A Reasonable Life
by Wells Teague
Alba was my wife and we lived in a thirty-five room house above the island’s windward beach, in a place crowded with palm. It was a fine house with long verandas and cool decks where I spent enjoyable mornings drinking light rum, and afternoons napping and reading. It was a reasonable life.
I do not recall how we came to have the Boar Hog, but he had lived with us since he weighed not more than two baskets of Brazil nuts, the kind Alba serves me mornings, sliced and toasted on brown-flour bread. The Boar Hog was very like a puppy, and since he had been with us so long, we were accustomed to him. His trust in us was complete, and he affected none of the uncouthness associated with his kind.
Even when he had attained full growth, weighing as much as three men, he would place his front feet in my chair — this he did carefully, as I had taught him, to avoid scarring the finish — and look seriously into my face while I scratched his neck. I kept the Boar Hog close at hand when we left the house, so that I could vouch for his whereabouts if something were found amiss.
On the beach, he would frolic in the waves and canter about, snuffling at the underside of rocks and rooting up dead leaves, his white form expressing, it seemed to me, a naïve freedom. The Boar Hog was expert at devouring the rats which infested the island.
He was wonderfully agile for his bulk; he depended on my eyes and hand to show him the direction, and he would attack along the line I indicated. He seldom saw the prey until he was upon it, but then he would snap and toss the rat about as if it were a rag, until I indicated it was time to move on.
One day a group of people came to my house and demanded to see me. My wife let them in. I was sitting on the veranda smoking, drinking, and reading, and the Boar Hog was teasing a mechanical animal we had bought for him in the settlement.
The people stood close together and demanded that “that hog” be destroyed. When I asked the reason for their demand, they replied that it was an ugly affair, keeping such a monstrous swine as a pet.
I pressed them for specific reasons. I told them the Boar Hog was like a child, and I had trained him to be as gentle as a child should be. “Boar Hog,” I said, “come here.” And our Boar Hog arose from where he was lying in shade. He came to me and looked me in the eyes as he was wont to do when I was commanding him.
I said to the Boar Hog, “Greet our visitors. Tell them they are welcome.” After I showed him the circle of people with my hand, he walked to them and squealed, turning his head up to see their eyes.
“My thanks to you,” I told my Boar Hog. “Please lie down.” The Boar Hog did so, but his eyes, I noticed, remained open. I knew that this demonstration of the civility of my Boar Hog would win the people over.
But the people became even more adamant. They put looks on their faces that told me that their opinions were fixed. The shopkeeper from whom I bought my whisky motioned to my Boar Hog and said that it was known that swine were very dangerous even when kept in confinement, and that this Boar Hog, because of its strength, could do as it wished.
Another, the keeper of the inn where Alba and I stayed while I constructed our house, stepped forward and pointed his finger into my face. He said, “You treat a vicious animal as your child!”
I gave my Boar Hog one of his toys, and told him he could now play. He took the toy onto the sand under our palms and began to play with it much as a kitten would.
I told them the Boar Hog had never left my sight, so I knew he had not been guilty of harming any persons or their property.
Another of these people said, “Boars have been known to eat children and to attack and seriously maul people.” Still another said she would not allow her children to be endangered.
I pointed to the Boar Hog playing with the toy and told them he did not seem to me to have dangerous tendencies. They in turn pointed to his tusks and said they were made for tearing at men, and that one day he would revert to his true nature.
I told them to go away, that I would think about what they had said. I did this to give myself more time, and to allow them to change their minds. Also, I was afraid that if I told them “No” immediately they would come back with fire and set it to my house.
After they left, my wife, who had been listening, asked me, “Is that true about Boar Hogs attacking people?”
I said I had heard of it happening, but that was with swine that were not tame or that not been properly cared for. My wife — she is a beautiful wife — said, “It must not be safe to have a Boar Hog if other Boar Hogs have eaten children and attacked people.”
I smoked a long time on my pipe and drank a long time on my whisky while I was deciding what I thought. When I had done this, I said, “There are people who have not been tamed and who have not been properly cared for who have attacked other people.”
My wife — she has long black hair — said, “No, I do not feel as safe with the Boar Hog as I did.”
I said — I had smoked my tobacco up and drunk my whisky up — the only things alive the Boar Hog had eaten were rats and that was good for the island and the neighbors since they were always trying to kill them.
My wife said we should be sure and close the door to the room where we slept during nights.
* * *
The next day the people from the settlement came back and wanted to see me. My wife let them in. This time the Boar Hog was sitting beside my chair. When we were both sitting we were about the same height. This day I did not have any tobacco or whisky because I had smoked and drunk all I had the day before, and I had only part of a bottle of rum remaining.
My wife made tea for my guests and served it to them, but since they brought friends and their number was greater than the day before, she ran out of tea and had none left for me.
When they had finished their tea, the shopkeeper from whom I bought our provisions said, “When are you going to destroy this Boar Hog who is threatening our lives and our children’s lives?”
I told my wife to bring an apple from her kitchen, and when she had done this I said to them, “Watch.” With one hand I held the apple out to the Boar Hog and with the other I scratched his ears, which were large like dipper-gourd leaves. The Boar Hog began to nibble the apple.
I meant to show them that the Boar Hog was very mild and was not avaricious. The crowd became silent while the Boar Hog was eating the apple and I thought they were convinced, but when the apple was finished they all stood up and threw their tea cups and their tea saucers to the floor and one of them said, “See, the Boar Hog eats all things, even as men do, and so he is double dangerous.”
When I protested that he had shown his good nature by the gentleness with which he had eaten the apple, they said, “But he is the same Boar Hog who has attacked the rats on this end of the island so that the remaining rats have run to our side and are infesting our homes.”
I said I would be glad to bring the Boar Hog to their side of the island if there were many rats. I said this so they would have additional evidence of the good use of the Boar Hog.
The neighbors put looks of horror on their faces and said, “No, that way he would learn the way to our houses and he could come back any time to endanger our children and our own lives.”
I told them to go away, so I could think some more of what they said. But this time they would not leave so easily. They turned to my wife and said, “What kind of man is this who keeps a killer in your house? See? He would have us think it is his child, sitting beside his chair.”
The long black hair and the dark eyes made my wife appear very sad. She said to the neighbors for them to go away so she might talk to me in their favor. The neighbors looked again at the Boar Hog and said they would come back tomorrow.
I said to Alba I would like my rum and butter and cloves while I watched the surf through the palm trees. But my wife — she was wearing a green sarong I had purchased for her on our journey to this island — was watching the Boar Hog.
She went away into the house and came back with our baby who at that time was about twelve weeks old. She did not bring any rum and butter and cloves. She said, “For months our baby has been sleeping at night within reach of this dangerous Boar Hog. You did not tell me he would eat children and men.” When my wife is frightened her skin is the color of the inside of a conch shell.
The Boar Hog went to her, snuffled at her feet, then lay down in a cool place against the banister of the veranda and slept. At this time it was getting into the heat of the day.
“Go to the tool chest,” I said to my wife, “and bring me the hasp and lock.” She did this and I said, “Give me the child and bring me the chain from the old wind charger.” She did this and I told her that with the lock and hasp I would lock ourselves and the child away every night; with the chain I would fasten the boar-hog outside. Then I asked her if she would feel safe for ourselves and the child if these precautions were taken.
My wife took the child back from me and asked what of the neighbors, who had demanded the Boar Hog be destroyed. “The chain will satisfy them,” I said. “It is strong enough to pull wagons or large boats.” She went away then, but she did not bring me back my rum or anything else good to drink.
When the neighbors came back I sat on the veranda and watched my wife who went out to talk to them. She made motions toward the chained Boar Hog. I could tell by the looks they put on their faces they were not as happy as they could be, but at last they went away toward their own part of the island.
The next morning when I came to go down to the sea the Boar Hog’s chain was empty. I could not find him immediately, so I went to the beach. I picked up a conch shell to take to my wife. She was making a necklace of small shells, and this large one would go on her dressing table.
In the meantime I was wondering to myself where the Boar Hog might be, though I tried not to let myself be bothered. I walked in the mist from the sea until the sand turned into rock and was unpleasant to walk on. I took a path I knew of and in about one-half hour more came back to my house. Alba was on the veranda and she was concerned because she had discovered the Boar Hog was gone.
While she was talking to me as if she were very upset I took out the conch shell and gave it to her. She was still very disturbed. “See, that is the best shell that has come ashore,” I said.
This did not change anything, and she told me, “I do not even dare go outside without knowing where he is. He could be waiting anywhere without my knowing where he is. That Boar Hog could be waiting anywhere without my seeing him and rush out.”
I told her that if he did rush out it would be all right, since he had grown up with her and had always been very gentle.
“No,” she said and took the conch shell inside out of my sight. She came back and gave me my rifle. It was a heavy thing for her to carry because she is so slight. She brought also powder and bullets for it. When she had given them to me she said, “He is a wild animal now and must be done away with.”
I could not think of using the gun on the Boar Hog, so I said, “This is made for sport, for hunting and pleasure, and is not meant for a tame thing like our Boar Hog.”
But my wife would not listen, and said the Boar Hog was not hers, and not mine either, since it was loose, and it was now a danger to all the people. I put the gun down and said that tomorrow we would talk some more about it and that maybe I would go looking for the Boar Hog.
She brought the conch shell and said, “If you are going to cause all this unpleasantness I will not keep this or anything else you bring, and you cannot come with me to sleep.” She went away into the house and I tried to smoke what tobacco I had left and watch the combers. I knew that she would be feeling better soon and would come out and everything would be reasonable again.
* * *
It was later in the afternoon and I was feeling hungry since I had not had anything to eat since before I had gone down to the beach. I called to Alba. When she did not answer I went through the house until I found her in the room we slept in. She had brought the crib with our baby to be beside our bed. I said about how I was needing to eat, and that I would like an acorn squash baked in sugar and a half loaf of poppyseed bread.
But Alba said, “There is not an acorn squash here because I could not go out of the house to buy things to eat, nor anything else, and only have a bit of milk for the baby.”
I went to look at the baby, but Alba took him up and held him to her, saying she would take care of him until danger was past.
When I was on the veranda for about one hour the Boar Hog came from under the house. I could tell by the leaves on him he had been sleeping, and then I saw that I had chained him in the sun so that when it had been morning he had broken the chain to go under the house where it was cool.
I took out the bristle brush and went to curry him. He stood very still until all the dirt and leaves were gone and did not like it when I fastened him again to the chain. This time I placed it so that he could go under the house without getting off the chain.
* * *
But in the morning the Boar Hog was gone. He was not under the house and Alba was telling me the neighbors were right, that the boar must be reverting to his true nature. I told her that all of this was about nothing, and I told her how troubled I was that our reasonable life had been disturbed over nothing. I resolved to go to the settlement. The settlement was a serene place where one could have coffee with a little whisky, and possibly kippers fried in butter if it were early.
At the settlement the café owner would not serve me coffee and the store owner withheld all his tobacco and whisky. “We have heard you have trained a vicious animal and now you have turned it loose.” They closed their doors and stood behind glass waiting for me to decide if I should leave.
I was disturbed because I had to travel all the way back to my house without things from the settlement.
Alba said, “The Boar Hog has not come back.” This is all she would say to me. There was nothing in the house to eat or drink. I was out of tobacco.
A storm was coming in; I found the Boar Hog playing in the cold spray like a young pony. I shot him three times, twice in the neck, and once just behind the shoulder so the pork would not be disturbed.
I determined to save the Boar Hog’s hide for leather, which I did through the use of salt and alum. I separated the hams from the sides, and kept the sweetmeats. I took the hide to show the shop owners in the settlement, and drank sweet coffee and bought a large amount of whisky and tobacco. I sent word that the neighbors could see me. I looked into the east and saw the blue gatherings of bad weather.
When they came they wore their best clothes and Alba let them in. Each of my neighbors had brought a cup and saucer similar to the ones of mine they had broken. As the storm grew more intense, I filled their cups with the new whisky and we sat down at our long table and Alba brought large amounts of the roast, simmering in goat’s milk and rice, and seasoned with bay leaves.
Copyright © 2013 by Wells Teague