stopped about two feet from Rosie. She cocked her head slowly then looked over

her shoulder at the car. She did a little trot over to the side of the road, then started walking back

towards us. We exhaled.

“You alright ma’am?” I shouted up to the car. She waved back at me, visibly shaken, but

alright. She started to back up.

There was a massive screech of tires from behind us.

The lady slammed the brakes then threw it in drive and gunned it into the rows of corn to

our left, a look of absolute terror on her face as she barreled into the stalks. The Dogwood

Drainers truck barreled by me about three feet from knocking my hair off. It started to pitch to

the right trying to avoid the lady’s car as they slammed the brakes. It slid, slid, slid, and

suspended in the air at the perfect angle of balance on its left set of tires, then toppled over on its

side releasing the foulest rose gold liquid all across the road.

The liquid was spreading out all around us now. Joey and I ran up to the truck trying to

avoid splashing around in puddles of it; Joey already smelled bad enough. We helped Bignlittle

Randy climb from the cab out of the now-sunroof side door. Little Randy had been driving of

course. They were fine, a little woozy, but it didn’t keep Randy from smacking the hell out of

Leslie. The lady backed slowly out of the corn stalks, that same look on her face, then booked it

out of there, having gotten enough close calls to last her a few years.

“Y’all sure you’re alright?” I said.

They both nodded. Old Randy just looked at the truck, fuming, probably pondering how

his son ended up being such a dumbass. Boy I wished I could’ve seen Leslie’s face when he

yanked that wheel to the right.

“Good,” I said, “that’s good to hear. I’m really glad. Because it sure does smell like one

of you might’ve shit your pants.” Joey and I bent over laughing. Little Randy turned beet red,

which later went down in our book as a sign of him not having understood our reference to the

pig shit, meaning he must have actually shat in his pants.

We pulled in to the lot in Ketchuptown about a quarter hour later, leaving the ungodly

mess behind for the two stooges. There was a man waiting on a bench at the edge of the road

where it turned into dirt. He was sitting out in the late morning heat wearing black pants and a

short sleeve white button down dress shirt, heavy wet patches under his arms. We stopped the

truck and he walked over to us.

“Y’all coming from Smithfield?” He called up to me. Young kid. Just a little older than

I nodded. “Got a tankful back there.” Rosie crossed over me, stuck her head out the

window and grunted. Joey was holding onto her back legs, grinning at me.

The kid raised an eyebrow. “Is that one of ours?”

“Nope. Picked him up on the side of the road.”

He left his eyebrow up. “My daddy is waiting just up the road where you need to dump

“Then why are you out here?” Joey called from across the seat, laughing.

We drove up the path and parked next to a little white one room house. The man that

gave us the job opened up the screen door and stepped out onto the porch. We climbed out of the

truck. The man gave a strange look at Joey in his boxers and boots.

“Congratulations, boys,” he said with his arms crossed and missing the customary smile

that comes along with a congratulations. “Y’all are the first ones here.” The sketchy sonofabitch

paid in cash of course. Joey and I both got a stack of 150 hundreds.

“Say, did y’all happen to see another truck headed this way?” The man asked us while his

son was emptying our truck outside into what must have been a huge underground tank. “I was

told from up there that you two and another crew left way before any of the other trucks.”

Joey and I looked at each other, grinning. I nodded at him. After you.

“You’re gonna be about 4000 gallons short,” Joey said.

The blood drained from the guys face, I mean he went white. “What exactly do you mean

by that?” he spoke quietly.

“They had a little mishap on the road,” I said.

“Son of a bitch,” the guy said under his breath. He snatched some keys off his desk then

ran out the door. We followed him, trying to hold back our laughter. The guy started yelling at

his son who had just finished tying up our hoses, frantically trying to get him to understand the

severity of the situation. He ran off yelling something about “Call Terry! Call Terry and get his

ass down here,” then jumped in a white Ford and sped off the way we came. That was the last we

saw of him. We hopped back in the truck where Rosie sat patiently in the cab. I tossed the manila

envelope of cash over to Joey as I climbed in and we left on the highway back up towards North


A couple months later we heard that the EPA caught wind of the whole fiasco and

dropped an $8,200,000 fine on Smithfield for trying to hide their shit. Still, the Dirtbag

Dumpheads had to give up one of their older trucks to pay for the cleanup of the spill. Joey and I

bought it for nice and cheap. We painted our old one and the new one a nice light red and put a

big maroon Rosie Septic along the side with a little drawing of a pig. Rosie rode along on most of

our jobs after that and the customers just loved her. Especially that little old lady that Little

Randy almost caught on fire.

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