Dawn was just breaking through when Maddy was woken by Priscilla’s cries.
She leaped out of bed pulling her thick socks up and wrapping herself in her favourite cardigan and weather worn thermal coat she kept by her bed at times like these.
It had been expected for days and though sleep was still wrapped around her mind and only slowly beginning to loosen its grip, Maddy was pleased it was day break and there’d be natural light to help.
Priscilla, cried out again as Maddy stumbled gracelessly downstairs and into the warm, rustic kitchen of the cottage.
She wasn’t looking forward to going out into the frost filled air and grabbed a scarf which she wrapped twice around her neck before tying it at her waist.
This was not an occasion for vanity. Urgent work was at hand.
She braced herself as she opened the door and stepped into the first slats of sunlight that caused the frost to sparkle in the grass and the cobbles to shine.
Maddy gingerly, yet speedily crossed the yard to the closest outbuilding, grateful she’d hired an outdoor heater to keep Priscilla comfortable.
All of the equipment was there too. Maddy prayed that this would be as easy as possible and there’d be no need to call for help.
A piercing squeal hit her as she entered the building and switched on the old dimly lit lamp that hung loosely from the wall.
Maddy could make out a distraught Priscilla lying on her side, clearly in great discomfort.
It was so upsetting for Maddy to see her in such pain. Yet she knew that nature would take its course and nothing could stop it now.
She took off her coat and rolled up the sleeves of her old, now washed out grey woollen cardigan she’d chosen to sleep in since she found herself living alone in the old stone cottage, at the top of the Weardale hills some three years ago.
It was magnificently scenic and in winter, perilously cold.
An ancient stone sink stood to the left and Maddy ran the tap until steam rose into the cool air. She picked up a tin bucket from beneath the sink and filled it with the hottest water she could bear.
She grabbed the pile of towels she’d left on the shelf next to the sink and shuffled over to where Priscilla was lying, wriggling now, attempting to get more comfortable.
Priscilla was a thirty pound, black, pot-bellied pig and was the love of Maddy’s life.
Priscilla had helped Maddy through the toughest times and now it was Maddy’s turn to repay her.
Frisky Priscilla had strolled off the small holding into the neighboring farmyard two weeks before her appointment with the vet and was now a much fatter, very pregnant pig, in the throes of giving birth.
Maddy was hoping and praying for a safe delivery.
She had decided to call Chris, the local vet, just in case.
She’d hoped to get through this alone.
She had to do most things on her own over the past few years and her animals depended on her.
This is the life she had chosen after she’d run from the city to hide out in the depths of the North of England.
People didn’t ask questions here.
They weren’t so worried about where you’d come from and were more concerned about what you contributed now.
A nice approach Maddy felt.
She was being allowed to create a new life irrespective of her past.
The hands that had once fluttered over keyboards in the financial sector were more used to mucking out and tending to fields now.
She used to pay more for a manicure than she did for a weeks supply of feed.
And now – she was happy – well almost.
She’d be happier if she knew Priscilla was going to be Okay.
Priscilla had been a jokey leaving gift from the man, Simon, she had fallen in love with and who in his eyes she was finding her true value mucking out.
In a way he’d been right.
Maddy loved the fresh air, the animals, the changing of the seasons, the local community, the pure joy of being alive, of engaging with the earth.
Priscilla, a tiny piglet at the time, had helped Maddy smile with the pure joy of watching a piglet just being, just playing .
Priscilla had slept in the house most of the time. Her favourite spot by the kitchen fire, guarding the house against intruders.
She was particularly protective of Maddy when it came to male guests.
A large pig rushing at them was enough to put off most male visitors.
It was only with this pregnancy that she’d insisted on her privacy and being waited on like the queen sow she was.
Maddy couldn’t live without Priscilla, she realised as she tended to the large grumpy sow who’d captured her heart.
Two piglets were squirming to find food by the time Chris arrived.
He stood in the doorway observing the scene before him.
Priscilla was watching Maddy closely and with love in her eyes, as Maddy cleaned piglet number three and placed her so her mother could reach and nuzzle her.
They had always been a strange team these two females.
A team that didn’t allow new members, until now.
Chris knew it had taken a lot for Maddy to make the call, to ask for help and he knew he was in a precariously privileged position.
He stepped into the fray to check out the health of the new arrivals, surprising both Priscilla and Maddy.
Priscilla objected loudly to the new intruder and Maddy had all on to get her to understand that Chris was on their side.
Within the hour there were six new piglets in the world and Chris had given them all a clean bill of health.
Maddy and Chris left mum to recover with her new family, while they warmed up with coffee and a roaring kitchen fire.
Maddy was exhausted and so happy… and overwhelmed.
Six new piglets.
Six very cute and beautiful piggies.
Six new piglets on her small piece of land.
Six piglets that would grow into six sizable pigs.
Six pigs that would require six times the feed.
She rubbed her face and drank deeply from the coffee cup as the flames flickered in the grate and Chris sat silently, giving her time and space.
The sun had edged around and was peering directly through the window, dancing in the glass of the oak dresser.
Maddy was watching the flames in the fire and grinning at the thought of the miracle of new life.
She was grinning at the joy of motherhood and the thought of the noise of six singing pigs.
Her family had grown much faster than she’d anticipated.
Her life wasn’t recognizable any more to anyone who had known her only three years prior and yet she felt more at home, more herself, more alive than ever.
Suddenly her thoughts were interrupted by a rough banging at the door, and Maddy jumped up to open it.
There in the doorway was Priscilla and her family, now pushing their way into the room and making space in front of the fire.
Priscilla looked threateningly at Chris who moved his chair and took his cue to leave.
Maddy laughed out aloud at the site of Priscilla and her piglets taking up the floor of the kitchen.
She followed Chris out into the brightening morning smiling and thanking him for his help and support.
She felt so grateful that he’d been there and she noticed a feeling of disappointment that he was leaving so soon.
He waved as he drove his battered Land Rover out through the gate, sighing with acknowledgement that it was still going to take a little time to really edge his way into that family, especially with Princess Priscilla ruling the roost.
Maybe regular piglet health checks were just what was needed. Though he wondered when Maddy would finally catch on that Priscilla had been a gift from him and Simon, his brother, had as usual, stolen the show.
He had wanted to somehow make up for the hurt Simon had caused. No, he wanted more than that.
He had followed her to the ends of the earth (or so it felt).
Seven pigs weren’t going to get in his way.