Herman watched through a window as Valgriya disappeared over the crest of the hill along the path that led to his farm.
His son lay discarded on the floor where Herman had hastily dumped him, a wriggling lump still encased in a cloth cocoon. Herman waited until the midwife had faded completely from view, then turned to stare at the thing that had destroyed his wife, his life.
Bobos. What kind of name was that, anyway? The thought came to him almost idly through the sense of numbness that rooted his gaze.
Bobos had managed to free one arm and was trying to free his legs now, thrashing about and pounding soft small fists on the unyielding floor. He was making more noise than Herman would have thought possible; though the babe’s exasperated cries were unheeded, they were not unheard.
Herman continued watching him, eyes glazed and vacant as he sat down on the edge of the bed, the bed where Hazel had only recently lain as her life bled out of her, the bed that held the very last remnants of her warmth. His hand traced the outline on the pillow where her head had lain. He leaned into it, smelling her scent. He should wrap up the pillow, store it away in her hope chest perhaps.
Then the dark thoughts began to flow through him. They welled up in him, uninvited, wrapping around his mind. The dark thoughts had always been a part of his life, but with Hazel’s love and warmth, he had been able to fight them, to push them away. Without her, he felt powerless to fight them. Without her, a part of him didn’t even want to.
Eventually, he stood up and shuffled to the small pantry near the kitchen. Stepping into the cramped closet-like storage area, hands held out before him in the dark, he found the small barrel in the corner and moved it aside. He fell to his knees and moved his fingers across the rough floor, searching for one particular loose board that he knew was there. His fingertips caught the edges and he had to work at it for a few moments until he could pry it up. Throwing the board aside, he reached inside without hesitation and pulled out one of several large ceramic jugs.
He sat there then, holding it in his hands for a long while, leaving streaked fingerprints in the dust that had settled on it over the years. Several times he made as if to put it away, as if debating with himself, but each time he’d bring it back out to feel the cold weight of it in his hands. It felt… comforting.
He hadn’t touched the stuff in years, hadn’t needed to with Hazel around.
But Hazel was gone now.
She was gone and she would never be a part of his life again.
With that thought, a sharp stab of anger, coursed like fire through his veins and in his mind’s eye he saw his very soul being eclipsed and covered in shadow.
Tears mixed with rage as he howled inwardly to himself, the dam finally breaking.
How could you leave me? You knew this would happen, that you would die! You hid it from me, and now I’m left alone with – with what? With this screaming fat monster that killed you? This is your fault – you picked him over me! You know how much I need – needed you. And now you’re gone. And you’ve taken all the joy in my life with you.
Slowly the flow of tears halted as his heart hardened; those would be the last tears he would ever shed for her, he promised himself.
I may never be happy again, but I’ll make sure he isn’t either.
For some reason, this thought of misdirected vengeance gave him a measure of peace, seemed to appease darker nature.
With a sense of purpose now, he made his way back through the darkness, the jug dangling loosely from his hand. Sitting down heavily on the bed, he pulled out the glass-and-cork stopper and lifted the container to his mouth and began to drink, inviting the darkness to enfold him in its embrace and wipe all semblance of existence from his mind.
In the middle of the night, a sound: footsteps crunching on the frosted grass. They were unsteady, leaving a weaving trail. Breath misted in the chill air, pumped out in sharp bursts as if from a bellows, pungent with the strong reek of alcohol.
Hours had passed before Herman had woken from his stupor, and with wakefulness, the reality of the last few hours came back to him in a rush. He had rolled off the bed and climbed to his feet with difficulty, the ceramic jug falling to the floor and breaking. It was empty now.
The child Bobos still lay on the floor, but he was asleep now, having exhausted himself at last. Herman stared at it through a haze of alcohol, it’s roly-poly form lying still on the floor. Then he reached down quickly, seized Bobos by the ankle, and yanked him hard off the floor.
Bobos burst into screams of panic and fear, kicking hard with his other foot and flailing about in the air as he dangled in his father’s grasp like a worm on a hook.
Herman slowly raised the heavy load to eye height and stared darkly at the face in front of him, a face contorted by fear, confusion, and pain. For long seconds he held him there. Then slowly he lowered Bobos down and thrust open the door.
Herman hauled Bobos across the chilled turf like the butchered carcass of a wild animal, the baby’s head dangling only slightly above the ground. Occasionally the footsteps would dip abruptly sideways as Herman’s balance left him.
A dull bruise darkened on Bobos’s head as Herman, numb to environmental circumstance, dragged him across a large knotted root. Bobos yowled in shock and twisted fiercely, the sheer weight of him causing Herman to stumble to the ground.
“Damned little shit…” Herman cursed, standing back up only to fall again to the ground as he tripped over another root. More epithets followed as he struggled to his knees.
By the dim light of the moon, as it filtered through the thin clouds, he could see the shadowy outlines of the pigs shuffling about in their pen as they detected his approach.
He was close now, only a few yards away.
Bobos continued to wail in frustration and pain. Herman looked down with blurry eyes at the pink bundle dangling from his hand and a spike of hatred surged through him. Fel, he decided, he was close enough. He rose to his feet, still wobbly.
Then, with a casual gesture, he flung Bobos with all his strength end over end into the pig pen.
Bobos’ cries rose to a pitiful shriek of fear that was suddenly cut off.
Without a second thought, Herman turned and stumbled blearily, unsteadily, back to the house. Back to the remaining jugs of liquid forgetfulness that called out to him from inside the dark hole in the pantry floor.
In another hour he wouldn’t even remember that he had a son.
Bobos lay in a daze. At last, though, consciousness returned to his body and he began to squirm and try to move around. Flopping over onto his belly, he accidentally rolled off of the dirty pink surface he had landed on and came face to face with a large moist pink snout. Nearby lay his swaddling cloth, strewn like a ribbon across the mud of the pen.
The piglets that had scattered in fright from their mother as Bobos had dropped suddenly into their midst were now beginning to recover from their fright and returning to suckle, and Bobos found himself surrounded by them as they pushed at and by him, their snouts sniffing at him in curiosity, the stink of their bodies rolling over him. He wrinkled his nose, but the heat was a welcome companion against the growing cold.
The snouts kept pushing, now urgently and forcefully, pushing Bobos out of the way as they competed for a teat to suckle. He watched the piglets for a while as an uncomfortable feeling grew in his stomach.
He had no way of recognizing the pangs of hunger, but instinct took over, and he crawled back into the scrum of piglets only to be pushed away again and again. His hunger grew and he began to wail out loud, until the mother sow, sensing a connection with this pink thing that was both like and unlike the others, made room for him.
And so Bobos, child of a human mother and father, found himself side by side with the other piglets, nursing from a teat of the great mama pig.