The Peacock Mosaic

The Fruitmince Seduction


 

My grandmother Daisy’s fruit mince tarts were legendary.

For years as a child I stood at her side, silent and respectful as at a sacred ritual, and watched while she prepared vast amounts of fragrant fruit mince. She hummed as she worked, an ample apron protecting her floral dress as she spun and swooped, her hands glistening with sweet stuff, her honey-coloured eyes bright and dancing with delight. Mysterious brown paper packets from the grocery store revealed their wild secret aromas one by one. Sometimes it was my job carefully to weigh and measure each alchemical ingredient, while grandma dropped them in and stirred and mixed.

Dried sultanas, currants and raisins, candied orange and lemon rinds like crystalline worms, cinnamon, nutmeg, slivered almonds, shiny glacé cherries in red and green, mixed spice, lemon zest and freshly squeezed orange juice, cider and redolent brown sugar – all well soaked in cognac. If I was lucky I’d get the bowl to lick at the end. It was strictly forbidden to pick. She would begin mixing in October, storing them in enormous glass preserve jars in the back of the family fridge.

It was when I was sixteen and daring to break out of the good girl mould I had till now desperately tried to squash myself into, that I began sneaking redolent spoonfuls of the wicked mix. I gobbled them down in front of the open fridge. At the first sound of anyone coming I rapidly moved out of the kitchen. Nothing was ever said, even when Christmas came and Daisy stood, purse-mouthed, the nearly empty jars in front of her. She simply mixed up another batch. I always wondered what she thought.

My boldness was thereby tacitly encouraged. The secret wickedness of the fruit mince in my system spurred me into other subterfuge that gradually ate into my legitimate life. Eventually I must have believed my secret life was the real one. The daytime was only pretending. It was the call of the night, the soft, enveloping darkness and vicissitudes of the moon letting me be myself in ways that were simply unacceptable in normal civilised society of church and school and family dinners. I was awakening to myself.

And so it played out that a handful of nights a week the compulsion would take me. While the rest of the household slept, I was wide awake, nearly frantic with agitation.

At midnight I dressed in black from head to foot, like a ninja. I sneaked downstairs and out the window, pausing on the threshold to sniff like a cat for wild and canny news. Sometimes, carefully, I wheeled out my bike, down the front steps to the road, or up the back garden to a much higher cliff road with a wild free-wheeling hill down to the beach.

Sometimes I simply ran, the wind lifting my long, loose hair. The night-deepened smells of jessamine, frangipani, roses and honeysuckle whipped past, my eyes wide open as my mouth, to drink in one heady sensation after another in the darkness.

Beside the lagoon, under the coral trees, the darkness was almost impenetrable. I came to rest on the black damp grass. I lay on my back stargazing through branches. I moonbathed in a delirious dream of earth beneath me, sky above. The glinting dark water lapped a few feet away. Reeds whispered and released their dank watery smell. Water rats and fish plopped in the darkness.

In the sky above were old friends. Faithful warrior Orion and the Southern Cross, Corvus and giant Sagittarius, red Mars, beautiful Venus and Jupiter, impossible to ignore, I knew most by heart. Falling stars traversed the sky to deep space beyond. Satellites winked, and I wondered if they were the kind that had astronauts. Were they spying on the Earth below, wondering if anyone was at that moment looking up? They were wonders and mysteries potent as the blood that stirred within me, unfathomable and not to be denied, but to be explored and savoured.

I was an infusion in the night. As much as the salt air on the esplanade mixed with the scent of the Norfolk pines, I would not be contained or limited. Swift in my passing like a shadow, none saw me, none could stop me. Hours later, as dawn’s pink tongue licked the rim of the sea, I crept back into the house to sleep for an hour until the rude alarm’s call to wake, shower, breakfast and catch the bus drowsily for school.

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