Fiction / Sionnain Buckley
:: The Spider Mom ::
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.