Andrew L. Wilson
THE SPIDER'S HOUSE
He sees the shining back of her head, her mass of hair, in the mirror on the wall of the cafe as he enters through the reflecting glass doors. She's bent over a notebook, spiral and hand sized, writing. He goes to the table and bends over it and kisses her as she smiles at him with her lips and eyes.
You're cold, she says.
They laugh as if he'd said something funny.
The waiter, in a soiled white jacket too tight for him at the shoulders, comes over. His dark hair is slicked back. Di me tutto. Tutto? Si.
She was a little girl. That was a long time ago and in darkness. She lay on a hotel bed. Water surged in the pipes. It was twilight. Soon, it came into her head suddenly, she wouldn't exist anymore, she'd die, she'd be dead.
That little girl with the pure, subtly mischevious smile, poised to throw a ball. A black bow in her hair.
Give me your hand. Where are you?
I'm gone. I'm somewhere back in time. I went back for the flash of a moment to being a child on a beach somewhere, posed for the snap of a camera shutter.
Go to sleep. You shouldn't stay up brooding.
But I'm not. I'm remembering. Is that the same as brooding?
I wonder. If you don't recall the past does it exist? I mean, images I have can exist in no one else's head. They're mine, I saw them.
Why are you crying? I don't know, I don't know. I hate myself when I get like this.
I'm writing but I'm not responsible for the sentences. They come to me from outside as if imposed by another's will. As if spoken almost directly into my ear and resounding there. Sometimes just this one word: You.
He stands on the balcony squinting into the glare. Or: He goes down to the beach and walks along it to the sand flats where the water spreads out at low tide, glassily reflecting the sky and the drifting clouds
The amazing thing is that somehow language preserves what no longer exists. At least as a ghost.
What's agony to you is passion to me. And more than passion, love. And more than love, despair. If there is a God I think he despairs over us, he suffers for our loneliness. He is no help in this world or the next.
He walked across the sand flats which, covered by a sheet of water, reflected the sky and the clouds drifting in it.
Why are you sad? Because my parents are dead, and my friends are all gone. Isn't that reason enough? She looked closely into his eyes. But I'm here. That matters to you, doesn't it? It must. He laughed and looked away, shaking his head.
It never ceases to amaze me, growing old. Don't you realize how awful everything is, how dark?
As a child, I was nervous. I had fine hands and long, gorgeous eyelashes. I didn't like school. I preferred to be alone with my books and my own writings and drawings. My teachers said I was talented and creative. I took this to heart. I am a person who is talented, I thought. I am creative. I will go far.
He put his hand on my head. I shut my eyes as he pressed his hand to the flattened hair. You're a good son. No, I'm not. But you're not a good dad, so what does it matter?
I ordered a bottle of champagne. The waiter had some trouble opening it. As the cork popped and spilling champagne lathered the side of the bottle, some people sitting at the table nearest us clapped. I took a bow.
Do you love me? She undid a button. Kiss this. I kissed the cool freckled skin as her hair swung across my nape. Oh God, I said.
I'd watch her apply her lipstick in the cabinet mirror. I'd hand her the stockings to slip on over her long tan legs.
I wish I hated you more. I wish I desired you less. But I don't. The more I hate, the more I want. Isn't that Catullus? Who? She turned to me. The slim pale shoulder, the delicate breast. Catullus. You know. The Roman poet. In love with Lesbia. Hopeless.
She had a wide brilliant mouth and a way with verbs. I was always excited to see her sitting in the cafe with her book open. Always a novel by some Victorian blue stocking. I don't believe in fiction, she once said. I want truth. Do your novels give you that? I asked her. She smiled. Sometimes.
I barely had faith left in my own words. I sat still under the bare light bulb. My mind was reeling.
We could see a lighted kitchen entrance to the side with its own flight of steps and a small garden covered with a wooden grape arbor from which vines dangled. We went up the flight of stairs to the front door of Al Molino, and just inside were met by Signore Molino himself, in a red sweater -- an old man, smiling, with gray hair and lined, slightly hollow cheeks. He had a distinguished aura about him and seemed very happy to be greeting us at the door of his establishment. He waved his hand at a tilted wooden tray of different types of fresh seafood held in place by dividers.We saw shrimp and squid and other fresh fish on pieces of ice, shining under the lights.
It's just me. Who's me? Open the door, I said. We'll talk.
Tell me a story. Tell me about a little boy on a dark street shouting out for his mother. Tell me about the same boy all grown up and staring at his face in the mirror.
She was wearing red velvet pants. She had her hair tied with a black ribbon. I hope you know that I care about you, she said. I said, I think I do. Don't think, she said. You've got to believe it with your heart. She raised herself on tiptoes and pressed her lips to mine firmly. I opened my lips to hers and she thrust her writhing tongue inside.
Let's get out of here, I said. What? You want to go? That wicked hint of a smile. You know I do. Okay. Let me get my wrap. We drove fast with the wind rushing in our hair. I parked by the beach. We tumbled out of the car and dashed across the sand into darkness. I fell in the sand first and she threw herself on top of me. We wrestled. She held my head between her fists and kissed me with her mouth open.
You're laughing at me again, she cried. I'm funny to you. No. He tried to soothe her. She flinched away from his hand.
I kiss you and it feels right. Why is that? I used to kiss men and it would feel wrong. I don't know why. It's hard to describe. I wrapped her in my jacket. She gave a little smile, cheeks flushed bright red from the cold.
Ah. Such pure skin. It's like satin.
I woke in a dark room and sat up breathing hard from panic.
What in the fuck is wrong with you? she cried. Leave me alone. Just go
I see us waking up with the dazzling sea framed in the window, every morning at dawn, to the thin screeching of the gulls.
I dropped the aspirin bottle and the aspirin spilled out onto the floor. As I crouched to gather up the scattered pills, I clunked my head on an edge of the sink. Blood poured from the cut. I sat heavily, breathing hard. I think I may have passed out for a few seconds. When I came to, I staggered out of the bathroom and thew myself face down on the bed. I woke up a few hours later, my forehead stuck to the pillowcase, and when I tore the pillowcase away the cut started bleeding again, this time a thin trickle.
Hey. Let's go out. I don't feel like eating here tonight. I want to go somewhere where there's people.
So -- you're writing stories? No, I said. I was writing a novel. It was going to be a collage of little pieces. It begins in the middle. And the end always comes too soon
She laid a palm on my flushed forehead. Wow. You're burning up there.
I thought about fragments of the past I was remembering from my childhood. I thought about eating Campbell's tomato soup and a peanut butter sandwich.
And now you might ask where I'm going with all this. Is there a story here with a beginning, a middle an ending? Don't think I'm not familiar with Aristotle's Poetics. The tyranny of the classical story arc has little appeal for me.
I sat on the bed and let flagrant images come to me. Flagrant images of lovemaking with a girl who had such pure skin and dark circles under her eyes and pearls in her pierced ears
We went up to Taormina and walked from square to square. It was hot in the sun in the narrow stone streets. As we came out of an archway, pigeons scattered.
Maybe it's all for the best. No, I said. I suspect it's all for the worst, only we're too blinded by our optimism to realize that sad fact. It's a devastating fact. But all facts are devastating.
Facts don't interest me, lives do. Experiences and passions and ideas do. But facts, no.
You never thought you'd be holding the hand of someone as cute as I am, I'll bet. Don't be so sure about that, I said.
She slipped off her bra and tossed it onto the bed.
The sea rose up and fell over on itself.
Why are you so hard to please? Maybe you think you deserve an angel for a girlfriend, but you've got a human being.
We went up to her studio. I stood before a huge canvas. It was painted black. The black paint was laid on so thickly and was so high gloss that it acted as a mirror. You didn't see details, you just saw a shadowy you. She came over to stand at my side so that two warped human figures, gender unspecific, gazed out of the blackness of the painting at us.
Do you like it? Say yes.
She walked to him from the other end of the beach, slim in her black bikini. He willed himself to remember her always like that. But could he, really?
We're all the same, he recalls her saying. That warm, intimate voice in his ear.
I was sad. Why was I sad? I didn't know. Maybe I liked being sad. Maybe sadness inspired me.
I fell asleep in my seat. When I woke, there was a woman sitting across from me. She was in shorts and a haltertop and was reading Madame Edwarda by Georges Bataille.
The slim girl sat on the beach typing into her laptop.
Tell me what it is you're writing.
It's a novel.
Is it? What's it about?
She pushed the sunglasses down with a finger. I saw her eyes.
Don't tell me, I said. It's about a lost love. It's about longing and about death. And there's a journey in it, and people meeting by bizarre coincidence and changing each other’s lives.
The sea dazzled the sky. Like the eye that sees you.
She shut the laptop and yawned, covering her mouth with the back of a hand, then stood suddenly and strode down the beach into the placid sea. I watched her, crouching, dip one shoulder then the other. There were clouds riding the horizon in the stark dazzle. She turned and laughed at me standing there with my hand over my eyes to shade them.
What do you see out there?
I smoothed sweat on her hot hip with my fingers.
Oh. Do that again.
She bit my earlobe. Ouch. Damn it. Don't do that.
Oh, don't be a baby. You can't take a little pain?
I slit open the envelope and withdrew the folded paper and opened it flat on my desk and read the few sentences written there. Ridiculous. I don't want to have anything to do with this insane woman. I crumpled it and tossed it into the wastebin beside the desk.
Why do you never answer my letters? Don't you know how much I think about you? Every day, every minute.
Why are you following me?
He pointed to his chest and mouthed, me?
Yes. You. That's right. Why?
Voice hoarse. Gloved hands clenched into fists. Long, loose hair wild.
He looked around.
Can we go someplace and talk about this?
That's funny. No way.
She stroked my hair as I knelt and licked her thighs.
It's life I want. You've got that. Don't you? She smiled. She had bare arms and her hair shone in the sunlight.
I was a reader first and writer later. I wrote because I loved to read, and sometimes maybe some of the books I read seemed to me a little inadequate. To read the sort of books I really wanted to read, I soon realized, I would have to write them.
Some workers passed us carrying a beam. The streets, paved with stones laid down in complicated patterns, had over the centuries of use been worn as smooth as glass. It's like a fairy tale here, she said.
He walked down the narrow gleaming corridor of the train to his compartment. He slid his suitcase onto the overhead rack and sat. The train started with a series of jolts and then gained speed out of the station. He sat still watching the countryside speed by. He saw fields and overflowing barrels full of garbage and the sides of clapboard houses and junked cars and the shattered windows of a factory. The sun was setting.
He touched her bare skin and she pressed it against him. He shut his eyes. He kissed parts of her skin, licked and kissed along her jaw and bit the soft skin below an ear and then kissed and bit her neck.
He walked into the pines and sat. He was very tired. He lay on his back and shut his eyes and listened to the wind blowing high up in the branches. He woke as the sun was going down. He sat up, cold.
He liked her soft way of smiling and her radiant hair and the way she always sat with her legs gathered beneath her on the sofa. Sooner or later they'd kiss and she'd moan a little as he stroked the pale tips of her breasts with his fingertips.
There's no story. No plot. Above all, no characters.
Insofar as the book exists, life disappears.
Is that so?
Yes, it's so.
Touches her lips. Hands. Hair.
Eyes green. Windblown fair hair. Short leather jacket.
You have such soft cheeks. I love that.
He strokes her hair with the back of his hand. Stop that, she says. He takes his hand away. Lets it fall into his other hand.
Fuck yourself, she said. She picked up her gloves. I'm leaving.
I like to watch you put on your lipstick.
Oh? Why's that? she asked, screwing it shut.
So, what do you do?
I said, I drink.
No, you don't.
Yes, I said, raising my glass and drinking from it. I do.
She moaned and stretched her legs out taut on the bedsheet. There was a little light in the room still. I licked the moisture welling up out of the dark depths of her body. Jesus, she said.
I took off my shirt and then my pants. I folded the pants and laid them over the back of a chair. She came out of the small bathroom with a toothbrush in her mouth, holding her hair back with one hand. She smiled at me, took the toothbrush out of her mouth, and came over for a kiss. I tasted the toothpaste. I put a hand between her legs as I kissed her. Hmm, she said. Bad boy. She bit my earlobe. Ouch, I said. She laughed and walked back into the bathroom and I heard her rinsing her mouth at the sink.
It started raining in rough drops. We dashed through it, screaming. Then it was as if the sky shattered and was coming down in wet flashes.
I sorted through my marbles. I had marbles of all colors, swirling colors
He stood in the grayness at the bus stop. He was holding a lunch box. In the lunch box was an aluminum Batman thermos and a wax paper wrapped sandwich and a small plastic container of Jello pudding. The bus came slowly up the street and stopped. He followed the other kids up into the bus and sat on one of the cracked seats. He placed the side of his head on the window. He shut his eyes. The bus whommed off. He opened his eyes and saw telephone poles with crows sitting on the wires strung between. He shut his eyes again. He opened them and saw a car sitting in a field. He shut his eyes again, and opened them again, and saw pine trees close by, flashing past.
He sits in the caffe over a cup of esspresso with his notebook open, the pages flashing as he turns them, frowning at the fragments in it scrawled in thin, spidery handwriting in black and blue ink.
Then he claps the notebook shut and stares at himself in a wide mirror, against a backdrop of flashing sea and unclouded sky.