Sisters in the Dark
Chapter 2 – Darkness
The farmhouse of my childhood was always very dark with a darkness that was more than just physical. Set back under the poplar trees, the house was well shaded. On the long, dark winter nights, the only light was from glass based coal oil lamps with chimneys. When the chimneys got too blackened with soot, mom wiped them out with old newspapers from the two weekly farm papers Dad subscribed to: the Western Producer and the Free Press.
The walls were calcimined, but darkened from cigarette smoke. The floors were dark hard wood. In the centre of the main room, a trap door could be opened to go into the cellar where mom kept jars and jars of preserved fruit and potatoes and other vegetables She picked saskatoons by the pail full from along the fence line, and when the travelling fruit men came by bringing pears, peaches, plums and apricots from BC, she bought boxes of fruit that she preserved in two quart jars.
The air in the house was always blue with tobacco smoke. Both mom and dad were heavy smokers. He had a false upper plate, and boasted that his teeth looked real because they were so stained by the smoke.
By the stove, there was a can where they put the cigarette butts. When they ran out of tobacco, they ripped up the butts and re-rolled the tobacco. Mom often chain smoked lighting a new cigarette from the end of the nearly dead one.
The darkness was a scary darkness, with unseen things watching you. I was always afraid of what I might see.
In the bedroom, a large dresser sat between two double beds on either end of the room. There was a south facing window at the side of one bed, and a north facing one at the side of the other. The dresser had once belonged to my Aunt Annette, who died in 1939, and was of excellent workmanship, hard wood, with drawers that had dove tailed corners. The front of the top drawer had an ornate pattern in yellow wood. The knobs were of yellow glass.
At the foot of each bed, four inch nails had been pounded into the two by fours to hang clothes.
I was three years old.
Mom washed me up at bedtime. The water in the basin had been warmed up in a big kettle on top of the wood stove. She lathered a wash cloth thoroughly, then wiped down my arms, face and hands. As she did this evening ritual, she told fairy tales…. The Little Lame Prince with his magic carpet, Cinderella, the Three Billy Goats Gruff- mom knew all of them.
After that I knelt beside mom at the side of the bed, and copied her as she made the sign of the cross- In the name of the Father, Son, holy Ghost, Amen.
“Our Father, which art in heaven
Hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come
They will be done on earth s it is in heaven
Give us this day out daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us
Lead us not into temptation
But deliver us form evil
Hail Mary, full of grace
Hallowed be thy name
Blessed art thou amongst women
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb
Holy Mary, mother of God
Pray for us sinners
Now and at the hour of our death
I didn’t know what trespasses meant, or the strange word – intutem tation but I obediently said the words, hands folded in front of my chest.
We made the sign of the cross again at the end and I climbed into bed.
Tucked under the feather tick, I lay in the dark, with the muted sound of the radio playing in the next room. I dared not let my arm drape down over the side of the bed. Monsters lurked in that dark depth beneath the bed – gangos with their hairless, leathery dark gray skins, long limbs, large mouths with sharp teeth and big eyes, and mineos, fluffy creatures covered with thick dense fur, small sharp noses, and bleary eyes. I could see them in my mind. Gangos were the worst. The mineos were blind so not as dangerous. There were also smelly boxes under the bed, half ripped up cardboard boxes, and boxes of ashes mom used for cat litter that left a film of dust on the floor.
As I lay there under the feather tick, I told myself stories to go to sleep. I called them Think Thinks. One of the earliest from pre school days was about an old metal toy truck with the paint worn off and no wheels that had belonged to Neil. I became fond of that truck and named it Trucky Truck. I imagined stories of him in an accident and went through all the details of the life saving surgeries.
Once everyone was in bed, the entire house was plunged into deep, thick darkness. The only light was from the numbers on the face of the alarm clock on the dresser by Dad’s bed, and the lighter squares of the windows. I could feel things unseen things watching me from the dense dark.
The attic was another dark, scary, forbidding place with horrible monsters in the recesses under the eves and towards the back. There were also bats up there, but those were not frightening. To get into the attic, you went up a ladder leaning against the back of the house and through a trap door. Mom stored old stuff there – books, old clothes, broken furniture – that she didn’t want to throw away, so it was a place of mystery.
The darkness outside was different. It was comforting and peaceful. There were no monsters outside.
In the dimly lit barn I sat in the sweet smelling hay at the head of the cows’ stall, the cows on either side contentedly munching. The only light was from a coal oil lantern hung on a nail midway down the central aisle that threw a warm, golden light.
I could hear the rythemnic sound of the milk squirting into the milk pail as Dad milked the cows. At length, chores finished, he reached up to unhook the lantern and walked to the door. He left, and the barn was instantly plunged into pitch darkness. I stayed where I was, and soon I could make out the lighter black rectangle of the window set in the door of the barn.
The darkness in the barn felt safe and welcoming and quiet. I sat there a long time before finally I heard Mom calling for me.
The house was seldom quiet. There was Mom’s endless raving complaints. And Dad listened to the radio from the time he came in from the chores and finished work until he went to bed, often with the farm papers on the table in front of him. The radio sat in its special place on top of the china cabinet, a large wooden radio powered by a six volt battery that had to be recharged every year. I fell asleep to the sound of that radio.
There was another darkness, more dense than any physical darkness. It was the darkness of some evil presence that made the house a place of terror by night. It was indefinable, unnatural, able to raise goose bumps on your flesh and make the hairs stand up at the back of your neck.. No one had ever died in that house, yet that darkness was always there. Right up until the house was finally demolished in 2012 that dark presence remained. After we had all grown up and left, and the house was standing empty, it was not empty- there were ghosts of the past in the empty rooms and peering from the blank curtainless windows. Who they were I do not know – spirits of the deceased relatives?
Demons conjoured up from mom’s dark depressive state? The dark of terror and pain?