They were bigger than she’d expected.

The ad in the Farmers’ Journal said simply, ‘Piglets for sale; domestic breed’. They slept on beds of straw she prepared for them beside the hot press, their forelegs neatly tucked in and their hind legs sticking out to one side. She sat cross-legged on the carpet every evening and watched their rounded bellies rise and fall.

She fed them on milk and handfuls of dog biscuits. The pigs greeted her with expectant snorts each time she returned with bags from the supermarket. They let her scratch their chins and even rolled over on to their bristled backs to be tickled, their trotters dangling. She laid newspaper on the carpet and didn’t invite her friends around.

That September, there was a heat wave. Whenever she left the flat, she ushered the pigs on to the balcony. She had set up a little area for them away from the plants, under parasols, where they were to stay and be good until she got home from the office.

One afternoon the pigs got hot, then tired, then bored. They forced open the door to the living room and attacked the sofa and cushions, leaving yellow sponge and strips of upholstery all over the floor. They shoved over the kitchen bin and rooted through the spilled rubbish. They overturned chairs and smashed open the glass cabinet where she kept her mother’s china. Finally, as though realizing they would be punished, they crept up onto her bed, and, burying their fleshy snouts under the duvet, waited for her return.

The farmyard was at the end of a long track. Chickens and geese scattered as she pulled up next to a rusted tractor. The farmhouse door opened and a man stepped out followed by a small boy wearing a shiny tracksuit tucked into overlarge rubber boots. She killed the engine, got out and opened the boot.

– They’re … she pointed.

The boy peered in and pushed a finger through the wire mesh.

– They’re so quiet, he said softly.

– Would you like to see where we’ll put them? the man enquired.

The boy took her by the hand and they followed the farmer around the back of an old red barn to a sty with plenty of fresh straw and a trough filled with scraps: eggshells, potato skins and carrot ends. There was a tap by the wall and under it a plastic bucket.

– They’ll be happy enough here, said the man.

She nodded, but did not let go of the boy’s hand.

– Rua Breathnach


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