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“Do you think those lambs’ll pull through then?” Marian asks, placing the teapot and a bowl of croissants in the middle of the long, wooden table.
“It’s still touch and go, but they’re getting stronger day by day,” her elder son responds.
“All the hard work we’ve put in since the fire last year might just be paying off,” Marian says, glancing at her husband sat at the end of the table, who’s looking through a large pile of paperwork. He holds up a thick folder:
“Not if they can help it, animal welfare this, habitat restriction that. Quiet you two,” he shouts at the two boys, who are arguing over a schoolbook.
“It’s the same for everyone, darling, you know that,” Marian says. He throws down the report in frustration, groans and rubs his messy, blond hair with both hands. Uncle Skip enters, one hand holding the old shotgun, the other a dead fox. The front door closes quietly behind him and he puts the animal down on the table, then takes off his old purple cap, nods to Baxter, that conceited grin ever on his lips, and looks over at grandpa, half buried in the ancient armchair. The old man stirs, sees the dead animal and says:
“We still being overrun by them wild animals?”
Skip grins, still holding the gun and takes a letter from the inside pocket of his Barbour jacket, walks slowly to the end of the table, and hands it to Baxter, glancing briefly over at Marian.
“It’s time we got out,” he says in a quiet voice. Baxter opens the envelope, reads and says:
“They can’t keep telling us what to do, I’m sick of having to pay out to those pencil pushers and I’ve had enough of helping out those profligate southern farms, why can’t we just do what we want to do?”
“We’ve been through this so many times, you know very well that the co-operative has been a blessing for us all these years, we have prospered working with the other farms, it’s ridiculous to even consider any other way,” Marian says wearily. Grandpa, still sitting up, says:
“I remember when this farm used to be a great farm.”
“Right, it’s ours, we should have full control over everything that goes on here,” Baxter responds, his anger increasing.
“You are not seriously going along with this now are you? It’s madness, and don’t listen to him,” Marian says, pointing at grandpa, “he’s living in the past, things are different now. And what’s more, do you imagine that cousin McDonald is just going to sit passively in the north field without kicking up a fuss?” She struggles to suppress the incredulity in her voice. Farmer Baxter rips up the letter and takes his jacket from the cupboard.
“Dad, you can’t go now, you said you’d help out with the pigs, the vet is coming today,” the youngest of the two boys says.
“They’re our friends, aren’t they Dad? And remember next year when I finish school I’d like to…” the elder starts.
“Shut it, you lot don’t have any say in this,” Baxter retorts, staring the two down.
“Don’t listen to them son, and remember to fix them fences good and strong, them wild animals will be the end of us,” says grandpa, again looking at Uncle Skip, who nods vaguely, smirking all the while.
“Don’t you worry, I’ve got it all under control. I’ll be back before you know it,” Baxter says confidently, putting on his jacket.
“But Dad, what about the hole in the roof, you said you’d help fix it?”
“Please don’t go darling, he’s right, we need to stick together, there are so many things that need your attention here,” Marian’s voice is now desperate.
“I’m sure you’ll manage. They’ll come to their senses, they can’t afford not to give us a good deal. We will make this farm great again! I am leaving!”
Farmer Baxter closes the door, hugs his sons and slumps down at the table.
“How did it go? You’ve been away for so long, we’ve really struggled without you,” Marian enters the room, her forced smile turning to a look of concern.
“You look exhausted, dear, are you ok?”
“It’s been such a battle, I did not imagine it would be so difficult,” Baxter responds, massaging his temples.
“It’s not been easy here either without you….” Marian begins, as Uncle Skip slinks down the stairs. Baxter continues:
“It took several days of talking just to agree on how we’d hold the talks. That was just the start of it, I’ll spare you the rest, needless to say they were well prepared.”
“Should ’a’ just walked out, if you ask me,” Skip says, taking the shotgun out of the cupboard by the front door.
“Are you mad? Thank god it didn’t come to that. We’re struggling as it is, not that you seem to care or lift a finger. Why don’t you listen to me, for once, I did warn you, we can’t find enough workers for the harvest, at this rate we could lose a good portion of it.” Marian says, as Baxter pours himself a large whisky and sets it down on the table.
“And the pigs?” Baxter asks, looking at Uncle Skip.
“Could be better and the vet refuses to come back if we don’t pay her soon,” his wife responds. Baxter gulps down his drink and takes the shotgun from Uncle Skip, who just shrugs and exits quietly through the back door.
“We will still be able to continue selling the beef and pork through the co-operative, though?” Marian looks at Baxter.
“Yes, but not as much as before.”
“What about the crops?”
“Yes, but not as much as before.”
“Surely they can’t do without our lamb, and at least tell me we’re going to be selling more milk and cheese?”
“Not more, but we got a great deal on eggs and chicken.”
“You are joking, we had to scale back on the chickens, like I said, it’s impossible to find the staff at the moment.” Baxter holds Marian’s gaze for a second, sighs and goes to refill his glass, nearly knocking a bucket over on the floor. He looks at Marian questioningly and she points up at a large damp patch on the ceiling.
“But you have at least reduced our outgoings, haven’t you? Like I said the vet…”
“We actually need to pay them…”
“But you and Skip said, in no uncertain terms, I remember distinctly…”
“Well anyway,” Baxter interrupts again, “I heard we’ve some great prospects for the herb garden, right? Horseradish sales have never been so good.”
Marian stares at him, mouth agape. Then the old man stirs in the dusty armchair in the corner:
“What about them fences, you started working on them yet?”
“Yes, pa, they haven’t been so sturdy in years, although…” He takes another large sip, avoiding Marian’s look, “we’ve had to put in lots of new gates, not cheap and they’re heavy, cumbersome as hell, so remember to give yourself plenty of time when you’re entering or leaving the farm.”
The old man groans vaguely and falls back into the stuffy cushions. The two boys are sitting listening at the table and look up as rain starts lashing at the window. The elder stands up, walks nervously to the bucket and places it to catch the drips falling from the ceiling.
“Anything else to report about this wonderful new deal?” Marian says, now preparing herself a drink, the glass shaking in her hand.
“We did agree to continue the farm watch scheme…”
“I didn’t realize that was that even up for discussion? Why would that even come into it?” Her voice is now shrill; he stares at the floor; then, taking the shotgun he heads for the door and says:
“I’ve had enough of this, when I go back next week…”
“Go back next week?”
“We’ve yet to agree on the exact terms, there are a lot of details to finalize.”
“You mean you have to go back, leave us to deal with the sick pigs, the harvest, the roof…” Marian kicks the bucket in her fury as she says this and makes a grab for the shotgun.
“Stop it, stop it, please,” the two boys shout, running over from the table. The four of them jostle for the weapon, they slip on the wet tiles, there is an almighty bang and farmer Baxter screams. The floor is covered in sticky blood, bits of flesh are scattered all around and red splatters cover the walls. The four on the ground are screaming and crying, grandpa is stood holding his head in his hands and they stare in disbelief at the spurting stump that is all that is left of farmer Baxter’s right foot.