Katsaridignaris? Okay, I just neologized, sorry. But my dealings with cockroaches have been so infrequent that I had to come up with something to explain why I was drawn to the BBC article. Maybe it was the pictures: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140918-the-reality-about-roaches It certainly wasn’t the topic –I’m even disgusted by what I see when I turn over an old rotting log in the forest. I can just imagine what it would be like to turn over an old toilet seat in the bathroom. Some things just shouldn’t be there, okay?

Frankly, since the cats died I’ve been more consumed with the appearance of mice, and their heavier, snaky-tailed mercenaries, but I can see what the problem would be –if I had one, that is. Dark, three dimensional blobs that scrabbled past unexpectedly stopping only long enough to dare me to chase them would likely clear the room. Especially if they clicked. But so would a rat.

But I come to bury Caesars, not to praise them. We all have our trepidates; everybody has to be afraid of something. Everybody needs a boogeyman. The question that keeps touching my neck whenever I hear footsteps behind me in a dark windy cemetery on a moonless night, is why? Is it all those gruesome fairy tales from a disembodied voice trying to dare me to sleep in the dark when I was a child? Or the surfeit of scary radio programmes from the smuggled transistor radio under my pillow as my parents quietly discussed the day’s politics in the room just outside my door? I am puzzled, not so much by the cause of fear, as its why. It’s far to nebulous, far too simplistic, to assign it to its usual traditional evolutionary role as a survival issue. The tiger’s growl in the bushes beside the trail is one thing –only those who heeded the adrenaline rush subsequently fostered posterity.

What about fear of spiders, though? Fine if you live in a sufficiently salubrious climate that encourages spiders big enough to wrap you in silk for their kids, but for the rest of us, it just doesn’t make sense. And attempts to attribute it to atavistic memories from primordial Africa where maybe they did have stuff like that, ignores the fact that we aren’t all arachnophobics. Or herpetophobics… Or even ophidiophobics, for that matter -to which club, I have to profess a reluctant allegiance, however. Rational, smashional – we all want to unravel the unknown. We’re drawn to it, in fact. Doesn’t everybody want to know what’s inside a wrapped parcel? Don’t we all want to search for the hidden gift? The concealed Easter egg?

The very heterogeneity of fear seems to magnify my curiosity. Katsaridaphobia, for example, is certainly not rooted in survival. Nobody to my knowledge has ever been carried off by a gang of unruly cockroaches. They’re more opportunists than predators when it comes to Homo timidis. So, why do we fear? Or is that more of an existential, rhetorically fraught mystery than a question? A Kierkegaardian stew that is best left simmering with the top left firmly in place?

Every so often I am beset by such thoughts, though, and feel a need to peek under the lid. Brien wears his lids very loosely, and although he is a man of few words, I needed to talk to somebody –even if discussing something with him is often filled with eye-watering silence, then filled with references to wood-sylphs –okay, with Sheda, his personal tree…

Brien, of course, is a porch person, and his world is very much tuned to a life in harmony with what he might encounter there. Hence his reverence for unpainted wood, things that creak and wave in the wind, and the unseen forces that imbue his porch with the character he is so keen to preserve. It can be a bit unsettling from the road, perhaps, and parents with young children, or nervous dogs are practiced at crossing to the furthest side, and engaging their charges in spurious conversation on final approach.

But Brien, if he sees them, will lift his can of beer and wave at them as if he were acknowledging their poorly disguised envy for his modus vivendi. As Brien sees it, he runs an elfin grot along the lines of La Belle Dame sans Merci –although I had to clarify the Keatsian reference for him several times.

Anyway, fortunately, I had picked a warm spring day to wonder about fear, and so he was happily ensconced on his porch chair in shorts, an old polo shirt, and fuzzy mid-calf sport socks like a king, proudly surveying his burgeoning crop of seasonally expected weeds. He once explained to me that he found grass and its relatives totally lacking in imagination and so he encouraged an ecumenical assortment of strangers to audition each year. Actually, he just said he kind of liked weeds, but Brien is a friend, so I usually soften it a bit for him.

I had clearly happened upon him in a contemplative mood, however, and as I picked my way over the shards of broken concrete that littered his yard like a Neolithic midden, he was busy staring at Sheda. He felt increasing concern for the fate of the cedar tree, and although it dominated almost half of the far edge of his property and was clearly the original owner of the lot, he worried that it was experiencing the same downward slide as himself.

“Branches are not moving as well as the old days,” he said in a sort of thanatological greeting as I stepped warily onto the porch, avoiding the final terminally warped step which he would have been better advised to worry about than the tree.

“Pardon me?” I mumbled, too aware there were other risks for the unwary foot lurking hitherto unseen on the floorboards of the porch. Each visit was an journey, really -a walk down a leaf-strewn trail in the fall, a careful exploration of the knotted, buckling wood in the spring. It was as much a thing for all seasons as its owner.

“I wonder if it’s getting old,” he said, shaking his head slowly and pointing at the beer under the guest seat he always kept ready for me beside him.

I was pretty sure he meant the tree, but I suddenly pulled my hand away from the can under the seat when I noticed the slug. “Brien!” I think I actually whined.

His face softened and a twinkle crept onto his lips. “Probably lost,” he said, and shrugged as if lost molluscs were commonplace on the porch. “Just pick up the can and it’ll wander off.” He bent over to look at it more closely. “I think I recognize that one, actually,” he said almost tenderly. He sat up again, and noticing I was making no attempts to retrieve the beer, handed me a different can from the cooler he kept near the steps. His eyes flitted around my cheeks like uncertain sparrows. “They don’t bite, ya know…” He took a sip from his own can and shifted his gaze to Sheda. “Not even sure if they have teeth.”

I sighed and accepted the new can. I could sense him peeking at me out of the corner of his eyes, and I could see he was having difficulty restraining a smile. It was probably not the time to ask him about his views on irrational fear.



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