jewels (a spider story)

Illustration: david pratt

At first the spider bite felt nothing more than a pinch, but as the night went on Seth began to feel the bite take hold. He asked Emily if her bite was beginning to hurt her, and she nodded faintly, as she sat on the beat-up sofa seat, her long black hair a mess around her face. She was smiling faintly at him. Earlier that day they had been arguing and Gina had socked him the eye, leaving it bruised, and she ran out of the house and went to sit outside under a mean looking tree.

Looking at her from the kitchen window he could tell that she had regretted hitting him, and he thought she was beautiful. He went out and sat next to her, put his hand on her stomach, and felt the small bump where their baby was growing inside her. As he imagined what their child looked like in her small skeleton, he felt the pinch on his leg and he jumped up. It was then that he saw her, the tiny spider crawling quickly off his leg, as if even she knew that she had wronged him.

Emily sits atop the sofa seat, her face in her tiny hand watching the T.V. screen — her eyelids look heavy on her, like a little doll. Seth sits next to her and puts his head on her lap, and plays with her hair. She is watching a retro style game show with bright colors. The host is smiling at them from the screen. Emily says that the man’s hair bothers him. Both Seth and Emily try to solve the riddle on the game show — they spout out answers like it’s the alphabet. Seth grabs her hand and kisses it. He rubs the little mountain of her stomach, and her tiny cream-colored hand is small and warm, she shivers. She shakes small tremors and she smells like flowers. Just as the game show contestant has won an all-expenses paid trip to Maui, he imagines that he and Emily are on a beach with warm blue waters. He plays with Emily’s hair and she falls to sleep on the sofa seat. He feels warm, too. He wants a cool breeze.

Emily pads her tiny feet to the kitchen. Seth hears the water faucet run and he imagines the taste of the water. His mouth feels dry, and he follows her and drinks cup after cup of water. Emily dumps her own water down the drain and Seth watches the water go quickly down as if it were a penny down a wishing well. He imagines that the little spider will climb up from the drain to say hello. She looks majestic in her black suit, her legs fast yet delicate, arabesque like a ballerina’s. As she comes to the top of the drain, she curtsies and asks Seth how he is feeling. How are Emily and the little girl growing inside her? Seth remembers the pinch, small and quick, under the tree. He finds Emily on the seat again, holding her own long black hair in her hand. She rocks back and forth, as if her baby was born and she’s singing it to sleep.

Seth takes the nearest on-ramp to the freeway. The AC is on full blast but it makes Emily shiver and then it makes him shiver, so he turns it off and rolls down the window instead. The breeze outside is just cool enough for him, but the dirt itches his eyes and his nose and he is thankful that this long freeway lets him look at Emily, catch quick glimpses of her. She is still beautiful in the passenger seat, her black hair blowing in the patchy wind. He is surprised when she leans over to put on the radio. Her fingers are clumsy and she can’t find the right buttons — her little fingers turn knobs, and so he reaches over to do it for her. On her finger, her pointer finger, he sees a small red mark, a ruby hue radiates there.

The nurse at the check-in station sees the small bump on Emily, and calls someone to take her right away. Emily holds on to Seth, and smiles weakly. She still smells faintly like perfume, and he feels her shiver against him. The waiting room is a soft hum of voices and machines. A large dark haired man comes for Emily with a wheelchair. She whispers something in Seth’s ear, but he cannot hear exactly what she says because of the dull ache in his head. He kisses her mouth and pulls her little red sweater over her shoulder blades. Her finger, Seth tells the man. Please check her finger. It’s on her finger. The nurse at the check-in station asks Seth to sit down and she begins to take his blood pressure. He watches the man push Gina down the hallway until they disappear. He feels the cuff on his arm grow tight, and then release.

Seth watches the faces in the waiting room look like little dots. A little girl wobbles to his knee and puts her hand on it. Her chubby hand feels heavy, and he smiles at her out of courtesy even though she’s faceless. She wears a purple dress and her hair is stitched in a long black braid. Her mother’s voice calls her from somewhere in the room, and she follows. Seth looks down at his leg and he sees the bite there, now purple, like some hue birthed from the little girl’s dress. He crosses his leg over one knee and looks closer at the bite and sees that it really is a graduation of color, like the rings of a tree. He sees purples and blue and pinks, crescents, one on top of the other. He goes back to the nurse at the check in station to ask about Emily. He tells her that Emily is pregnant and she reminds him that she knows, that Emily is being taken care of and that he, too, will be up shortly. The nurse is now faceless, but her voice is the same as it was before. He thinks about the baby growing inside Emily, somewhere in those hospital walls, flesh and bones and blood, crescents, one on top of the other.

The bite is much more than a pinch. This nurse is faceless too, but he can hear her voice, as she counts down the steps for him, what she’ll do. You’ll feel a sting and you’ll feel the medicine go in. She tells him he can see Emily soon, but he needs to get his rest. He can only nod an answer. She takes him to a large room with many beds and many people and asks him to lie down. Seth lies on the hospital paper. A blanket for you, she says. He knows that the light is bright in there but he feels his eyes lull. She pulls a large red curtain around the bed and tells him that she will be back shortly. Seth can hear many tiny voices and the soft beat of machinery, and he smells alcohol and cotton swabs and blood and urine, but looking down at his leg he sees there’s a bandage patch where the purple bite had been. That ring, once there, has been concealed and knowing he should not remove the patch he begins to lament the loss of the purple ring, like a jewel, now knowing it was a twin to Emily’s bite, the one that he had seen so clearly that afternoon, and as he felt his eyes lull with the antidote, he saw the little spider coming around the curtain, to say Hello, to ask where Emily was, to ask for the baby inside her, the one crawling inside her.