Mr McGinley stood on the front porch of the farmhouse, his new kelpie pup at his side, and watched the mass of black clouds gathering south of Butterberry Farm. A long, dark shadow covered the lower paddock, where the sheep were huddled together by the old gum tree at the southern fence. A cold wind swept northward. The farmer picked up the pup and took it inside, then returned a moment later, buttoning up his heavy yellow raincoat. He checked the big carboard box near the kennel, but it was empty. He looked at the black clouds once more and then headed down to the stables.
Down at the dam, Henry the pig was finishing his third swim of the day. Ever since he had learned to swim, just over a year ago, he swam three times a day: after breakfast, just before lunchtime, and then once more in the late afternoon. Henry was the only animal on the farm aside from the ducks who swam in the dam. It was his favourite thing in the world.
He stopped for a roll in the mud at the dam’s edge, and then trotted up onto the grass in his wiggly manner. Henry was a runt, and, although now fully grown, he looked more like an oversized piglet. His little body was lean and taut, except for his huge rump, which had overdeveloped with all his swimming. His snout tilted back, the result of hundreds of kicks to the face at feeding time from the bigger pigs; a scar ran above his right eye, keeping it almost closed, where a fox had attacked him. For his unfortunate appearance, for his irritating optimism, for his obsessive love of swimming, and for his stubborn refusal to die like a runt should, Henry’s brothers and sisters resented him. He was unwelcome at the sty, except to sleep a few hours at night and to fight for scraps at mealtimes, and so he spent his days wandering the farm.
Light flashed far off in the dark sky, and a few seconds later there followed a rumble. At the horse yard, Mr McGinley put a blanket over each of the horses and brought them into the stables. He filled the troughs with water and feed, closed the wooden shutter windows at the rear of the stables and tied the horses securely. Nearby in the chicken yard, Winston, the chief rooster, flapped high up onto the henhouse and perched at the edge of its tin roof. The wind ruffled his white feathers as he watched with a grim countenance the black clouds rolling in. On the other side of the farmhouse, Mrs McGinley hurried to take the washing off the clothesline.
Henry raced around the edge of the dam, his trotters pressing a shallow trail of tracks into the soggy earth. Up the hill behind the henhouse he ran, through the thick clover, until he reached the peach tree sapling that had sprouted there. The Clydesdale had told him it would be a long time before any fruit grew on the tree, but that didn’t stop him from checking every day. He circled the slender young trunk and looked up into the small clump of shiny leaves. With a grunt he rammed his head against the plant. No peaches fell to the ground.
Mr McGinley took the small generator and a few tools from the barn and loaded them onto the tray of his truck. He filled the feed troughs with hay for the cows that were there; a few cows were still down in the paddock. The farmer bolted shut the wide barn doors. Shadow covered the southern half of the farm as the dark clouds closed in, rumbling and flashing with light. Down near the pumpkin patch, a burst of black smoke spewed from the old tractor’s exhaust as its engine growled into gear. Mrs McGinley drove the mighty machine right up beside the farmhouse and parked it near the tomato plants.
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