Once there was a woman who shared a life with her husband and their baby, and they lived happily together for a long time.
One day, the husband became very ill and died; after he was gone, the woman lived in a dark place. She found that she no longer enjoyed spending time with her friends. She did not enjoy the taste of food or drink. And she found that she could no longer love her daughter.
The woman went to her therapist and described her symptoms. The therapist tried many things, medicines and rituals, but nothing the therapist tried did any good. Finally, the therapist sat down and sighed. “It is beyond my abilities to help you with this,” she said to the woman. “However, all is not lost. There is something I can recommend, but it is a bit unorthodox.”
“I’ll do anything,” said the woman.
“Return to your home,” said the therapist. “Retrieve your phone book, and find the listing for Grandmother Spider.” When the therapist said this, the woman gasped, for she knew what this meant and was afraid.
Still, she went home and did as she was told. She scheduled an appointment with Grandmother Spider, who said, “Bring me a thermos of hot black tea. I love that stuff.” The woman agreed, and was both excited and worried, and she found it very hard to sleep.
The next day, she went to the address listed in the phone book, but saw nothing. She kept looking, and finally saw a small hole in the ground.
“Hey, down here,” said Grandmother Spider from inside the hole. “Come on in.”
“I am much too large,” said the woman. “How will I get inside such a small space?”
“Oh, sure,” said Grandmother Spider. “Put the toe of your shoe in the hole and jiggle it around.”
The woman was frightened, but she put her toe in the hole and moved it in a circle. As soon as she did, the small hole grew very large– or the woman grew very small– and she stepped inside. Grandmother Spider took the thermos of hot black tea from her and took a long drink. “Oh, that’s good tea. Thanks. What can I do for you?”
The woman sat and explained her situation. Grandmother Spider sat silently, sipping the hot black tea. Finally, when the woman’s story was told, Grandmother Spider nodded and said, “I got you. I need to make you something, and then I’ll tell you what to do with it.”
The woman nodded.
“Don’t look at me,” said Grandmother Spider.
The woman closed her eyes, and shortly she heard a frenzied clicking sound. After several minutes, the clicking grew louder, and eventually the woman could not withhold her curiosity. She opened her eyes, and saw Grandmother Spider hurriedly weaving an intricate net. “Whatever is that for, Grandmother?” she asked. As the words left her mouth, the net crumbled to dust.
“Oh dammit, you looked,” said Grandmother Spider. “I told you not to look. Now I have to start over. Close your eyes.”
This time, the woman closed her eyes and kept them squeezed shut, even though the clicking was louder (and joined by metallic clanking and some sloshing), until she was told to open them. When she did open her eyes, she saw that Grandmother Spider had woven a beautiful and strong butterfly net, with an opening two feet in diameter, and a strong handle three feet long.
“When your husband was dying,” said Grandmother Spider, “you poured all your love into him. He clung to it, because he needed it, but he kept it all when he died. Kind of a jerk move. He left you nothing to give your daughter. Take this butterfly net. Go to the cemetery where your husband is buried. When you’re close to him, love will come out of his mouth in a big cloud. Catch the love in the butterfly net and eat it, and then you can give it to your daughter.”
“Yes, Grandmother,” said the woman.
“Also, hey, take this back,” said Grandmother Spider, and gave the black tea thermos back to the woman. “I filled it with a special salve. Before you go in the cemetery, smear it all over your eyes. If you don’t, you won’t be able to see the cloud so you can catch it.”
As soon as the woman stepped over the threshold of Grandmother Spider’s house, it shrunk– or she enlarged– and she was back on the sidewalk. She quickly drove to the cemetery as the sun began to set behind the trees. In her Volvo, she poured some of the dark unguent from the thermos into her hand and smeared it across her eyes. As soon as this was done, she noticed many colored clouds floating in the cemetery. She quickly got out of her vehicle and ran towards her husband’s grave.
Along the way, the woman saw a bright blue cloud come out of the grave of a stranger. It darted back and forth in the air above the headstone. “It would perhaps be wise to get some practice before I need to capture my husband’s cloud,” the woman said to herself. She planted her feet, squared her shoulders, and as the bright blue cloud hovered toward her, she swung the butterfly net. The cloud passed completely through, not even wavering in the breeze of the passing air. “Oh, dear,” said the woman to herself, but she thought about the magical salve smeared on her eyes, and about the bright and shining black eyes of Grandmother Spider, and she continued to her husband’s grave.
As soon as the woman stepped onto the foot of the grave, a billowing pink and red cloud, filled with dozens of little sparking firelights, poured forth from the grass at the head, as if being exhaled. The woman took a halting step forward and held out the net, worried that she wouldn’t be fast enough, but the cloud moved by itself straight into the net, where it sat and shimmered. The woman collapsed and sat with her back against the headstone, gazing into the netted cloud, which seemed to gaze back.
Eventually, she reached in and pulled out a bit of the cloud, which felt a bit like warm damp gauze, and put it into her mouth.
It tasted like slightly salty cotton candy, and melted in her mouth.
Immediately, she felt love for her daughter well into her heart, like blood from a pricked fingertip; she rapidly scarfed down the rest of the cloud, and wept.
Grandmother Spider drawn by Rob Eagleton.