I had this nightmare time and time again when I was a little girl.
I am tiny, less than five, dressed in furs, living out in a vast snow-covered landscape – a white nothingness which, despite its lack of obvious contour, holds echoes of howling fear and imminent predation.
We live in a round wooden shack, precarious in the extreme, the boards which constitute its walls rotten, heavy with water, blackening and falling away. Snow can be seen only too clearly through the big gaps.
My father has a rifle. Wolves, grey as the worst terror, come prowling as darkness falls each night and stay until the sky winches back its black canopy and replaces it with the colourless one of Arctic day.
During those endless hours of utter fear, we rush from wall to wall, spotting the slavering red mouths of the creatures as they try to breach our fragile safety; we scream, ‘Daddy!’ and he fires at one snout after another. He hits none of them, though the noise causes each to withdraw. But there is always another and another.
I am frozen with fear.
Why, you may ask, do I bring this fifty-three-or-more-years-ago dream back to waking life?
Because that very early sense of trying to keep wolves out of an unstable building is all-too pertinent to my life today. Because I feel as if I am that tiny child, my current self and the protector with the gun at one and the same time – and that, no matter how many of the predators I shoot, another one will always claw its way under the rotting planks and threaten the integrity of my hut, the security of my psyche – and any sense of hope I might have about building a stronger, and longer-lasting, domicile in the future.
I am, once again, frozen with fear. Five years old. Small and unprotected. My father’s gun is almost too heavy for me to lift, and it rips pain through every single muscle in my upper body. But, when night falls, and the wolves of dread reappear, only I can aim, press trigger and fire at them.