STORY BY ELIZABETH CARROLL | ILLUSTRATIONS & PHOTOGRAPHS BY LOUISE THRUSH
This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
All around me the red glow of Dark MoFo and the Winter Feast but I am stuck in a queue like a sheep at an abattoir, looking for my husband while Lou watches my daughter in her pram. Instead I should’ve…
Should’ve chosen my darkest fears a week ago, written them down and slipped them into the belly of a dragon and we should’ve all been ready together for the Dark Parade shouting and chanting to drive out fear, marching to the industrial wasteland of Dark Park and cheering as our fears go up in flames. I would feel fierce and free of fear, and the world would turn and the sun would come back, and this newly constructed piece of ritual magic would work its miracle for me.
Then I’d write about it, and Lou would paint and draw it. Job done.
But no. We’re separated and disorganised. My partner has sought a cider and fire after a hard day’s work and I have failed to write and confess my fears and post them into the belly of a dragon. It’s all meaningless.
I hear drums. I hear voices. It’s starting. I still want to see. My daughter is facing the Dark Parade without us. I push through the crowd, wondering if David Walsh’s employees open up the dragon’s belly like black Christmas elves and read and chuckle over the thousand fears of ordinary people.
Please don’t let it be vascular dementia. Don’t let her get lead poisoning from all the flakes of paint in the backyard. Don’t let me not finish my story. Don’t let me let go of my dearest dreams and learn to forget a second time. Don’t let me not fulfil my potential – my blasted potential, always. Let her not be bullied. Let our house not fall down.
‘I think you’re supposed to post a wish in the dragon and burn it, so it comes true,’ I hear someone say. Wishes to come true. Fears to avert. All by burning.
I think of the Tarot deck where a fear or a wish occupy the same space and how sometimes they’re hard to tell apart. You have to decide sometimes which is which.
I make it back to my daughter and friend, and there is this sound piercing the drums and voices – and my ears. My daughter’s face is half grin, half grimace as I try to put my hands over her ears. She knocks them away.
A dancing Chinese lion, black and green and white, to ward off… evil? The heralds of the Dark Parade bear their banners and then… the fear mongers. What else can I call them? They shape dread with their ear-splitting ambient, techno sounds and their covered faces. The black figures of my night-terrors marching in sombreros. My daughter starts to cry and I don’t blame her. They are chilling but the crowd holds us tight and there is nowhere to go.
They pass on and we see torches and hear chanting, and we see the dragon high and proud-bellied above the crowd. A dragon? A leafy sea dragon, portly of tum and friendly of eye, painted in sunrise rose and gold. I could confess my fears to her. She looks kindly. Now they will burn her for carrying the crowd’s fears in her belly. Oh this is strange. I like her, this sacrifice, made to be burned like a Viking ship for a dead king.
She rises and falls on the crest of a dark wave as her black clad bearers lift her up and down, chanting and smiling.
More solemn banner-men and women, black-blinded torch bearers. More chanting. In the torchlight I see her. They are calling her name: Ogoh! Ogoh!
This… the nightmare demon of fear. The most horrifying thing people could imagine: an ageing, naked, pregnant-bellied woman with dark breasts bursting with milk, covered in animal hair, tusked like a wild boar, glaring on us like a demon goddess. The sum of all fears is a pregnant, hairy woman, nearly at term, half animal, half human. We are going to burn the Other again. This becomes very strange indeed. Why would I want to burn my hairy, pregnant, ageing, angry self?
In her wake comes a transgendered pig, tusked like a boar and uddered like a sow. Another Other for burning? In another land and culture, the dirtiest of creatures, made even stranger by its double sex. Oh what am I seeing?
Then the crowd comes, adults and children shouting and banging on pots and pot lids with wooden spoons, making a joyous defiant racket: a wassailing to drive out the dark and cold and fear. People like me (like I would have been), coming to see the burning of their fears in the belly of the dragon. They pass too, and the crowd folds up around them and follows down the city street.
And we are held in place by my husband, still on the other side of the fence, cider in hand. I might be glad.
Fear eats the soul says the sign. And yes, it does, or it can. The thousand fears born of our hurts, griefs and worries that we are all heir to – they can eat us, or paralyse us, or spur us on, make us move. (Yes I’m dying so what?) We all carry them throughout our lives like the dragon did that one week.
Left behind, I imagine the roar of the crowd as the dragon goes up in flames. Do we hope that by burning our fears, the misfortunes they represent won’t happen? Do we just hope not to feel hostage to them anymore? Or by naming and knowing them, do we at least make them smaller? But misfortune inevitably still waits. (We are all going to die. Just not necessarily today.)
My own fears rustle like dead leaves. I imagine after burning they might spring back like weeds. Always there, like death, illness and misfortune, like my ageing, animal self. But like the Dark Parade, they make their noise, bang their drums and pod lids and shout, and then they pass.
And the world turns.