The Arachne Gene

The Arachne Gene

He had a pocketful of possibilities scribbled on napkin backs. The perfect recipe was like DNA, it held the answer to who he was and where he was supposed to be. He wasn’t found yet, he was on his way, and he’d get there, wherever there was, if the bus driver didn’t kill them first. The Greyhound bounced down the crowded I-10 spitting exhaust at the cars tailgating them. The bouncing upset Spider’s hand for the two-hundred and seventeenth time. Again. His pen swerved a blue diagonal line across the napkin sitting on his thigh. Again. Spider would happily give up chicken-scratch imperfection for some relief from the heat.

Summer afternoon penetrated the cabin with hot bayonets while the AC grunted like a constipated nun. Sweat from Spider’s nose splashed where pen touched paper. Moisture beaded outward, a blue-bleeding Rorschach muddied up his pambazo recipe. He raised his pen. His lips curled against teeth. Would you please dial down the goddamn sun? Not that Spider expected an answer. The high and mighty sitting in their personal… Olympuses? Olympi? Olympiad? Whatever. Those fuckers, they didn’t give a shit about flies trapped in a can rolling down concrete. The cloth seats had no give for a man his height and his long limbs were curled against his hunkering body. He massaged his left pec to ease the dull ache trapped under his skin. That damn knot had been kicking up for the past hundred miles. That goddamned barbed knot surrounding his heart making him feel antsy, making him feel stuck. Spider worked his fingers into his pec-meat, digging until he felt pain. He made hard circles so the outside skin ache out-screamed the under-skin ache.

At times, he imagined his heart as eight arachnid legs clutching a stone egg. His knotted heart pushed him before he knew how to talk. He was a hungry spiderling hunting through garbage, an orphan who never knew where he came from or where he should be. He didn’t have words like help, succor, or home, knew no language except that of his body, and feared the pale-skinned giants yelling inside their painted fences. He spent black and naked days, weeks, months with the solitary pattering of rain on concrete, chattering of teeth, and growling of stomach. He had traveled far from those origins, but in many ways his knotted heart never let him forget what he didn’t have.

Home. He rented apartments, flats, backhouses, and studios. At least for a while, his knot felt a vague sense of permanence. Home. His real home existed in fantasy. Four walls of peace with a walk-in closet for his best suits, a kitchen with black marble counters, a three-tier stove, twin ovens, a microwave, a dishwasher, an island, and a pantry stocked with onions, tomatoes, garlic, jalapeños, red and green bell peppers.

He lays the bright red cord of skirt steak atop the cutting board and chops halves and then quarters, and then dices. He minces onion, garlic, and jalapeño. He places the carne, onion, garlic, and jalapeños inside a plastic bag to marinate in lime juice, orange juice, cilantro, vinegar, salt, pepper. He seals the bag, lets it sit for an hour, he removes the meat from the bag and shakes off the excess moisture. He lays the carne on a tray and steps into his backyard where the grill is ready.

Outside, he’d have a garden of fresh basil, parsley, lemon grass, and thyme. Warm nights would be reserved for the patio, beer in hand, the red glow of the grill, and the sizzle of carne asada floating fat and salt on the cool breeze. He pictured her arms around him. Dark hair, lost smile, onyx eyes would wrap him in silk until the bright blue-morning evaporated the dew. That day was too far off, but closer than it’s ever been…. He only needed the perfect recipe.

He plucked the napkin from his thigh. The blurred ingredients had almost unveiled their coda. A new recipe was like tree climbing. His mental hand stretched for the next ingredient like his hands stretched for the branches on those black oaks he climbed as a kid. Every time a grainy shaft bit into his palm, he felt a brief joy. He could climb for hours, haul himself up, hand over hand, until he was king of the sky.

Climb too fast. Snap goes the branch. You tumble into a circle of waiting fists.

Spider’s long black fingers shredded the napkin. He wiped sweat from his face with his hairy forearm, flashed the dark armpit ring staining his white T-shirt to anyone who cared to look, sucked moist heat in open mouthed gulps and was grateful, despite the cramped space, he had a seat to himself.

Everyone in the ass half of the bus pretty much roasted or puddled. Occasionally, somebody spat a heaping wad of yellowish phlegm on the floor to let the dim bus driver know the poor suckers in the ass were still alive. The boy sitting in front of him? Spider listened to that boy’s empty stomach for the last four hours. Kid was no older than eighteen, had blue eyes, brown spiked hair, and bright angry zits. His plaid shirt, worn at the joints, revealed ashy elbows. The boy caught the Greyhound at Peridot Station, two hundred miles west from where Spider stole his ticket. A Nigerian man with a Charlotte Hornets cap shading his eyes hadn’t moved since Indio. A couple of green neon backpackers with sunburned faces snored in each other’s arms. Across from Spider, a squat brown woman layered in sweat stared at him and his shredded napkin pieces and warded herself with a cross.

Fuck her.

He removed another napkin from his pocket and started a paella. He abandoned his apartment after that last job with Mr. Harvey. Arborio rice. Rent paid up to the end of the month. Shrimp. Mosquitos could have it all. Saffron. He never bothered with the stereo systems, Xboxes, DVD players, or flat screens most grubs wasted their cash on. His cell phone, a prepaid purchasable at any dollar store, was the only thing he couldn’t live without because it was close to impossible to find work without one. Chicken broth, onion, bell pepper. Blue ink found comfort in the napkin’s groves; his knotted heart loosened.

Diced tomatoes, garlic cloves, paprika, lemon juice, parsley. Sauté shrimp and remove from the pan, sauté onions, bell pepper, garlic, add rice, broth, lemon juice, and spices. Stir frequently. Add shrimp, tomatoes, and garnish with parsley.

A green sign with white letters neutral in its welcome read, EXIT 1 MILE. The Greyhound pulled off the interstate. The gray freeway washed into dust covered cracked streets and faded yellow line markers. Banning, California. Population 30,506. A place for those banned or banished from all other civilized life. Plenty of open sky, sidewalks somewhat maintained, and large windowed storefronts with letters in red or gold. The Greyhound pulled into the station and vomited Spider onto the curb, black pitch against the white.

He spent a week learning Banning. Walmart was his first pit stop for fresh underwear, napkins, and blue ink pens. He choked down the cuisine at a few of the local trough-holes. Most of the specials were large chunks of indiscernible meat slathered in a thick—sometimes brown, sometimes red—sauce the consistency of old engine oil. None of the establishments took kindly to his critiques…or his inquiries about work. One tattooed cook smelling of stale pork actually took a swing. Spider’s five-point rebuttal broke a few teeth.

Spider laid low at the Snooty Fox Motel for the next two nights. Knot pain and cop fear tag-teamed his balls like bat to piñata. Pen and napkin offered little relief, but the recipes wouldn’t stop pouring from his head until he had stacks on stacks of theoretical dishes. Food kept him awake until his fuzzed brain couldn’t spell and that’s when the orphan boys who kicked and pounded him in his youth would come visit. He curled into a ball on the springy bed, whimpered and flinched from their ghost punches. At near dawn, he saw or thought he saw the silhouette of an old woman, standing by the window. Viejita. He blinked and she was gone. But so were orphan boys and their ghost punches. Spider was able to sleep.

He never bothered to memorize the date Viejita found him digging through the restaurant’s garbage. Spider never knew if she owned it or just worked there. He never found out her real name. She came into his life when he was at a loss for words. She was the first big person to understand the unspoken language of a stomach screaming to be filled.

Before that door opened and his life changed, he was still a black and naked spiderling crawling toward four white garbage bags leaning against an alley wall. It was about mid-afternoon, gray clouds cut by glass hung over the drab beige buildings. He nested in a narrow alley between Viejita’s restaurant and a beauty supply store. Brown, nappy-headed, toothless old men punched air while the colorful young smoked hand-rolled and passed out bags of green to the cars that stopped. He cared nothing for them as they smelled of death. His knotted heart drove his life. It drove him to feed. He tore into the white plastic with a scavenger’s hope, pushed aside papers and wrappings, the foul sour smelling things, the viscous liquids of putrid colors, and searched for something partially whole, partially wrapped, and, if he was lucky, only partially eaten. His hand closed on warm squish wrapped in red, white, and yellow paper. He peeled the paper and saw more white paper, only this paper was chalky. He started to pull that off when he realized it wasn’t paper but some kind of thin bread with a few mouth-sized, semi-circles chewed out of it.

The backdoor opened, he flinched and dropped his score. Ay dios mio! said a short woman with salt and pepper hair pulled into a bun. She was brown and square, a box in an apron. She spoke a liquid language, Donde esta tu mama? Normally he would’ve run, but there was in this woman akin to sunshine and he couldn’t flee the sun. She spoke more of those liquid sounds. Tienes hambre? His mouth opened to repeat them but what came out was rain on concrete.

She held a hand palm up and her fingers curled toward her body. He looked at his own hand and mimicked the gesture. Her face curled at the corners, heat radiated from her gaze, she reached out and took a step forward, Ven conmigo. He retreated. She stopped, chewed her lower lip, and skittered back inside the restaurant. She left the door open. He stepped closer. She returned with a blue cardboard box filled with something that smelled so good it made him ache.

He saw, for the first time, two tacos steaming with meat. She offered. He shoved a taco into his mouth. Hot juices soaked his tongue, the layers of flavor, an arrangement, a pattern he had to understand. Heat scorched the roof of his mouth and filled his head, he felt euphoric and dizzy. Viejita smiled, took him by the hand, and led him into the restaurant. By the time child services arrived, his love of tacos had already built a home in his heart. It had taken two weeks of paperwork, but he was eventually sluiced off to St. Margaret’s orphanage.

After a week of scanning the sidewalks outside the Snooty Fox Motel, he realized the cops wouldn’t come. He crashed the streets, his mouth dry for a few shots of Patron, he headed north toward a bar he’d spotted before hiding out in his room. It was close to dinner time and the sidewalks were starting to fill. He kept to himself and ignored the looks that came his way. As he rounded the corner, he received hard eyes from three locusts in motorcycle leather talking outside the bar. He recognized these types. They travelled in packs, hid knives in their belts, and rolled anyone stupid enough or different enough to get drunk in their presence—the adult version of the pummeling orphan fists of his youth. Best to find a bar with a better class of bottom feeders. Spider lowered his head, keeping the locusts in view via side-eye, and kept walking. He exhaled when they didn’t follow. He turned left and wandered three more blocks.

A red and white HELP WANTED sign in the window of a brick and thatch Mexican restaurant caught his attention along with the tang of overcooked meat. The blue marquee atop the restaurant flashed Rafael’s Eatery under a sky darkening with diminishing sunlight. After the incident with the other cook, good sense told him to push on. He stared. HELP WANTED. He stepped inside.

The restaurant was bright for about a two-thirds. In the far back, near the unplugged juke box, the lights flickered intermittently. Dirty dishes filled most tables. Wet streaks and sizeable crumbs covered what he guessed were clean tables. Two waitresses gossiped with a customer. A third waitress with sandy eyes, blonde ends dyed black, and lips colored by distaste offered to seat him. He asked to see the manager. The waitress pointed to a woman in a blue shirt by the register who was checking her crooked teeth in the flat of a butter knife like she was surprised they were still there. He walked over and introduced himself.

I’m Vanessa, the manager answered. Frowning, she set down the butter knife. Her hands tightened into fists like she was expecting to box over a bill. He raised his hands in surrender. She looked him up and down like she was trying to figure out how much trouble he’d be, licked faded lipstick, and raised the downturned ends of her mouth into a neutral line. What can I do you for?

He let her eyes get used to him. You still got the opening? Spider asked.

Sign’s still up, aint it? Vanessa answered.

Manager Vanessa had a Susan B. Anthony sized bruise beneath her chin and a flat upside-down muffin nose of a cheerleader turned prizefighter, a pretty face that had seen rough times and felt rough hands. Spider had no patience for any man who put hands on a woman. He remembered the white orphan boys, their little mallet fists smashing against his black skin, fucking coon, fucking coon, they chanted. The boiling smack of their flesh against his. He curled into a ball to minimize the hurt, legs and arms shielding chest and head. When the boys tired. He spit blood on their scuffed secondhand shoes and climbed to the highest branches of the nearest black oak.

She brushed hair from her face. You aint from around here. Passing through or here to stay?

He shrugged. For now, I’m looking for work.

She chewed her lower lip. Come on back, she said making a motion he should follow. She stepped from behind the register and glanced briefly over her shoulder. Her hips swayed as she walked.

He smiled at the entreaty. She was a full-figured woman, all curves, the kind of body he could grab anywhere and have a handful.

A kitchen in need of a serious cleaning greeted them with a blast of warm air. A mountain of pots and pans filled the sink, grease stains darkened the stainless-steel grill and fryer, and black rubber mats covered a wet floor. Cigarette smoke, fryer oil, and burnt drippings almost masked the rot coming from a box of tomatoes, two days into white and fuzzy, stacked next to a large refrigerator.

Two cooks, smoking under the ceiling fan, glared and followed Spider with their eyes. The younger, whip-thin cook had the same dark hair as Vanessa. The older cook’s mustache stretched from ear to ear. He overheard the older cook sneer, another charity case.

Dishes aint washing themselves Zeke, Vanessa said. Zeke, the younger cook, dropped his cigarette to the floor, stamped it out, and headed for the pile of dishes. Spider and Vanessa made a sharp right into a small office more like a closet than anything else. She closed the door and offered a seat.

Somewhere beneath the stacks of crumpled invoices and bills was a metal table better suited for a mechanic’s shop. The big butt computer monitor, a holdover from the nineties, filled what was left of the desk’s surface. He reached into a cup full of multicolored pens, took out a blue one, and twirled it between his fingers.

Vanessa watched his hands. Got an opening for a busboy. Pay is minimum wage. You can start today if need be.

I cook, he said.

Don’t need a cook. I need somebody who can bus tables, wash dishes, and get to work sober and on time, she said.

His knotted heart began to ache. Anybody can bus a table, he said.

I aint asking for a unicorn, she said. You mind me asking where you’re from?

Around Texas, he shrugged.

Any city in particular.

Way around Texas.

She held his eyes. Oh, that place. Right next to the penitentiary. We get lots from Way Around. She licked more lipstick off her lips. They don’t work out long. Silverware comes up missing.

I aint that kind, he said.

Her eyes seemed to travel up his chest, along his shoulders, and down his arms. She spread her hands and said, You aint here for the peach cobbler, either. I’m sure you’ve asked for other work. Plenty of polite door slams. This city’s been burned by folk from Way Around. Me? I aint particular as long as man’s hands gets the job done. I’m not stupid, either. I aint letting a Way Around anywhere near mine until I’m sure.

He could dice onions or pick locks, he’d prefer the former but if he couldn’t feed himself he’d do the later. I know what I’m skilled at, he said. I cook. I can have this place filled twenty-four seven.

Most people noticing him either stared, crossed the street, or walked the other way. He recognized best those someone-wanted-to-pound-his-face looks. Vanessa wasn’t staring like that; she took him in like he was the Grand Canyon or something, a spectacle she wanted to visit but never had a chance until now.

He pointed at an overdue invoice dated four months ago. This scrap?

She nodded.

The knot tightened. He touched pen to paper. Carnitas mojo de ajo. Pork shoulder, olive oil, garlic. His hand moved deftly, smooth confident strokes. Unsalted butter, pepper flakes, salt, black pepper, lime, cumin, tabasco.

She watched him. You do that much?

He shrugged. Habit, he said. The knot was squeezing like a sonovabitch and it was all he could do to keep himself in his seat.

Reminds of Charlie, a guy I dated senior year except he made pictures like in comic books. After graduation, he took his pencils and colors off to one of them art schools in Los Angeles. Her expression softened. She touched her chest and curled her fingers over her heart.

Spider blinked. It was like she had a knot too.

He set aside his recipe, reached across the desk, and took her hand. Her fingers were plump, and the skin had the bark-like dryness of someone who washed their hands a lot. Cooks, mechanics, and doctors had hands like that. Let me make you something, he said. Give me fifteen minutes. If you don’t like it, I’m gone.

She stared at his hand with an expression he couldn’t read except to know she hadn’t pulled way.

I aint letting you near my kitchen, she said.

Where then? He glanced at her gold wedding band.

She rubbed the bruise on her chin. Way Around is trouble, she said. I know all about trouble. Sometimes, it seems all I have. Day in. Day out. She pulled back her hand and touched her lips. Where you staying?

The Snooty Fox, he said.

She was trying to be subtle about it, but it damn sure looked like she was smelling her fingers, trying to gauge something of his scent, one breath and then another, inhaling as deep as possible.

She held his eyes. I worked there in high school. Made beds. Washed linens. None of those rooms have kitchens.

I have to show you what I can do, he said.

Vanessa chewed her bottom lip. This don’t work out. You need to be on the next bus west. Next bus. You understand?

He nodded.

She glanced at her watch. My shift is over in thirty, but I can head out a little early. I’ll take you out back, walk you home so we can avoid trouble.

The job? he asked.

I don’t need a cook, she said grabbing her jacket, purse, and keys. But I’m willing to see what you can do.

He followed the gray fingers of smoke wafting around her head. Vanessa took a deep drag and blew smoke out Spider’s motel window. She moved like a butterfly with a hurt wing, part grace, part wince. She filled his eyes like a starving boy gorging on tacos, caused the hardness in his chest to soften, and the softness in his crotch to harden. There wasn’t nothing wrong with her. Nothing he could see or smell, nothing that hadn’t long since been broken and healed.

Recipes littered the room. None quite right. Vanessa had come in, looked around, and said nothing. She’d stripped off her jacket and lit a cigarette. She wasn’t shocked by his strangeness, in fact, she’d behaved as if she’d seen far worse.

I told you before. I aint got openings, Vanessa said. I have two serviceable cooks, Gus and Zeke. You can wait tables or sweep up. Best offer.

He took a seat on the bed, frowned at his ceviche recipe on the nightstand next to all the others.

I was a kid, Spider replied, rubbing his chest. Digging through garbage for food. Viejita was the first human being who showed me kindness. She fed me. Best tacos I’ve ever had. I chase that ghost every time I enter the kitchen. I can bring your customers the best food they’ve ever had.

Onion and cilantro sprinkled over ground beef mixed with onions, green bell peppers, garlic, jalapeños, chili powder, cumin, and something he still couldn’t put his finger on. His mouth watered just thinking about it. Viejita’s tacos were served in a blue cardboard box; grease, the kind you wanted to drink, soaked the corners and he tipped the box to lips and drank. There was a pattern to how Viejita assembled a taco—corn tortilla first, then steamy ground beef, onion, cilantro, and pico de gallo sprinkled on top. It was a small home that filled his stomach and made him feel connected.

Vanessa clenched her cigarette between V fingers; her wedding ring reflected the yellowish low watt lamplight. Is that who taught you to cook? she asked.

He shook his head. Sister Athene at St. Margaret, he said. She was a thin woman with an unremarkable face. Not ugly, mind you. Just forgettable. Her choir voice was lost to a three-pack-a-day habit. You couldn’t forget her hands, though. Long fingers, constantly moving, like some eight-legged creature. She cut up fruits and veggies like she was playing piano at a concert. I never saw her outside the kitchen, and as far as I was concerned she lived in pots and pans. She taught me everything I know.

She let him hide between the potato and banana crates when the orphan boys with bloody, scuffed, secondhand shoes blockaded the black oaks. Eventually, she coaxed him from the crates with an onion and taught him to dice neat delicate squares. Tears rolled down his cheeks. He wanted to bury his face in her apron and breathe beef stock and olive oil. Spider savored how, during cooking lessons, Sister Athene shared the Greek myths instead of Bible stories. He didn’t remember the heroes, but he remembered Arachne and Athena. If possession was a possibility for an orphan, he would’ve cashed in his beatings to claim her. But she was on loan. By the time he turned seventeen, he was dicing onions alone. Sister Athene dined in Tartarus, or maybe it was heaven. Either way, St. Margaret’s stoves grew cold. That was around the time Mr. Harvey, a contractor in name only, was doing some painting and repair work on the church. His eight-dollar smile and wads of cash offered escape.

Vanessa’s eyes hardened. Don’t mean you can cook, she said. You want to tell me why we’re here? Why I’m not on my way home? She looked around for an ashtray and dabbed her ashes into the window sill when she couldn’t find one.

Vanessa was a recipe. Find the right ingredients and she’d simmer. He put his arms behind his head and crossed his ankles, the bed creaked and shook before settling. There was a danger to touching her, a danger in claiming what wasn’t his, even temporarily. He had made it his life, before, to take things that belonged to other men. He felt the rush of breaking their windows, stealing their safety, and shoving theirs into his pockets. In those days he felt like a king, a confidence so robust, not even the sun dropping on his head could evaporate his mood. And then at night he lay alone, the pattering of rain on windows, grinding of teeth, stilling of stomach.

The summer before I was released into the wild, Spider said. I had the opportunity to make a little cash. There was this guy who came by St. Margaret’s. Mr. Harvey was one of those old bloods with forearms of muscle that let you know he worked with his hands his whole life. He had this summer painting service, so he’d hire a few orphans and show us the trade. If we were good, he’d keep us on. I got picked that summer ‘cause my height. Hard to reach places and all that.

Spider scratched his chest. Except painting was stealing and the jobs were B and E. Mr. Harvey used his painting company to case potential houses he wanted to rob. How would Vanessa feel knowing that only two weeks ago, he was a thief? He’d given that life up. Realized where that road departed. There was a dead end to Mr. Harvey, a graveyard of locusts and pesticide. It took Spider eight years, but he realized scampering after Mr. Harvey would lead him back to the waiting fists. Only instead of orphan boys, it would be prison guards. There would be no black oaks, no Sister Athene, no Greek myths to save him. Guilty. Case closed. Open-and shut.

Vanessa slid the window shut, smashed her cigarette against the pane, scooped her jacket off the floor and put it on. Each button snap jerked her shoulders. When she reached the fourth button, her eyes narrowed.

He herky jerked you or you herky jerked him, she said. Same sad song, buddy. I was fifteen when daddy’s bestie shoved his hands down my shorts and grabbed a handful of bush. Assholes are the same everywhere.

She finger-combed black hair, stretching to mid-back, away from her face. She had a faded scar along her hairline just above her ear that looked like the Greek eight.

Spider hopped off the bed. Encircled her from behind. Felt his knotted heart snatch her. The back of her head pressed against his sternum. He touched his lips to her neck, spun an invisible thread between them. She hesitated. His mouth wove down her shoulder; his tongue unraveled her recipe. The knot clutched them. He spun her in a slow delicate circle, removed her jacket, shirt, spanks and everything else, and buried his head—when she bellowed the rhythm of bedsprings, it was Viejita’s tacos all over again; he drank the grease.

Two sweaty hours later, Vanessa slipped on her panties and lit a cigarette. Between long, closed-eyed drags she said, I’ll fire Gustavo next week. But I gotta keep Zeke. My nephew’s too stupid to work anywhere else.

A week later, morning heat hung like a thick musky fog. His knotted heart coiled, a familiar compulsion whenever he found a place he wanted to stay a while. He arrived early for his first shift at Rafael’s Eatery to prep the kitchen. Meat. Chop. Cheese. Chop. Vegetables. Chop. He finished just as the white aproned staff gathered over coffee near the cash register. He occasionally caught words like Gus’ replacement or job stealer. He didn’t mind. He’d been called worse. Rag in hand, he went around the dining room scrubbing every table from corner to corner and if gum or something else was underneath, he’d scrape it with a spatula. Pretty soon everything in Rafael’s Eatery, the gum, the grime, the employees, the customers, would be his. He wouldn’t be alone anymore. He would be home.

Vanessa exited the kitchen, checking her crooked teeth in a compact. She beamed at what she saw and added more red to already raspberry lips. Her wedding ring was missing and so was the bruise on her chin. Vanessa put away the compact and sashayed to the table he was wiping down. Her citrus tinged perfume turned her normal Marlboro Light’s odor into wet cigar scent he didn’t find unpleasant—she just smelled different and different was something he could get used to. She leaned against his shoulder, plucked the rag out of his hand, and folded it into a neat deliberate square.

C’mere you, she said, pulling him toward the circle of white aprons’ expectant faces.

His heart was loose; it was hard to believe he had been working at Rafael’s for eight months. It felt longer. His tacos were something of a thing in town. Every lunch hour from eleven to two, grubs piled at the door to order the daily special. He worked fast, corn tortilla, tender ground beef, onion, cilantro, pico de gallo, and slapped his masterpieces into blue cardboard boxes. The wait-staff whisked them to their owners and stuffed bountiful tips into their pockets for the trouble. Time got lost, but at the end it was found again. The rush was over; the lunch crowd slimmed to a few satisfied full-bellied caterpillars ready to spin cocoons. It was going to be slow for the next hour. Good. He asked Zeke to cover for him. He could take a fifteen. Even a taco god needed a breather.

Spider wiped sweat from his forehead with a sleeve, stripped off his apron, hung it on a peg, and stepped out back to avoid customers who would surely pat him on the back and try to introduce him to their single daughters. He shook his head. Vanessa more than filled his appetite.

The air was cool against his face and the sun crested the tops of the large pines. Light spilled between the branches leaving patchwork shadows on black concrete. He followed the pattern to a series of water pipes. Beneath the pipes was a bluish-black striped spider crawling neither fast nor slow, twisting its body, until the beginnings of a gossamer home emerged. There was within every spider, the possibility to create its own home to have something all his own. Spider himself would have never thought it a possibility, a small boy, cold and alone, in the alleys of those who don’t give a damn to the man he is now. And he did it himself, with his own hands, with his own mind, and skill. He was a goddamned hell of a cook, better than even he himself had hopes to be.

It reminded Spider of a story Sister Athene told him about a beautiful weaver from ancient Greece. There was this weaver who could weave better, faster, and more beautifully than anyone. This woman got so full of herself that she challenged the gods. One day a goddess comes down from Olympus and accepts the challenge. They weave high stakes, winner take all, and when it’s all said and done, weaver done kicked goddess ass. The goddess, on some hate, turned the weaver into a spider, dooming the weaver and her descendants to weave webs forever.

Spider wondered if the story was real and what would happen if that curse were lifted. How would her descendants react if they stopped being spiders and had to be men?

He removed a napkin from his pocket, held the blue pen loosely.

About the Author

Darryl White

Darryl White has a BA in Psychology from University California, Los Angeles, a MA in English from California State University, Northridge. He is currently a third year student in the MFA Creative Writing program at San Francisco State University. Darryl works for Roberts Family Development Center’s Freedom Schools program, which teaches reading to under-served youth. He has a passion for speculative fiction and his work typically explores characters who, by class, race, or health are pushed to the fringe of their society.

Read more work by Darryl White.