I used to be braver. It’s hard to imagine that as I sit here, arms wrapped around myself, eyes flicking from the window to the door and back again. There was a time when my life was lived in oblivion. But that was so long ago, and now I can only imagine what it was like not to spend half your life, and all of your days, in fear of the dark.
Growing up in a large family, there wasn’t much time to be scared of anything. As children, we were like a wolf pack, always running together and encouraging each other on to more daring feats. There was strength in the pack, and I was one of the mob. As long as we were home before dark, our parents didn’t concern themselves too much with what we were up to.
But then everything changed. A freak accident at the colliery took our father away. Mother couldn’t cope with all of us, and the eldest were farmed out to relatives. The youngest three, including me, stayed with her. There was no more running wild. We had to stay close to home and help out with chores.
It was a big change. I missed my older siblings but you adapt quickly as a child. Then one of our uncles came to stay. He was my father’s younger brother and very different in temperament. Where my father liked to drink and have a laugh, Uncle George was sobriety and seriousness. He told us we were wild and unkempt, and that we had to learn our letters. Each night he would make us sit near the fire after the dishes were done, and he’d bring out his bible.
After chiding our mother for not taking us to church on a regular basis, Uncle George started off with the psalms. We were spellbound. He was a good reader and before long he had captured our imagination with his lilting accent and soft tone. The three of us would sit together, leaning into each other for warmth, enraptured by the words. It offered a vision of a different kind of life where virtuous acts were rewarded and no good deed went unnoticed by a benevolent God.
But then he moved onto other passages. Darker scripts filled with bloodshed and tales of vengeance. I once heard my mother question his selection of readings and he turned on her with a face full of fury, warning her about our heathen souls and her inadequacy as a parent. She said nothing more after that, just closed her face and let him read what he wanted.
I began to dread the end of the day, especially in winter when the nights stretched further still. Uncle George seemed to relish in finding passages full of tortured souls and ungrateful children who failed to heed the wisdom of their elders. We no longer huddled together for warmth. We held on tight to our shaking bodies, eyes blank with horrified imaginings of the word pictures that he painted on our souls, night after night.
Inspired by a writing group prompt: “I wasn’t always afraid of the dark.”