I’M NOT AFRAID OF THE DARK
Patricia Feinberg Stoner
I’m not afraid of the dark. Out in the countryside on the dog’s last walk of the evening, the rustles, the squeaks, the sudden fox barks are familiar, and the friendly owl slips by on soundless wings. When I’m tired and the headache chases the words across the page till I can read no more, I switch off the lamp and the cool silk of the dark soothes my eyes.
No, I’m not afraid of the dark. I am afraid of the dim. A sullen 40-watt bulb in a shadowy room terrifies my imagination. Things lurk and creep in the dim.
Grandmamma squats in the dim.
As I drag forward on reluctant eight-year-old feet to kiss her bristly cheek, the Pekinese in the glass case leers at me, its eyes aglitter with malice. The Chinese figures on the wallpaper move – I swear they move – just beyond the corner of my eye. They are sharpening wicked swords that thirst for me. I know they will cut me into little pieces, stuff me into that hideous vase with its ugly colours and disturbing patterns.
The carpet is sticky with some nameless ooze, the velvet arm chair to which I am bidden is the colour of fresh blood; surely it will clap its arms around me, imprisoning me there, in that room, forever.
The room is cold. The fire is unlit, although in an excess of spite, as it seems to me, the electric coals mock me with their sullen gleam. The murk-shrouded mirror on the mantelpiece reflects the dismal scene as I sit to make conversation with Grandmamma, a rabbit before a snake.
Patricia Feinberg Stoner
I went to see Miss Fortescue today. Oh, I know she tells me to call her Evelyn, and I do, but I always think of her as Miss Fortescue, presiding over the Bunsen burners, kindly tolerant of my bumbling attempts to grasp the intricacies of chemistry. “Never mind, dear, you are a words person.” How often her own words cheered me up.
As I walk into the warm, welcoming room the first thing I must do, of course, is say hello to Panki-poo. The little bug-eyed creature has long departed this mortal coil, but she keeps him in his glass case, lovingly dusted, demanding of the homage she and he feel he deserves. The flickering light of the electric coals sparkle in his brown glass eyes, giving him an impish grin.
How Miss Fortescue loved all things oriental! It was never hard to distract her from the lesson, to tease from her some exciting tale of her days in the East.
Now, cosy in retirement, she sits surrounded by her chinoiserie – the thrillingly exotic characters on the wallpaper in their landscape of water meadows and distant mountains, the not-quite Ming vase, the oriental carpet, the stuffed Pekinese dog. She serves me china tea in fragile porcelain cups as I sink into the squashy embrace of her old red velvet armchair. The reflected scene sparkles in the gilt mirror as we settle down for a good gossip.