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I wrote this on the back of a writing exercise prompt in my writing group this week. The prompt was to take a line from a poem and go from there. So I picked a poetry book I’d never read and found a wonderful line from the Romanian poet Ileana Malancioiu‘s collection After the Rising of Lazarus. The line I chose was: ‘He dawdles across the long empty’ from her poem ‘The Call Has Been Answered’, and was surprised and delighted by the end result. I hope you enjoy it!

Bog painting

Hunchback of the Bog

He dawdles across the long empty moor. Reeds crack against his wellingtons, their strength no match for the rubber. The air is sweet with peat, laid out in shoulders of brick rows. Coats of purple are draped across the scrubland. Sheep pull at the ground, their teeth chewing emerald chunks with satisfied teeth. The lambs are gone. The best left to grow and breed. The worst to someone’s dinner plate. Death doesn’t bother him, especially not for animals as he views them as weak things that require care and fodder. Now his day of work is done there is no need to rush, and he looks over the land with a pride that tugs at his buttons.

At the horizon the sun sinks, its ochre rays turning the ground shiny like frost. It is his favourite time of day, the time when the world prepares for night; its creatures in wait for their shield of dark. From a tree an owl hoots. Its eyes wide as Christmas baubles cocooned in feathers slick with drizzle. He remembers climbing the tree as a boy, its slender branches so accommodating they bounced when touched. It was a tree that needed company, if such a thing existed. He spent long summers in its caresses surveying his father’s land, one day to be his, with hungry eyes. Back then he was the owl. It just happened his desire wasn’t mice.

The day his father died the tree burnt. It was a lightning bolt that lashed through the sky, its electric talons ripping limbs from body. He saw the smoke from the window of his father’s room. It danced in the air with a wicked victory, and left his tree a wizened stump the colour of tar. Despite the damage a shoot appeared and now it stood, a tree upon a tree; his hunchback in the bog.

‘Are you lonesome tonight?’ chimes in his head. It was a tune his father played before they fell to their knees to pray. Years of this routine meant he couldn’t sleep without hearing it. Although loneliness was a fool’s luxury in his opinion. A waste of good time thinking about what you don’t have. All he needs to do is venture outside to put an end to any sorrowful thinking. The world is his companion, nature his bedfellow.

At a fence his neighbour waves. A woman so round, a push down a hill would keep her occupied for an hour climbing back up. He lifts his hat and misses the blush that taints her cheeks. Then he walks on, the sky as red as the mark on his sheep’s backs, the reeds in a crackle at his feet.