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The Runt

 

 

“For hell’s sake, you damn old sow! Why’d ya have to go and step on him? You lost your ever-loving mind?shutterstock_286579184

Icy wind cut across the tired farmer’s backside as he assessed the situation. Snow began to fall as evening descended, enveloping the farm in blizzard-like conditions.
Chores finished, he had already put in more than a full day’s work when he prepared to head up to the house. Annoyed, the farmer reached into the farrowing pen and pulled the runt out by the scruff of its neck like an old bitch would carry one of her pups. He studied the tear in the piglet’s back end. Blood and bits of straw stuck to its hide. Terrified squeals filled the air in a deafening pitch. Letting out a sigh, he had to do something to help the animal. Maybe a hammer, he thought.
Deciding it might be worthwhile to give it a chance, he chose another option. With the piglet tucked inside his coveralls, the farmer found a stretch of thread and small needle. He didn’t think the little animal stood a chance. Hurt and cold, the old sow probably wouldn’t take him back. But it would be worth the return if he survived.
“Daddy? Daddy?” He heard his young daughter calling for him.
“In here,” he hollered. “Back by the tack room.”
She followed his voice and found him cradling the piglet. “Momma said for you to hurry up out here. Dinner’s gettin’ cold. Whatcha got there, daddy?”
“Jus’ a runt. Its momma don’t want him.”
“Whad’ya mean, she don’t want him? Why don’t she want him?”
“He’s got hurt and she probably won’t want him, but we need to put ’em back and see. If he’s still alive in the morning, means she’s taking care of him. If not, oh well, we tried.” He had his doubts. He stood up and the piglet emitted a low grunt.
Enthralled with the little creature, the girl reached up to touch him. The piglet squealed in return. She quickly drew her hand back and laughed.
“He’s a cutie pie, daddy.”
“No, you’re a cutie pie, baby. He’s just a pig.”
With the piglet sewn back together, the farmer turned and headed toward the farrowing pen.
The farmer’s daughter grabbed his coat tails, “But daddy, will he be alright? Is she gonna take real good care of him? How ya gonna know he’ll be just fine?”
“Like I said, honey, not sure. We won’t know until tomorrow.”
“But daddy, can’t I take care of him? You know I’ll take real good care of him.”
“He’s a pig, honey. He needs to be with the other pigs.”
“But she don’ want him or she wouldn’t of hurt him. Please?” Tears began to fall.
His daughter pleaded until he finally relented. He handed her the piglet, saying, “Don’t you get attached to this animal, you hear? He’s livestock and not a pet.”
“Oh no, Daddy, he’ll be okay. I’ll take good care of him.”
He told her to get back up to the house. He wondered what her momma would say and how much hell he was gonna catch. Finding an old wooden milk crate, he closed up the barn and headed toward the house.
“Whadya mean bringing that thing into this house?” he overheard as he made his way up the front porch steps.
“But, momma, it’s only until he gets better. Daddy said I could.”
His wife stood in the kitchen with arms crossed and face pinched. He avoided looking her way and headed over to the wood stove where his daughter sat on the floor warming herself and the piglet. Seeing she was outnumbered and finally giving in, the wife started to look for a baby bottle to warm some milk for the animal.
“Here ya go. You can put the little guy in here for the night.” The farmer laid the crate next to the stove.
Eating dinner in silence, the farmer’s daughter couldn’t take her eyes off the crate where the pig sat sleeping. She was captivated by her ward. Dinner finally over, she spent the rest of the evening tending to her patient.
“You get to bed after you finish feeding that thing. I want him out of my kitchen come morning, you hear?”
“Yes, momma.”
The next morning, the daughter was found sound asleep on the floorboards beside the contented pig.
“Damn you,” the wife whispered to more than just the piglet as he sat in the crate staring back up at her.
With the piglet in good shape, the farmer and his daughter took him out to the barn and fixed up a corner of a horse stall. “He can stay here for a few days until he’s big enough to go back in the pigpen. Remember what I told you about getting attached to him.” His words fell on deaf ears as his daughter piled the stall full of fresh straw and old blankets. She spoke to the pig while she readied his pen, telling him everything she was doing.
Over the following week, the pig grew stronger. A mutual bond had formed between the little girl and the animal. She dressed him up in doll clothes and trotted him around the barn aisles in her baby buggy.
The farmer tired of seeing his daughter spend so many hours each day with a pig for a playmate. His wife was fed up with the whole deal. It was time.
He found his bundled up daughter sitting on an overturned bucket beside the pig. She was pretending to read him a story.
“It’s time for him to go back into the pig pen with the others,” he stated.
“But daddy, why can’t he just stay here and be with me?” Tears sprouted from her eyes, knowing the truth.
“You know why he can’t stay. He’s gonna keep growing into a hog.”
He reached into the stall. Using both hands, the farmer grabbed up the pig and headed to the back of the barn. His daughter came after him yanking his coat tails.
“No, daddy, no. He’s not like the other ones. He doesn’t think he’s a pig.” A well of tears trailed down her face, and snot ran from her nose. “Oh please, daddy,” she screeched at the top of her lungs.
He dropped the pig into the pen. The little pig sat square on his haunches looking back up at the farmer and his daughter. Turning around to head to the house, he left his daughter sobbing by the fence. She’ll have to figure this out on her own.
An hour later, red faced from more than the weather, the little girl entered the house. She stomped through the kitchen and went to her bedroom, slamming the door behind her.
Over the next several weeks, the daughter continued to visit the pig in the pen behind the barn. He would come over to the fence to greet her, accepting the scraps and treats she brought. She sat beside the fence chattering away, telling him everything that was happening on the farm.
The pig was no longer a runt. He grew larger than the rest, his coat shining with a greasy gloss. The farmer took all of the pig’s siblings to the market, but kept this one who used to be the smallest. There were other plans in store for that one.
Easter weekend brought extended family to stay at the farm. The little girl got caught up visiting with her cousins and forgot about her beloved pig.
Heat radiated from the kitchen where the women stood busily preparing food for their Sunday feast. The prattle of gossip ruffled a few feathers as they caught up on news from surrounding towns and farms. Their spouses congregated outside the barn puffing on pipes, discussing all things men discussed to keep the farmer company as he completed his daily chores.
The supper bell clanged to call everyone to the dinner table. Delicious smells wafted throughout the farmhouse. The table was laden with bounty that had been brought forth from the land. The ruckus of the family members quieted long enough to bow their heads in prayer before the meal. The daughter filled her plate as dishes were passed around the table.
“This is the prob’ly the best pork I’ve had,” the farmer’s brother commented loudly over the dinner crowd. “Thought you’d sold off all your pigs this season.”
“All except one.”
The farmer’s daughter’s head snapped up, catching her father’s eye. His glance dropped immediately to his plate. He coughed, choking on a piece of half-chewed ham.
“Nooooooooooooo, daddy!” his little girl screamed as she raced out of the house to the barn.

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