Marshmallows and Spider Webs

Bruce carried a tray of four mugs with steaming hot chocolate and set them down on the coffee table before his children’s eager faces.  They plucked marshmallows from the bowl to add to their cups.  Robert always took twice as many as his sisters, but the youngest, Isadore, didn’t mind, as she only ever wanted one.  She poked it with her fingertip and watched it bob and swell.  

“It’s time once more, my dumplings,” Bruce said to their bright faces.

They sipped their hot chocolates, and nibbled their marshmallows, and accepted the skeins of colored yarn.  Isadore chose a feathered silver, Mileta chose a thick, Tyrian purple, and Robert, as always, chose thistle green.  

Bruce picked up a fine skein of turquoise, and rocked back and forth in his chair facing the loom, creating a rhythm as he worked the shuttlecock through the warp.  The children followed his rhythm, Isadore and Robert using their fingers instead of needles, and Mileta linking the yarn in chains with her crochet hook.  

He sang a gentle song in his soft tenor.  

“Weave the thread, weave the thread
Where the weft meets the warp
And the needle the thread”

The children picked up the thread of the song and carried it along with their tiny throats, creating a rough harmony with their father.

“Weave the thread, weave the thread
Where darkness settles
And footsteps cannot tread

Weave the thread, weave the thread
Spin lines long as the world
And let the netted blanket spread

Weave the thread, weave the thread
Lift the needles high
Until we’re called to bed”

And as they spun their yarn, he told them a story of the first spiders who inspired men and women to spin and weave their own cloth.  Between the verses of his tale, the children repeated the chorus, “Weave the thread, weave the thread,” and he smiled and together they made a tapestry and a shawl, a blanket and a vest.

The children sipped the dregs in their mugs, and Bruce gathered up their evening’s creations while they brushed their teeth.  Then he tucked them into their large bed beneath Mileta’s purple blanket with Isadore’s tiny, silver rosettes, and piping courtesy of Robert’s favorite yarn.

Bruce tidied the main room and was washing the dishes when a knock came at the door.  He unhooked the latch and opened it with caution.  “Grandmother,” he said with a slight gasp.  “What brings you here this late in the year?”

Grandmother Ara entered, her form filling most of the door frame as she passed through.  She settled on the loveseat and spread her black skirts wide around her.  “Bruce, my boy, what a lovely tapestry you have completed this night.”

He went to the loom and glanced down at the piece he’d woven.  A blasphemous account, if one knew how to see the old tale through the threads.  “Thank you, Grandmother.  Are you well?”

“It is time once more to lay the lines,” she said, “and set the crossroads to rights.”

A weary look overcame him.  “Grandmother, I don’t have the strength.”

“Nonsense,” she said, then looked around.  “Much like this habit you have of leaving out the other verses of the Weaving Song.  Sing them with me this night, and we will set to our good work.  Shall we?”

He settled himself on the oval rug on the floor, his head hung low.  “Weave the thread …” he began once more, but this time he didn’t stop with “bed,” yet continued.

Weave the thread, weave the thread
Hook the prey with needle’s prick
And knot it ’til it’s bled

Weave the thread, weave the thread
The warp, the weft, the weave are all
Until we’re cold and dead”

“The threads wear thin, and there is much we do not wish to cross the boundaries.  Yes?”

“Yes, Grandmother,” he stood, and took her proffered hand.

“Have you seen your wife?”

Bruce shut his eyes.  “Joro has yet to return.”

“Do this work with me tonight, and I will offer what assistance I can to find her once more.”

They exited the house, and she draped a gossamer cloth across the lintel to protect the children while they slept.  

Bruce saw the rip in the fabric.  A slight tear small enough it might go unnoticed by the average person, but to the trained eye, or a curious mind, this opening would be enough to see through, and perhaps widen until it became a passageway.  Worse yet, it stood at a crossroads where the heaviest traffic passed for both sides of the Veil.

Grandmother Ara produced one tiny silver needle and one of gold.  She handed the gold to Bruce, who held it delicately between his calloused fingers, afraid he might bend it out of its slender curve.  His hand dwarfed the needle as he brought the finest white thread he owned to its eye.  With slow motions and only a sliver of moon to see by, he pushed the sharp tip through the top of the rip, and brought it down to the bottom, working with care to create an even warp with which to weave.

Though he sang the Weaving Song, and focused on his endeavor, he couldn’t avoid peering through the hole in the Veil.  Shapes of unknown beings moved.  The silhouettes of gods or monsters, the glint of light off of glittering eyes.  There danced the wispy presence of the possible and improbable, and though they had yet to see him, he found it increasingly difficult to avoid looking at them.

“The weft, my child,” Grandmother Ara said, and he stepped aside.

A chilled breeze made him aware of the sheen of sweat broken out at his brow, lip, and back.  He held fast to the gold needle, while Grandmother used the silver to close the gap and heal the rift.

From behind her, he watched the passing visions, now less visible as the Veil healed, yet in the hazy, remaining gap of star fields, he saw a bright figure pause and turn toward her.

“You,” came the slippery voice of one not of their world, and a slender finger poked through the hole, reaching for a strand of hair come loose from Grandmother’s lace cap.  “After all these years–”

The finger took hold, and pulled hard at Grandmother Ara’s head, which quickly looked fit to collapse under the pressure.  Bruce rushed forward and pulled the scissors from his coat pocket, snipping the hair and a bit of his grandmother’s scalp.

She fell backwards, clutching at her head and her heart, while he snatched the needle from her hand.  He had to finish the work, before the probing finger did more damage.

He pricked the finger, but it didn’t bleed.  The delicate threads began to tear, and the ripping sound brought him to his knees.

Not knowing what else to do, he sunk his teeth into the finger, and for a moment, his perception stretched further and further from him.  He saw the glow of all the threads on the earth and beyond it, spreading out with its knots and crystal dew drops.  He felt the tremors of the movement of billions on both sides of the Veil, and he knew this being would not stop until She taught his Grandmother a lesson, though he didn’t understand her offense.

He bit until the god-thing howled, a sound between broken woman and enraged beast.  The moment She withdrew Her finger, he set to work, weaving both needles at once.  “Weave the thread, weave the thread,” he repeated until his voice was hoarse.  He reinforced the delicate areas, and doubled over his own work to be certain nothing could get through.

When they returned to his home, Bruce could no longer stand.  The weaving of the Veil by two was tiring.  Repairing it alone took far more than he had readily stored.  His children were waking with the dawn, and they came out of their room to find their father lying across the rug, his cheeks sunken and eyes red.

“Oh father!  What’s wrong?”

Grandmother Ara, sitting once more on the loveseat, called them to her.  “You must weave, my sweet children.  You must call upon the song within you, and weave him a healing blanket to return his strength to him.”

“But Grandmother,” said the small Isadore, “we don’t know how.”

“Do not fret, child, I will teach you,” and she set them to the Weaving Song, teaching them all the verses, and they wove Bruce a blanket, and they knitted Grandmother a cap to cover her torn head, and by the evening, their song carried down the long lines around the world where their mother felt its rhythm, and started once more toward home.


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