Wilbur the pig was unhappy. In the two short months that he had been alive, Wilbur was certain he experienced the peaks and valleys of happiness and despair. When he was but a runt, he was free to prance about, but now that he was under the care of Farmer Zuckerman he was confined to a simple pig pen.
His first owner, Fern, visited less often since school had started. He would not be so lonely if he had a friend, but none of the animals on the farm talked to him. They knew that Wilbur was a spring pig, and would be gone by winter.
So Wilbur plopped down in his manure pile. “Why won’t anyone be my friend?” Wilbur cried. “Why is my life so miserable?”
A thin voice responded: “There is not love of life without despair about life.”
Wilbur looked up to find the voice, perhaps in the corner of doorway where spiderwebs formed. But there was no one there.
“Up here,” said the voice.
Wilbur’s gaze went up more, to the top of the barn. In the hayloft sat a small man in a rumpled suit. A cigarette dangled impossibly from the corner of his mouth. “Je suis Camus. And you could learn a thing or two about misery from me.”
“I don’t want to be miserable,” sniffled Wilbur. He looked up at the Frenchman and asked, “Will you be my friend?”
But Camus did not respond. He did that thing where he pretended like he didn’t hear Wilbur, shuffled in his jacket for another cigarette even though he was clearly still smoking the one from before, and left the barn in a puff of smoke.
Days passed, as they usually do. Wilbur grew bigger to the joy of Farmer Zuckerman, for Wilbur would make a wonderful Christmas ham once he was fully grown. The animals were all gathered in the barn one night, discussing the plight of Wilbur.
“They’re going to kill him by the end of the year,” exclaimed the horse. “For a holiday ham!”
“It’s absolutely-lutely-lutely dreadful!” cried the gander.
“There must be something we can do for him,” said the sheep.
In the doorway stood Camus, pensive and smoking a cigarette. Like always.
“Knowing that certain nights whose sweetness lingers will keep returning to the earth and sea after we are gone, yes, this helps us to die.”
There was an awkward pause amongst the animals.
“What?” cried Wilbur, who had been standing there the whole time. Right in front of Camus.
“Since we’re all going to die, it’s obvious that when and how don’t matter.”
“It certainly matters to me!” said Wilbur.
The hens gossiped amongst themselves. “Man, this Camus guy is kind of a dick.”
“What if we convinced Farmer Zuckerman not to kill him?” asked the sheep.
“Yeah!” said a mouse. “We could try and relay a message that Wilbur is incredible, wonderful, stupendous! Anything but a normal pig.”
Camus stubbed out his cigarette on the timbers that made up the door frame. “Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal”
“We don’t want Wilbur to be a normal pig,” creaked a cricket.
“Normal pigs get eaten,” explained the sheep.
Camus stubbed his cigarette out and spat on the ground, narrowly missing a cricket. “Ce’st le vie”
Autumn came and went along with the state fair. Wilbur was entered into a contest for Best Pig and won first prize. This forced Farmer Zuckerman to admit that Wilbur was some pig.
The animals rejoiced, and Templeton the rat rejoiced perhaps a bit too much. When he returned from the state fair he had ballooned to the size of a volleyball.
“You know Templeton, you’d probably live longer if you didn’t eat so much,” said the sheep.
Templeton was about to respond in a snide manner when Camus showed up and stole his thunder. “Templeton is the absurd hero. He is, as much through his passions as through his torture.”
“Absurd hero?” asked Wilbur. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing.”
“Scorn of the gods?” the sheep was not convinced.
“It’s something I’m working on,” said Camus. “Templeton is an example of Sisyphus, the god who was condemned to push a boulder up a hill for eternity.”
“Are you sure he’s not the boulder?” asked the sheep. The sheep and Wilbur had a good laugh about that one while Camus and Templeton shared a cigarette and talked about death.
One day Camus left. He left as abruptly as he had appeared. And on the ground, littering the barn floor, were piles of cigarette butts. Arranged in a pattern, they spelled out one final message from the Frenchman:
THE WORLD IS WHAT IT IS,
WHICH IS TO SAY, NOTHING MUCH.
None of the animals could read and many were quite upset that the mysterious Frenchman had left such a mess before he left. No one cared that he left except for Templeton the rat. Templeton waddled about the farm looking for his only friend.
“Hey Wilbur, have you seen Camus?” Templeton asked.
“No, but he might be behind you,” the fat pig chuckled. “You’ve grown so fat this winter that I can’t see around you!”
“Look who’s talking,” muttered Templeton.
“Excuse me?” Wilbur stomped over to Templeton. “What did you say to me?”
“Nothing,” squeaked Templeton as he scurried away.
And so the barn yard animals lived out their days in bliss. Though they had saved Wilbur from slaughter, they forgot about death and its finality for the time being.
But Templeton knew. He knew life was short, and his shorter (for he was a rat and all). Before Camus left, they would spend the days talking about life and all of its wonders while the nights were spent dissecting the dark and how it frightened them both. So Templeton persevered, alone.
Templeton died today. Or maybe yesterday, I can’t be sure.