Horla Fiction (September 2020)

SWINE

by JULIE ANN REES

THE football was on again. Chants from the roaring crowd echoed out of the TV. Every now and then Rob would jump up and yell in jubilation or shout and swear obscenities at the referee. I was not a fan. So I retreated to a corner of the terrace, a gin and tonic in hand, and watched the hot Provençal sun sink below the hills, splashing the sky with orange. It was a welcome vice I had succumbed to every evening whilst watching the wild boar from the woods eat the waste food I put out for them.

I loved pigs: when I was a little girl my Father bred the Tamworth, one of Britain’s oldest and rarest breeds. They were lovely long- legged ginger snufflers. My hair was the same colour. We lived in a wooded area perfect for them. They had long snouts like the boar here, ideal for rummaging. They produced tasty bacon, but not long after Mummy left I stopped eating pork. Daddy was livid, but the pigs were my friends and eating them didn’t seem right anymore.

It was a real treat to have the wild boar visit my garden, which is why I encouraged them. A sow had had piglets recently and they were beginning to emerge from the undergrowth. I held my breath as first two, and then five little piggies came into the open. They snuffled and played in the potato peelings and vegetables I’d put out. A loud roar echoed through the patio doors and all the piggies scattered back to the safety of the woods. Bugger him, I thought. When I had lived alone I craved company, but the reality of living with Rob wasn’t how I envisaged it. My precious space had been well and truly invaded. His presence seemed to be everywhere and mine was shrinking.

Before Rob moved in I would jump with anticipation at the ping of a message arriving on the laptop. We had chatted every day online, happy within our virtual little world – well, I was anyway.

Then he mentioned he could work from home, and planned to move to France so he could be with me. At first I was overjoyed. A man wanted me, and not just for sex, but actually wanted to live with me. I was frightened too, frightened of losing my independence. So I suggested he rent somewhere in the village first, but he couldn’t see the point in that. A waste of money, he said, when I had this lovely little property all to myself.

I had pondered this statement but my desperation to be wanted by him and to be a normal couple overshadowed my doubts. I’d thought it just my paranoia. It couldn’t possibly get as bad as my parent’s relationship, but I’d never lived with anyone before. I’d had boyfriends but Daddy always made sure nothing came of it . . . but he was dead now. That’s how I’d managed to buy this little place. I’d sold the old farm and moved out here. I’d always been good at French in school and my work as a translator allowed for my lonely existence.

My house was remote but not totally isolated. I had neighbours. An elderly Dutch couple, although they were not around often. It was their holiday home, and they had begun spending less and less time there. Rob had moved in last summer, and don’t get me wrong, I had enjoyed his company. He was a lovely man and adored me, loved me even. He had befriended the locals fitting in with ease – unlike me. The thing is I didn’t love him. I thought I did, but I know now that I didn’t. His presence began to feel like an intruder in my quaint little woodland retreat.

The area surrounding my home was beautiful and only an hour’s drive from the idyllic beaches of the Cote d’Azur. I didn’t have a coastal view unlike some of the fancier villas, but it didn’t bother me. My little house was shrouded in the shadow of rocky tipped mountains draped in skirts of cork oak and pine trees. They swished right up to the garden where cheeky saplings invaded the lawn. The cork trees were what attracted the wild boar. The acorns they produced were a large part of their diet, and the food I put out for them of course. Rob said I should stop feeding them, he didn’t like them. He thought they were dangerous and had once threatened to buy a gun to shoot them! I’d shoot him before he got a chance to kill any of my beloved pigs.

I jumped, spilling my drink, as a loud shout and curse from Rob interrupted my musings, and for the second time, scared the boars that had just ventured back out of the wood. Damn him I thought getting up to refill my glass. I really didn’t want him here anymore. I could try telling him I wanted him to go away, but would he listen? He was so loud and overpowering that sometimes I felt like a small mouse, my squeaks going unheard. Maybe I would do something about it tonight. I’d tell him it wasn’t working. But that was my trouble, I never spoke out for myself, not against Mummy or against Daddy . . . but they were gone now, Thank God.

I noticed, as I walked back through the lounge to get ice for my gin, the empty beer cans all over the floor, and how my little house was becoming less my little haven and more his.

“Get me another beer from the fridge would you love? Bloody piss poor excuse for a referee is doing my head in.” He reached for me and patted my bottom.

“Make me a sandwich too, will you? There’s a good girl.”

“I’m not a girl.”

“Nooo! That’s got to be offside! Come on ref!” He slurped his beer. “What did you say love?”

“I’m not a girl,” I replied but he was more interested in the little red and white shirts running about on the TV.

“I’ll have that roast ham I got from the market okay?”

“What? You bought ham? You know damn well I’ll have no pig meat in this house.”

“Sorry love, I’d forgotten but it is organic and local. Try some.”

“I’m vegetarian you idiot,”

“Goal! Yes. That’s more like it. Come on reds.”

Passing into the kitchen I noticed the heavy cast iron frying pan, I used for roasting chestnuts, was not in its usual place. I loved roasting chestnuts all alone by the fire in winter with the wild pigs rustling outside. Sighing, I silently cursed Rob for not putting it back where I kept it, and brushed my fingers over the cold metal feeling its solidity.

“Hurry up with that beer,”

My fingers quivered.

“Actually put a few in the ice bucket, save me having to get up again.”

“You haven’t gotten up once.” I replied my fingers curling around the handle.

“I’ll have some cheese with that ham sandwich too.”

The handle felt a little greasy, had he used it to cook meat in I wondered? I picked it up and carried it through to the living room.

“Have you been using my special chestnut pan to cook meat?” I queried.

“Go on son . . . Yes! Well played. We may win this love.”

I sniffed the handle, then the pan itself and the faintest stench of bacon lingered. He must have done it whilst I was out walking the other day. With the doors and windows open I hadn’t smelt anything, but I remembered asking him why he was burning incense. Breathing in, like I did before a yoga movement, I raised the heavy pan high in the air. Shifting my grip I relished the hefty weight and brought it down with all my might across the side of his head.  I have no idea where I got the strength or the guts to do such a thing. I suppose you could say he drove me to it, pushed me over the edge . . . just like Daddy when he’d forced bacon into my mouth.

At first, I was terrified, afraid he would jump up and bash me back… but he didn’t. Instead he slowly slumped to the side. In a panic I checked his pulse and much to my amazement he didn’t have one, not anymore anyway. Carefully I carried the pan into the kitchen and put it to soak in some hot water and fairy liquid. By the noise coming from the TV it sounded like Rob’s favourite team had won the game. I smiled as I went back into the living room and saw the red shirts running around like crazy hugging each other. Turning off the TV, I tidied away the empty beer cans and began making my house mine again.

The only problem was Rob. His great big hulk still sat slumped in the chair. I hadn’t planned on doing what I’d done, and half of me still expected him to get up and begin shouting at me for hitting him. I refilled my drink and made myself a salad sandwich, throwing that terrible ham into the bin. How dare he I thought, I’ll bloody show him, and then I remembered he’d never be able to do it again. This left me feeling strangely relieved. I sat down on the terrace to eat my sandwich, relishing the new found peace and quiet. The sow and her piglets returned to feed.

Now I know what you’re thinking and you’d be right. Daddy had given me the idea when I’d found Mummy’s wedding ring in the pig swill. He’d followed in pretty much the same way. The Tamworths had been my friends; and partners in crime so to speak. Now it was the wild boars turn. I struggled to drag Rob outside. He wasn’t the lightest of men, but I’d managed it before any serious leakage had spoiled my chair and floor. Then I stripped him, and placed his clothes into the log burner, for when the chill night air moved in. The rest of his stuff I’d bag up and give away to charity. There were plenty of homeless people on the streets of the larger French cities who would appreciate Rob’s wardrobe.

I spent most of the evening watching the boars devour Rob’s pale lumpy body. Quite a few of them came out of the woods that night. I did chuckle when his head rolled aside like a football. A large male took a fancy and snuffled it away from the others claiming it, and dribbled it amongst the roots like a pro. Rob told me once that I had pigs on the brain. How funny it was to see that big snout dislodge Rob’s lower jawbone and snuffle and slurp inside his skull. Now who had pigs on the brain!

It took a few more nights for the boars to clear away all the remains. Other animals also scavenged, foxes probably took some of the larger bones and a couple of stray cats joined the banquet. What was left of the skull I buried in a deep hole, along with the ham I removed from the bin, and above it I planted a white pine of Provence. That way at Christmas I could put lights in the tree. I’d raise a toast to Rob, and the poor pig he was senselessly prepared to eat, and celebrate the life I’d reclaimed for myself and my beautiful wild boar.

That was a couple of weeks ago and I feel like a new woman already. Even my precious boar seem happier, well they’d had a prime feast to get through. I’d begun snuffling about in the woods myself lately. It felt comfortable and somehow familiar joining them instead of just watching.

The autumn evenings were still quite mild and there was no one to see me so I started removing my clothes and rolling about in the beasty smelling earth. I delighted in watching my pale skin bristle and brown, and relished the feel of damp leaf mulch sliding between my buttocks. My ginger hairs looked very much like the old Tamworths as they caught the evening sun.

I’d started eating the mushrooms raw which the boar favoured, and had recently eaten the acorns too, mixing them up with the chestnuts. I’d broken two front teeth cracking the outer shells to reach the acrid bitter insides. The boar joined me every evening and it seemed easier to copy them and use my face to root about in the earth. I’d always had a big nose, Mummy and Daddy had teased me relentlessly about it. Even the kids at school had called me Miss Piggy.

I snorted a giggle as I wallowed in a muddy patch the old sow had made; her piglets joined me squealing with delight. I smiled feeling their little bodies wriggling and snuffling my naked breasts, snouts all warm and wet. Maybe I’d follow the boars back to their leafy dens and sleep in the forest from now on. They’d accepted me. I was part of the family.

 

 

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Julie Ann Rees recently graduated from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David with a Master in Arts first class honours degree for creative writing. One of her short stories “The Islanders” was published last year by Parthian in the PENfro anthology short story collection entitled Heartland. Here at Horla, we have previously published her flash fiction ‘The Damson Tree’. She lives near Swansea in South Wales. She is pictured here with her Siamese cat, Spook, who she describes as ‘quirky’. By day Julie Ann is a librarian at a busy rural library. Picture by Annaliese Tassano.

Title photo: Ed van dujin via Unsplash