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Space to Think, a new book celebrating ten years of the Dublin Review of Books More Information 

Valley of the Peacock Angel

Martin Malone
New Island

 Unwilling to face into the biting cold, he had delayed in bed until he could no longer tolerate his mother's shrill voice. There was a certain sharpness to it that he would not dare to bring her beyond, and now she was close to the summit of her temper. He dressed in a hurry and called out to let her know that he was coming. She called him the laziest of boys and his sister said he was a lizard-face for disturbing the quiet in the home. His grandmother smiled. She was deaf, and he thought she enjoyed being that way so she could hear nothing of the shouts and threats or any of his father's loud snoring. Mother said he liked to snore because he knew it upset her and kept her awake. He hadn't always snored: it started when he put on the belly and began to drink too much arrack. 'The Stupid Man' she called him, but not in a bad way. Well, he thought, at least not when her mother-in-law was around.

 An imperceptible breeze slipped off the flanks of the snow-covered Zagros mountains, the foothills of  which tapered to merge with the town's cemetery road. He rode the bay mule his brother would take back down the mountain. Wickerwork panniers carried kindling to light the evening fire, logs, lumps of charcoal, a sharpened machete, fresh pita bread, beans, tea leaves, sugar, and some toffee sweets given to him by his grandmother. He was 15. Kurdish. Dark-haired, green-eyed, thin and short for his age. Cotkar Amedi, called after an uncle on his mother’s side whom he had never seen, who lived only in photographs and the occasional spoken memory. He had more of a likeness to his father's twin, Salar, who lived across the border in Iran, in Marivan village.

Other than to complain about his late arrival, his brother had little to say. After spending two nights with the herd in the mountains Memu was usually gruff and silent, anxious to be on his way. But Cotkar had questions he needed to ask. Had he seen any wolves or wild dogs? Had any of the goats been taken? Had he come across any more corpses of deserters from the Iraqi army? Last month Memu had stumbled upon the remains of three young men in a ravine; all of them had been shot in the back of the head. They'd been buried in shallow graves and pulled from them by either wolves or wild dogs. Out of begrudging respect for their souls and the bad luck it might bring if he had just left them there to rot, Memu swung a pick­axe to the ground…