small tensions

The woman who is made of a thousand spiders is knitting a hat for her husband out of the last of her favorite yarn.

She sits underneath the lilac tree and cradles the yarn in the folds of a long black skirt.  The lilac is in full bloom, and as the sky darkens, it releases its sweet scent to call insects.

The woman who is made of a thousand spiders revels in the buzz of new prey.

Her husband breathes deeply, a lazy smile on his face. He settles further into his rocking bench and pulls his hoodie down over his eyes to deter the mosquitos that gather around him. Even with the thousand spiders sitting near, plucking insects from the air, the mosquitos are relentless. He will itch all night.

Lilacs are more fragrant in the evenings, and their season is short. It is worth the itch.

The woman who is made of a thousand spiders is nearing the crown of the hat. Its tension is off, and the fabric will not lay properly. Her favorite yarn is a blend of silk (not her own, but that of moths), and it is unforgiving. Her hands do not work properly as they are operated by spiders, and it is difficult to keep an even tension as her needles move across the yarn. 

She finishes anyway, because there was only a row left, and the vanishing sunlight is no problem to her. She threads the yarn through the last twelve stitches and cuts it free with the small golden scissors she remembered to put in the pocket of her skirt.  The scissors are in the shape of a swan, and they were a gift from her husband. The glint catches his eye. He reaches for them and caws softly at her as he opens the sharp beak, though he knows crows sound nothing like swans.

She pulls her false face into the configuration of a warm smile, and hands him the hat.

It barely comes down to the tops of his ears, but he pulls it down and tells her it might lay right after washing.  She needn’t worry about the fit.

But the woman who is made of a thousand spiders gathers the tendons in her neck and shakes her head “no.” It isn’t worth the trouble to make something unless it is perfect.  The tension is wrong, the fit is wrong, and this is only the second project she’s made with the yarn only to unravel it and try again.  

“I’ll redo it,” she rasps through brittle lungs and difficult lips made of spider’s silk.

“Wait until fall,” says her husband, because the lilacs are in bloom and the nights are long and she shouldn’t waste the summer mad at knitting.

The woman who is made of a thousand spiders thinks for a moment. Her husband will not need a hat until fall. She nods and gathers herself to join him on the bench, where they twine their hands and rock the bench and stare up at the stars.

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.”


The Man Who Lives Alone in the Woods has found his latest palace. A cathedral of slender pines in a near perfect circle, close to a steady stream of water and open enough for a small fire at the center. He cleared the ground of fallen branches and wove some into an arch; a doorway makes it real. The rest were cut neatly and stacked against his van, underneath the rain fly and waiting for a smaller circle

His shoes lay under the belly of his best dog, only dog, Black Dog With Bat Ears. Black Dog keeps them warm while his feet turn blue in the icy creek. There was a perfect stove-rock in the middle of the water, shorn flat from the mountain he stands on, worn smooth by the relentless patience of the creek. He hurls it out of the stream, then gathers others from the side of the creek until he has enough to tame a fire. He makes a low circle of them, and deepens one stretch of the circle like a harbor. He chooses the flattest stones for a small harbor, and lays them like a mason so they will not shift. The stove rock bridges the harbor, where it will keep the coals hot enough for a day of cooking. He would prefer to make the whole pit so methodically, but methods come better after breakfast, and this is his first day in the palace.

Black Dog with Bat Ears jumps down from the bed inside the van. He has forgotten the man’s shoes, but there is warmth in his fanged smile.

Metaphorical warmth is better with a fire, and the man brushes his dog away from the tiny flame that flickers against the biting cold. The tinder catches and fire billows quickly up the tower he made of kindling. He adds wood from his stack and smoke floods his palace because the wood was freshly gathered and wet from yesterday’s rain.

His squints against the particulate, and goes back to his van. The dog follows and reminds him to pull on his shoes.

His feet prickle as the warmth returns them to life. Black Dog noses through his store of foodstuffs, and he nods his agreement. Peanut butter breakfast, and jam, over pancakes. He mixes his batter as the fire burns down to coals.
The man rakes his coals to the little harbor of rock and sets his pan above it. He cooks three pancakes. The first, a little underdone, he tosses to Black Dog, who snatches it from the air and devours it in one swallow. The second and third, he turns onto his tin travelers plate and smothers in peanut butter and jam. As he eats his breakfast, he relaxes into the quiet loveliness of this wooded place, the swift stream, the cliffs that rise from the ground only a short hike away.

Snow is beginning to fall as he cleans his plate, and the man who lives alone in the woods is not prepared for harsh conditions. He suggests to Black Dog that they break camp soon, and find another palace further south, or at least a little further down the mountain.

Black Dog wags his hindquarters along with his tail, then bounces intently onto his forepaws. The man takes a stick from the top of his firewood and arcs it cleanly toward the stream.

The man again agrees with his dog. He will stay another day in this place, and abandon it tomorrow. They are warm enough together.


The woman who is made of a thousand spiders has found ghosts in her sister’s deck of tarot cards. As someone who is as much ghost as she is spider, she recognized them early, before they could invade her home.

Her sister left the deck on the kitchen counter next to a drying rack full of clean dishes. She left without saying goodbye, but he deck of cards was goodbye enough. The woman who is made of a thousand spiders knows her sister well enough to read the woman’s cryptic acts. A deck of tarot cards were to encourage a sense of wonder. They were a message of hope for the spider woman’s future.

Although the woman who is made of a thousand spiders appreciates her sister’s gift, she does not care for all the old questions still haunting the cards.

She takes the cards into her studio, and asks the ghosts to leave, but ghosts cannot leave without ritual.

She studies the little book that came inside the pack, and commits the order of cards to memory, then removes the staple and discards it. She sets the book into a cereal bowl. She does her best to clear the air of cobwebs, and gathers most of herself far back from the bowl, on the other side of the room, while three of her bravest spiders leverage a safety lighter and pull with all their might until the flame is triggered. She lights the book on fire. Spiders do not smile, but she feels a smile spread across her thousand bodies as she remembers the scent of burning paper, and of campfires, and of candle smoke.

Fire has been nearly outlawed in her house. The body she occupies when she pretends to be human is made of dry bones and cobwebs. Strands of silk gather in the corner of every room. When she remembers to, she eats the silk tracing all her paths through the house, but it is hard to remember trivialities when her mind is in so many places at once.

The house is a tinderbox, but ghosts pay attention to fire and to danger.

Pages curl. Embers glow. Fire dances in the bowl.

Her mind splits as her spiders scatter the cards across the floor and run over and around each other to set the deck in order.

The order, she remembers, is contested within the world of tarot, but she doesn’t care for pedantry. The deck was produced somewhere, and shipped out to some shop, and it is safe to assume that when her sister purchased them new, they were in the order listed in the tiny booklet. 

When she returns to her higher consciousness, the flame has gone out in the bowl, and the deck of cards lay in front of her, returned to factory settings. The cards no longer carry ghosts of old questions.

The woman who is made of a thousand spiders picks up the deck and taps it gently against her bookshelves, then sets it underneath the bowl of ashes where it will wait until the day she is ready to use her sister’s cards. At this moment, she doesn’t have any questions that can’t be better answered by Google.

That feeling will pass. In a few days she will forget the sense of completion that comes with quiet rituals, and existential dread will sneak into her exposed and fragile bones. Questions will come. But for now, she opens a window, and smoke clears from the room.

night fishing

Three nights ago the moon was replaced with a hard boiled egg. It does not rot, because the vacuum of space keeps it chilled. Nor does it freeze entirely and shatter into dust, because the egg was placed in the sky with magic.

The moon, the real one, not the egg, is fishing with her daughter on a lake somewhere north of Seattle. It is long past sunset, and bats flit about their tiny rowboat, plucking insects from the air before they can land and bite.

The daughter, Susie, does not trust the bats any more than she does the bugs, and huddles tight over her fishing pole. Her mother beams a smile at her, not thinking of bugs because she is made of light and rock and poetry. Mosquitos are not interested in poetry.

The lake is small and remote. Water gathers underneath their boat, fighting to be near her, longing like all waters do for the moon. A hill rises on the lake, and the fish, disturbed by strange currents, gather deep below the boat and wait restlessly to be left alone.

None are biting. The fishing trip is a disaster. Silence weighs deep between the benches of the rowboat.

“I want to start wearing makeup,” says Susie. She blushes and looks far across the lake, far from her mother’s eyes. “I took twenty bucks out of your purse and bought a bunch of eyeliners at the gas station and I’m sorry but I want to wear makeup and you don’t have any at the house.”

The moon blinks back her disappointment at the theft and surprise at the confession. She nods slowly. She has never worn makeup. Her beauty could not be improved by mortal instruments. She believes that her daughter could not look more lovely, but she knows that she is seeing Susie in multiple facets. A perfect tiny baby, an artistic eight year old, and the tenacious twelve year old who would steal to establish her sense of self and feel bad enough after to confess.

The moon leans forward in the boat and offers her own confession. “I don’t know how to put on makeup, Susie. I won’t be able to help you.”

Susie does not need her mother’s help. She has watched at least a hundred tutorials on YouTube, and practiced every night while her mother went off to rise in the sky. “I could show you some tips,” she says. “I’ve gotten pretty good at wings. It’s basically drawing, but your face is the paper.”

The moon reels in her fishing rod and drops the bait into the water as apology for disturbing the fish. “I’d love that.” She flicks her wrist, and the obliging lake carries their rowboat back to the trailer that waits on the shore. They hitch their rowboat to the moon’s Subaru, and pack their fruitless fishing trip back to town.

“Do you want to get fish and chips?” asks the moon as they pass a sign for Denny’s a quarter mile down the highway.

Susie grins. “I knew it’s the only way we’d catch anything.”