February is Cold | Jake Scott
You awake to a soft tapping on the window-pane – the branches must need trimming again. Your eyes, heavy from sleep, open gingerly and peer through the dim light at the clock on your bedstand. 6:43, the hands show: just a couple of minutes before your day is supposed to start. Behind you, you hear that familiar rustle, as you know she heard the tapping too – but she doesn’t need to get up just yet. The children are still fast asleep.
Softly you pull back your side of the covers and sit up, the dull ache of the previous day’s work still on your bones. Reaching over to the candle beside the clock, the lighter sparks into life and the wick crackles as the flame catches. You don’t want to disturb her any more than she needs.
The curtains, cream and thin, barely keep the dull morning out, and the frost of the dying night has worked its way into the corners of each pane. You pull on yesterday’s jeans, stained though they might be, and the thin fleece that still smells faintly of dew, before gently opening the door. From out on the landing comes the ticking of a tall grandfather clock, and the bedsheets ruffle a little again. You glance back, but the sheets are still now.
On the landing, you pause; there is muffled conversation coming from one bedroom. So, perhaps the younger two are awake – but the eldest’s room is silent. As you start down the stairs you hear the unmistakable scratching at the back door – so the dog is definitely awake. Opening it slightly, the early morning light shows what you knew it would: a vigorously wagging tail, and two dots of light. A slight raising of your eyebrows, and he sits. Just.
The corner of your mouth lifts up, and the dog can’t help it anymore; he jumps back up and nudges the door, opening it fully and curling into your feet. A brief pat, and he’s back up, as you put on your boots and open the back door. You pull on the old wax coat your grandad left you; February is cold, but January was colder, so there’s no real reason to complain. Besides, there are animals to feed, and the day has already started. Upstairs, you can hear the younger two getting louder, and you know she will be with them soon. Looking down at the dog waiting patiently next to you, your smile widens, and you get started.
It’s always a case of trying to use your time best; you know that the pigs’ water trough fills up slowly, giving you time to feed the other animals first, and check on the vegetables. A sharp cough from the bottom of your throat catches the cold air in your nostrils, and you reach into your coat, pulling out a nearly empty packet of cigarettes. Lighting one, the chill edge comes off of the morning.
A soft nicker comes over your shoulder. Penny, the thoroughbred you bought for a few cows, nods her head and you walk over, a soft smile at the corners of your mouth. Easy, girl, you murmur, patting her neck and rubbing her ear, just the way she likes it. You reach into the pocket of your coat and pull out the chunks of carrot you put there the night before, holding one out in the flat of your hand; Penny’s mouth tickles as she nibbles at the chunk, her rough tongue lapping up what little shavings her teeth missed, and she turns back in to the stable. She will need turning out, but the pigs are already waking up, and the grunting and squealing are coming across the yard. The cigarette is nearly out now.
The light is turning the morning mist into a thick blanket, and the trees that stretch out from the brush into the quiet sky turn into shadowy ghosts, their outlines faint and blurred. A final pull on the cigarette, and you squeeze out the ashes with your fingers, before you put the butt back into the packet. Sure, it smells a little, but the muted odour of tobacco always reminds you of your grandparents, so you don’t really mind.
You turn on the taps to the pigs’ troughs, and the water sloshes out in a thick stream from the pipes. The edges of the trough look a little frosty, but the pigs don’t care, so neither do you. The slow progress of the morning has shifted gear now, and the morning light is turning just that bit clearer. A quick glance at the house and you can see the landing lights are on; she has one of the twins in her arms, and the other walking by her side. The eldest is probably still asleep, but that’s okay.
Picking up the bucket next to the pen, and shaking it a bit, the pigs come running over, squealing in their excitement and pushing each other out of the way. You empty the bucket into the trough and, setting down the bucket beside the gate, you fold your arms over the top of the pen, and lean to watch them eat.
As with every morning, your eyes wander across the riot of pigs desperately climbing over each other to get to the trough, you think back to life before. The scene brings you back to the scramble to get into the carriages on your morning commute, and the same awaiting you at the end; the rush to get the last iced coffee off the shelves; the mindlessness of the moment that forces you to forget all reasonable behaviour, just trying to get to the bottom of the trough.
Looking up from the daily calamity unfolding at your feet, still you think back to the little room you rented that was a little smaller than this pig stye and just as messy; a bed pushed against one wall and a small, barely two-foot-square desk where you’d write what you could in the grey between days, the murky, yellow-stained light coming through the too-thin curtains. Clothes everywhere, a barely-visible floor with a worn-through carpet stretched across it, and the door too big for its frame that couldn’t close properly.
At the back of the stye, the water trough is filling up slowly, and the feeling of a shower with pressure far too low to ever be refreshing runs down your back – or maybe it’s the cold of the morning – and you shiver it off. The bubbling water, clearer than any you ever drank before, is creeping closer to the lip of the trough. You’ll need to switch it off soon, or the mix of shit and mud at the foot will just get worse.
The noise of the pigs is stirring the other animals, and the chickens are clucking as they clamber out of their hut in the run behind the pig pen. Penny is restless again, and the dog is running around the wire mesh that keeps the chickens in (and the foxes out), hungry as ever. You whistle, and he runs over; you chuck him a lump of carrot and, fussy thing that he is, he skulks off with it in his teeth. He’ll inspect it a bit, give it a lick, and probably nibble it. He doesn’t know he’s born.
Morning is dragging on now. The rest of the animals are waiting for their food, and it feels good to know other lives actually depend on you for their existence, rather than just their profits. You wonder what the world would look like if the greed had never stopped. You look over at the house and, just as every morning, she is standing there with the twins in her arms. Behind her, the eldest is putting on his boots, his coat already on.
You know it definitely would not look like this.