Johannesburg, 1956. A photograph of a bench marked ‘Europeans Only’, a woman is seen with a child who is in her care, but beside whom she is forbidden to sit. The bench forms a hard border between them, transgressed by a tender gesture. In a meditation on this image, weaving together a number of theoretical threads, I reflect on the maniacal proliferation of ‘borders’ and boundaries under apartheid, and on their impossibility. This approach, using specific psychoanalytic concepts to address the complex intersection between the unconscious and the social world, opens up a space in which to begin to explore the habitually unspoken, troubled intimacy between such a woman and such a child; and, in alluding to my own experience as a Jewish child in South Africa at that time, contributes to the unsettling of notions of racial fixity.