The Spider Mom

Fiction / Sionnain Buckley

:: The Spider Mom ::

a fairy­tale

Com­ma and Mil­li­cent had been try­ing for a baby for the past four­teen months. Every month they would take turns—odd months were Com­ma and even were Mill. And every month for four­teen months, they would both start bleed­ing on the first Mon­day, the moon and the close prox­im­i­ty keep­ing them synced. Octo­ber had come again, and anoth­er Mon­day, and Com­ma and Mill sat in the kitchen feel­ing the bloods exit from between their legs in slow first-day fash­ion. They stared at their emp­ty lunch plates, the crumbs of their chick­en sal­ad sand­wich­es, their crum­pled nap­kins.

Just out­side the win­dow above the sink, a maple branch dan­gled, drops of water shin­ing at the points of the leaves from the morn­ing rain show­er. They were feel­ing sur­prised and not sur­prised at the same time, and frus­trat­ed at both of these reac­tions. It was no mat­ter how bad­ly they want­ed a child, no mat­ter how many jars of semen they car­ried back to their bed­room, no mat­ter how many hours they spent tipped upside down against the couch while the oth­er read aloud from their favorite child­hood books. They hadn’t done it, yet again.

So Com­ma and Mill sat there in the kitchen and bled togeth­er. And when they got tired of that, they stood up and rinsed their lunch plates in the sink. Mill want­ed to close the cur­tains and take a nap, but Com­ma sug­gest­ed they get out of the house. So they stop­pered them­selves up and went out into the wet world to ask for some help.

Their first stop was to their best friend, a nurse, because they knew that before giv­ing any of her med­ical­ly sound advice, she would hug them each gen­tly and pull out the tray of teabags for their perusal. “Are you tak­ing all those sup­ple­ments I gave you?” she asked them. They were.

After they said good­bye to their best friend and thanked her for the tea, they walked down the block to their doc­tor, who looked at them straight-faced and said the same thing he always said: “Just come in, and I can do it for you. It’ll make your lives so much eas­i­er. I don’t see what the resis­tance is.” They thanked him and gave thin smiles to the recep­tion­ist on their way out.

Next they went to the mid­wife, who tucked her knees under her and leaned for­ward in her flo­ral arm­chair as they relayed the news. “Maybe it’s time to try a dif­fer­ent approach?” she said care­ful­ly. She offered up her suite of rooms and her own exper­tise, sug­gest­ed the donor’s par­tic­i­pa­tion, or even more than one. Mill coughed qui­et­ly into her hand. Com­ma shook her head and said they’d touch base with her soon. “She may as well’ve just called it an orgy,” Com­ma whis­pered when they were out­side again.

Anoth­er vis­it to anoth­er nurse friend war­rant­ed a repeat­ed refrain: “You haven’t for­got­ten those sup­ple­ments I gave you…?” Anoth­er cup of tea and it seemed their blad­ders were too full for this.

They went into the chapel on a whim—Comma’s idea—and slid into a pew beside the pas­tor, who lift­ed his head from his bowed prayer at their arrival. “God gives us all, in time,” he said, smil­ing at their frowns. “Have you prayed on your readi­ness?” Mill nod­ded sage­ly. “Try going to see Dr. Hay­lor,” the pas­tor sug­gest­ed. “He does those pro­ce­dures all the time.”

After stop­ping at the bak­ery for donuts (and the baker’s advice that they need­ed to plump up a bit, give it more to latch on to, here have a few more pas­tries, on the house), they went to talk to the innkeep­er, who was a fount of every­one else’s secrets. As she bus­tled around the inn’s kitchen, she rat­tled off the names of every­one in the coun­ty who had arti­fi­cial­ly insem­i­nat­ed in the past fif­teen years. Not that many, it turned out. “And who actu­al­ly got a baby?” Com­ma asked. The innkeep­er paused next to the sink with a fry­ing pan in each hand. “Lola Peters, and the Trench­es, but only after they went to Dr. Hay­lor. There was Jil­lian, too, you remem­ber her, but I can’t real­ly count that.” Com­ma and Mill were too tired at this point to ask the innkeep­er why she didn’t count Jil­lian, and they didn’t both­er to men­tion that nei­ther of them knew a Jil­lian any­way.

Before return­ing home, they stopped at their neighbor’s house to see Artie, the sev­en-year-old they watched some­times on week­ends when his father was away. When he asked why they looked sad, Com­ma explained, and when he asked why it hadn’t worked, Com­ma explained that they didn’t know. “You know who’s real­ly good at hav­ing babies?” Artie said. “Spi­der moms. Some­times five hun­dred at once.” Artie had been on an ani­mal king­dom kick late­ly, spout­ing off ran­dom wildlife facts at his fan­cy. “You should just ask a spi­der mom what to do!” He went back to sep­a­rat­ing his Legos into col­or-cod­ed piles, and Com­ma and Mill crossed the street and went home.

Back in their small kitchen, Mill opened the cab­i­nets and took down the bot­tles of vit­a­mins and min­er­als and herbal tinc­tures that their nurse friends had giv­en them. She lined them up on the counter in size order—the biggest jar with the bright yel­low horse pills on one end, and the tiny brown stop­per bot­tle of sub­tle ener­gy for­mu­la on the oth­er. She stared at the line of sup­ple­ments, count­ed them duti­ful­ly, con­sid­ered reorder­ing them based on the like­li­ness of them help­ing in the slight­est, then placed them all back in their spots in the cab­i­nets.

Com­ma watched all of this from the kitchen table, and when Mill turned around, Com­ma pulled out the oth­er chair and poked it invit­ing­ly with her foot. “Maybe we’re just on the wrong months,” Com­ma said as Mill sat down across from her. “Maybe we need to switch evens and odds.” Mill frowned in response. “Or each do a few months in a row,” Com­ma tried. “Or get a cou­ple dif­fer­ent donors.” Com­ma kept spout­ing off all the alter­na­tives she could come up with, paus­ing between them to watch Mill’s face earnest­ly.

Maybe we just need to ask a spi­der,” Mill whis­pered, star­ing down at her hands in her lap. Nei­ther of them laughed, they just looked up at each oth­er with the grav­i­ty that comes with help­less­ness.

Okay,” Com­ma said. She stood up and pulled her chair to the cen­ter of the kitchen floor, then dragged the legs of Mill’s chair until it was direct­ly fac­ing hers. Com­ma sat back down, her knees just brush­ing Mill’s. “If we sit here long enough, one is bound to come along.”

Mill insist­ed on get­ting them each a glass of water, but after that they sat down and didn’t move again. By the time the sun had start­ed set­ting they seemed to have agreed that they would stay that way. They watched the light fall across each other’s faces, across the tiled floor. The first hour they most­ly stared at each oth­er right in the eyes, but after that they took turns. They very well could’ve talked, but Mill seemed to need the silence, and Com­ma wasn’t going to push it. They only broke posi­tion to take sips from their water or to cross and uncross their legs. It made the most sense to keep them uncrossed, to more even­ly bleed, but after a point they were soaked regard­less.

It was the dead mid­dle of the night, the win­dows black, the track lights above the stove cast­ing the room half-lit, when Mill final­ly broke the silence. “Are you sleep­ing?” she whis­pered to Com­ma, who had closed her eyes for a bit to rest. She hadn’t slumped or jerked at all, so Mill wasn’t so sure. Com­ma nod­ded with­out open­ing her eyes, so Mill let her sleep.

When the sun rose the next morn­ing, Com­ma woke up to Mill’s face star­ing straight at her. She knew with­out look­ing down that her pants were soaked com­plete­ly through, sat­u­rat­ed and dry­ing a dark maroon down to the mid­dle of her thighs. Mill was beat­ing her—the blood had near­ly reached her knees. Com­ma won­dered if Mill would make a move to get some break­fast, but she just stayed put, stared at Com­ma for a few min­utes, and then turned to the win­dow to watch a bird hic­cup across the sill.

It was past noon on that first day when Com­ma sug­gest­ed that maybe they need­ed to at least take some iron pills. “It’s like fast­ing,” Mill said, clos­ing her eyes and let­ting her head roll on her neck in a slow semi-cir­cle from ear to ear. Com­ma could hear Mill’s stom­ach grum­bling from here. Under her, and under Mill as well, soft clumps of con­gealed blood were slip­ping out and gath­er­ing in warm piles between their legs.

Com­ma and Mill wrapped their ankles around the legs of the kitchen chairs, knees open and bloody. They talked about names, an old sub­ject of which they nev­er seemed to tire. They wished some­times that they could have three hun­dred babies, if only to use all the names they had come up with over the years. Eleanor. Selene. Kai. Tes­la. Mar­got. Natalia. Cecil. Sylvia. Julian. Oliv­er. Lucy. Ronan. They recit­ed the names back and forth to each oth­er, like the instruc­tions to a much-used recipe, or the words of a prayer. The sun set through the win­dow, a mag­nif­i­cent red that they may have said remind­ed them of blood, under dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances.

Some days passed, enough for them to lose count, to lose feel­ing in their legs, to lose—it seemed—every pint of blood in their bod­ies. It had reached the hems of their pants and con­tin­ued, drip­ping between their bare toes and run­ning into the grooved edges between the tiles of the floor. Around them, from the emp­ty rooms, came the creaks of the radi­a­tors cycling through their own flu­ids.

I want you,” Mill whis­pered one evening. The kitchen was gray around them, los­ing light fast. Com­ma looked up at Mill. She had wrapped her calves tighter around the chair legs, and Com­ma could see streaks of red stain­ing the wood. Her knees were angled open. Again she whis­pered, “I want you,” and tilt­ed her hips just bare­ly clos­er. Com­ma imag­ined stand­ing, imag­ined low­er­ing her­self between Mill’s spread legs, blood on dried blood. Instead, she shift­ed until her knees brushed Mill’s, until she pressed against them. Mill shiv­ered against the hard wood­en back of the chair, and Comma’s heart dipped against her ribs. The light fell from the kitchen com­plete­ly.

When the spi­der final­ly arrived, they had near­ly for­got­ten they were wait­ing for her. Near­ly. She made a sub­tle entrance, crawl­ing halt­ing­ly over Comma’s thigh and stop­ping with her spindly legs poised, wait­ing. She faced Mill, or so Mill assumed, based on her lim­it­ed knowl­edge of spi­der anato­my. Truth­ful­ly, Mill appre­ci­at­ed spi­ders from a fig­u­ra­tive or sym­bol­ic stand­point but didn’t much care for their phys­i­cal bod­ies near hers. “Com­ma,” she said, point­ing. And Com­ma saw.

They sat there with the spi­der for a long time. A long enough time that Com­ma won­dered if maybe they need­ed to get Artie in here as a medi­a­tor. The spi­der hadn’t moved an inch since stop­ping on Comma’s thigh and hadn’t turned away from star­ing at Mill. All the blood had dried by now on both of them, except for what stayed warm between their legs.

Okay,” Mill final­ly whis­pered. “So what do we do?” She direct­ed the ques­tion at the spi­der, but after a few min­utes of silence, Com­ma couldn’t help but inter­ject. “I can’t decide if this means she’s choos­ing me or you,” Com­ma said. “She came to me, right? But she hasn’t tak­en her eyes off you since she got here.” Mill ignored this and con­tin­ued to stare at the spi­der instead, who, for what it’s worth, seemed to ignore this as well.

Okay,” Mill said again, many hours lat­er. Com­ma wasn’t sure what she was respond­ing to, but it did sound like a response, like Mill had received a trans­mis­sion that Com­ma wasn’t privy to. She fought the sud­den urge to reach down and smash the spi­der with the palm of her hand. She some­times had those urges, incred­i­ble ones, that she couldn’t bear to act on, but craved regardless—driving across the medi­an, jump­ing from a high over­look, mov­ing the blade of the kitchen knife just a lit­tle far­ther. The spi­der shim­mied in place a lit­tle, per­haps nod­ded, then pro­ceed­ed to turn back the way she came, down over the edge of the chair and across the bloody kitchen tiles.

Mill was the first to try to stand, although she near­ly top­pled her chair, and Comma’s as well, with Com­ma in it. “Bread,” she said, and Comma’s stom­ach imme­di­ate­ly respond­ed, groan­ing obscene­ly in the direc­tion of Mill’s back. The two of them hob­bled around the kitchen, gath­er­ing what­ev­er they could find that hadn’t spoiled. A jar of peanut but­ter, a pack­age of dried apples, the last three slices of multi­grain bread. Com­ma fig­ured they would talk about the spi­der once they had food in their bod­ies. Mill fig­ured Com­ma could hear every­thing the spi­der had said and was qui­et­ly mulling it over. Nei­ther of them said a word of this. They ate the bread and the apples in less than three min­utes, then fed the peanut but­ter to each oth­er from their fin­gers until the jar was wiped clean.

 

From the writer

:: Account ::

The image of two women sit­ting across from each oth­er, legs wrapped around the legs of their chairs, bleed­ing them­selves dry, orig­i­nal­ly showed up for me in a poem. I don’t write poet­ry often, but when I do it tends to be bloody. Men­stru­al-bloody in par­tic­u­lar. Go fig­ure. I want­ed to do more with this image, so I lift­ed it and placed it some­where that strange images are accept­ed with­out ques­tion and treat­ed with sin­cer­i­ty: the fairy­tale. Inside this form, I knew that I wouldn’t have to change the image, or even explain it much. And maybe the sto­ry doesn’t end up being much of a fairy­tale, tra­di­tion­al­ly speak­ing, aside from the bloody mess (and the wise spi­der of course), but cen­ter­ing the excess of the blood was impor­tant to me for the pur­pos­es of the sto­ry. As a queer woman, I have had a wide­ly vary­ing rela­tion­ship with my men­stru­a­tion. As my opin­ion of and desire for moth­er­hood has changed over time, my blood has felt alter­nat­ing­ly wel­come and point­less and com­pli­cat­ed and super­flu­ous. For two queer and men­stru­at­ing women who want noth­ing oth­er than to have a child togeth­er but are con­sis­tent­ly fail­ing, the sim­ple excess of blood in itself is a taunt from the body, an insult to every earnest effort. I want­ed to hon­or the feel­ing of that excess and allow it a phys­i­cal pres­ence in the sto­ry.

 

Sion­nain Buck­ley is a writer and visu­al artist orig­i­nal­ly from Long Island. She has worked as a mural­ist, a farm­hand, a per­son­al chef, and a facil­i­ta­tor for a queer book club for LGBTQ+ teenagers. When she isn’t writ­ing strange sto­ries, she is con­sum­ing queer media and pop­corn in equal mea­sure. Her fic­tion has appeared in New South and Crab Fat Mag­a­zine.