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James Claffey

"Sheep’s Skull"


          The Old Man hates foreign holidays and remarks about the purity and beauty of Ireland’s coastline. “Sure, what business would we have to travel to Brighton or Blackpool? They’re third-rate towns with bad food and rude people. You get a better class of person in the Irish countryside.” The debate is closed before it begins; Mam discards the catalogs from Thomas Cook with the chicken scraps from dinner.

          The morning sun shatters on the brilliant blue waves of the Atlantic Ocean as I make my way through the fields behind the cottage we’re renting for a fortnight in Mullaghmore. Two rabbits bounce across the field, white tails darting in and out of the long grass. At the bottom of the field a stream flows cold down to the estuary where I’ll go bird watching later with my RSPB Book of Birds and the Old Man’s Zeiss Binoculars.

          The rusted gate is chained shut, so I clamber over it and go to the stream’s edge. In the weeds, buried in a clump of buttercups, a skull rests. The white bone is covered with greenish moss and the loose teeth rattle about when I pick it up, insecure in their sockets. Some of the skull is broken and shards of bone stick out, and I’m sure it’d make a great weapon if I was attacked by a mad bull with big horns. Maybe it’s a badger’s skull, or a fox? When I run my fingers over the teeth they’re dull and pitted in places. I hop onto a rock in the middle of the narrow stream and hold the skull up to the sky.

          “Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him well,” I say. Above me, the evening star is visible in the windless morning sky, and one cloud hangs silent in the blue. Back through the field I travel, all business, the skull secured in the crook of my arm like a rugby ball.