The attic is alive with boneless bodies in motion. Living bobbins, no bigger than buttons, pushing fine threads of silver from their middles. Watching it is enigmatic, imagining the clacking of that many feet on the ground, but not really hearing it. Stick-pin feet are silent even en masse.
Some of the spiders spin. Some work the loom. It’s a finely harmonized, almost hypnotic, hydraulic performance. A series of cranks and levers are turned, threads are gathered and drawn onto a reel. Metal teeth and pulleys guide, delicately hissing as the fabric is refined.
I spy on it all from my usual spot at the top of the attic stairs. Against the wall, in the shadows, I stand. There is no need for me to intervene and I do not like to disrupt. They know exactly what to do and how to do it, working together peacefully, unlike any other of their kind.
A scream rings out from the floor below. I take the stairs two at a time.
Sophie, braless, and in one of my T-shirts, is plastered against the kitchen cabinets. Her hair is a messy nest from sleep, her eyes on fire with frustration. Clutched in her hand is a broken eggshell, strands of slimy mucus stretching to the exploded carton at her bare feet. She is frozen, save for adorable wiggling toes. In front of her, in a patch of morning sunlight, a dime-size, glassy body and eight tiny legs glimmer.
I close the door to the stairs behind me and lock it. My hand dips into my back pocket to stow the key. What a bold thing, I think, this spider. What a stupid thing, to come in on this floor when Sophie is about. I shake my head and scoop it into my hand. Clucking my tongue, I crank open the window above the sink and slip my hand through. The daring young spider—all attitude covering for embarrassment—scuttles from the cup of my palm to the tip of my index finger and drops a line to the ground.
The trees outside the house are “infested” with them. That’s one of Sophie’s words, certainly not mine. She didn’t grow up here, like me. Their webs encompass evergreens and deciduous alike. Some of the webs are pulled tight like latex gloves, spun like grey cotton candy, pinning branches to the trunks. Others hang more loosely—babies kiting—stretched batting billowing in the breeze.
Some are strong permanent homes, others merely scaffolding for new dwellings. The spiders are ever building through the summer months, seasonal homes that will be dismantled in the fall, only to be rebuilt the following summer. This makes their twenty-seventh season with me as their host. But they have been coming here each summer for much, much longer, seeking refuge from the floods. Our monsoons rival India’s, I’m sure of it, yet we never draw the same attention.
Sometimes Sophie says she wishes she could go home. Though, most days she doesn’t even remember where home is. Or the drive she decided to take across the border and into the wild with a stranger that warm June evening. Tourists love to tiptoe right up to the line. Snagging them is no challenge at all. Keeping them is.
Wiping the egg from her hand on a towel, Sophie reiterates the severity of the situation outside the window, insisting that it is now of “plague” proportions. Yet another one of her words. And I decide I don’t like her tone. Her voice is too even, her words too rational. She needs to go back to bed.
I come at her with mischief in my eyes, press her against the counter’s edge, listening for that telltale catch of her breath—something between fear and arousal. The room is thick with the smell of adrenaline. I taste it on her collarbone as I kiss along it. “All this?” I whisper against her. “Over one itty,” lips on skin, “bitty…” spider.
Holding Sophie at the small of her back, I tip her without dropping her and walk her to the bedroom in an awkward shuffle of feet and legs. “Come into my parlor, says the spider to the fly.” My exaggerated accent gets her every time. Sophie giggles as I release her into the folds of cool, silver sheets.
After. Later. When we’ve slept for some time, I wake to find Sophie stirring beside me, fighting heavy eyelids blink by blink. She admits she feels like she’s slept for a hundred years, but can’t seem to call forth the strength to get out of bed.
Does this make her lazy, she wonders aloud. Is it weird?
There is a gentle rustle of skin on silk as Sophie rolls to one side, putting her back to me, facing the wall of windows. I’ve made a habit of leaving the curtains open when we make love, hoping she’ll one day accept the spiders—hoping to form a positive association between them and the pleasure of our bodies joining under these sheets. But it isn’t working, leaving me forever in search of a better way to hold her.
Sophie tells me the webs are forming shapes in the trees. It reminds her of when she was a girl, she says, and used to lie in her yard watching the clouds. She yawns. Mumbles. Weeps a little, wandering in and out of awareness. I run a hand over her silk-swathed thigh, my ivory beauty twisted in quicksilver, hair splayed in thick, black ribbons over a matching pillowcase. I do not like it when she talks of home. Her home is here now. She needs to embrace that.
An apology comes next—Sophie is sorry for ruining eggs and breakfast, she was trying to do something nice, and she knows we are running low on food. Empty promises follow: to go to the store, to get more eggs, to take care of it all for me. But she won’t. I can’t let her. The further she strays from here, the weaker the bond. If she takes the boat out, she might return with more than just groceries. Men in uniforms. Cameras.
What would happen if the rest of man discovers the spiders’ unique nature and abilities? Would they be farmed? Would I be compensated?
These questions touch my mind from time to time, but my main concern lies with Sophie and her increasingly frequent bouts of wakefulness, with her new needs to make breakfast and run errands. Even if she does not stray now, come September, when the sun comes out and dries up all the rain, when the spiders swallow their summer homes and return underground, will I, alone, be enough to hold her then? I haven’t been before.
I am determined not to let her go the way of the others. Sophie is not just another summer fling that the spiders allow me, only to take from me each fall to protect their secret and mine.
I don’t have it in me to watch again as the webs outside split in the night, releasing argent waves that crash through the bedroom window.
I cannot stand by idly as silken sheets ripple and roll while spiders scamper up her body.
I will not remain silent while they poke and pry at her openings.
I refuse to press my hands to my ears to deafen strangled screams from behind her pursed lips.
I will not witness her consumption. Not this time. Not Sophie.
While Sophie sleeps, I return to the attic above us. It is empty now, the spiders finished with their latest creation. The breeze from the door opening scatters a discarded tissue paper pattern across the floor as I come in. Draped over the back of a chair in the center of the room is what I’ve come for. I examine the fabric, running my thumb over its selvedge edge, looking for imperfections. It has to be perfect. Like Sophie. Perfect and alluring and… snug. It must seduce her into trying it on, cling to every delicious curve and reflexively tighten, like finger cuffs, when she moves.
Bed sheets can be pulled back, can be stripped away, I realize that now. They were an imperfect, but necessary, first run of the textile, though.
Descending the stairs in slow ceremony, a dress lying over one arm, I sing to myself, “Here comes the bride. All dressed in…” I chuckle. I’ve always found platinum to be finer than white.
AUTHOR BIO: Sealey Andrews writes from her home in the Pacific Northwest. When she’s not writing, she can be found reading slush at Every Day Fiction, or at the sushi bar down the street from her house. She tweets a little too @sealey_andrews