Animal Farm

I can’t lie. Sometimes, I do wonder if they can understand. Every once in a while, a glint will flash in an eye as I pass, or a lip will curl, and I’ll think: Wait. Did I just see that? By the time I manage to check it out, of course, the fleeting impression has long flown, and the eyes are dull once more, the mouths slack.

I mean, they can’t be conscious. The idea’s preposterous. People have farmed Chattel for so long now that surely any hint of (I guess there’s no other word for it, is there?) humanity has long been bred out of them. I can’t even remember when it started, actually. It was all long before my time. Nobody cares anymore, anyway.

And yes, I know we’ve been trained to be on the lookout for warning signs – awareness, recognition, attempts to communicate, all that. But if I report my herd, I might as well throw all our money into the abattoir sump, and wash it away along with the blood. What about the children? If I can’t provide then they might as well be strung up in a cage among the Chattel young, clamped hand and foot, tubes going into their gullets… But they couldn’t be farmed, of course. Meat’s too flabby.

Perhaps I’d be wise not to be so soft. I know the meat fetches a better price when the Chattel haven’t been punished overmuch and the hide is fairly unblemished, but still. If I had a flash inspection, and I was unlucky enough that a State Vet was met with a direct gaze from a Chattel eye, I’d be sunk. Out of business. My herd slaughtered and sold for dogfood, my kids in the workhouse, and me on the dungheap.

It’s just when I turn on the electric current – only in short bursts, you understand, to show them who’s boss – and they start to feel it, the cries are so like ours. The young wail just like babies. Some of the females even weep. At least, that’s what it looks like. It’s probably just excess water from the feed finding its way out through the most convenient orifice, but it’s sure disturbing. I have to keep reminding myself that there’s nothing behind their eyes. Except hunger, maybe, which I take care of.

In fact, they should be grateful. I have the best-kept Chattel in the country, come to think of it.

Still, though. Maybe I’ll slaughter now, ahead of schedule, and start again with a smaller herd. The young aren’t fat enough for my liking, but that’s too bad. Maybe we’ll keep the smallest for our own table and sell the rest.

The only problem is, of course, I can’t let the kids hear them screaming when the abattoir truck comes. I’ll never get them to eat right if they witness that stuff too young, you know? Some things, a kid just shouldn’t see.

– Sinead O’Hart