ONCE, THERE WAS A GIRL. But she wasn’t a girl, she was a spider. But she wasn’t a singular spider, she was a thousand: tiny spindly legs tucked and tangled, clustered eyes dancing, twinkling, bodies nestled in silk cocoon, hidden beneath the disguise of a girl with a slick black ponytail and ten fingers and ten toes and a dotted freckle, just beneath her left eye.
ONCE, THERE WAS A GIRL/SPIDER/CLUSTER who wanted to find love. But being made of spiders made lovemaking difficult. Men, in her experience, even the ones who claimed to be fearless, were scared of anything smaller than they were. Scared of anything
unknown or unknowable. Plus, when she peeled back her soft skin to reveal a writhing mass of arachnids, she couldn’t quite understand where a vagina was supposed to be, or how deep a burrow to make inside herself, or where hands were supposed to grab or hold or squeeze if not for her breasts, which were also spiders, who did not want to be pinched, in any case.
The cluster/spider/girl did not like the idea of letting another invade her, redefine her, as anything other than what she was, a multitude of miracles. So, she found things to love that weren’t men, such as the way night slipped down across the horizon and turned the sky inky black, or the way small bugs would skitter from hiding corners and tickle her tongue during dinner, or the way silk webs wrapped so softly around her feet at night.
ONCE, THE CLUSTER/GIRL/SPIDER MET SOMEONE. He was tall and thin and reminded her of the best tree branches, and his eyes were the ochre of grasshopper guts, and his teeth so much like smooth sea-pebbles.
“Hey,” he said, admiring the way her fingers worked a skein of yarn as she was knitting on a park bench, looking as if she were wondering if it would be considered rude to molt in public.
She looked up, fingers missing a loop and tangling the thread. He didn’t notice as one of the spiders crawled out from her blouse and
quickly untangled the knot with practiced pedipalps.
“Hey,” she said, the spiders which worked her tongue creating the perfect pitch, the ‘ay’ as soft as breath.
The man asked her for coffee, because she looked so lonely and so beautiful, so she said yes, and he didn’t even question why she didn’t drink her skim-milk latte or touch her scone, which was too warm and smelled like artificial vanilla, too sweet. The spiders who occupied her brain whispered worries about the way his eyes never met their own, and how something with his smile was off, and why he never asked her questions about herself but rather focused the conversation on his job as a part-time bartender on the south side, and the string of ex-girlfriends he left behind in Philly, and his preference of ankle socks over midcalf (not on him, but on her, of course). But the spiders crowding her heart-space gossiped about true love and nights spent caressing warm lips and where they would lay their collection of eggs as abundant and fragile as froths of seafoam.
The girl/cluster/spider gave him directions to her apartment, which was modest and dim and smelled like cobwebs, cedar-scented candles, and expensive parfum. He commented on her collection of crickets housed in glass terrariums, which she explained was for a science experiment about the benefits of ambient noise indoors and not a key ingredient in her morning smoothies.
“Hmm,” he said, and left it at that.
He was all too quick to kiss her, lead her into her bedroom, tug at the skin which covered thousands of legs and eyes and spinnerets nervously spinning their sticky web in her stomach. The spiders whose job it was to make the lips weren’t happy with the way he bit down on their cephalothoraxes, and the tongue-spiders were less than pleased with being slicked with spit.
“Stop,” she said.
He ripped at her blouse, which she’d knitted herself from proteins consumed and recycled and remade, and toppled her onto the bed.
“Stop,” she said.
He wasn’t dissuaded by the lack of opening between her legs, or the few spiders that rushed to escape the holes of her ears in fear of what might come next.
“Stop,” she said.
But he didn’t. He wouldn’t. He tore away her skin and pressed his fingers into the cloud of trichobothria and wispy web. In fairness, the bravest of the bunch threw their legs into a threat posture, swaying back and forth, showcasing fangs meant for cleaning and catching and anything but this. He laughed, mumbling something about how beautiful it was that even their threats looked so much like dancing.
The spider/girl/cluster didn’t want to force herself into the man’s lungs. They didn’t want to occupy whatever filth hid beneath his flesh and sinew, muscle and bone. They didn’t want to eat him, but otherwise he might have gone to waste. The cluster/spider/girl closed their eyes and thought of anything other than what was happening. They thought of warm beds wrapped from gossamer and dew, not of the gooey wet behind his eyes. Of nights weaving stories from threads, not of the tangle of his unwashed hair. Of drinking together with their millions of sisters, not of how warm his blood tasted, bitter iron and butter, thin before coagulating into jelly.
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