Ducks, Chickens and Fear
One of my earliest memories is of the ducks. We had three ducks. I was too young to name them, but I remember them. Three Muscovy ducks that followed Mama around the yard, especially when she was gardening. Mama loved to garden.
Sometimes Dada would watch from the porch, laughing at her efforts to bring a thing of beauty into that wasteland. Mama ignored him. When I was older, say six or so, she would enlist my help getting me to saw off branches or to carry the water bucket, the water splashing against my legs as I waddled behind her like the ducks did when I was younger.
I remember the eggs. The piles of duck eggs and the cakes Mama made from them. Large chocolate cakes and we still had plenty of eggs left over to see. Mama wrote a sign at the side of the road. ‘Duck eggs cheep’. She laughed at that sign.
Years later, I found the sign in the shed. I was older then. I finally understood her joke. Cheep. Mama tried to find humor in a lot of things. Especially then when I was younger, when she was younger too I guess.
Then I heard yelling and I never saw the ducks again. I never did discover what happened to them but I missed them. I missed their funny walk. I missed them following after me and mum. I missed the eggs and chocolate cakes.
When I was five or so we got a clutch of young chicks so Mama could have chicken eggs.
‘Not as good as duck eggs, mind,’ Mama said to me as we watch the chicks tumble over egg other in the old shoe box with the holes punched in the lid. ‘Duck eggs are the best for cakes, still eggs will be good for you, help you grow big and strong. And we can sell the spare eggs like we did the duck eggs. Do you remember that?’
I nodded that I did, but I really wasn’t sure. Not until I found that old sign and then I remembered, or I created the belief that I remembered. It’s hard to know which, isn’t it?
‘How many chick eggs?’ I asked. I think I was beset with numbers then. I remember I was counting everything. Ants at the kitchen sink, the yips of the fox at night, the kookaburras and galahs in the trees. I counted everything.
‘We should get a lot of eggs from this batch. Plenty for us and plenty to sell for some extra cash, so long as we keep the exact number from Dada.’
Already we were conspirators. I understood the rules. Anything Dada could take, he would. Anything he could sell, he would and then we’d hear him staggering back from the damn cesspit of a pub, as Mama was fond of saying to me, the two of us sitting at the kitchen table listening to his loud approach.
We were wrong about the eggs though. All the chicks turned out to be roosters, not an egg layer among the lot of them. As soon as dad understood he grabbed his long knife that lived on the mantle above the stove and slit the heads right off each and every rooster. We ate chick stew (well, rooster stew I guess it was) for all that week.
I remember watching dad eat whole hunks of the meat, sucking the marrow from the bones as if he hadn’t eaten in months. He had. Dada always ate, even if Mama and I sometimes didn’t. Mama would say there was no filling the gaping hole that was Dada’s stomach.
‘The more he eats the more he needs, he feeds his hunger and his hunger grows.’
‘My hunger is growing too Mama,’ I said.
‘Yours is a proper hunger, son, not the bushfire need that is your Dada’s. He will never be sated, just as the fire is not sated, no matter how many trees is devours.’
‘Because what your dad needs food cannot give him.’
‘What’s Dada need, Mama?’
‘What doesn’t he need. Peace. Forgiveness. Me to love him.’
‘You don’t love Dada?’
‘He never gave me the chance too, Brith.’
‘He scares me, Mama.’
‘He scares everyone.’
Dada scared me so much sometimes I would lie in my bed at night and just listen, listen for his footsteps, knowing he was, at any moment going to burst into my room and do something terrible. I never knew what that terrible thing was, not then, not when I was still young, not before the public hair had started to sprout, damning me because my Dada was already damned and damnation shared, as he liked to tell me, is damnation made bearable… or almost so.
Sometimes I got so scared I wet the bed. Wet it ‘cos I was too scared to get out of it and go out to piss in the yard like Dada did whenever he need to empty his bladder. I remember once Dada seeing my thingy and saying he might cut if off for sport and so I was always scared when he was about. If he was snoring I could get out of bed and piss but when his snore wasn’t to be heard, or worse, when he was banging around the house in his boots (did he ever take them boots off? I asked Mama once and she said, ‘When he’s in the mood that bring me pain, then yes, the boots come off, but only then, then and the once or twice a year when he bathes.’)
I’d lie in the bed and start to rock back and forth, back and forth, my hands clenching into fists, my legs taut as if my muscles could stem the flood.
‘Please go away, piss,’ I’d whisper to the night and even as I whispered the need grew and grew. I’d weep as I rocked in the bed, wide-awake but unable to rise. I knew Dada was up and I feared that knife I’d seen him slice the heads off the rosters with. I had no don’t he’d take my thingy off quick and a flash if I pissed at night and he caught me in the yard.
So I stayed in my bed and then the moment came, the dreaded bursting of the damn, the moment my muscles and tears and whispered words could do no more and then, then the letting good and the feeling of the piss running down my legs, my bum getting wet as the piss seeped beneath, the smell of piss at night as I lay in my bed wetting it because I was too scared to rise, wishing Dada was snoring, whishing the piss would simply vanish, wishing I wasn’t so terrified and sometimes even wondering what it might be like to just let him cut my thingy off ‘cos maybe that would mean I wouldn’t need top piss anymore and so my bed would always be dry, dry and warm like I liked it.
The pissing got so bad I ended up with scabby skin on my thighs around my ball sack and just below. Horrible almost scaly skin as if the around between my legs was turning into some kind of fish.
Sometimes Mama would get the goanna ointment out and give me a dab on my finger, only a small dab, and only sometimes,
‘Cos the goanna must last us a lifetime. I had this one tin on me when your Dada grabbed me and its all I’ve got that’s good and nice, all but you and the flowers that sometimes manage to survive.’
I’d take the dab and go into my room and drop my shorts and rub the goanna stuff onto the scaly skin, thinking it felt now like a reptile’s skin rather than that of a fish but at least the stinging was gone, as long as I remembered not to stretch my legs out to far, then nothing helped but that I must cry and rock myself back and forth as if there was a spot somewhere in the world where I would not hurt if only I could find it.
‘Why do you wet the bed, son?’ Mama would often ask me as she pulled the sheets off the bed and then, with my shamed-faced help, dragged the mattress out into the sun so that another dirty yellow ring would be added to the many others from bed-wettings past.
I never told her about the fear, about Dada’s threat and the way I would hear him some night and think maybe he was just waiting for me to rise and piss so he could slice my thingy off. Instead I lied.
‘I can’t help it Mama, I don’t wake to the need sleepin’ and dreamin’ until it’s too late and the bed is wet, and I’m wet and the puddle is spreadin’ and then I just wait ‘til morning to get up and have you fix it all again. I’m sorry Mama, I know the work it causes and please, Mama, don’t tell Dada.’
‘I never would, son, I never would. And don’t fret about the work, there is worse things your Dada’s made me do than this, so I’ll take your sheets and the wet mattress any day of his demands but think on this Brith. When you sleep, or before you do, just before, think of yourself waking and when the moment comes I am sure you will.’
It never worked of course, her strategy, how could it, when I was already awake, rocking to and fro like the bubble on a toad’s throat. I never told her it didn’t work ‘cos it couldn’t and she never mentioned the failure also, just every now and then she’d tell em to try the waking just before falling asleep.
Some nights when the mattress and sheets and pajamas were wet and it was cold as ice and I’d be chittering my teeth I would lie there waiting for the sun to come up and warmth to return to the world again, sometimes I’d fall at such chilly times I’d manage to fall asleep and when I did I would dream… I would dream of ducks and ponds and eggs falling from the skies and cracking upon the earth until the world was golden under the yolk of their eggs.