Thursday, 14 May 2015

A Fin in a Puddle

Virginia Woolf and I share a fear: that we were once terrified of crossing puddles. I'm not sure if hers had a cause, but mine was definitely connected to Spielberg's Jaws. A fin could easily lurk and surface from any body of water, and that included puddles made by rainwater on sloped uneven pavements. Some puddles could conceivably be an entry to the sea as their depths were unknown; a flat grey-brown like the skin on hot cocoa which even when pinched off with nimble fingers would still leave an opaque brown liquid. A sometimes smooth, a sometimes gritty chocolate that if your foot splashed in it might never come back out.
Other children were mindful of cracks in the pavement, sidestepping them like scuttling crabs, and watching the slabs they trod on; teetering on the edge of a raised one as if it were a cliff face they were on the point of falling over, or imagining that it was going to suddenly tip and slide them into an underground lair like an Indiana Jones adventure.
Girls, as a rule, tend to be more superstitious. Stepping on a crack, walking under a ladder, seeing a black cat is a bad omen. A witch might appear and shower curses upon you, or an ogre might climb down a tree, wedge you under his arm and carry you back up it. The real world and the land of fairy tales converging.
But of course, my chief fears, compared to my peers, were different. I didn't understand the pavement crack-thing although I repeatedly tried it. I couldn't imagine how the ground beneath me could open or how standing on a fissure could bring me harm, yet with adult eyes I can now visualise this happening. Sink holes prove that my peers' fears back then were justified.
Shadows and unseen phenomena are my puppet masters. Notice I use the present tense, because although my childhood is in the receding past, residuals of these fears persist; linger on the muted fringes. The adult shape blurs with the child, so that my movements may at times appear jerky or statuesque: my strings quickly pulled or held taut so that I hang in a struck pose. Neither choppiness or frozenness are desirable at any age as both interfere with decisive action. Fear of the unknown is my tormentor. I believe too firmly in what I cannot see.
My outward eyes fail to guide my inward ones and my ears are as alert as a faithful dog's. I tense, I jump, my arms get goosebumps, I shiver...unable to escape the sure feeling I'm being policed by shady figures or pursued by mythical beasts. I open the blind partially at night to shed dim light on my sleeping quarters; the pitch black will not envelop me or the furniture while I slumber. And yet I like walking in the pre-dawn dark, hearing the birds angelic cries and watching the skies changing. It's an insanity particular to humans and one which is strangely comforting: I feel perfectly safe in this pre-bustle, just-getting-light stillness where literally anything could happen. A fox might wander into my path; song birds might shake the leaves and branches on the trees; a jogger or a woman waiting for a bus might unintentionally startle me. I fear shadows in places where they shouldn't be but am at peace with them where they are. Inside, you're contained; outside, you can stroll or run.
Except this bizarre logic doesn't work when it comes to howling winds and rushing water. These elements are expert hunters; tracking you down with low moans and piercing whistles, or drowning your ears with relentless pattering and whooshing noises. Separately or collectively, neither can be trusted as even on good days their mood is changeable. A tantrum is like that of a frustrated three-year old who's been denied something he or she very much wants: a bag of sweets, a new toy. Their pounding fists and kicking feet release wiggling-jiggling eels from a gigantic sack of mushroom clouds, whilst from the ground sinister grey circling fins emerge from unfathomable muddy puddles.

Picture Credit: Three Worlds, M C Escher