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Grandmother Spider

I came home late one afternoon following an unrivalled day at the office. It had been one of those days during which every conceivable endeavour had gone awry in a public, and almost comical way. The day had begun with a bowl of turbid ProNutro, followed by too much coffee, a tranquilizer to counteract the coffee, an absurd flurry of ineffectual activity that spanned at least 1000 years, a peanut butter sandwich, and then total and utter existential despair.

Once inside my apartment, I kicked off my shoes, landed on the couch, and watched the rain clouds breaking apart above the park across the way, the sunset streaking orange across the moody blue, my mind chasing shadows. I closed my eyes and pressed my palms to my temples, pulling back the skin on my cheeks. I sighed, and began my descent to the underworld.

"Pssst," said a small voice that seemed to have come from somewhere very close by.

I opened my eyes and looked around but, of course, I was alone. I listened attentively and heard the buzzing of my husband's computer, which had been left on, the rumbling of thunder in the distance, and the inelegant squawk of a hadeda in the parking lot below; there was no small voice.

I resumed my brooding, taking it as a sign that I had finally just cracked. I imagined calling in dead at work the following day as the previous sick note produced by the doctor had indicated 'muscle spasm' as the cause of my absence and I was running out of believable reasons for being unwell.

An illness arising from the up-welling of the discarded feminine was not something a General Practitioner would usually write on a sick note that could be appended to a leave form. However, it was certainly the most serious illness I had ever suffered.

After forcing myself into a profession with no vitality or room for creativity in order to be heroic and to prove myself capable at a man's feat of arms, I discovered that I had deviated from my authentic Self and my values, and I no longer had any idea what gave me joy or pleasure; my heart was an arid wasteland.

I had lost my way, and I did not know how to find it again. I needed the income and so I knew I would continue in this fashion until I was inevitably hospitalised or fired or both.

"You are such a creep," I mumbled.

"What kind of way is that to speak to the Goddess?" said the same small voice again. Its tone was firm and disapproving but kind. It was definitely not my imagination. Someone was there, and they could sense my dismal vibes.

I sat up and peered around the room, and that's when I saw her. On the floor by one of the legs of the sleeper couch, sat an old, grey rain spider. Her body was thin and her legs were long and brittle. Hey many black eyes glinted in the twilight, reflecting my many lives. She tapped one leg expectantly on the grainy laminate flooring.

"Good god," I said. "I am talking to an insect."

"Arachnid," she said. "And I am but one of the many emanations of the same One you seek."

I raised my eyebrows and smoothed my hands over the pleather couch seat.

"As you are too, dear, though you have forgotten," she continued. "Which is why I am here."

She jumped up onto the coffee table and then up onto the curtain rail, leaving a gossamer thread behind. She jumped from corner to corner, couch to window to floor to door frame, and within moments she had woven a large, shimmering web that was also a door.

"Come with me," she said.

And I went.

Riding on the large hairy abdomen of Grandmother Spider, the forest city of Johannesburg sped by below. I heard sirens yowling and dogs barking, I saw myself in the back seat of my mother's burnt-out old Audi with the rear window blown out.

I was just a grey little spectre hidden away behind the artist's mop of hair belonging to the woman driving the car. She pulled up at the robot at the top of the street on the way to my school, seeing the red lights and half way around the galaxy and deep into the past but not the trouble brewing just around the corner.

She turned, heading down Third Street past the church where an incident had occurred. My father had come home to find a squat Indian man peering over the fence trying to catch a glimpse of my mother. She had met him at the Pick n' Pay in Victory Park and he had fallen in love with her immediately (not the first, not the last, not the strangest by a long shot).

My father had run out of the gate with a knobkerrie and chased the man up the street. He had fled into the church and my father had followed him. It was Sunday and the pursuit had intruded upon a sermon.

Back at the house, I saw her kissing a stranger at the gate.

My mother drove the car through time and we were on our way to Northgate ice rink on a Friday night. I was dressed like jail bait, spiteful, and courting oblivion. She waited in the car for hours while I skated around numb to the core of my being.

She drove me home from Melville while I lay on the back seat trying not to puke. She draped my favourite old green blanket over me while I had an intimate moment with some plants.

Meanwhile, a hobo called for her by the wrong name from the gate. He went to sleep in her car smelling of petrol, slipped through a crack in the back seat and was swallowed by time when the car mysteriously disappeared one day.

Inside the house, I climbed onto the roof after I discovered the affair and my mother tugged at the leg of my trousers. I tried to kick her off but we both turned to sand and blew away, becoming thick columns of dust in the desert near Kuruman. We sat in a courtyard while the Medicine Men sat inside talking about aliens and becoming shamans. My small sister played with her dolls in the dirt.

Inside the hut, the frightening concrete statues of portent looming by the door, my father was throwing the bones for a flock of female ghouls who each ran small psychology practices in the suburbs. My mother became a hollow bone woman and was trapped in a tree by an evil spirit.

Inside her small flat in Linden, my mother sits buried in a mountain of unsold artworks, still processing the cobwebs that Grandmother Spider was weaving into silk that could make a bridge from the Underworld all the way to Sol.

In an upstairs bedroom in my father’s new house, I still haven’t forgotten the desert and the bones. I drag a knife across my skin to let out some poison and five years of darkness pours out onto the floor.

I look into my new mother’s heart and I wander lost in a blizzard for a hundred years. I keep returning, hoping she will have changed her mind but history is stony-faced and inscrutable. I will never attain the perfection I imagine will allow me to be loved. I go back and back and back and back again and this time I make myself a good child and do exactly as I am told every time. I achieve honours, conquer and proclaim myself victorious. I am tired and unseen. The darkness still remembers me and it visits me in dreams.

I am tied upside down to a rock. Each day an eagle comes and pecks out my liver. Each night it grows back.

Grandmother Spider’s back is wet and warm from my tears. The night sky above us is clear and stars watch us speeding by. The Goddess smiles on me from within the empty spaces between subatomic particles.

“Who am I?” I ask her.

“You are a multitude,” she says. “Stardust, a light in an abandoned cave, a lost love of someone’s, a wife, the daughter of a lonely woman and a king, a priestess, an old Wild One still to become.”

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