The Spider Web

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.

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22 responses to “The Spider Web

  1. Spider web is a great metaphor for life, marriage, strength and weakness – enjoyed this one immensely Adam.

  2. Wonderful metaphor for resilience. Beautiful imagery throughout. I am wondering — maybe ditch the last three lines and let the reader draw his/her conclusion as to meaning? This packs a punch. peace…

  3. I liked the metaphor as well. While I agree with Linda that the writing could be a bit tighter in places, I loved the statement you made with this and enjoyed the gorgeous prose. Nice work.

  4. I wonder if any child who recited the Sticks and Stones mantra ever grew up to experience such emotional durability. She didn’t, but she can find the strength to rebuild.

  5. yearzerowriters

    wonderful imagery of the broken home, the desperation to be stuck together, the loss of Edenic paradise – “broken flags of war” was a killer line.

    My favourite this week so far.

    Top work

    Marc Nash

    • Funny thing is that I debated that image as I didn’t think that it matched the emotional imagery of the rest of the piece.

  6. I’m pretty sure that spider’s silk has the same strength as tensile steel for holding weight…I can’t remember where I read that. But you’re right, its strength is for a particular purpose, and in this case it makes a wonderful metaphor.

    At least she didn’t hurt the spider though.

  7. The metaphor is well played, of destruction and reconstruction.

    I recall reading that spider eat their silk when a web becomes too damaged. They digest it and use the materials to make new silk. To take the metaphor a bit further, isn’t that the choice we all face when our lives are assaulted, perhaps even ripped apart or leveled? We can walk away from the ruins, or we can take them in, break them up to get at what’s usable and spin something new.

    Interesting piece.

  8. There’s certainly a sense of power in this piece, which made for a very enjoyable read. Like other commenters, I really enjoyed how you used the spider web metaphor.

  9. This has got to be the story that enchanted me the most this week. I’m not usually one for description but the opening worked a spell on me. Well done.

  10. Excellent story and beautifully written as well. I immediately drawn into this story and loved the descriptions from the pov of the child. One thing, you have a pov shift that was a little jarring to me. In the section where the mother tells her about the decision she’s made to separate from the father, you shift to the mother’s pov, “She saw her daughter begin to crumble.”

    Then you shift back to the child. Hopefully you don’t think I’m being nitpicky, but this stuck out to me a little.

    Truly a beautifully told story here.

    • Thanks for the pickup. It’s those little things that I am still to learn about in my writing. It’s all part of the process.

  11. You’ve really captured a sense of anger, frustration, and utter helplessness in Ainsley. The act of destroying something so perfect, something as innocuous as a spider web is a lovely metaphor for her need to exert some type of power/control in a powerless situation. Thanks for sharing this piece.

  12. I think you captured this wonderfully, and the spider web metaphor works so well.

  13. Beautiful imagery throughout. Using the spider web as a metaphor for her broken home was perfect.

  14. Beautiful way to describe her situation. Lovely imagery.

  15. Nice job on this story. I wish I had open spaces to run to sometimes 🙂

    Thanks also for stopping by my blog 🙂

  16. “The warmth of fresh eggs in the palm of her hand taken from the dry hay was one of her favourite memories.”

    So many phrases in this piece triggered smell memories for me. Your sensory descriptions are lovely.

  17. Beautiful. Really well written with sharp and delicate images. I liked this in particular: “her grandfather’s coarse workman’s hands and Nanna’s flour-covered cooking apron”. These are the little details that make a story for me.

  18. This was really good. I liked the use of description and the emotional quality. You should read “The Book of Tomorrow” by Cecelia Ahern. I’m reading it now and your story has a similar feel.

  19. Incredible. I especially liked the part about the web being like a pebble making ripples in the air. Bravo.

  20. I love the imagery. I could see this so clearly in my mind as I read it, feel it in my heart as I read it.

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