plum wine

The woman who is made of a thousand spiders once filled three and a half emptied out milk jugs with plum juice. It was difficult to maneuver the plums, and the bugs they attracted proved distracting. Her body swarmed up to her skull and out to the tips of her fingers to catch gnats from the air, churning through her while her mind struggled with the immensity of her task.

A hundred plums littered the ground. Hundreds more still hung heavy in the branches. Dark plums, the size of her palm, with skin stretched thin enough to split at a strong wind. She tried to gather them together and throw them by the armful into a bucket for mashing, but the spiders were unruly that day and she could not keep her form.

And so she left it.

The woman abandoned her bones and swarmed up the tree to do the job mindless when her mind would not behave. Some of her chased gnats and wasps and other food drawn to the sticky sweet of fermenting plums. Some of her found stems and snapped the brittle tension that held the fruit. Some of her swarmed the bucket and brought it underneath as plums began to plummet.

When the job was done, when she came back to herself and joined together in a human shape, she was rewarded with the jugs of plum juice. Her spiders were sticky with the sugars, their legs gummed together, and their tiny claws left little spots of muck on her bones. She retched, though she had no stomach to put much effort in it, and let the spiders pick over one another, grooming and eating until the legs and bones were clean, then went back inside the house to find a sweater. It was easier to remember her human shape when she was dressed.

The woman who was made of a thousand spiders meant to research plum wine. She meant to ferment it properly, bottle it and store it in the cellar for parties, but she didn’t have parties any more, and she had no one but her husband to join her for a bottle. And the spiders didn’t care for wine any more than gnats- all was fuel to keep living. In the way that her ghost kept living.
She disparaged and forgot, and in a week the milk jugs exploded.

Syrupy plum juice splattered across the cabinets. The jugs were tipped over, glugging juice over their jettisoned caps and down the face of the refrigerator. She was first through the door at the strange explosion, with her husband close behind.

“What’s that smell?” he asked.

It was rhetorical. She had left her sense of smell behind with her flesh. She turned to him, an apology on her lips, and he started to laugh.

“Oh my god, is that plum juice?”

She nodded.

“We forgot to process the plum juice.” He put a hand to his head and sighed. “I knew we were forgetting something. Oh, this is going to take forever to clean!”

The woman who was made of a thousand spiders put her hand on his chest. “I’ll get it. You don’t have to do anything.” She sat her bones down in a chair in the kitchen and the lower half of her scattered over the mess, gobbling it up.

He reached for her hand. (Her skin is a soft weave of spider’s silk and the knotted bodies of the spiders beneath are dark joints against white bone.) He squeezed a little warmth into her hand. (She feels warmth in different ways than he does, but she loves in the same way as him.)

“I’m thinking of cutting down the tree,” he said. “I can’t give these plums away! And we’re never going to drink plum wine.”

She drifted close and laid her head on his shoulder. The spiders were woozy from fermented plum juice, and the kitchen was hardly any cleaner. “I think I’m a little drunk,” she confided, and he chuckled because she was quite drunk.

The husband shoed the woman’s spiders away from the mess, careful not to step on any of her as they rushed back to the safety of her bones, and then gathered a handful of paper towels. “I’ll clean up the rest. Just keep me company.”

She smiled. “Always.”