“Pa,” said Clive, setting down his basket on the ground beside his knees, “why can’t we eat none of the berries that we grow on the farm?”
“I’ve told you before, Clive.” Pa didn’t turn took at Clive, but kept picking as he spoke. “I’ve told you we’re better off selling ‘em then we are eatin’ em. Sure, it would be nice to eat ‘em, but it’s a lot nicer to have money for firewood, and salt, and a good, strong plow.”
Clive nodded and turned to the thicket in front of him. He plucked a blackberry from its stem, and held it in his hand. He stared at its plump orbs, swollen with dark, sweet juice. “It’s just…” Clive stopped himself.
“What’s on yer mind, Clive?” Pa asked.
“Nothin’.” Clive dropped the berry into his basket and turned back to the bramble.
“What is it, boy?” Pa demanded.
“It’s just that the pig gets to eat the berries, is all.” Clive snapped a new berry off its vine and threw it in his basket.
“That’s true,” murmured Pa. “I do feed the pig the berries that we can’t sell at the stand. The ones that are too small, or too smushed, or too close to turnin’.”
Clive turned again to face his father. “Well, if we ain’t gonna sell ‘em and it don’t make no difference, then could I eat some of the pig berries?”
“No, Clive,” said Pa. “No. The pig berries are for the pig. You know that. The pig loves those berries. And a happy pig makes for a fat pig, ain’t that right, son?”
Clive stared at the thicket in front of him and shook his head.
“We ain’t wealthy folk, Clive.” sighed Pa. “I wish you could eat berries ‘til you pissed nothing but juice and shit nothing but jam, but people like us gotta make sacrifices if we wanna get by.”
Clive shook his head again.
“Think of it this way, boy: you’ll be eatin’ those berries when yer chompin’ on all that sweet, juicy pig meat come winter.” Pa laughed and slapped Clive on the back, then stuck his hands back into the bramble.
Clive turned again to his berry bush and he and Pa worked in quiet.
“Say, Pa.” Clive stopped to clear a tickle from the back of his throat. “When I’m done with the picking, can I go swimming in the creek? The Greevey’s say the water’s finally high enough and they’re putting up the rope swing today.”
“I don’t think so, Clive,” said Pa, still picking. “I still need you to get those beans in ground before it gets dark.”
“Well, what about tomorrow?” Clive asked. “After I’m done with all muckin’ out the henhouse and braidin’ all the horsetails?”
“I’m sorry, Clive, but I don’t think yer gonna have much time for swimmin’ this summer.” said Pa. “Without Wesley, I’m gonna be leanin’ on you to get a whole lot more done around here.”
“I know, Pa,” Clive muttered. “Just like last summer. I know.”
Father and son went quiet again. The only sound between them was the rustling of the berry bramble.
Pa sat back, wiped the sweat from his brow. “Yer upset cuz I’ve been bringing the pig down to swim in the creek everyday this summer, ain’t you?”
Clive picked up his berry basket and shuffled to down to a new patch of thicket.
“It ain’t like that, Clive,” Pa continued. “Pigs don’t sweat like you and me. They need a lot more help regulatin’ their body temperature. We can’t have the pig keelin’ over on us, can we? Not before he’s good and fat. We want our pig to fry in the pan, not in the pen, don’t we?”
“Berries and swimmin’ and no chores.” Clive spat in the dirt at his side. “Just seems like the pig has got it awful good around here.”
Pa rose and walked the few paces to stand over his son. “Like I don’t do nothin’ for you.” He turned and pointed behind him at the farmhouse. “Like I don’t put a roof over yer head and clothes on yer back.”
Clive stood up from the dirt and pressed his face close to his father’s. “But you do that for the pig too, Pa. The pig sleep in Wesley’s room. You put the pig in Wesley’s clothes.”
“He likes it is why.” A smile formed at the corner of Pa’s mouth. “And a happy pig is a fat-”
“He don’t even know, Pa,” Clive interrupted. “He’s a pig. He don’t know he sleep in a house. He don’t know he wearin’ Wesley’s army jacket.”
“Yes, he do! You see the way he start high steppin’ around whenever he in that jacket like he some kind of fancy gentleman officer.” Pa stuck his thumbs up underneath his armpits and started parading up and down the the row of berry bramble, swaying his body and kicking out his feet with each step.
“He walkin’ like that cuz trying to get out of it, Pa,” said Clive. “He hates it. Whenever he get it off, he try to tear it up good with his teeth and hooves.”
“No, he likes it,” called Pa over his shoulder, pig-strutting away from his son. “And you’ll be glad he’s a happy little porker too, when you’ve got all that sweet, juicy pig meat to last you through the winter. Just you wait.”
“That’s what you said last year, Pa.” Clive walked up to his father’s back. “But the pig’s still here. We didn’t eat no pig this winter. We ate nothin’ but old bread and stale eggs and cold potatoes from the wet cellar. Same as the pig ate. Don’t try to tell me no different. You had the pig sittin’ at the dining room table with us every night, dressed to the nines. I could see what he ate, plain as day.”
Pa stopped in his high-stepping tracks and turned to face his son. “We’ll eat him when he fat enough.”
“He plenty fat, Pa,” Clive pleaded. “He too fat. He can’t walk no no more. He rattle when he try to breathe and his snout start bleedin’ when he try to eat. His eyes are full of puss and I think his hip dislocated cuz his back trotters don’t point the same way as his front. He turn cold and blue in some parts ‘less we roll him and rub him to get his blood movin’ again. He got more meat on him than we could ever eat in one winter, even with all the sores and infected bits. He a fat, fat pig.”
“He ain’t fat enough,” said Pa.
“When, Pa?” cried Clive. “When he gonna be fat enough? When he pop like a tick? When you wake up one morning and there pig gut all over the walls in Wesley’s room?”
“The pig ain’t fat yet,” Pa hollered. “He ain’t ready. Just gimme time. I just want a little more time. Just gimme time to get him good and fat and then he’ll be ready.”
Clive pushed past his father and walked up towards the barn. Pa settled back down onto his knees and started picking.
That night, when the rest of the house was asleep, Pa crept into Wesley’s room. With only a sliver of moonlight sneaking in through the window to guide him, Pa quietly took the tattered, muddy army coat out of the wardrobe, brought it over to the bed where the pig lay sleeping, and slowly started pull one of its arms over the pig’s front foot.
The pig awoke and went into a squealing, rasping, wheezing fit. The pig tried to bite at the jacket and at Pa’s hand, but the rolls of fat around his neck kept his head pinned to the mattress.
“Shh,” hushed Pa. “Shh.”
The pig gnashed his teeth a few times, drew in a long, shuddering breath, and then lay still. With a little more maneuvering, Pa slipped the pig’s other leg into the arm of the coat. Pa then reached into his pocket and took out a handful of berries; plump and whole and fresh.
Pa pressed the berries to the pig’s mouth and the pig ate.