Animal Husbandry, by SJ Ryan



“Little old ladies…they should be taken out and shot.” Flecks of saliva spat from his mouth as he banged down the discoloured telephone. “They get,” he said, testing the tip of his tongue against the gap between his lower front teeth, “technical problems.”

“So this is a man’s shop.” She stood in front of the counter, the only woman amongst the Saturday morning trade of farmers and handymen. Her right hand held the strap of her over-the-shoulder bag for support.

He lowered his head and flicked his tawny eyes at her above his trifocals, lowering his chin as he made his way down her body. He smiled briefly with one side of his mouth. “Of course it’s a man’s shop.” He leaned his weight against the counter on one elbow and placed the hand of his other arm on his hip, his belly jutting out in front of it.

An assistant stood up from packing shelves that lined the wall behind the counter, scratched a sandy-coloured sideburn. “You won’t be saying that when your wife gets here.”

The shopkeeper rolled his eyes and brought them to rest on her. “Well,” he growled.

“I’m looking for hooks to use in a kitchen. Something that looks old. It’s for a cottage.”

“Something that looks old.” He turned his head to one side to repeat the words for the benefit of his audience, which had gathered slightly closer. He looked up at the crudely plastered ceiling where a few rusted metal hooks, splashed with emulsion, protruded irregularly. “I’ll give you those for a hundred and twenty euro each.”

“If you take those out, the roof might cave in”, the assistant chirped from beneath his ginger moustache, looking at her.

She looked back, her face expressionless. “A hundred and twenty euros,” she mouthed, bending her neck back to gaze at the hooks. She slowly brought her head down to meet the shopkeeper’s leer. “I’ve just remembered what it was I came in for today.”

She strode the length of the counter and turned left into an alcove that led to a warehouse. She knew the walk and lie of the place. “Awwrrrgh, you’re my type”, an unshaven heckler threw to the crowd. A few crude laughs erupted. Reaching up with one hand, she stood on tiptoe in her muddy wellington boots and unhooked a calendar off the wall. Walking back to the till she held it up to one side, her arm stretched above her head. “How much for this?”

Miss May bent over a polished car bonnet, on the glossy top page, black PVC hotpants stretched across her taut buttocks. Sunlight caught the blond hair on her upper thighs. The shopkeeper inhaled slowly, his nostrils wide. “And what would you want that for?” There was a slight tremor in his jaw.

Several of the men pushed their hands deep into their trouser pockets, while craning their necks. The air in the shop became close. The shopkeeper glanced around quickly. He looked back at the calendar, screwed up his eyes and opened them slowly. He took off his trifocals, attached to a chord around his neck, and let them rest on the upper curve of his belly. He had never noticed that the picture was a hologram, its image twisting and flickering as she laid it down on the counter.

Miss May’s taut buttocks had transformed into the hindquarters of a large pink sow, light glistening off the stiff blond bristles on its back. Its hind legs balanced in stiletto sandals, scarlet ribbons wound tightly around its ankles, each tied in a neat bow. Its tail curved above the balloon-knot of its anus, below which the swollen lips of its sex organs pouted. The shopkeeper’s mouth went slack.

He turned the page to the acrobatic twins who shared the title of Miss June. They had become two Hereford cows in a lush green field, one mounting the other, its full pink udders outlined against a red vintage Zetor tractor.

Whiskers began sprouting from the shopkeeper’s cheeks. As he leaned over the counter, she noticed the outline of a tail bulge against the worn and shiny seat of his polyester trousers.

He lifted the dog-eared pages to Miss September. The nail-varnished toes of her feet gripped the base of a red satin sheet. Her wrists were tied to the head railings of a bed with a black scarf. He felt a wave of vertigo. The picture blurred momentarily before coming back into focus. An Alsatian bitch now lay on its back on the wrinkled sheet, its hind legs hanging apart. Its front paws were secured to the head railings of the bed with a black scarf. Head thrown back on a pillow covered in red satin, its eyes were closed, its large pink tongue lolling to one side of its parted jaws.

She glanced behind her. Two of the men were bending over, noses buried in each other’s buttocks. Another had his head thrown back, mouth parted to reveal the large square teeth of an ass, long hairy ears quivering and erect.

Hand shaking, the shopkeeper pawed at the pages until he reached Miss October, whose naked pelvis was framed by a pair of light blue suspenders. Her legs, in stockings of the same light blue, were hooked around velvet-covered chains supporting the silver bar of a trapeze as she hung upside down, cupping her breasts in her palms. He swallowed as she was transformed into a skinned and disembowelled carcass of lamb, suspended from a meat hook by a hindleg tendon, the unsevered fluffy white head accentuated by a distended blue tongue. The men salivated collectively. Three had grown horns and pawed the shop floor, while two clawed at each other with sharp yellow talons, their bright red combs and wattles wobbling and swaying with each swoop and hop.

Miss November was kneeling naked in a cream stetson, her body divided into sections by a thick black marker, each bearing the name of a cut of meat. She, too, became a raw carcass, the black marker clearly defining rump, hindquarter and neck, ready for the butcher’s blade.

Several of the customers jumped up against the shop counter, wagging their tails and whining, the lines of dirt under their fingernails now hidden beneath gnarled claws.

A final page was raised. Miss December, leaning against the tiled wall of a shower cubicle, aimed a jet of water from a hand-held nozzle between her parted thighs. The picture misted over and cleared to reveal a man wearing a long rubber glove, his left arm inserted past the elbow into the anus of a Fresian heifer, a long thin plastic tube in his right.

She caught a flash of reddish-brown as a bushy tail darted out through the doorway. The shopkeeper raised his leg against a lower shelf and urinated before flopping onto the floor on one hip, pointing a hindleg towards the ceiling and slobbering into his matted crotch.

The shop was raucous with the sounds of barking, braying, bellowing and crowing. She picked her way past piles of dung, curled turds and pools of urine to reach the entrance. Slipping outside into the crisp morning with its fine mist of rain she grasped the handle on the front of the shop door and pulled it firmly shut, clicking the yale lock into place.

“Soft day, Mrs Crowe.” She smiled at the postmistress passing on the opposite side of the narrow road.

“Please God.” The postmistress nodded once in her direction then sniffed. “Fierce slurry on the breeze, though.”

“The wind must have changed direction,” she said, and walked with firm and determined steps up the road that led out of the town.



SJ Ryan’s writing has been published in The Stony Thursday Book and Stinging Fly. She has written a work of historical fiction as a requirement towards a PhD in Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University in Wales. She has lived in South Africa, Greece, Spain, Ireland, the Turks and Caicos Islands and Canada. She works as a lawyer in London, England.

The image is ahusbandry.jpg by Tim Bradford.

24 November 2023