sibling

There’s a pig on my breast. Those were her words. My sister. She called me this morning — I’d just woken up — to tell me that a small pink piglet with fine blonde hair was suckling from her right nipple. He’s doing it now, she shouted, right now. She held the phone to her breast. Can you hear it? Can you hear it? But all I could hear was her. No, I shouted. Isn’t it adorable? she said, returning the phone to her face. That sucking sound is just like a real baby’s. And he feels just like Josie did, she said, that’s the weird thing. Sucks with the same rhythm, the same pressure. Dear little Josie. And then she dropped the phone. Sorry! she shouted. Hold on, I’m just… a few seconds of muffling and then she came back to me, tucking the phone between her cheek and her shoulder. I was just changing him over, she said. Do you want to try listening again? It’ll be easier now he’s got more to drink.

Is Greg there? I asked. What does he think? He’s gone, she said. He’d gone by the time I woke up. He always leaves early on Wednesdays. They have a regional meeting in Northampton at nine, God knows why. Have you told him? I asked. Have you called him to let him know? I tried just now, she said, but he wasn’t picking up. And the kids? I asked. Have the kids been in? Not yet, she said, but I can hear them in the kitchen. Once he’s had his fill, I’ll get dressed and join them. Where will you put him? I asked. I’ll leave him here! she said, suddenly indignant. He’ll sleep. And will you tell the kids? I will if they ask, she said, but you have to be careful with kids. Terrible jealousy. Don’t you remember when we had Billy? We had to give Miff a present so she wouldn’t attack him in the cot. It was only slightly better with Josie, but not much. So I thought I’d go out later, once they’ve gone to school, and get them each a gift from him. From the pig? I asked. Who else? she replied. And we need to think of a name. That’s why I called you. You’re so good at names.

Christ Almighty! It was hard to believe I was actually having this conversation. I hung up. I got out of bed, pulled on my dressing-gown, went downstairs, fed the cats. Then I made some tea and grilled a piece of bread. After that, I made coffee. Then I called her back. Suzy, is that you? Of course it’s me, she said, and why did you hang up? Is the pig still there? I asked. Of course it’s still here. He’s tiny. He’s not going to run off, is he? Not when I’m feeding him anyway. She was angry with me. I wanted to cry. I don’t understand, I said. Why are you telling me about a pig? Where did you get it? I read about it, she said, in a travel book with my reading group. ‘Motherless pigs in West Papua suckle at a human breast.’ That’s what the author wrote. And sometimes, piglets and babies are brought up together as siblings. They sleep together, even sharing the same cot. She paused. Actually, I think they call it a noken not a cot. Obviously they don’t have cots there, she added and let out a rather cruel laugh. It was all in the book and I’ve not been able to get it out of my head. When did you read it? I asked. We finished it last week, she said. I got piggy last night. He’s from a litter in the village. His mother had too many to feed and one of the women in my group had mentioned it during the reading. He belonged to her next door neighbour, some sort of smallholder who does it as a hobby. She’d joked about the idea when the subject first came up at the group, and everyone laughed. We’re all women, you know. But later on, when I got home, I found myself thinking about it in more detail. What it would be like to feel its tongue licking the areola, whether it would bite like babies do, whether it would look at me like the kids all did, that adoring desperate dependent look. I wanted to know just like I wanted to know what ecstasy would be like fifteen years ago, or whenever it was. And anyway, if women in West Papua can do it, why can’t we? What’s wrong with breastfeeding a piglet, as long as it’s clean? So I made an offer. I said we’d kill it and cook it. Bill — he’s the man I got it from — said that was fine. Looking at the old sow he said, ‘Sometimes we have to be cruel to be kind’, and handed me the little piglet. Oh for God’s sake, you and your village friends make me sick, I said. I hung up again.

She called back. You don’t understand, she said. I’m not some perve, you know. We will kill him and we will cook him. But we need to fatten him up first. So do let me know if you come up with a name, won’t you. 

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