Saturday, September 24, 2011

You Smell of Pig

“You want to be a killer,” Yershi said. His words were slurred, his hair askew, his pyjamas buttoned through the wrong holes. He had recently completed an assignment. He had been out drinking the night before. That is how I knew he was home. I followed him from the inn.

“Yes, I do,” I said. I kept it at that. Even sober, Yershi prefers the direct answer. If he wants to know why, he asks.

He looked me from bare toes to tow head. Probably not a pretty picture. It rained all night and the haystack I slept in was old, moldy, and leaky. I cleaned up at the creekside before I walked to his door, but when one has slept in a haystack all night, creeks don’t provide enough cleaning opportunity.

“You smell of pig,” he said, sniffing loudly then snorting the air out of his nostrils hurriedly. “Can’t abide pigs. I don’t even eat bacon. Go away.”

He closed the door.

I stood there a while, chickens pecking at my feet. I did not knock. I did not whistle or otherwise make noise that might disturb Yershi the Mild.

A breeze blew in the smell of wet hay.

It started to rain.

Yershi shoved the door open at a pop. I heard him coming and stepped back, the door missing my nose by not even a handsbreadth.

“Well,” he shouted, spittle flying from his lips. “You’re still here! The chickens! See the chickens,” he shouted. “They’re smart enough to go in out of the rain. Yet you. You stand here.”

“Yes I do,” I said.

He growled.

“A parrot has more words than you do,” he said. “Do you speak at all on your own, or does someone else pull the strings?”

“The strings are cut,” I said. His eyes widened, slightly. “My father died when I was a boy. I never knew my mother. I never knew the cruelty of orphanages because there were none in the district. But I have worked on many farms. I have worked in mills. I have chopped many logs. I have hewn lumber. I have mined coal. And now,” I said, and swallowed, “I want to be a killer. For hire.”

Raindrops dripped off the end of Yershi’s enormous nose.

“Do you eat chicken and dumplings,” he asked.

I stared at his face. He stared back, eyes not even twitching as raindrops dripped from his eyebrows.

“Yes I do,” I said.

“Pray enter.”

He turned and walked into the house. I followed. “My name,” I said, “I am called . . .”

“Wait!” he shouted. I stopped, rain from the thatch dripping onto my head. “First,” he said, “fetch us a chicken. One of the whites will do. There is one white, a cock, with a bit of black on his head and a rather prominent ruff. He is a troublemaker, a fighter, a vicious bird. I would not be disappointed to eat him today. He kept me up half the night with his fighting. Capture him,” he said, “but bring him to me. I want to watch you kill him, you who want to be a killer for hire.”

The chicken yard was a mess of feathers. Despite the thickening rain, there were two rather bedraggled-looking cocks standing outside. They clicked wearily at me as I unlatched the door, but they did not do so loudly, perhaps out of fear of alerting their rival inside.

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