The Pig Farmer’s Burden

Darren Guest Click to

guestDarren J. Guest is a London-born novelist who currently lives in Suffolk, England.  His debut novel Dark Heart (Snowbooks, 2011) is a psychological supernatural chiller set in the fictional town of Mundey, but also a written account of one man's quest to answer the eternal question: Who is the best James Bond?  Darren can be visited at

The first time I set eyes on Lloyd Toomey was on the far side of my north field. From a distance he didn’t look much thicker than the fencepost he was stood next to, and as I neared, he didn’t flesh-out none, either. A dozen or so of the larger sows was gathered at the fence, all pushin and shovin to get their turn at the somethin-or-other Lloyd was dealin from a cloth bag. The pigs seemed to like whatever it was, but I didn’t. Not a bit.

A few years back I’d had some shenanigans with Penny Loveday’s boys, Wendell and Caleb. Them two boys fed their mother’s indigestible cornbread to Abigail over the course of a week, just to see what’d happen. Abby (who aint an eatin pig) gobbled up that cornbread like most ever’thang that’s laid before her, and like most ever’body whoever tried Penny Loveday’s cornbread, Abby’s internal workins seized up like a broke-down tractor in a dust storm. If she’d been an eatin pig, I’da just bled the poor gal to put her outta her misery, but I would no sooner have kilt Abby than I woulda kilt my own wife, God rest her soul.

‘I’d appreciate you not feedin them pigs,’ I shouted as soon as I was in hollerin distance. ‘Aint you read the signs?’

Lloyd froze with his hand inside the cloth bag. ‘I don’t read so good.’

‘You gettin fresh with me, son?’

‘Nossir. Caint read nor write nothin but my own name.’ He pulled his hand from the bag, wiped his palm on his behind and slid his cap from his head. ‘I like your pigs.’

‘I like em too at fifty dollars a hog. You go pluggin em up with whatever it is you feedin em, and I’m goan have to bleed em early. So jump back on your bicycle there, and head on up the road before I call Sheriff Tindal. Go on, boy.’

I guessed when he started blubbin it didn’t have much to do with me rappin his rump for him.

‘Well, what in God’s name you cryin about?’ I asked him.

He mopped his tears with his cap and shrugged.

‘Well, come on. I aint goan ask twice.’ To the boy’s credit, he did manage to gather himself some. He tugged his cap back on and drew his coat sleeve across the wet of his nose.

‘Been ridin this here bicycle into town every mornin and fetchin back supplies for Mrs Cooper.’ He pointed up the dirt road. ‘Mrs Cooper lives over yonder hill.’

‘I know where the Cooper place is,’ I said, ‘but what’s that old biddy got to do with you ballin?’

‘Well, sir, every mornin I ride past your pigs they always look up at me, and goddammit if they don’t seem pleased to see me.’

‘Course they pleased to see ya. You feedin em, aintcha?’

‘Nossir. Not when they first started smilin at me.’

‘Shit,’ I said. ‘Pigs caint smile, boy.’

‘Yessir. These pigs can. With they eyes.’ He leaned over the fence and pointed at Abby. ‘That pretty lady almost broke my heart when she winked those peepers at me.’

I tipped my cap back and scratched my head. ‘Son, are you touched in some way?’

‘I never laid a finger on em. Not a one.’

‘I mean, did your momma drop you on your head when you was a tadpole?’

The boy’s face glazed over like Abby’d just squeezed an onion under his nose (Abby was no lady when it came to passin wind), then his cheeks blossomed rosy and I thought he was goan take to ballin again.

‘I know’d what you gettin at,’ he said. ‘I aint stupid.’

‘Ah, hush up, I didn’t mean nothin by it.’ I felt somethin awful now. If my wife had still been this side of the dirt, she’da give me hell for my meanness. I waded through the hogs and grabbed Abby by her rope collar, slapped her rump to get her movin toward the fence. She squealed some and tried to bully me with her hefty shoulders, but I managed to yank her head up. ‘This un?’ I said.

A dopey grin ripened on his face and he started noddin like the fool I thought he was. ‘That’s her alright. Look at her smilin now.’

Abby greased his outstretched hand with snout snot, the same beady-eyed indifference on her rusty face as every other Duroc in the field.

‘I suppose,’ I said, ‘from a certain angle, she could have what you might call a “smiley eye”.’

‘Yessir,’ he said, still beamin. ‘Just like my Joy.’


‘Yessir. Joy’s my wife.’

The boy stopped smilin then, dumped his face in his cap and took to ballin. My meanness came on then too, and I wanted to shake him by his bony shoulders, but I could hear my wife yellin from some place other than this earth (by golly could that woman holler), and so I checked my meanness at the door. For no short time after Alice passed over, I was taken to these very same bouts of teary fancifulness. I had a pretty good idea what the answer would be, but I had to ask.

‘Dead?’ he shrieked. ‘Lord no. She done run off with my best pal, Joe Puddentane.’ He started dry sobbin and hitchin those bony shoulders up and down. Sounded like a goddamn mule. ‘Aint been married but a year when she told me she and Joe was movin down to Bakersfield on account of Joe inheritin two hundred dollars from his Aunt Cecelia. Joy said Joe had got himself a plot of land and was gonna make somethin of himself. Said I weren’t nothin but a broke ass and that she was tired of livin in a leaky old house with no picket fence and no nice things. Lord I miss her so bad.’

‘Well, sure you do,’ I said when his face hit his cap again, and then under my breath, ‘she sounds like a hell of a gal.’

Abby poked her snout through the fence and gave his balls a good sniff. The boy jumped back, sprawled over his bicycle and tumbled into the road. I tried like hell not to laugh. Picturin my wife shakin her head at me did the trick.

‘Easy now, son. You gettin yourself all whipped up for no good reason I can see. What are you, twenty?’

He sat up in the dirt and dusted off his sleeves. ‘Twenty-two.’

‘Well, hell… seems to me like you got your whole life ahead of you. I say to hell with the both of em.’ His eyes nearly popped out when I said that. ‘You don’t need friends like Joe Puddentane, and no self-respectin fella would be with a woman such as Joy.’

The boy jumped to his feet. ‘Now you just wait a minute…’

‘Hold your horses, youngblood, and listen to a man who knows a thing or two about such things. I met my wife when I was just a tad shy of your age, and she wouldna run off with no Joe Puddentane. Sure she had a hellish tongue in her head, but we worked at our marriage. Hard work sometimes, but things worth havin generally are.’

The boy hung his head, screwed his cloth bag up and clutched it to his scrawny chest.

‘Now it seems to me that neither of you was up to workin at your marriage, let alone fightin for it. Hell, I’da socked Joe Puddentane right in the mouth and either put Joy over my knee or kicked her out the door. Them’s your choices, boy. Go fetch her back or stop ballin about it.’

The boy’s head sprang up. ‘Sock my pal Joe Puddentane in the mouth…? We been pals since… since.…’

‘Sure, sure,’ I said. ‘Just as I figured.’


‘Boy, you didn’t lose Joy, you gave her away.’ I started shooin my hogs back toward their pens, but before I got a single one of em movin, the boy’s face was in his cap again – shoulders hitchin again. God damn my meanness. I hung my own head, listened to the boy gather up his bicycle. When I looked up he was saddled and about to push off, all red faced and snotty as a schoolboy.

‘Son?’ I called.

‘What?’ He sniffed, wet eyes fixed over yonder hill.

‘What’s your name?’

He cuffed his tears but didn’t turn. ‘Lloyd. Lloyd Toomey.’

‘Well, Lloyd, you promise me you won’t feed these here hogs with Penny Loveday’s cornbread?’

‘Who’s Penny Loveday?’

‘That’s good enough for me. Next time you passin, feel free to feed the hogs.’

Lloyd swallowed and turned. ‘Honest?’

‘Sure,’ I said. ‘I think Abby’d be pleased to see you.’ I gave Abby a slap on the rump and she squealed some.

‘Thanks, mister.’ Lloyd pushed off up the road, grinnin like the fool I hoped he wasn’t.

‘Lloyd?’ I called.


‘Call me Bill.’


That evenin, as the sun was settin over my west field, I took a beer and a glass of brandy wine and sat by my wife’s grave. I removed last night’s flowers, which were still fresh and sweet-smellin, and replaced them with a just-picked posy of daises, then poured the wine into the earth and sat back to watch the night ink-out the honeyed skyline. Alice loved a sunset.

‘Met a dumb sonofabitch this mornin,’ I said, adjusting the posy I had laid afore Alice’s headstone, ‘and as much as I wouldn’t wanna be no snivellin little wet-behind-the-ears dummy like that, I caint help thinking we’d still be together if I had a pinch of Lloyd Toomey in me. Goddamn my meanness.’ I patted the wine-soaked grass. ‘I miss you, my love.’

I drank my beer down slowly and watched the black horizon devour the sun. ‘Kid dudn’t know how lucky he is.’


The followin mornin I took a stroll over to the north field, and sure enough, there was Lloyd, holdin court over maybe fifty Durocs and dealin from his cloth bag. The cheeky sonbitch had climbed the fence this time and was gettin hog-hammered on all sides. Still didn’t knock the goofy grin from his face. That only happened when he saw me comin.

By the time I got there Lloyd had hopped back over the fence, stowed his cloth bag in the basket of his bicycle.

‘Mornin, Bill,’ Lloyd said, his head bowed sheepish and his cap busy in his hands.


‘Sorry bout climbin your fence. Some of the runts was havin trouble gettin fed. I’m sure the big uns don’t mean no harm, but they’s greedy as pigs.’

‘Fancy that.’

Lloyd snorted and looked up. ‘Greedy as pigs, get it?’

I did not smile.

‘Well,’ Lloyd said, ‘I best be gettin on. Mrs Cooper must be wonderin where I got to.’

‘That old biddy pay you for your fetchin and carryin?’

‘Nossir. Wouldn’t take it if she offered, neither. Since Joy left me I aint been eatin so good. Mrs Cooper cooks me up stew ever Sunday. Said I was lookin cadalavos… cadabralous… cad—’


‘That’s the dog!’

I frowned, picked my cap from my head and armed sweat from my brow.

Lloyd’s face drooped like a broke-neck chicken. ‘I know’d what you gonna say. You don’t want me feedin your pigs no more.’

‘Lloyd, I got no problem with you feedin the hogs.’ I huffed and looked off up the dirt road, shakin my head. ‘I said some mean things yesterday and I shouldna. My wife always said I was a mean sonofabitch, God rest her soul.’

‘What happened to her?’

I snapped my head around. ‘Say what?’

‘Nothin. I shouldna said nothin.’

‘No. It’s fine. Aint no big secret anyways. Nothin ever is around here.’ I waded through the hogs and propped my forearms on the fence. ‘Bout eight years ago, Alice took a tumble in the kitchen, whopped her head on the counter. Dead before she hit the floor.’

‘Oh, my.’

I looked away.

‘Does it ever stop hurtin?’

‘What kind of a dumb question is that?’

‘I had no business askin such a thing. I’m so stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid.’

‘Quit bashin your head before you break somethin,’ I shouted.

Lloyd quit smackin himself, then peeked up from his bowed head. Stared at me all sorry-eyed and said: ‘Well… does it?’

‘It’ll stop hurtin when I’m dead and not a day before.’


The hogs disappeared up to the north field every mornin for the next two weeks or so. I let Lloyd get on with it. I got the feelin I made him uncomfortable. I know his dummy questions did me.

I took my visits with Alice at sunset. Drank too much. Talked too much. One evenin I suffered a bout of fancifulness, cryin like a dummy. Alice did not speak a word to soothe me.


I pulled the truck up outside Johnson’s Hardware in time to see Wendell and Caleb Loveday come out of the store, both of em laughin and puttin on goofy faces. ‘Hey there, Mr Connor,’ Caleb managed between breaths. ‘I wouldn’t go in there less you wanna catch a dose of dumb.’ They both busted up again and peeled off up the street. I shook my head and hoped to God they’d trip in horseshit.

Dale was behind the counter when I entered. I nodded to him. ‘Dale.’ He nodded back and the fella he was servin looked round.

‘Mornin, Bill,’ Lloyd said.

‘Lloyd,’ I returned.

Dale mouthed my name over Lloyd’s shoulder. Couldn’t mouth the question mark that went along with it, but didn’t need to.

‘Good morning, Mr Connor.’

I turned around and saw Miss Garrett and Miss Everly fussin by a display of cookware. Spinsters and gossips the both. ‘Ladies.’ I touched the peak of my cap. Miss Garrett beckoned me over. I reluctantly obliged her.

‘Mr Connor,’ she said in a hush, ‘please tell us you are not on first name terms with that… blundering fool?’

I eyed the counter. ‘Oh, Dale’s not as nimble as he once was, but he’s no fool.’

‘I am referring, as you well know, to the town laughing stock, Lloyd Toomey.’

‘As you well know, Mizz Garrett, I do not dicker with the waggin tongues of this town.’

‘But you must have heard how Lloyd’s wife and best friend have been running around on him for over a year?’ Miss Everly said with a gleeful glint in her eye. ‘Why, it’s the standing joke of the town, that everyone knows about Joy Toomey and Joe Puddentane except for Lloyd.’

‘Love renders blind,’ I said, ‘and if you dusty bitches ever find it, feel free to differ with me.’ Hands followed gasps to gaping mouths. My wife might have disagreed, but sometimes my meanness is a gift.

I left the two gossip hounds to their devices, and joined Dale and Lloyd at the counter. ‘Didn’t notice your bicycle outside, Lloyd.’ I leaned heavy on the “Lloyd”.

‘Nope,’ Lloyd said. ‘Got me a sore ass ridin that thing all over. Thought I’d walk into town.’

Dale smiled and shook his head. ‘Say, Bill, perchance you can lend the boy the benefit of your considerable life experience. Lloyd here is fixin up his roof, but like I keep tellin him, he caint cut no lumber with no hacksaw.’

I eyed Lloyd’s imminent acquisition. ‘Dale’s correct on that score, Lloyd. Caint cut no lumber with no piddlin hacksaw. Fetch the boy a ripsaw for me, Dale.’

‘Caint afford no ripsaw,’ Lloyd said. ‘This here’ll do fine.’

‘The boy’s been in three times in two weeks,’ Dale said. ‘This here’ll be his third hacksaw. Coulda bought the king of ripsaws for the money he’s spent on hacksaws.’ Dale shook his head and ambled out to the back of the store.

‘Don’t fret on the cost, Lloyd,’ I said, and then, ‘Put it on my account, will you, Dale?’ I shouted out back.

‘That’s awful kind, Bill, but I’m goan need this here hacksaw anyhow. You see I’m fixin up the homestead for when Joy comes back. Make it nice for her.’

If Lloyd’s foolish grin was anything to go by, he was sure happy in his delusion. Couldn’t help but feel pleased for the boy. Sure beat ballin. ‘Put the hacksaw on the account, too, would ya?’ I said to Dale as he came out of the back with a brand new Cole & Clayton rip. ‘And a couple quarts of whitewash while you’re at it.’

‘Now, Bill—’

‘Shut up, Lloyd. You want her back or dontcha?’

‘Well, sure, but—’

‘Good. Now go hump the whitewash onto the flatbed and get in the truck. Like this here old fool put it,’ I nodded at a smirkin Dale, ‘I’m goan give you the benefit of my considerable life experience.’ Lloyd went to open his mouth.

‘Lloyd,’ Dale said. ‘If a man like Bill Connor offers his hand, you take it.’

Lloyd shut his mouth and humped the whitewash to the flatbed.

‘Now don’t go lookin at me like that, Dale, you old codger.’

‘Going soft, Bill? Whatever would Alice have thought?’

‘Hell, I’ll help the boy fix his roof, but he can paint his damn house his own self.’

‘Yep,’ Dale said, raising his silvery brows. ‘Soft as shit.’


I drove back along the dirt road, past the farm and the Cooper place. Didn’t hear a peep out of Lloyd the whole way until he pointed out his place. ‘This un here. Thanks for the lift, Mr Connor.’

‘Looks like we’ll be needin that whitewash,’ I said, and got out of the truck.

It was a pretty lookin house in its ramshackle way, but stood lonely and set back from the dirt road, the Cooper place a dot in the distance. It seemed to say Don’t mind us, just walk on by. Me and Lloyd is doin fine without her. Just fine.

The flimsy porch railing was all splintered and bowed, and the timber siding had shed its skin of whatever paint it had once known and silvered long ago. The next time I was at Dale’s I would collect more paint; as small as it was, this old house would drink whitewash like a desert drinks rain.

‘Well, thanks again, Mr Connor,’ Lloyd said, settin the hacksaw and the Cole & Clayton rip down on the porch. ‘You been real nice.’

I set the paint down next to the saws. ‘Thought I’d take a look at that roof for ya.’ I stepped onto the porch. ‘Point me out where the rain’s been gettin in and I’ll climb up there and take a gander.’

Lloyd backed up and stood in front of his screen door. ‘Hell, you don’t have to go to no trouble, Mr Connor.’

‘Now, Lloyd, just point me out where those leaks is gettin in and I won’t have to fix the whole damn roof but for a pin prick. And what’s with this Mr Connor shit? I told ya Bill is fine. Now come on, I can get you fixed up before the sun gets high.’

Lloyd took to chewin his lip and tuggin at his greasy mop. ‘Truth is, Mr Con— Bill, I aint been keepin up with my chores since Joy left me. I thank you again for your kindness, but I couldn’t have you step foot in there. It just wouldn’t be right.

‘Hell, Lloyd, after my wife passed it was two months before I pushed a broom in my place, let alone ate off a clean plate. If you think I have any womanly sensibilities about cleanliness, think again.’ I stepped by him as he jabbered somethin, and opened the screen door. When I opened the front door proper, the stench hit me like a spade to the face. He hadn’t been lyin about the chores.

I went straight over to the basin, which was heaving with filthy crockery, and opened the window to let the fresh air in and the stunk air out. It didn’t serve my nostrils any. I coulda puked from the smell, right there. Put me in mind of a time I came across one of my hogs over in the south field. Thing’d been dead awhile, and what flesh the foxes couldn’t eat, the flies had birthed young upon. Hellish.

‘I think we have ourselves a change of plan, Lloyd,’ I said, holdin my hand over my nose and mouth. I pointed at the floor with the other hand. ‘This here is not gonna win fair maiden from Prince Puddentane.’

Lloyd about-faced and burst out through the screen door. I heard him puke over the porch rail.

‘No shame in it, son,’ I called. ‘Hit a similar rock bottom when my wife passed. We’ll get you shipshape in no time. Fix the roof another. You got mop and bucket?’ Lloyd didn’t answer, so I began the search myself.

A sun-deprived hallway led off from the kitchen. Staircase on the left and two closed doors along and to the right. Behind the first door was a closet – a suitcase on the floor and a lady’s coat and hat hung from a peg on the wall. No mop and bucket. I opened the next door and found a small but well-kept reception room. Dusty, yes, but devoid of the ungodly stench.

I went back into the kitchen to ask Lloyd where Joy kept her cleaning detergents and such, and found him standing in the doorway sobbin quietly. He had a huntin rifle wedged in his hip. The barrel was aimed at me.

‘I caint let you go, Bill.’

‘Youngblood,’ I said. ‘I don’t know what in God’s name you talkin about, but point that thing away from me before somebody gets hurt.’ I moved towards him and he raised the rifle. I held up my hands. ‘Easy now, Lloyd.’

‘I know’d you know, Bill,’

‘Know what?’

Lloyd glanced up, and my eyes followed. On the ceiling above me was a dark stain with flies crawlin all over it. ‘Aw, shit,’ I said to myself, and met Lloyd’s gaze once again, tears and snot oozin out of him as he whimpered like a child.

‘I don’t want no lectric chair, Bill.’

‘Never met a man who did, Lloyd. Who’s up there, your best pal Joe Puddentane or Joy?’

‘I didn’t mean to do it,’ he said, shakin his head. Then his jaw muscles knotted. ‘But Joe made me so mad. When I got home, him and Joy was sittin over there…’ He nodded at the kitchen table, winced at some hellish recollection. ‘They’s holdin hands.’

‘That’s some tough watchin for any man,’ I said.

‘Uhuh.’ Lloyd sniffed and nodded. ‘Joe told me how him and Joy was in love and how they was movin to Bakersfield. Joy told me not to cry. I was always cryin, she said. Real men didn’t cry. I started cryin at that. She said to Joe, “Look at him, didn’t I say he was always cryin?”. Joe started laughin. He shouldna done that.’

‘Damn straight he shouldna.’

‘I took a swing at him, but Joe’s always been quicker’n me. He sat me on my ass before I know’d what’d hit me. From the floor I could see Joy’s suitcase under the table, the coat and hat I’d scrimped to buy her laid over it. Saw my gun in the corner, too. As Joe headed for the door with my wife, I crawled over to my gun, told him to stop right there. When Joe see me pointing this thing at him, he shoulda stopped. Instead he started laughin again. Joy, too. And then I could hear the whole town laughin with em. I always knew they’s cheatin on me, know’d it for almost a year, but I loved her so goddamn much, Bill. I’d share her if it meant keepin her. I’d be the town’s idiot if it meant keepin her.’ Lloyd sobbed, them bony shoulders of his hitchin like they did. ‘They made a coldblooded killer outta me – all of em: Joe, Joy, every snickerin sonbitch in this town.’

When Lloyd levelled the gun at my head at that moment, his face betrayed more pain and guilt than I have ever seen on a man. Other than my own reflection. ‘Now listen to me, Lloyd, and listen to me good…’

‘Turn around, Bill. I caint do it with you lookin at me.’

‘Now just hold on a minute,’ I shouted, but not through fear of death. My only fear was of dying before I could speak my last, because in Lloyd’s face I could see I would never leave this house. But I would tell what I had always meant to tell, even if it was to the man who would deal me death.

‘Make it quick, Bill.’

I took a deep one. ‘I think I told you my wife fell in the kitchen and died.’

‘You told me.’

‘Well,’ I said, ‘that is true, but she fell because I struck her. I struck my wife and killed her, Lloyd.’

‘Why… Why you tellin me this, Bill?’

‘Because somebody needed to know the truth before I died. Somebody needed to know the kind of man I was. My meanness. “Billy,” Alice used to squawk. “Billy, you never watch the sunset with me no more. Billy, you never pick me fresh flowers no more. Billy, you never buy me that nice brandy wine no more.” I lashed out. The only time I have ever raised a hand to that woman.’ I stared at my fists through a haze of tears and fading memory. ‘Some days I caint even remember what she looks like. I always said that would be the time to go. I forgot her while she was alive, but I would not in death. I caint have it.’ I blinked my eyes clear. Looked at Lloyd. Snot and tears running down his young face. Gun trembling in his hands. I turned my back to him. ‘You’re a good boy, Lloyd. I’m glad it’s you.’

‘I’m scared, Bill.’

‘The chair aint nothin to fear, Lloyd. Nor death. Bearing the burden of sin is the true test of men.’ I closed my eyes. ‘But it’s time to lay it down.’

I heard Lloyd step close and say, ‘I’m sorry, Bill.’ Then I heard the gun creak in his tightening fingers and I prayed for his trembling hands to be still. For his aim to be true.

It was.


When I came to I was slumped up against the front wheel of my truck, the back of my head feelin like it’d been kissed with a branding iron. Afore me Lloyd’s place was ablaze. The dry timbers feedin hungrily the flames. I could feel the heat on my face and on the soles of my boots, and while I mulled over the idea of roastin right here in the dirt, I think I must have passed out again.


A week later I was walkin in the north field. The hogs was gathered up by the fence and for just a second I thought it was Lloyd standin there. Sheriff Tindal always did cut a youthful figure for a man who’d seen as many winters as me.

‘Mornin, Bill.’


‘How’s the head.’

‘Mendin.’ I scratched at the crusty wound. ‘Take more’n a rifle butt to crack open this old block.’

Otis laughed, and then: ‘You was a lucky sonofabitch, let me tell ya. That kid had plumb lost his mental faculties, and he was a dumb sonofabitch to begin with.’

‘Kid was smarter than most of the folk in this town,’ I said. ‘Take my word on that.’

‘I beg to differ with you, Bill.’ Otis tipped his hat back and leant on the fence. ‘That dumb sonofabitch shot and kilt his wife and best friend Joe Puddentane, then set his place on fire and blew what little brains God gave him out the back of his dumb head. And if that wasn’t proof enough, instead of buryin the bodies, that dumb sonofabitch was hackin em up into iddy-biddy pieces. A course, didn’t get to make a start on his buddy, but hell, Bill, we could only find his wife’s head and feet. God only knows what the dumb sonofabitch did with the rest of her.’ Otis shook his head and looked down at Abby when she snuffled at his boots. ‘These hogs is gettin B, I, G, big. Please tell me you’re bleedin em soon, Bill. The whole town’s givin Butcher Carl a headache about that outta-town hog he’s been sellin. Folks is screamin for some Connor hog. Me included. Last year I had me some belly pork that damn near sent me to heaven. Sweetest thing I ever tasted.’ Otis leaned in and gave Abby a playful scrub of the head. ‘Hell, Bill, this here’n looks like she’s smilin.’

‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Must think you somebody else.’


Broke my heart to bleed Abby (she was never an eatin pig), but knowin that old gal as I did, she woulda eaten deeply of Lloyd’s cloth bag. I told Butcher Carl it was a taster of what was to come, and if he wanted to sell another snout of mine he should see to it that everybody in town got a piece before sundown. They’d earned it. Every last one of em.

That evenin I placed a fresh posy by Alice’s headstone and soaked the earth with a fine brandy wine. Alice never did like the sight of handguns, so I kept my Smith & Wesson wrapped in its oilcloth by my side. In a little while we’d be watching the sunset together, and she could holler all she pleased.


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