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Life in the Tunnel

Jamie Redgate

The new kid freaked out when the pig did. I’d have felt sorrier for him if it wasn’t me who had to catch the damn thing. When I got it back to the pen I made him hold it steady and watch me fire the bolt. Right between the eyes, I told him. It’s better for them if you don’t fuck it up.

He said his name was Ted. The kid. The other lads are calling him Teddy Bear. I felt bad for him, after. I was like that when I started too. But the thing is they can tell when you’re nervous. The pigs. They can smell it. And when you’re nervous they get nervous, which makes them harder to stun. And if you don’t stun them right then they get really fucking nervous. If you don’t want the pigs to suffer you’ve got to do it quick.

I’m starting to regret helping him, because now he won’t stop asking questions. “How long have you worked here?” he says, as the hooks pull the stunned pig past him. “Too long,” I tell him. If there’s a lull in the next pigs coming down the tunnel you can hear the stunned ones get their throats cut through the door. “How many have you stunned?” he says, when the next one goes. Like I’m supposed to fucking know that.

The way he says sorry every time he pulls the trigger is starting to get on my tits.

We get breaks. The boss here, Mr Pearson, is a good one. Last year the big pig place up the road upgraded to killing with CO2, gas, where they put hundreds of pigs in the one chamber, a room, and pump the gas in. Most every place does it that way now. It’s cheaper because you don’t have to pay guys like me. And the CO2 means you’re put on the Society for Humane Slaughter’s list and your meat gets the green sticker, because suffocating them is cleaner than punching a hole through their heads, the pencil-lickers think, and you’d think it was, since there’s no blood when you open the doors and it looks like they’re sleeping. They scream so loud up there you can hear them down the valley. The pigs here don’t scream, not when you do it right. But we’re a dying breed, and off the list. Stunning, they decided, is worse than having their eyes and tongues acidify in the gas.

I am enjoying my lunch when Teddy finds me. I can tell from the way he’s wringing his hands what he’s going to say. I told God the same thing when I started. God’s real name is Ross or Ian something, but he wears glasses, big round glasses that make his eyes look like fish in a tank, and he always has a book with him on break, and so they call him God. God told me once that someone reported cruelty to animals to the cops at our address and when they arrived in their van and saw the sign they laughed at the prank.

When Teddy opens his mouth he says what everyone does.

“It’s legal,” I say.

“But if people knew.”

“People know.”

“Do they? Do they really?” He looks like he might vomit. I step back and crack my hip off the corner of the table. “All they know is words,” he says. I wince.

“Break’s over.” I’ve got two minutes to get back. The light has stopped working in the corridor and a pipe in the ceiling is leaking. All our shit is in bags on the floor. I drag my hip down the dark tunnel.

“Listen,” Teddy says, and I put my hand up to ward him off, but he grabs my shoulder and stops me. Then he says something I don’t expect.

“I’m a reporter, dude. I’m undercover. I’m supposed to write about the conditions here, but they won’t let anyone see inside unless they hire you. God, the look on their eyes before you hit them.”

I don’t know what to say. “You.” I look for the right word. “Idiot.”

When the trucks come in we can’t see them, but you can hear the sound of the ramps rattling open, the sound of the concrete and the feet. The pigs come through the tunnel to us one at a time, or they’d all freak. The first one I get is smart. The blood was washed off the floor over break, which is what usually bothers the last ones in the line, but this one can tell something’s up already. He tries to back away from me but God has shut the trap behind him.

“Sorry sorry sorry,” says Teddy in the pen to my left, as he shoves the gun to the head of his one and flinches from the punch. I grit my teeth. The guy who worked that pen before him used to get worked up when the pigs pushed back, like he was in a fight. (“You fucking like that? You fucking cunt.”) Or he’d flip the other way and laugh. I never decided what was harder to listen to.

The pig looks at me. It’s better to be first, I think, better to get it over with. As if he can hear me. As if he’d understand it if he could. I can feel Teddy watching so I do it right, and the pig isn’t scared anymore.

I wash the worst off in the sink. When I get to the gate God’s waiting for me. “My man,” he says. God says he’s saving up so he can visit his daughter who lives with his ex. He says first she stopped touching him, then his daughter did. The usual backstory. Without his glasses on God’s eyes look drowned.

The site at my back is quiet. All the pigs who came are gone. “What’s up?” I say.

“It’s Thursday,” he says.


“You know what comes after Thursday?”


“Every damn time.” He stands up from the wall and yawns. “That Teddy kid talk to you?” he says.


“Dumb kid.”


We walk for a while together. Trees line the road and hide the view. A bird arcs up from the earth.

“One of the drivers said a pig jumped off the truck on his way over,” God says.

“Smart pig.”

“You think the others aren’t?”

“They didn’t try to escape, did they?”

Two more guys have gone. One from one of the pens on my right, and the other from de-boning. The two new hires are worse. The fat one blew a pig’s ear off with the gun and the pig charged him.

“Man,” he says to me from the floor, with a laugh that sounds like he’s pissed himself. “How do you do this every day?”

“You don’t get paid if you don’t,” I say, picking his gun back up off the floor.

His hands are shaking. So his aim’s going to get even worse, I think. Then he takes a stubby little pen out of one pocket, a little girl’s spiral notebook out of the other. “But seriously though,” he says. “Can you tell me how, in as much detail as you can?”

My grip on the gun tightens. “What’s going on?”

Teddy is beside me, suddenly. His pig is waiting behind the bars, snuffling at concrete. “You’re not a reporter are you?” Teddy says.

The fat kid holds up his hands. “A novelist,” he says.

The thin new kid has joined us too. “Actually,” he says, trying to rub the blood off one glove with the other, “you won’t believe this.”

“You too?” says Teddy, his eyes like tight beads.

The thin one shrugs. “Short stories, mostly,” he says.

“What the fuck’s the hold up?” shouts God. His head is poking through the trap. The pigs are pressing against him, panicking, trying stupidly to get to us. When God clocks us he slams the trap door shut and storms down the tunnel. “Well?” he says, his breath catching up.

Teddy’s eyes are fixed on me. “What must you think of us,” he says. “When you have to do this for real?”

“Still on that are you?” says God. He slaps Teddy in the head, though not without affection. “I told you, kid. We’re supposed to be under fucking cover.”

It’s too much. I’m stunned. “You too?” I ask.

God smiles. A sad smile. “Sorry man. Uncover footage.” He taps his glasses. Then he gets a look on his face like he’s remembering something and puts his hand out to stop me. “But not of you,” he says.

A jet roars overhead and the pigs scream in fright and slam against the trapdoor. God sprints back up the tunnel to help, and with the trap back open the pigs follow the ramp where it takes them. The first one comes to me. It’s covered in shit. Its eyes look up at me. I put the gun between them and try to focus on what it feels like, to decide.

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Jamie Redgate grew up on the north edge of Scotland. He teaches English Literature at the University of Glasgow, where he is currently working on a second book tentatively titled Meatfiction: The Treatment of Animals in the Contemporary Novel. Jamie’s essays (on everything from Tolkien to tennis) have been published by Cambridge University Press, Electric Literature, Unwinnable, Extra Teeth, and elsewhere, while his fiction has been published twice by Gutter: The Magazine of New Scottish Writing, won third prize in the Imprint Writing Competition, and been chosen as the ‘Best of 2021’ by The Rush. In 2023 Jamie co-founded the Studies of Meat in the Arts and Culture (StOMAC) reading group at Glasgow.