Thursday, November 8, 2012

Compilation of Six Sentence Sunday Posts

I don’t mind searching through other people’s blogs to find something I’m looking for, but, those blogs are organized, mine, not so much so.  Rather than make people hunt and peck through various Six Sentence Sunday posts, I decided things would be easier if I just created a page for all the posts. I hope this makes your life easier.

Are you new to my Six Sentence Sunday posts and completely confused about what the heck is going on in the story. Here's a very short , very rough synopsis. It, like everything else DWARFED related, is still a work in progress.

Short Synopsis    
Sixteen year old Grace isn’t like everyone else. She was born with achondroplasia, a form of dwarfism. Grace has never cared about her height; she’s too busy working on learning how to create illusions and entertaining guests at the Renaissance faire to worry about how her stature impacts others. Everywhere she goes Grace hears whispered comments and feels the weight of their stares. Grace finds herself wishing she was someone else. For the first time in her life, Grace finds herself resenting the very things that make her special. It’s only when Grace is practicing illusions for the upcoming talent show, or hanging out with Luke Searc, the cute farm boy, that she feels like there’s more to her than her height.

Not Looking Good
 Snippets posted 9/23 thru 1/13                        
Luke leans against the battered nursery crate, his fingertips hooked in the pocket of his faded jeans, and staring down at the litter. He glances up as the door clicks closed behind me. “Hey.”
His expression causes my stomach to cramp. My fingernails dig deep crescents into my palms.
            “What’s wrong?”           
            “Your piglet’s not doing well.”
            It takes all of my will power to shuffle my feet, and inch towards the crate. It’s barely been twelve hours since I saw her, how bad can she possibly be?
            I cross my arms over my stomach, and peer into the nursery crate at the litter of piglets.
            My stomach rolls over.
            The tiny piglet leans against the side of crate, her eyes rolling in porcine ecstasy as Luke’s fingernails lightly scrape back and forth across her back. I saw her less than 12 hours ago, but she looks like a completely different animal.  Her soft skin seems a size to big, bunching up around her neck and the tops of her legs. Her hip bones jut and I can clearly see her pelvis as well a few ribs. Compared to her fat and sassy litter mates, she looks seconds away from starvation.  
            I swallow, trying to dislodge the granite lump that's suddenly manifested in my throat. “Now what happens?”
            “Hopefully she hasn't gotten enough colostrum."
             "Translation please?"
             "First milk," Luke says, "The milk sow's, all mammals, produce the first couple of days after giving birth is called colostrum  and is full of antibodies piglets need. If they don't get enough they can die."
“If?” I don’t like the way Luke emphasizes Luke places on the word, “she’s not getting enough colostrum, we can bottle feed her, and hope we get her weight up to where it should be. If it’s something more serious … we’ll just have to wait and see. Mostly, it’s up to the pig whether or not she lives.”
            I can’t stop staring at the thin piglet. She’s so small, so thin, and even though she’s in a pen with her litter mates she seems alone, like she’s fighting the whole world. My thoughts wander form the piglet to my parents.
           I don’t remember my first year, but my parents often speak of that time. Even now, they grow pale and seem to age when they speak about the stays in the hospital.  When I was a month old I contracted my very first respiratory virus, and continued to play host to one virus after another. This would have been bad for any child, but my smaller air passages were unable to handle. The hospital staff and my parents lived in a state of constant fear I was going to suffocate. 
         I touch the base of my throat, tracing the nearly invisible scar left behind from the tracheostomy I'd needed in order to finally kick the respiratory problems and go home.
At the time, no one knew whether I was going to live or die.
My parents had stuck it out, they’d believed in me, and made sacrifices to ensure I’d not only survived, but thrived. Was it possible this tiny piglet with its uncertain future, the universe’s way of providing me with the means of settling a cosmic debt?
I hurry across the room, twist my fingers in the bottom of Luke’s t-shirt and force him to look down at me.
“I want it.”
“I want to buy her.”
            “You don’t have any clue what you’d be getting into.”
 “She can have da pig.”
The unexpectedness of Etna’s voice startles us. She leans against the door way, her arms crossed over her chest, the heat escaping out the open doorway turning her florid face and even brighter shade of red. “If she wants da pig, den she might as well have it, eh?”
Etna lumbers over to the nursery crate, and peers down at the piglet, who stares up at her. My nails dig little crescent shaped gouges into my palms. There’s nothing I won’t do to help it, even going toe to toe with my aunt.
           She adjusts her eye patch and her heads swivels to face me. I should meet her eye, I want to, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t, the best I can do is staring at a small tear in her jacket. She shuffles closer and my knees shake.
        “I’ll let you have da pig, but you’re in charge of it. I’m not taking care of it. While you’re in school, you’ll have to find someone else who will feed the thing.” Etna shuffles closer. She uses the of one finger and lifts my and tipping my face up towards her. Making myself look into her eye is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.  
      “Thank you,” I whisper.
      “Humph,” Etna grunts. Her gaze oscillates from me, to Luke, to the piglet. I hold my breath, afraid she’s going to change her mind, and take the piglet. My body tenses, prepared to grab the tiny creature before she can, though I don’t know how I’ll get over the top of the nursery crate in time, it’s not like I can lean across it the way Luke and Etna do. Before I come  up with a plan, Etna snorts, spins on her heel, and lumbers through the threshold. 
      Startled, I spin in a ninety degree turn, and find myself staring at a small rip in Luke’s t-shirt that provides tantalizing glimpses of his navel. Swallowing, I tip my chin up and look into his eyes.      
     “I'll show you where the milk replacer and all the stuff you're going to need is. We’re also going to have to come up with some place to put your pig.” He glances over his shoulder at the nursery crate where the sow grunts softly as her piglets swarm around her belly,  knocking the littlest baby aside as they fought for a teat.  
He’s looking at the pigs, but based on his expression he doesn’t really see them. I can practically see the wheels spinning in his head. He must have come up with an idea, because eventually he jerks his chin towards the door, indicating that I should follow him. “C’mon, we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us if you’re serious about keeping that pig.”


           Luke kicks the dark blue towel through the door and into the hallway where it joins the miniature mountain of soggy towels. He hooks his thumbs in the pockets of his jeans and surveys the tiny room.  
                For the last two hours Luke and I have done everything possible to make this room, closet really, at the back of the enormous barn into a new home for my little piglet. While Luke lugged broken buckets, piles of dusty grain sacks, and other miscellaneous bits of farming paraphernalia that had found their way into the room, I went at it with a mop, broom, scrub bucket, and dust rag, and scrubbed what had to be a decade’s worth of dust and grime from the wall. Now, the front of my skirt is soaked, my back feels like red hot rods have been inserted in it, a dull headache is hammers against my temples, and I know I’m wearing a macabre veil of cobwebs, dust, and bits of hay over my hair, but the room is clean and shiny.

 Using his ever present pocket knife, Luke slices through some baler twine and passes a thick flake of straw to me.

            Taking it, I give it a violent shake, laughing as bits of dark gold straw fly everywhere. Luke watches me for a moment and smiles.
            “I’m going to go get some heat lamps.”
My thoughts wander as I continue shaking out one section after another until the floor disappears under a generous layer of straw. I would never admit it to anyone else, but I couldn’t help wondering what I’d just gotten myself into. Didn’t I already have enough things to worry about, wasn’t I already feeling emotionally drained, so what made me think that I was in anyway shape or form, capable of taking on the responsibility of a small pig. For all intents and purposes, I’m going to be a parent.
The enormity of my situation presses against my shoulders, making me feel even smaller than normal.
      I’m going to be accountable for the piglet’s life, a responsibility I’m positively not ready for. I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m not sure how much help or advice I can expect to get from Luke or anyone else. She’s already so far behind the eight ball and everyone thinks her chances of survival are slim, and Etna’s going to be watching my every move, waiting for me to fail.      
The door swings open and Luke shoulders his way into the microscopic room. He holds some sort of silver light fixture in one hand, and cradles my sleeping piglet in the other.
My heart shivers and melts.
            “Here,” Luke hands her to me. I cuddle her against my chest and coo meaningless words. She closes her eyes and presses her thin body against my sternum and sighs. 
            Luke steps out of the room for a second before reappearing with a small ladder. “The room is small. Hopefully that and the fact it’s still fairly warm outside will be enough to keep her warm, but I figured I’d hang this heat lamp just in case. It could get cool at night and she doesn’t have any littermates to snuggle with.
            Luke climbs to the top of the ladder and uses duct tape to attach the first of the lights to the ceiling.

            Luke misses a rung, his boot slips and he over balances. My heart climbs into my throat as the sudden change in weight causes the ladder to rock from side to side. Acting on instinct, I quickly set the piglet on the ground and rush towards him. I reach out, grabbing the cold steel, trying to steady the ladder. His flailing elbow clips my chin, snapping my head backwards with enough force I see stars. My knees buckle and I crash to the straw covered ground just in time to cushion his fall.
           I can't breathe, it feels like my entire body has been squished flat and now matter how much I try, my lungs refuse to inflate. Luke uses the same elbow that sent me sprawling to lever his upper body away from mine, I sense him looking down at me.
             “Are you okay,” he asks, his voice shaking a little,“Grace?”
  Fingertips brush my cheek, prompting me to open my watering eyes, my response dies in my throat as my heart slams against my ribs in an unfamiliar but glorious rhythm. Unbidden, my gaze slides down his face, pausing at his mouth, and I wonder if his lips can really be as soft as they look.
Straw pokes at the back of my neck as Luke's slide under the back of my skull, my eyes close and I shift closer to Luke, lifting my face to his.
            Something wet latches onto my chin, sucking with enough force, I clap one hand across the front of my face. pressing my fingertips and palm against my cheeks, hoping to prevent the skin from getting Hoovered off, while using my free hand to blindly shove at the strangely shaped object.
            Luke’s laughter fills the small room as he presses his fingers against the corner of the piglet's jaw, disengaging it from my chin before scooping her up and cradling her against his chest with one hand, and reaching for me with the other.
His strong, calloused fingers wrap around my palm and wrist. He digs his heels into the ground and pulls me to my feet. “I guess she was worried about you.”
“It seems so,” I mutter.
I keep my head bent to hide my bright red cheeks as I take my new pig from him, and cuddle her against my chest. The solid feel of her weight against my heart doesn’t stop way stomach jumps around as I peer up at Luke through my eyelashes.
Had I really almost kissed him?

Since I created this page, I might as well use it to keep track of all my snippets. Many of these have been edited since they were first reposted.                                        

The section of snippets I posted over the summer, my Fools and Runts series has not yet been added to this page. It’s a huge section and I haven’t had time to go through the posts yet.

The First Page
Thoughts of guillotines dominate my mind. I’d give my right hand and first born child for one. I’d use the tool to remove my own head, a drastic, but effective, way of managing my migraine.
“Are you okay?”
I turn my head which sends a knife-sharp bolt of pain searing through my skull, and bursting out my left eye. It takes several deep breaths before the pain recedes enough for me to meet my Great Aunt Maggie’s concerned eyes. 
“I’m fine. I just have a headache.” 
“Are you sure?” Maggie’s chair creaks as she stands. “You’re awfully pale.”
“Dat’s not surprising,” Maggie’s sister-in-law, Etna, says in her thick, Upper Peninsula, loud as a fog horn, accent. She reaches up and adjusts her black silk eye patch. A few people appear rakish while wearing an eye patch. Most seem ridiculous. Etna looks fearsome, probably because she’s not wearing a costume. She’s hiding the hole where her left eye should be.
Etna uses her chin to point at me, the movement causing her bulging flesh to wobble and jiggle. “Look at her! All dat red hair and pale skin. She’ll burn up as soon as she sets foot outside. Da girl’s going to be a nuisance. She's probably sickly too. I bet she’ll need all sorts of special care and medical procedures. Dat explains why Caroline dumped her here, eh?”
                Clouds of dust and dog hair billow into the air as Maggie walks across the hardwood floor towards me. Her brow creases as she uses her finger to tilt my chin so she can study my face. “Do you need to anything? Aspirin? Water? A wet cloth for your head?”

Inner Conflict  

Even as my brain whispers the hopeful words, a second voice, this one buried under a mountain of cerebral tissue, laughs. The tiny hairs on the back of my neck stand up and goose bumps erupt on my arms. That’s right Grace, the deeper voice says in a dry tone. You go ahead and believe that henceforth everything will be rainbows and unicorns.
You’ll see, the first voice retorts, this will be fun! Perhaps, the second voice inflects, but such happy thoughts are often nothing more than hopeful illusion’s which shatter like a house of cards in a tempest.

Luke’s There's Something Special About Farm Boys :)

My eyes drift upwards, gliding across what seems like endless acres of hard muscle and tanned skin and the most impressive set of arms I’ve ever seen before finally meeting hazel eyes.
            Several seconds pass before I remember how to breathe. “You shouldn’t sneak up on people.” Ungluing my tongue from my soft palate and forming the words is a Herculean task.
            “I didn’t sneak up on you.”  Luke shifts, adjusting the heavy bag of grain slung over his shoulder to a more comfortable position, and the corner of his mouth lifts in a cocky smile. 

Clueless Knave” or Grace and Luke’s First Meeting 

I hate running. It’s something I avoid doing whenever possible. The faster I try to run, the more top heavy I seem to become. I’m terrified I’ll trip and tumble head over arse. For Adelaide, I’m willing to make an exception.
                I charge up the gradient, moving so swiftly my surroundings had become little more than a blur of color.
My brain fails to register the human body moving around the corner of the weather-beaten shed I’m racing past. One second I’m running. The next I slam into something with so much force I bounce backwards. My backside hits the ground with a teeth-loosening thump. Lightning bolts of pain jolt up my spine.
            “Marry!” The Elizabethan curse bursts from  my mouth.
                Adelaide utters a feeble, miserable quack which sounds suspiciously like a duck curse. “Honeyfuggle!” I groan.
I glare up at the boy. “Clueless knave,” I hiss, the insult causing him to float a brow.
                 I brace my free hand on the grass. The movement presses Adelaide to my rib cage. She flaps of her featherless wings, protesting the increased pressure. “Shh, my cockyolly bird,” I coo.            
“Sorry,” the guy says. “Are you okay? What are you doing out here anyway, visitors are supposed to check in at the barn.” He bends and wraps his long, strong fingers around my wrist and helps me stand up.
                 I adjust my grip on Adelaide, and peer up at him. “My relatives are the owners. For the time being, I live here.” I move to step around him.
“You’re Grace?” His voice climbs an octave. “You're Etna and Ray Bob's niece? That Grace? Wow! When you were running, I thought maybe someone stopped over to talk to Ray Bob and you were one of their kids or grandkids.”
“Do I speak like a little kid?”
He acts like he doesn’t hear my words. “You, you're, well, um, you’re not what I expected.”
                I step sideways, moving away from him, and gather myself, preparing to make another dash towards the farmhouse.
                “You’re a midget.”
                One word, that’s all it takes, and a full-fledged inferno ignites inside of me. “Do I appear to be a blood-sucking fly?”
“You stupid cutpurse. Does thou believe I resemble a tiny fly?” Each word hangs on the air for a second before being pushed aside by the next.
                “Um, no. At least I don’t think so.” He glances over his shoulder. “I need a translator.”
“So, why dost thou persist in calling me a midget?”
The guy’s perplexed expression triggers a zing of satisfaction. I can’t recall a single time when getting the upper hand was more satisfying.
“I don’t know what I said to make you mad, but yelling at me isn’t helping, I don’t understand half of what you’re saying. I’m not even sure you’re using English.”
The comparison doesn’t help my mood. “I’m PO’ed you called me a midget.”
The guy waves his hand in a gesture designed to encompass my height. “But you are a midget.”
                 “A midget is a small fly.” Technically the insect is a midge fly, but the distinction seems silly right now. “I’m just as much a human as you.” I let my gaze rove up and down his body, surveying his appearance. “Forsooth,” I say in my driest British accent, “even a bit more so
                 “I know you're human, but you're a...”
I purse my lips together and squint up at him. “Person,” I offer, cutting him off before he can makes another offensive comment. “Individual, girl, teenager.”
                He removes his battered Allis Chalmers ball cap, and shoves it into his back pocket, before running his fingers through his thick, dark blond hair.
                Containing my anger isn’t easy, but I try. My anger isn’t accomplishing anything, and I need to focus all of my attention on getting help for Adelaide.
 “If thou must label me, thou should restrict oneself to using dwarf, or little person.

So Close 

Fingertips brush my cheek, prompting me to open my eyes, and stare into his and my response dries up in my throat as my heart slams painfully against my ribs in an unfamiliar but glorious rhythm. Unbidden, my gaze slides down his face, pausing at his mouth, and I wonder if his lips can really be as soft as they look.
Straw pokes at the back of my neck and tugs at my hair as my eyes close and I shift closer to Luke, lifting my face to his.
            Something wet latches onto my chin, sucking with so much force, it feels like half of my face will slip from my skull.
            Luke’s laughter fills the small room as he picks up the tiny pig, cradling her against his chest with one hand, and reaching for me with the other. “I guess she was worried about you.”
“It seems so,” I mutter . Laughter radiates from his beautiful eyes as he tucks my piglet under one arm, and stretches his free hand towards me. His callused skin scrapes against mine as I let him tug me to my feet.
I keep my head bent to hide my bright red cheeks as I take my new pig from him, and cuddle her against my chest. The solid feel of her weight against my heart doesn’t stop way stomach jumps around as I peer up at Luke through my eyelashes.
Had I really almost kissed him?

Fools and Runts 

Luke grabs the doorknob. His teeth flash as his lips curve into the trademark smile that causes my stomach to clench and nerves to dance. “You’re going to really love this.”
Shooting a curious glance at Luke, I move through the doorway and slam into an invisible wall of heat. It’s as if someone had opened the gates of Hell. The dry heat reminds me of Arizona and Nevada, the kind of heat that leaches the moisture from your skin instantly making you crave water.
For a moment I’m so distracted by the heat, I don’t notice the bars. Everywhere I look it seems like there are metal bars many of them are bent, and they’re so covered in dirt and rust it’s impossible to guess they’re original color.
            A saucer shaped nose, as big around as my hand, inserts itself between two of the bars, bumping against them in an attempt to widen the narrow gap.
             “More pigs,” I ask as disappointment shoots through me. Based on Luke's expression prior to opening the door, I'd expected the room to be full of, something magical and exotic, not more pigs, though if the room's any indication the owner of the nose might not be like the other pigs. Not only was this room considerably hotter, I could only see the single hog, which was contained in a small crate instead of wandering around loose with a herd of other pigs. “Is this where you quarantine the sick pigs?”
             Luke's eyes shine like a kid who's just been given an enormous bag of Christmas candy, "not exactly."
I edge into the room. It takes a second, but I suddenly realize that in addition to the large, disc-like nose, two equally disk like, but considerably smaller shapes jut out from between the battered steel bars.
A broad smile spreads across my face, as I gather up a handful of my long skirt in my hand and charge across the room. “Babies!” 
My approach startles the pair, who race to the far end of the crate, crashing into the heap of other piglets, and causing the entire mountain of porcine flesh to squeal and squirm until the two adventurers seem to have been swallowed by the mass. 
“Oh my God," the words escape in a sigh of adoration "they’re so precious.” 
            “I thought you’d like them,” Luke murmurs, as he moves along side of me.
The piglets, I counted fourteen, huddle against the back wall of the cage like pen. With the possible exception of Adelaide as a duckling, the baby pigs, with their red and white patches, chocolate colored eyes, and thin covering of translucent hair, might just be the cutest things I've ever seen. They look nothing like the sturdy pigs I saw earlier today.
            I nod at the sow that’s contained in a small chute like pen made out of bars that separates her from the piglets. “Why is she locked in there?”
            “Sows aren't always the most graceful or conscientious animals. They also have a hard time keeping track of their babies. Some sows will lie down on their babies and crush them. By keeping her separated, the piglets survival rate increases.”
            I understand his reasoning but that doesn’t stop me from feeling sorry for the sow. I study the situation. “How do the babies nurse?” The sow’s udder is huge, the teats look distended to the point of pain.
            “There's enough room for her to lie down.
             “Can I pet one?”
            “You can go in and play with them if you want to.”
            I look at the mama pig. “Are you sure she won't mind?” The sow is huge. Possibly one of the biggest pigs I’ve ever seen. She looks like she regularly feasts on mini-coopers.   Luke  uses his fingers to scratch between the sow’s shoulder blades. The sow’s eyes roll back in her head and her body sways back and forth as she grunts in porcine ecstasy. “She won't mind. She’s gentle”
            I chew on my lower lip. Common sense warns me to stay out of the nursery crate. Just because the sow seems gentle and Luke didn’t think she’d hurt me, that didn't mean that things couldn’t go wrong.
            If the sow didn't like Luke and attacked, he could jump over the side of the crate. I can’t. If the sow gets mad at me, I’ll be pig kibble.
            On the other hand, the piglets were pretty cute, and how often did someone get a chance to play with a litter of new born piglets? I couldn't think of a single friend on the Renaissance circuit who could claim they'd even seen a baby pig, much less touched one. And these piglets were so cuddly.
            I stare at the sow. Her floppy ears jiggle and bounce as she leans into Luke’s touch. She looks content.
            “She's not going to do anything,” Luke says. “We've been breeding this sow for a couple of years. She's an old pro at this. She knows humans aren't going to hurt her babies.”
            “Will you keep scratching her?” Maybe, if she enjoys the scratching enough, she won’t notice me.  .
            Luke’s eyes sparkle, and his smile widens. “You’re fine. Nothing bad will happen..”
            Keeping one eye on the sow, I let myself into the crate. Luke closes the door behind me.
            The babies were crowd against the back of their crate. All fourteen stared at me with their chocolate brown eyes. I hesitate unsure of what to do next. I really want to touch a piglet, but at the same time I didn't want to scare them to death.
Several long seconds pass in a kind of standoff. I wonder if the piglets can hear the sound. Keeping one eye on the sow, less she make a break for it, I crouch, extending my fingers towards the piglets. Ignoring the sweat trickling down my back, I crouch in the nursery crate, barely daring to breath as I watch the piglets crowd against the back of the crate. One piglet, the smallest of the litter, stares straight into my eyes as it takes a tentative step towards me. It takes every ounce of my self-control to resist squealing as it slowly closes the gap between us and finally touches the tip of my outstretched fingers with its nose. My heart beats a crazy rhythm as I stretch just a little bit further, and lightly scratch the piglet behind its miniature ear. It’s tiny stub of a tail circles wildly as it leans into my touch. “It likes me!”
Luke’s jaw tightens. “It figures,” he mutters.
            Something about his expression as he studies my new friend causes the bottom to fall out of my stomach.
            “That’s the runt.”
            The word causes a red curtain to cloud my vision and my intestines to twist into a tight knot. I’m caught between the impulse to attack him, and to race from this room and never speak to him again. “It looks fine to me.”
            “These are only a few hours old.”
             “Why does its age matter?”
“It seems like, no matter how hard we try, a broken heart’s the only thing anyone gets when it comes to taking care of runts. They end up being a waste of time and effort.”
            I feel like someone has taken a rusty sword and used it to hack away at my heart, leaving it a bloody mess of damaged tissue. Just a few words, yet they reveal so much truth. My fingernails dig tiny crescents into my palms as I fist my hands to hide the way they shake as I force myself to look at Luke’s face.
            “A waste of time and effort?”
Luke watches the piglet tug at my shoelaces. “I know it sounds harsh,” he says, “but I’ve tried saving runts before, and it’s never ended …” His voice falter and dies as his grip on the metal bar tightens, and his eyes slide up the length of my body until they eventually meet mine.
            I cross my arms over my chest and glare at him. “Please,” my voice has never sounded so cold . “Go on.”
Luke shuffles his feet, and I can practically see the wheels turning in his head. “Grace, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that the way it sounded. I forgot about your size.”
            “You forgot? How you could forget? I’m standing right in front of you!”
            "I'm 4’4”.
            Luke tugs his ball cap off, runs his fingers through his thick hair, before settling the cap back on his head. “There’s something about you,” he says thoughtfully, “that in a weird kind of way reminds me of Etna.”
             “I remind you of Aunt Etna,” I squeak.
            “The two of you have so much personality it shadows everything else. Etna is like a slow moving storm cloud that blots out the sun for hours. You know, the kind that turns the air green and you just know the storm is going to rage for hours, shredding everything that crosses its path. You remind me off … moonlight.”
I bit my lip as curiosity mixed with fury and frustration. A heartbeat ago the only thing I wanted to focus on was my desire to murder Luke, but now … “continue.”
Embarrassed, Luke shrugged and reached over to scratch the sow behind her ear, the action causing the enormous pig shivered with ecstasy. “I don’t know,” he mutters, “I guess it has something to do with the fact that you’re not afraid to shine, but not with the blinding intensity of sunlight, that’s why I said moonlight. You’re cool and confident. I guess it’s easy to sometimes forget you’re a dwarf.”
Torn, I peer up at him through my lashes.
I want to make him squirm, he should have to pay for using that ugly word , but  he looks like he genuinely regrets his first words, and what he’d just said might be one of the sweetest things I’ve ever heard, being compared to moonlight is flattering, almost Shakespearean, though Luke lacked the bard’s styles, and I’ve never been vengeful.
“I suppose,” I carefully choose my words, “you just experienced this was one of those open mouth and insert foot kind of moments.”
            Luke’s mouth quirks into a small smile.
            “I've had a few moments like that,” I continue, “I guess you’re allowed to have one or two as well.” No sooner were the words out of my mouth when I start feeling the ragged edges of my soul starting to knit together.
            Luke studies my face.
“Thanks,” he finally says.
I tuck my hand into my skirt pocket and finger the touch worn coins, listening to them clang together, the sound catching the attention of the piglets. Moving in one giant glob of flesh, they skulk towards me with the same speed a knight would use when sidling up on a sleeping dragon. I lower myself into a crouch, the change in position causing the piglets eyes to widen, but they continue forward.
Holding my breath, I lightly scrape a fingernail across one thing back. The piglet’s chocolate chip eyes roll back in its skull as its entire body quivers and quakes in porcine ecstasy.  
“I never would have guessed that baby piglets would be so cute and cuddly.”
Luke’s hazel eyes meet mine. “I’m sorry Grace, I know you don’t want to hear this, but the odds aren’t in that piglet’s favor, you shouldn’t get attached, at least not until we know if it has any health problems besides being smaller than its mates.”
                Looking down at the piglet nestled on my lap, I can’t stop the memory of the hushed way my parent’s talk about the breathing issues I had as a baby, the couple of surgeries I’d had when I was younger, and the very real possibility I would need more work done in the future, something I wasn’t looking forward to. The last time I’d been in the hospital, I’d met another dwarf, a boy a couple of years younger than me, who’d already been through nearly twenty extensive surgeries. Considering how much work it took a team of really well trained medical professionals to keep us, just two dwarfs alive and healthy, Luke’s concern kind of made sense.
                But I don’t have to like it.
My phone vibrates, a text from Maggie about dinner, saves me from having to think of an response. “I have to go.”
“Uh, Grace.”                                       
            “Not now,” I tell him, “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”
            “Grace, you might want to ...”
I take a step, a single step and my skirt jerks tight around my ankles, yanking my feet out from under me, and I plummet, face first, towards the nursery crate floor. 


I barely get my hands out in front of me before landing on all fours which while humiliating, isn’t nearly as bad as face planting would have been.
            “Grace,” Luke voice is close, much closer than when he’d originally yelled.
I should move. I should sit up and assess the damage, but I’m afraid. I don't know which would be worse: looking and finding my hands and knees are fine, or finding they look as bad as they feel.
            “Grace,” Luke’s fingers brush along the length of my spine, “are you okay? Did you break anything?” He slips a hand under my face, tipping my chin until I’m staring directly into a pair of concerned hazel eyes.
“My skirt, I never trip over my ...” the words run dry in my throat as I glance at my legs.
My tennis shoes, considerably dirtier then they had been when I left the house are still on my feet, but the only thing between them and my low-ride, lime green bikini panties is a lot of pale bare skin. Too dismayed to register any embarrassment just yet, I glance up at Luke who looks about ready to explode with laughter.
            He points to the pigs who grunt and squeal as the use my skirt to play a lively game of tug-of-war. “The piglet you befriended was chewing on the bottom, and when you took a step it kind of snagged around your ankles, tripping you. As you fell, she spooked and ran, but didn’t let go and the skirt just kind of slipped off.”
I stare at my legs, silently taking in the pale skin, the angry red patches blooming on my knees, and the way each one formed a U shape.
             “At least I shaved my legs and put on clean underwear.”
            Luke slides bonelessly to the ground and howls with laughter.
It’s not easy to be dignified while missing half my clothes, but I give it my best shot. Holding my chin high, I climb to my feet and saunter over to where the piglets growl over my skirt.  Crouching, I twist my fingers in the material, giving it a tug and promptly learn they might be cute. They might be tiny. But piglets are also strong.This litter wasn’t even twenty-four hours old, but they hang onto my skirt with a tenacity of a junkyard dog. 
            “Let go.” I shake my skirt and one piglet lets go and backs off. The rest hold tight, a few even going so far as to glare up at me with mutinous expressions.
            I glance at Luke. “A little help would be appreciated.”
            Still doubled over with laughter, Luke reaches under the sow and scratches her belly. The sow heaves a huge sigh, grins, and falls to the ground with a thud. The entire nursery crate to shimmy and shake. The babies drop my skirt and charge her, their little tails wag as each one grabs a teat. I watch the feeding frenzy while covering my bowed legs with the battered remains of my skirt. Each time the littlest one gets close to hullabaloo, one of its siblings knocks it away.
            Luke follows my gaze. “If the sow lays down long enough, there's a chance your piglet can eat.”
I consider his words as I pull the remains of my skirt over my legs, securing the elastic band around my hips. I can't imagine a worse situation.
            “Your skirt is trashed.”                  
Trashed is an understatement. Even the poorest of medieval peasants would have been ashamed of it, they would have considered it a Badge of Shame. Entire hunks of the skirt had been torn away. There was dirt and God only knows what else ground into the fabric. It also looked an awful lot like the kind of thing I’d noticed featured in fashion magazines.
            I can’t get mad. Sure, my skirts ruined, but the piglets look so darned pleased with themselves. Their expressions are priceless. I didn’t think it was possible for hogs to look so happy.
            Crouching, I stroked one, running my fingers from the base of its skull all the way to the base of its little tail.
            “Aren’t pigs supposed to have curly tails, these have stumps, why,” I ask. “Is this a special breed of tailless pigs, like Manx cats?”
            “We dock all of the pig’s tails.” Luke says, “We do it as soon as they are born. We also notch their ears and castrate the males at the same time.”
Bile bubbled up in my throat. How could anybody even consider maiming such endearing, innocent creatures?
            Shoving his hands deep into his pockets, Luke blows out an exasperated sigh. “It might seem like it, but in the long run it is for the best. We use the notches in their ears to help up identify the pigs and keep accurate records. Castrating the males means they will grow a little better, and stops them from jumping everything in sight. Castrating while they’re young, causes them less stress than if we waited until they’re older. We dock the tails is because the long tails are a health hazard. Other pigs grab the tails and chew on them, this leads to infections and all sorts of other problems.  When we dock the tail, we can keep the wound clean  until the wound heals. The pigs don’t know they’ve lost anything. The tail heals quickly, far quicker than they would if the tail were bitten off when they are older. The pigs never know what they are missing.”
            I cup a hand around the pig closest to me, cradling it against my side. “But it has to hurt them.”  
            Luke shrugs. “Not really. It’s just a little pinch.”
            I didn’t have a ready answer. The idea of the pigs being maimed when they were so young seems wrong on so many levels, but Luke’s argument makes sense, and I couldn’t come up with a really good argument against it.
I rake a fingernail back and forth between the piglet’s shoulder blades, and grin as it shivers in ecstasy. Right now she’s happy. She isn’t worried about what everyone thinks about her, or how uncertain her future is. I wonder how much easier my own life could be if I could learn how to live in the same way, even if it was just for a moment.

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