Ainsley waded through the long summer grass, trailing her hands over the tips, picking at the seeds. Spending a week at Nanna and Grandpa’s farm every summer was a hoped for trip. She loved the time alone on the open spaces of the farm, her grandfather’s coarse workman’s hands and Nanna’s flour-covered cooking apron. This year she was glad to be away from the tenseness between her mother and father.
The week was coming to an end. Her parents were arriving tomorrow but school was another week away. She planned to catch up with friends at the movies and get her books and pens ready for Year 9.
Breathing in the dusty mix of scratched earth, corn meal and excrement Ainsley looped her fingers through the wire of the chicken coop and watched the hens bathing in the loose dirt, imitating their soft clucking noises. The warmth of fresh eggs in the palm of her hand taken from the dry hay was one of her favourite memories.
Bending down she picked burrs from the hem of her skirt. On her feet was a pair of sturdy pull-on work boots, replacements for her city sandals and security against all manner of creepy-crawlies. Last year she had seen a red-bellied black snake slide away from the hen house, its belly full of new chicks.
She moved into the cool shade of the fruit trees, a mix of oranges and lemons; Nanna made a wicked marmalade jam. It’s like my own Garden of Eden, she thought. At the end of the row she came across an obstruction. Spanning the gap between two fruit trees was a complex spider web, the strands of silk a spider’s highway. She looked around for the occupant and found it holed up inside a curled up leaf.
Squatting down Ainsley looked intently at the construction, the concentric circles fanning out like someone a dropped a pebble in the air and made it ripple. In the breeze it flexed and swayed. With her eye she traced the support threads, cables securing the web to leaf and tree and grass. Tentatively she plucked with her finger at one of the support threads, feeling the slight stickiness of the silk. She knew from Biology that it was one of the strongest fibres spun. She pulled at one of the strands, wanting to see how far it would stretch until it snapped. As she pulled, the web flexed until the strand went limp under her finger as it broke. True strength had give and take, yet there was fragility so easy to destroy.
A sharp whistle was followed by an enquiry, “Ainsley?” Her grandfather stood on the back steps while Buster the border collie cross Jack Russell echoed the question.
“Coming,” yelled Ainsley.
She brushed her skirt flat, ducking under low branches on her way back to the edge of the line of trees. Buster skidded to a halt in front of her, nuzzling her hand.
“Ainsley, love,” her grandfather said, “Could you come inside please.”
“Sure, Grandpa.” Kicking off her boots she entered the coolness of the kitchen and saw her mother seated at the table. Her mother’s eyes were red, her cheeks splotchy, a tissue wrung between her hands. Ainsley rushed to her mother and threw her arms around her like she was a life preserver.
“What’s wrong, Mum.”
“Sit down, dear. I have something to tell you.”
Nanna and Grandpa sidled out of sight, but within earshot.
Her mother put down the tissue and put her hands over Ainsley’s. “While you’ve been away, your father and I have been having lots of talks. About us. Me and your father. You know how things have been a little stressful lately.”
She paused to wipe her nose. “We talked about things a lot and decided that it would be good if we were to split up. Just for a time.” She saw her daughter begin to crumble.
“I’m so sorry, sweetheart. This is not your fault. I was wondering if you could stay here with Nanna and Grandpa for a few more days until things are sorted?”
Ainsley had no words; each statement was another phrase of white noise.
“I’m so sorry,” her mother repeated.
Ainsley withdrew her hands from under her mother’s and left the table. At the back door she put her boots on. Fleeing the house she sought refuge.
Tears flowed uninterrupted. The hens scattered with indignant clucks as Ainsley ran past the coop into the shade of the fruit trees. The wracking sobs emptied her body as she vomited in the shadows, the bitter stomach acid burning her throat.
Wiping her mouth with the back of her hand she moved deeper into the protection of the fruit trees until she reached the spider’s web; Eden seemed a distant place.
As strong as her trust and belief was in her parents was, it was fragile now. Picking at the blades of grass she threw them at the spider’s web, watching them stick. The web shifted under the layering of each blade, sagging in places.
Sticks and stones… she recited.
With greater force she aimed a twig at the web, punching a little hole. She didn’t care she was destroying the spider’s home; the anger at her parents surged. Viciously she threw grass and sticks. Some stuck to the web, others tore holes. She threw more and more.
Collapsing with sudden force under the weight of Ainsley’s onslaught the centre of the web was rent in half. The broken wisps trailed in the heat, broken flags of war. Strength had revealed its fragility, weighed down until it collapsed, torn at its very heart. In time, the spider would rebuild its web. She wondered when she would find the strength to rebuild.