The Manchester Review
Kirsty Gunn
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My cousin Bill loved animals but he killed them too. It was part of living on a farm, he said. You loved the pets and kept them but then you got rid of them just as easy. Like the little Easter lamb and we put a daisy chain on its head but Bill’s dad stuck his knife into its throat just the same, and Bill put all the grey kittens that Ailsa and I had been feeding right into one big potato sack and dropped them in the river, in the deep part, beside the little waterfall and they’d never be able to climb out.

This all went on those summers we used to go up to the farm. There’d be a little creature, a rabbit in a box or those sweet kittens, say, and then they weren’t there any more. In the same way Bill’s father, I suppose, was there one summer but not the next. It was just country living and country life – is what my mother thought about it. Even though she didn’t know that much to say. She was only a person who lived in the city and she had her job there and it was me and Ailsa that knew farm things because of Bill and Aunt Pammy and Uncle Robbie before he was gone. And so my mum and Aunt Pammy were sisters? They were pretty different, they really were. My mum wouldn’t do the things Aunt Pammy did.

The animals stopped being killed after Bill’s dad was gone though, even if Bill kept on the habit with the knives and the stones but by then there were no more baby calves or sheep to look after, no more chickens or geese. He helped Aunt Pammy get the heads off the last of the hens, I saw him do that in the first week we were there. And the dogs that weren’t working any more… Neddy who used to help Bill’s dad with the farm shot them all, one by one, and Bill wanted to help him do that too but it wasn’t the same as the killing before when Uncle Robbie had been around. Those dogs weren’t like the other kinds of animals anyway because Bill’s dad had kept them all, he’d let them live. And they’d had puppies that grew up and worked on the farm too or else Bill’s dad sold them or gave them away. But now all of them were also just dead. Neddy took them into the barn one after the other and in the end Bill couldn’t use the big rifle because he was too young. “Besides” Neddy said to us kids, “It would break my heart for Robbie’s boy to do it. Like it breaks my own to have to.

Neddy had to get a job in town then, because the farm got taken back by another farmer and there was nothing for him to do there after the shooting of the dogs. Still I thought things seemed a bit the same for a while, even with Bill’s dad gone and the animals not there. Ailsa and me were still on holidays there, I suppose, like every other year, is what I thought then, and that was the same, and it was the same fields still around us and the sea at the bottom of the cliffs and the house was the same.