Fear comes to me in the form of unexpected loud noises, sudden raised voices, a series of inexplicable sirens in the street outside my house, one after the other, as if they’re rushing to a crisis not far away.
Fear comes at the sight on blood on a small child’s lip after a fall, or the loud wail, again of a small child, who has fallen from a height. Fear comes from the gush of blood that spurted from my daughter’s foot thirty years ago after she had caught it in the spokes of an exercise bike. A severed artery, I imagined, not knowing where significant arteries exist on the body.
Fear comes in not knowing how to make sense of events happening around me as in the secrecy that surrounded the analytic training. We were not to discuss it. Certainly not with our teachers.
Fear comes on days when the temperature climbs steadily and beyond forty degrees centigrade under a cruel and relentless sun. Contrariwise, when the wind picks up on bleak days and the branches on the pin oak in our garden are about to shear off and fall onto the roof.
Fear is my father. The sound of his footfall in the hallway at 6.00 pm, end of his workday and we children scurrying from the lounge room away from the lure of the television to respective bedrooms where we might be safe.
In my dream the other night, a lion took my hand into its mouth and gripped on tight. I could feel the point of its teeth against my flesh, but it did not bite.
Another lion dream and I have many. Lions and wild cats in my dreams, threatening to break in, to break skin, to terrify and destroy. Mrs Milanova said the lion was a part of me, signifying hunger in some instances, rage in others, and always a desperation that spoke of untold terrors, as much of myself as of others.
Do unto others, as you would have them do to you…Turn the other cheek…Love thy neighbour… Biblical injunctions writ large in my memory as statements without qualification. Even when I first heard them as a small child I resisted their lure.
Fear comes in the form of getting caught.
My mother bought groceries from Mr Broekhoff’s store on the corner of Wentworth Avenue and Canterbury Road. Two houses down from us. It was a wide-open store from memory, with wooden floors and in every corner, sacks of sugar, grain, rice, and dried beans, which he sold by weight in brown paper bags. This, before biscuits were contained in bright coloured wrappers, though these came later and Mr Brockhoff lined them on shelves behind his head along with fly spray in squirt cans, corned beef and baked beans. Tinned beans and peas.
The corned beef came in round edged tins with a key attached two thirds up. My mother turned the key to one side and the tin came away to reveal a slab of cooked pink meat, without any blood or skin. Bits of orange/yellow jelly flecked its sides, and we ate it sliced on white bread for picnic lunches when my mother could afford.
Mr Brockhoff sold Arnott’s biscuits, sweet and dry/savoury, from tins the height of upright shoe boxes but wider. This was the cheapest way. Biscuits by the pound. Even cheaper to buy the broken ones, which my mother bought for us kids, but for visitors she insisted on the unbroken biscuits, which she arranged on plates to accompany the endless cups of tea she offered my aunts and uncles on Sundays when they rocked up to our house with their several children.
My mother’s face glowed with pleasure. My father, sober by then and unable to get any more alcohol when nothing stayed open on Sundays, except for milk bars which stocked only necessities. Lollies, cigarettes, milk, and bread. My father tried to join in but conversation was not his happy place, unlike my mother who might as well have been back in Holland. Her joy transparent.
After our visitors left and the six o’clock news came onto the television, my father soaked in tea and a hangover, sat silent and surly in the corner. I took my spot behind the single lounge chair that flanked a side wall near the door and hid there out of view to watch television through the gap between chair and wall.
From time to time during advertisement breaks I snuck into the kitchen and lifted a stash of biscuits from its brown paper bag. On good days there were double deckers: Monte Carlos, custard creams, and orange slice. Two for the joy of one. And I piled them into my pockets unseen, then slid behind my chair as the television droned on into the Sunday evening movie. No one noticed me and my hoard of sweetness, which I nibbled biscuit after biscuit.
‘They’re for visitors,’ my mother said whenever we pleaded with her to open one of the biscuit packets she had bought from Mr Brockhoff. On a whim because they signified opulence and luxury, something she longed for. The war had made people hungry, she told me. For sweets, for butter and sugar.
To compensate, my mother taught us to make butter biscuits. A simple affair of flour, and sugar in equal quantifies and half a stick of butter. You mixed the flour and sugar together in a bowl, made a well in the centre, then poured in the butter melted in a pot over the stove. I loved to watch the gold river catch at the sides of flour with its silver glint of sugar grains, and then force the lot together with her hands. Dexterous as the ratio of butter to dry called for vigour.
When it was well mixed she formed small balls in her hands, the size of golf balls then flattened them on a well-greased tray with a fork indentation in the middle for decoration. Then she baked them in a moderate oven. When cooled the biscuits were crisp and brittle. Strangely delicious given their basic composition.
This is the stuff of childhood. How easily satisfied with foods that contain little by way of taste and complexity beyond the sweet or salty. To this end, I mixed cocoa powder with white sugar in the bottom of a cup and stirred them together then sat in another secret corner, this time in the kitchen or my bedroom, spooning cocoa sugar into my mouth. This in the days when no one had told me how sugar ate at the enamel on your teeth and caused decay.
I ate my cocoa sugar with impunity, the way a small child might dip into a pot of honey and eat it with a spoon. Sweet and simple, an antidote to fear.