They tell me I am displaying neurotic behaviours. The intense boredom and frustration make me do strange things. They tell me to stop, lay-down. But I have seen the sores that are born from defeat, so I remain on my feet, chewing at the air and the bars that confine me. They say, stop. Tell us the story. This is the story I tell them.
My grandmother was born on a farm in Gippsland. Not a farm like this, one with a dirt floor and no roof. There were vibrant, grassy lawns, and water troughs so clear that you could see your reflection in them. She spent her days sprawled in sun-kissed paddocks beneath painted skies. When the heat became too much she would cool off in the wallowing pit and forage for food in the shade of tall gums. In the evenings, when the farm stilled and the air cooled, she would huddle with her sisters in a nest made of straw. This is the story I tell them.
Last year, in the grip of winter, she was moved beneath a noisy tin roof where the straw was thick and warm under her labouring body. My mother arrived during the night, amid pounding rain and crackling black skies. She was one of eleven, fighting for warmth and nourishment, determined to survive. In the morning heavy frost and eerie light stained the landscape. My mother lay content in a cocoon of siblings, gazing through the wooden fence. As each shadow lifted, a new world was revealed to her. But this world was not hers. This is the story I tell them.
I came into the world thrashing and terrified. My mother wanted to turn and comfort me, but the metal bars held her in place. She tried to calm us with stories of vivid skies, green pastures and cleansing air. It was the only form of comfort she could offer from her soiled prison. There were nine of us standing on icy slats, squealing and shivering. Then there were seven, the dead left to decompose among us. We took what warmth we could from our mother as we absorbed the horrors around us. Crates as far as we could see, stagnant with infection, pain and grief. I turned away from the suffering and listened to my mother’s story, a story that would die with the lucky ones in slaughterhouses, and remain with the unlucky ones who lived to tell it to their young. This is the story I tell them.
Our stories are all that we have. We tell them to our young before they are taken from us too soon. We tell them to ourselves when their tails are cut off without anaesthetic, their violent shrills piercing the dank air. I tell the story of a place with painted skies and sun-kissed paddocks. A place where we are social, where we touch and play, and where we build nests for our young. This is the story of pigs. This is the story I tell them.