Phyl Lobl

STORIES

Facing Fear

by Phyl Lobl

I was almost 10 when I was living in a rented farmhouse with my war-widowed mother and one sister who was three years older than me. Another sister and three brothers were all working away from home. My father had enlisted in the second AIF in WW2 and this meant they had to leave school and find work. My sister Lois and I, still at school, rode our bikes three miles to the Central Victorian town of Kyneton.

One day Lois was playing hockey in another town and being billeted overnight so I had to ride home by myself. The realisation of having to do this gave disquieting thoughts which I dared not reveal. During the day I quashed any thoughts of concern but by 4.o’clock I felt the rise of stomach butterflies.

I collected my sturdy little red bike from its daytime safe-place. I rode to the edge of the town and faced my first ‘fear’. The butterflies in my stomach grew larger.
Would the rock-throwing, name calling brothers from the house on the hill be active today? But no rocks pinged at me and no raised voices assaulted my ears. The butterflies subsided.

PLW_Writing_Phyl

On I rode to face the second feared place. A beautiful little creek that sang its way to a bigger river but was often a resting place for swaggies. I had been warned to NEVER speak to such people. But no billy hung over a nest of sticks, no raggedly-clothed body lay beside a  bluey on the bank. The butterflies sank I rode on to face the place of ‘fear number three’.

It was strip of road flanked on one side by gorse hedges and on the other the insubstantial wire fence of the abattoir. Escaped abattoir cattle were often on the road grazing by the gorse hedge and hard to see until you were upon them. They had horns and looked fierce and were very, very unpredictable. But this must have been my lucky day, no cattle on the road. Butterflies fell easy and then left. 

I pedalled on and could see our house on the hill. Then my head and heart were invaded by the sight of a HORROR.
Ahead of me lunching from side to side across the road was the figure of a male person.
Obviously about six feet tall. Obviously the worse for wear.
Obviously drunk. The  butterflies ballooned into a battalion.
The battalion grew in frenzy with each turn of the pedals.
I did something I would never had dared to do before.
I pedalled back to the abattoir. A worker was having a smoke at the front entrance.

In later years I saw the film DELIVERANCE, which remains memorable for two things. The tune duelling banjos and the depiction of fearsome looking toothless backwoodsmen of America. When I did see the film feelings of that ‘ride home alone’ took over my mind, for the smoker would have made a fine extra for that film. But I had yet to see that film and  was able to summon up some courage and called out to the smoker. ‘Excuse me can you tell me if that man who passed here was drunk ?’
‘Oh no’ said the smoker with a toothless smile, ‘He’s just the young bloke who lives up on the hill.’
With my voice pitch considerably raised by anxiety I said, ‘‘But that can’t be’, I live there with just my Mum and my sister’.
The smoker shrugged and went into the abattoir building.

I rode on with my eyes fixed on the still staggering, drunken figure. By now my heart was beating fiercely. Nausea was taking over my stomach. Tears lurked behind my eye-lids. The figure disappeared down the hill into a gully of gums and wattles. I decided I’d wait for him to go up the hill and pass our house. I waited…, and waited … and waited. No figure emerged.

There was a side road bordering our home paddock. I thought ‘I’ll go down Organ’s road, lift my bike over the fence and ride home across the paddock.’

After a few useless and frustrating attempts to lift the bike over, with bleeding scratches from the barbed wire, and tears really close, I gave up. BUT there was no way I was going to ride down into that gully if the drunk was still down there. I prepared my mind to wait forever.

Then I heard a whistle. I saw a brown and black flash as our dog Fang hurled himself down the hill and into the gully. I saw a figure emerge, walking sturdily and steadily up the hill, to give the dog a two-handed ear rub. The kind of ear-rubs he only received from my big brother Dean.

Dean had come home unexpectedly. My mother had told him I was riding home alone for the first time and so he should look out for me. He did look out for me. He showed me his version of ‘brotherly love’.

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