I Was a Farmer
  Cole Pettifor

I arrived early and walked across the farmyard. Cold sunlight flashed through elm stems and birds sang songs about leaving.

Inside the boot room, my boss handed me some coveralls and his old rubber boots. He put a dirty blue snow shovel in my hands. “For self-defense,” he said. I walked over to the water pump by the feed chutes. The hose tensed and I took the spray gun into the pen room.

The long, low room was wall-to-wall metal pens holding back a thousand jostling, warm bodies. I vaulted into the first and explained to the pigs that they smelled like shit. I pulled the trigger and let fly the fast water. While I sprayed in wide sweeps, they came up to mouth and lick my wet rubber boots. I lifted steel toes hard into their snouts. The things I screamed, I can’t remember, just hollers and half-words, but it put them off me for long enough to spray out the corners. The heated mud had no place to go but back, into my face. I closed my eyes until I heard water on concrete.

I was a town kid who skateboarded and did his homework. Graduation had come and gone, along with most of my classmates to the city. That had been my plan too, but when I was fired from an easy job for running over a schoolyard fence with a riding lawnmower, the farm’s ad was the first one I saw. Blake hired me on the spot.

I vaulted over a low wall into the next pen, and they were on me like I was their mother. I sprayed the third one from the right in the face; he screamed and whipped around, thumping into his cousins.

I laughed at where I was, ankle deep in shit, knee deep in pigs. There were so many, their heads bowed in grunting conference about the man with the temper, and the words, and the repurposed snow shovel. I asked them if they were busy on Saturday night. I told them not to make any plans. In my mouth and eyes, I caught wet flecks of what they shit. Pulverized grain mixed through with a slick grey mud. I spat and leaned into the kick coming off the hose.

I shut my head off and worked down the room, making up songs about being a working farmer. The pigs screamed their critique. When I was finished the pens, I looked out across the crowded pink backs and told them I hoped we could get along.

A hand clapped upon my shoulder. I jumped and turned.

“Come to the birthing room,” Blake said with a hint of a smile.

I followed him down a long dark hallway, into a hot room that smelled diarrhea sweet. It was lit up with red heat lamps that hung from cords into raised pens, in the centre of which stood great sows in cages. The broods of little ones stumbled around at their mother’s knees, happy and full.

We scared the piglets from their mother with hisses and all the swear words that we knew. With plywood boards we trapped them at the front.

“Be right back,” Blake said.

They were cute little things. Herds of them, all just right there. I reached for a mostly brown one with pink around its eyes. It snorted in a small way as I put my hand around its neck and squeezed. It closed its eyes and became still.

Blake returned, pushing a cart with needles and bottles and shiny instruments on it. He grabbed my brown pig and squeezed it between his legs, ass end out. He grabbed a scalpel, and cut across two round bumps between the pig's back legs. The lights washed me in their heat. I looked away, but was slow, and saw everything come out.

Blake said “spray.”

I stared at the gash.

From the cart he grabbed a bottle, like the kind for spritzing marigolds. It was filled with a milky white liquid. He shot a jet onto the pig’s fresh cut. With a pair of wire-cutters, he lopped the curly tail off. It sounded like a haircut in fast forward. He cut the teeth out of the mouth. It sounded like breaking teeth. When he passed me the screaming animal, I fumbled it onto the ground and pinned it to the wall with my boot. I looked back up and Blake had a syringe in his hand.

“Put the pig under your armpit, the needle goes in behind the ear.”

My hands were shaking and I wanted to lie down. The needle bent as it went in, then snapped. I put the piglet back with its mother.

“It’s hot in here,” I said and bumped the cart. The bottle of penicillin smashed on the floor.

I stumbled into the hall, then into the door to outside. I found a seat on some worn concrete and put my head in my hands. I vomited the hottest bile, void of any solids. It was just acid, yellow and thick. I focused on the earth and its weight pushing back at me. Air and fresh-cut grass mixed in my nose. My palms dried. I scraped at a fleck of shit on my knee with a fingernail and sat up straight.

Blake was coming out as I was going back in.

“You all right?” he said. “It’s okay if you’re not. Farming isn’t for everybody.”

I just smiled, fingered the doorjamb, and told him I was okay.

When we went back to the red-lit room my sweat cooled me. I felt strong as I stared into the piglets’ eyes and stuck them. I tossed one back screaming and grabbed for another, and another. There was always another. It went like that for two hours. “That’s eighteen dollars,” I whispered to the pig in my armpit.

At lunch, Blake asked me onto his porch for a beer. We leaned on the railing and drank in long sips of the bottle. The grit in my teeth washed down my throat. I looked down at my coveralls and smiled, then turned to Blake. Over the sound of the engines I said, “These pigs are going to grow me up quick.”

Blake said nothing as he drained his beer, pushed off of the railing and left me standing there on the porch.

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