Fiction by Rich Renner

Arabesca

In moonlight, the orb weaver dances near the edge of a concrete lintel. Pausing above the doorway, she aims her spinnerets and launches a bridge thread into the air. A light breeze carries the silk high above the empty avenue, where it hangs for a moment before drifting uselessly to the doorway floor. The spider tries again, and this time her thread finds a willing hold in a sycamore branch. On the trunk of the tree, a faded X guides the man every evening back to his present home beneath the lintel.

At sunrise, the man stands in the doorway, covers his head with a blanket, and makes his way along the sidewalk to look for discarded pantry items. Exploring the area on the other side of the bridge, he discovers a shopping cart tipped on its side. Wedged between the zinc-plated wires is a cardboard carton of instant oatmeal.

In his bag, there is a bottle of water, which he will use later for personal hygiene. Hungry as he is, oatmeal just isn’t oatmeal when it is dry. The air is humid and he is perspiring. He opens the carton and sprinkles half the oatmeal into his palm. Squeezing the oat flakes, he balls them into a sort of rough paste. When the oat ball is soft and moist, he holds it to his lips and narrows his eyes. He places the ball on his tongue, traps it against the roof of his mouth where he works it for a moment, and swallows the first of two bites.

The last time it rained, he dreamed he was standing at a canvas and painting a portrait of a couple when the police ordered everyone to shelter in place. He awoke, kneeling at an odd angle, tapping the blood red door with his forehead as the dream evaporated.

Before the woman left, there were groceries in a store a few blocks north of the doorway. Now, the store is locked, impenetrable, just like every other store and office building and house in the city and across the bridge.

“I think I know where we could go,” the woman said. “Come with me.”

The man shook his head.

“But you trusted me enough to bring you here,” she said.

She was right about the doorway, clean and dry most of the time. When they arrived in early spring, some people were still walking around the streets. At night, the woman shared her coat with him, lay next to him. They giggled as he pulled the coat over his shoulders. It was a game for a while, tug of war with the coat.

“My shoulder is exposed,” she said, snuggling closer.

He lifted his hand from the comfort of cover to drape the fabric over her shoulder.

“But now my hand is exposed,” he said.

She drew the coat over his hand.

“And now my hand is exposed,” she said, laughing.

The game continued until they had cinched warm fabric around the Gordian knot of their limbs and torsos. One morning at the beginning of summer, she was gone.

The sun is high in the sky when he lifts his shirt over his head. He pours water onto a corner of a blanket, rubs it with a sliver of soap, leans back against the door and raises one arm. Looking up, he notices the top half of the door, shrouded behind an obstinate web, entrenched and primordial. At the center of the gossamer trap reclines the master engineer, dog-sized and casting her buxom shadow onto the door. A hapless dragonfly flutters in the sticky trap. Governed by millenia of genetic mutations, the orb weaver descends upon her victim and wraps it in swathing silk while ignoring the man below, who mouths muted words and backs away from this horror of disproportionate nature.

It is a doorway he will never again search out. Three blocks west of the red door and the sycamore tree with the X on its trunk, the man crouches inside a bus shelter. Inspecting every inch of the clouded glass and aluminum, he swats the blanket at invisible surprises. When he closes his eyes for a moment, the amaranthine behemoth is there, grown well beyond the bounds of the natural world. The man makes a promise to himself to be vigilant, always on the lookout for creatures who, even if they may not recognize his flesh as sustenance, would most certainly pose a danger to his psyche.

The next morning, he struggles to rise. He stands a moment, waits for his balance to adjust, and moves toward the street. A light breeze or a tiny leaf caresses his cheek and he shouts and stabs at the air and turns around and around, convinced there are spider webs clinging to his face. A speeding car flashes past the rise at the south end of the block, backs up and stops. The woman is there, gaunt and bemused, watching him.

“I found it,” she says. “We can go right now.”

Tears burst from his eyes and trail along his nasolabial folds, which the woman names for him as she traces them with her fingers at night. They embrace beneath the blankets in their new home. She tells him about her cosmetic surgery practice. He talks about how much he misses teaching art.

The orb weaver gathers her silky remnants. Her masterpiece is in tatters. The blood red door, no longer fitted in line below the ornate lintel, rests against one wall of the doorway. For the spider, there are new realms to explore and conquer, new traps to build, inside the building where the air is still. There is a suitable corner between crown molding and wainscoting. She fires up the acid bath behind her spinneret glands and launches a bridge thread into the air. One night, the orb weaver will hide away, forgotten in a deep nest of the man’s mind, where the differences between species dissolve.

***

Rich Renner is an emerging writer and an Emmy award-winning producer whose work has appeared on PBS. His plays have been performed by Haddonfield Plays and Players. Rich is a founding member of the annual Collingswood Book Festival. He lives with his wife and child in Collingswood, NJ.

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