Bog Iron by Shane Larkin

We make stops on the way to our bog plot to look at the little skeletons. Dad tells me about them. Curlews and skylarks in dancing poses. Tiny skulls. 

He tells me about an old giant with tight metal skin, wild with pain. A nail above his ankle was struck and all fell loose, Dad says, and then the old giant was free. And his insides made the peat beneath our feet, and the rest of him made the hum in the air and the stench and all the colors. Dad tells me about old heroes and lots of people dying. Sometimes I can’t tell if it’s me he’s talking to.

“Don’t go near the bigger puddles, a ghrá,” he says. I push my head against his bum and he pets my hair. He smells like our house, like turf smoke and stone.

Other times he doesn’t talk at all. Looks at the ground or at nothing. Then he rights himself and rests his spade on his shoulder and smiles at me.

“I just need a while, petal. More than other people sometimes.”

He knows something is tilted, the same as I do. Where we live, the land and the world. He knows how to put it in words. Quetzal feathers between our toes. Ghosts of wattle and daub men rushing through the hot tap.

There’s a sort of itching. A sting. He fills up with it and it goes nowhere.

I don’t like it when the ground gets harder to see. It happens sometimes near the end. And the wind sounds like shouting and the ground is dark and I can taste it. And far ahead of me Dad’s skin is glinting and my arms are heavy with steel. Above his ankle is the nail that I must strike.

Shane Larkin is a writer from Meath, Ireland. His work has appeared in Splonk, No More Workhorse, Celtic Canada and elsewhere. In 2023, he has been shortlisted for the Welkin Writing Prize and longlisted for the Fish Publishing Flash Fiction Prize. Find him on Twitter @ShaneJLarkin.

Swamp Scene (1885) painting in high
Swamp Scene (1885) by Joseph Rusling Meeker.
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