My Brother's a Spider
My wife and I were attending a parent-teacher conference for our eleven-year-old son. Everything was fine. His teacher had only glowing things to say about him, and we felt secure in knowing he was home with the babysitter at that very moment doing his homework.
Afterward, as we're about to leave the school a woman comes up to us. I vaguely recognize her from some meeting or other. She greets us with a big smile. "Happy to see you again. I want you to meet our two sons. This is Tommy." I see Tommy is about seven. "And this is his brother, Howard." She holds out her left hand. On it is a spider about the size of a balled up dollar bill.
I don't know what to say, but my wife never hesitates in these situations. Joanna jumps right out there and asks the woman if Howard really came from her body. I cringe inside. "He did," the woman says as if grateful for the question. "The problem is he only has two years to live."
The moment she announces this Howard catapults off the mother's hand and scampers on his spindly eight legs down the hallway. The parents go into panic mode, clearly terrified someone will step on him in their horror. Brother Tommy runs after him like a well practiced athlete. After a few feet, Tommy down-clamps his cupped hand on the floor, snatches his little brother with two fingers, and carts him back. The mother takes Howard in her hand, her finger pressed on his back to prevent further shenanigans. My wife carries on, somewhat aggressively, or disapprovingly, with her inquiry, getting right to the point. "Pardon me for asking, but is Howard able to express his love for you?"
"No," the mother says, "he has the emotions of an insect."
Tommy pipes up. "My brother's a spider. He thinks he belongs to us."
Evidently this explains why Howard makes a break for it whenever he gets the chance. Not to escape but just to get a breath of freedom from being owned and handled like a pet tarantula instead of a son.
I find the whole encounter horrible. I keep wondering what must it be like knowing that your son is special, has only two years more of life (is that the lifespan of spiders?), and for his own protection you have to keep him constantly under your finger or in a box? Can he breathe okay in the box? What if some day he runs off and you can't find him, or he gets crushed?
I guess what amazed me the most about it all was the way Tommy just accepted Howard as his brother and the way Howard's parents just naturally accepted he was a product of their marriage. To me it just proved again that once you decide to have a family, you never can tell the direction your life will take.
The woman of middle age sits naked in front of the large vanity dresser in the bedroom they have given her in the old resort hotel. The large oval mirror reflects the scene behind her: the bed with the flowered comforter, the French doors, a white balcony railing, blue and white waves raising and exhausting themselves along an empty beach.
The antique dresser contains a beehive of small and large drawers. Its beveled mirror makes the air in the room brighter. On top of the vanity lies a large lace doily. Creamy white paint covers old dents and previous paint chips, bringing the vanity's past and its present together.
Musing in a nostalgic mood before the vanity's mirror, the woman languorously removes parts of her body and places each one in a separate drawer until all that remains is her headless torso with its right arm and hand raised holding her glaring left eye between her thumb and forefinger. Uncertain what to do next.
Attending the Metempsychosis
Our beloved old orange cat, Mollie, had taken to sleeping through her days on a chair in the living room. One day, touched by the spring light, she ran out of the house, zoomed part way up a tree, jumped down and raced toward our small frog pond in the back.
She was going so fast she couldn't stop, cart-wheeled over the bank and splayed in. My wife ran out. Mollie was at the center of the pond. Cats can swim, and Mollie seemed to be doing okay. We watched as she dove down several times under the lily pads and her little head reemerged, her eyes squinting, little mouth spitting water.
Initially my wife felt more frantic about the situation than I did. She started to wade in after Mollie. At that point we began to observe the changes taking place in the little head coming up. Each time Mollie's mouth surfaced, it appeared rounder and more like a fish's. After a few times, Mollie's neck ceased to exist, having thickened into the line of her backbone. Mollie kept swimming near the surface, putting her head up, gasping for air. She obviously wanted nothing more than to get out of that environment.
My wife finally reached her. She was slippery. We extricated her at last from the water in my wife's arms. Poor Mollie was clearly terrified. The only thing we could think to do was take her to the shore, lie down on the bank with her and try to calm her. She strained in the grass, terribly agitated. My wife kept petting her. Her scales were orange and caught the light. Stroking her. "It's all right. Calm down, sweetheart, it's all right." Then we realized that since Molly was partly a fish now, fish need water to breathe. Molly clearly didn't want to be in the water, but wouldn't she die if we didn't force her back? We faced a horrible dilemma. So horrible we both began to cry. Half feline, half piscine, Molly gasped and flopped desperately in our arms. Despite all our ministrations, her changes continued unabated.
When we finally decided to release her to her new medium, she swam away immediately.
On shore, we watched for her orange head to rise again to the surface among the lily pads, but it never did.
When There Was Time
Upstairs in a room at the top of the long banister and musty landing, the old woman lay inert in her bed. Through the curtains, frail light filtered into the room; the room was jammed, turbid and layered from ceiling to floor and in every corner with antiquated time pieces. Each instrument affirmed a different moment. All around her heaped chronometrical gears and fly wheels she had been sorting by size.
Back downstairs, tripping over ourselves to get out the door, we could still hear the incessant tick tick tick of the old woman turning to dust in her bed.
JP Briggs is the author of Trickster Tales (Fine Tooth Press) and author and co-author of several nonfiction books on aesthetics and physics, including Fractals, the Patterns of Chaos (Simon & Schuster); Fire in the Crucible (St. Martin's Press); Seven Life Lessons of Chaos (HarperCollins), and Turbulent Mirror (HarperCollins), as well Metaphor, the Logic of Poetry (Pace University Press). He is editor of a 2012 collection of essays, Creativity & Compassion, How They Come Together (Karuna Press). Briggs is a former senior editor of Connecticut Review and managing editor of New York Quarterly. He is a Distinguished CSU Professor at Western Connecticut State University and a fellow of The Black Earth Institute.