Thursday, December 11, 2008

Once There Was A Spider

Here is a short story that I have been mulling over for a couple of weeks. I'll copy just the first few paragraphs here, and you can follow the link to the whole piece if it interests you.

Once There Was A Spider

Maddy pulled into the driveway that curved around the flowerbed where the lamppost was planted, and she turned off the car. Mrs. Henderson had not arrived yet, so she decided to sit and wait with the windows rolled down and with the chilly October breeze reaching into the front seat and making her wish she’d worn a warmer jacket.

Her mother, Marlene, knew Mrs. Henderson from the water aerobics class they both took at the Y. The two ladies were doing knee lifts in the pool one day, and Marlene mentioned that Maddy would be coming to town for a visit, that she was a writer who seemed unable to write lately, and Marlene was hoping to give her some room for inspiration. She called it “quiet time.” “I’d like to give her some space and some quiet time.”

Mrs. Henderson said that no one had used her lake house in weeks, or was it months, she couldn’t remember for sure. And she would be happy to let Maddy stay there for as long as she needed. It was as quiet as they come, she said, and it would be good for someone to be there to air out the place and run some water through the pipes. She said for Maddy to meet her there at 5:00, and she would give her the keys and give her a quick tour. Maddy was only a few minutes early.

She remembered what her mother said about this woman, that she was late to everything that was governed by a set time, and that she was usually the last one in the pool and always apologizing as if she were normally prompt. She would sidle out of the locker room looking like Tracy Lord and slip off her robe, drape it over the bleachers by the south wall, and snap on her swimming cap, careful to tuck in every loose strand of hair. Throughout the entire display, she would say how sorry she was for being late, and she just didn’t know how she could have misread the clock. The first couple of times, the other women in the class and their instructor would stop and listen and smile, but after it seemed Mrs. Henderson’s entrance was going to be a regular exhibition, they stopped paying attention and kept on with their jumping jacks while she gushed.

Having become impatient with waiting, Maddy got out of her car and decided to give herself a tour while she waited. The side yard was narrow and overhung with tree branches like a trellis, and she had to duck to get through the tunnel they made. At the other end was a wide-open back yard that extended down to the lake where there were benches and an empty dock. With the onset of fall, all the boats had been brought in for the season, and the only things still on the lake were the geese and ducks and sea gulls. The birds were taking turns circling overhead and honking, gathering the troops for the flight south.

Standing in the middle of the yard, Maddy turned back to see the house and was startled by its size. From the front, it was nothing but a simple ranch house, but from the back it had character and a rustic sense that made it blend in with the woods around it. It was built on a hill, so the back had an exposed basement that wasn’t seen from the front, revealing it to be a much bigger house than people expected when standing on the front porch.

To the right of the house was an inlet where local residents tied up their canoes during the summer months, but now there was nothing more than a ripple from the occasional duck turned upside down looking for fish. To the left, on the other side of the thick stand of trees were more and more trees growing out of a ravine too steep for hiking. Maddy stood on the edge where the ground began to slope, holding onto a slim tree trunk as she leaned forward for a better view and thinking she’d need something like a ski pole to navigate down to the bottom. It wasn’t too far of a drop, though, and she could see how the leaves on the forest floor gave way to mud from a recent rain.

Car tires crunched the gravel in the driveway, and Maddy made her way back through the wild trellis to meet Mrs. Henderson. A tall woman draped in a pashmina shawl made to look like leopard skin climbed out of a vintage Mercedes the color of steel. She flipped her shawl over her shoulder and extended a gloved hand to Maddy.

“You must be Marlene’s daughter. I’m Mrs. Henderson. Call me Janine.”

Entire Story


dive said...

What an excellent story, Robyn.
You have that same way of making Small Town weirdness seem strangely comforting that Garrison Keillor has.

I'd like to hear much more of the inhabitants of this place and their goings-on.

MmeBenaut said...

I'm coming back to read some more Robyn .. but it's nearly 1.30 am and I need to sleep now. Reads well, so far.

Shan said...

Good job Robyn! Do you see this story as a moral type of tale like: Face your fears and avoid worse catastrophe. Or are you telling it focusing on building a mood and a suspense type of feel?

lynn said...

Lots of detail there Robyn. It is strangely comforting, as Dive says.

Mark said...

Love the story, Robyn. I can quite well imagine you at Lake Mohawk having that adventure.

I can see myself in the story, in the sense of avoiding a trivial inconvenience while putting myself in a more dire situation.