DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
TEL. 01273 603766 - EMAIL [email protected] - www.fulltable.com/fj
text and images throughout copyright
Cobwebs of Time
The scream of horror came from eleven-year old Vindala, who had just walked out of her back door into the garden and straight into a large cobweb. Spluttering, she tried to clean off the sticky mess from her face. How she hated spiders! Horrible, nasty, scuttly creatures! The remains of the cobweb clung to her ears and her school uniform, despite her efforts to clean it off. It was not a good start to the day. She glared around the garden, hoping she could see the little rascal and stamp on it.
‘Oh, thank you very much! That was one of my best! And now you’ve ruined it! Why don’t you say sorry!’
The thin little voice came from close to her left ear. She turned, and then screamed again with horror, backing away against the post of the kitchen door. Dangling on a single fine thread was a large, rather mottled spider, its’ legs twitching, and its body turning gently. ‘Ohhh, go away, you horrible, nasty thing! Stay away from me!’ Vindala did not like spiders, ever since one ran across her face when she was asleep in bed.
‘Well, that’s nice, isn’t it? You go and ruin my web and then you start calling me names! The trouble with you lot is that you’ve got no manners. No manners at all!’
The spider said this in a scornful voice. Vindala remembered that she had to go to school, and anyway, she’d had enough. So she went inside and slammed the door hard. But on her way she kept wondering about whether she had imagined it. Not enough breakfast perhaps? But the next morning, which was a Saturday, she was just about to open the kitchen door when she remembered about the web. ‘This time I’ll be careful, and dodge it’, she thought. So she ducked down low and looked up and saw another web above her. She felt pleased with herself and turned to go into the garden.
She hadn’t seen the second web strung across just in front of her. As she was gasping and spitting out the sticky bits of cobweb from her mouth, and trying to wipe the mess from her face, a little voice next to her giggled.
This time she was so enraged that she began to shout furiously.
‘You disgusting, slimy, revolting little insect! You bloated, nasty little excuse for a creature! You appalling blot on the world! You hateful, spiteful, nasty, dirty, filthy horror! I hate you and I hope you all die! Then you won’t be such a nuisance any more!’
At this point she had to pause to get her breath.
‘Now, now, temper, temper’, said the spider reprovingly. Then it giggled again, ‘It was a good ambush, though, wasn’t it?’ You should have seen your face!’
Vindala snarled. ‘At least, I’ve got a face, which is more than you have!’
‘My, we are having a tantrum! Just because I can make webs and you can’t. Jealous, are we?’
‘Don’t you have better things to do! Look at me! I’m in such a mess!’
You are a bit,’ admitted the spider, ‘but calm down. Why not have a talk with me? It’s not every day you get to talk to a spider. We could even have a reasonable conversation together’.
Vindala considered this. ‘All right. I just don’t see why you spend your time making all these webs. Is it to annoy people on purpose?’
The spider was silent for so long that Vindala thought he might have gone to sleep. Then it spoke.
‘I said what’s time? Are you deaf or something?’
Vindala took a deep breath. ‘Time is how we measure things. Seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years. That’s what we do’.
‘Why?’ asked the spider, then added hopefully, ‘Can you eat them?’
Vindala considered this. ‘No’, she said at length. ‘But we do have sayings like you can eat time up’.
‘Ah, said the spider, gleefully. ‘Are they nice big juicy flies then?’
‘No!’ said Vindala, beginning to feel angry. ‘Though, I suppose, we do have another saying – that time flies’.
‘Oho!’ said the spider triumphantly. ‘Then I was right! So I can catch time flies in my web and have them for a nice meal! Well, you learn something every day. Why didn’t you say so in the first place? Honestly! You lot always make things so complicated’.
Vindala, whose head was beginning to spin slightly, decided to change the subject. ‘What’s your name?’ she asked.
‘Name? What’s name?’ asked the spider suspiciously.
‘What do people call you?’
‘ Oh, I don’t know. Usually nasty things’. replied the spider, rather spitefully, ‘anyway, can I eat names as well? Are they like time flies?’
By this time, Vindala was not sure whether her head was working properly. ‘What kind of space do you need for your webs? Why do you always make them in doorways, so I walk into them?’
‘Oh, no’, groaned Vindala. She took another deep breath. ‘How do you know how to speak our language? That’s very unusual’.
‘That’s easy’. Said the spider cheerfully. ‘I just picked it up when I was living with you lot. I learnt a lot about language, I did. Some not very nice either, I gather. But anyway, I learnt your lingo, so there you are’.
‘But you must have been around a very long time,’ Vindala said firmly, ‘otherwise you wouldn’t have time to talk a language’.
‘There you go again about time flies! How do I know? I just weave my webs and that’s it. Mind you, I have had some –what do you call it – interesting experiences’.
Vindala was interested herself now. ‘Go on, tell me’.
The spider, as much as he could do, looked dreamy. ‘Well, there was this famous woman – I don’t know who she was – but I climbed up through the –is it plughole? – in her bath, and as soon as she saw me, she screamed the place down! Mind you, she didn’t have any of those – what are they, oh, clothes, on. So that might have had something to do with it’.
‘Any other stories?’
‘Oh, oh yes! I went to live in a man’s – I just trying to remember the right language – yes, it was his beard, that he grows on his face. It was a big one, so I was quite comfortable there. He made a lot of speeches to lots of other people, but that didn’t worry me. He always wore this kind of uniform. I remember somebody called him something – something like ‘el pres…el presidente!’ the spider called out triumphantly. ‘That was it! And he called him something else. What was it? Yes, I know! It was something like Fiddle Castrol?’.
Vindala stared at the spider, her mouth wide open. For once she was almost speechless. Then she found her voice. ‘You mean, that you lived in President Fidel Castro’s beard?’
‘Oh, yes, of course I did. Mind you he was always talking away to lots of people, who kept cheering at him for some reason. And he snored terribly! But still he was all right. But he never knew I was there though’. The spider chuckled. ‘Are there any other famous people that you’ve…..lived with?’ asked Vindala, curiously. ‘I don’t know. Anyway, what’s famous? Is that something to do with food?’
‘Oh, never mind! I’ve got to go now anyway’. And she turned and went back into the house. ‘Well, if I remember, I’ll tell you’. the spider called after her, and then quickly went up his cobweb strand and disappeared.
For some weeks Vindala managed to avoid the cobwebs, though the fact that they were there showed her the spider was still around. But now she had other darker and more sadder things on her mind. Her mother had become more and more thin and tired, and she could not get around to do the housework as she used to. Her eyes were dark, with shadows beneath them, and she had lost interest in doing even the simplest things. Vindala and her father helped her as much as possible, but when she looked at her father’s face she saw how the lines in his face had deepened, and he had stopped laughing and smiling. He had always laughed and smiled at everything, but now his face seemed to have frozen in sadness. Their family and friends came to visit, but even they were quiet and subdued. She simply felt desperately worried, not really knowing what was happening.
Early one evening, the ambulance came. Her father helped to bring her mother down from the bedroom. She looked so fragile and tired. The man and woman from the ambulance helped her into the back of the vehicle, with Vindala, standing, feeling very alone and frightened. ‘I’ll be back soon’, said her father gently. ‘Will you be all right on your own? Just for a short while’. Vindala just stood and stared as the ambulance drove away, with everybody she cared about in it. Even worse was to come. Her father returned later, but hardly touched the curry she had made him. Nor did he want to talk. He just sat there, looking quietly at the wall. Finally she kissed him goodnight and went to bed, though she could not sleep well. She was still too worried about her mum and dad.
It was Saturday morning, and she got up early and went down to the kitchen, and opened the back door. She ducked under the cobweb, then under the second one, and walked towards the garden.
‘Got you, there didn’t I! That was a real surprise, wasn’t it! Not bad that was it? You weren’t expecting one there, were you! ….Hold on, what’s the matter? It wasn’t that bad’. Suspended from his silver thread, he looked down at Vindala, who sat on the grass, with her head in her hands, sobbing. The spider quickly spun his thread longer until he was next to her ear. ‘Don’t take on so. It was only one of my webs’.
‘Get lost! Shut up! Just leave me alone! It’s all just a joke to you, isn’t it! Just don’t come near me!’
‘Well, I never. Such language! What’s the matter with you this morning?’
Vindala stopped sniffing, and muttered, ’If you must know, my mother’s gone into hospital with something that’s really wrong with her, and I don’t know what! I came down last night and saw my dad sitting in his armchair, and he was crying! My father, who is so big and strong, and is always laughing and he was sitting there crying for my mother! I’m so frightened I’m going to lose her. And my dad’s going to be so unhappy. And I’m so unhappy! And if he came across you, he’d squash you! Su just shut up!’
All this came out in a rush. ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that last bit’.
‘Best I don’t meet up with him then’, said the spider cheerfully, ‘But what’s mother? Is she good to eat too?’ Vindala just groaned. ‘All I know is, that it will take a miracle to make her better’.
‘Didn’t you hear me! I said, what’s miracle?’
Vindala was surprised at the sudden anger in the spider’s voice.
‘Well’, she said reluctantly, ‘ a miracle is when something wonderful happens, that makes everything right again. At least, I think that is what it is. But I am honestly not sure’. ‘I am.’ said the spider calmly.
‘And this I will tell you. I will make your miracle. I’m not sure I can do it, but I will try’.
‘Wait and see’. And with that the spider moved up his thread and disappeared.
During the few days that followed, Vindala forgot about the spider’s promise. She was more unhappy about her mum and dad. Each day her mum seemed to get worse, and each time her dad came back looking more miserable than ever. She prayed for them both, but it didn’t seem to make much difference. The doctors in the hospital were kind but anxious. They didn’t seem to know what would make her mum better, and her father came back each night and cried, after she had gone to bed. She could hear him, and often came down to comfort him, but there was little else she could do. What could she do? The spider seemed to have disappeared. No webs, nothing.
It was the next morning, a Saturday morning. She got up sadly, dressed and prepared to go downstairs. Before she did, she went to her bedroom window and looked out. She screamed with amazement and shouted. ‘Dad! Dad! Come and look, Dad! Dad, come now! Now!’ Her father leapt up the stairs in fright, and stood next to her at the window. His eyes bulged with amazement, and his jaw dropped. Even his turban stood on edge!
There, covering almost all of the garden, was a vast, glittering canopy, that lay over the plants and bushes. It was covered in the early morning dew, and rose and fell in hills and valleys, shimmering and gleaming. As a slight breeze stirred, it began to breathe and move, as if it was alive. It was the most wondrous sight that Vindala and her father had ever seen in their entire lives. Then, as the rays of the early morning sun caught it, they gasped again. The dewdrops that covered it flashed in the light like jewels: gold, emerald green, red, deep purple, and white like diamonds, and, as it moved they changed colour, like a moving kaleidoscope.
Vindal’s father suddenly ran from her room, and she could hear rummaging frantically around. Then he ran back with his camera, and began to take photograph after photograph. ‘I want your mother to be able to see this’, he whispered. ‘It will do her so much good!’ They both ran downstairs and opened the back door, their eyes wide. From the ground, it looked even more like a magical landscape, with mountains and deep valleys. It was no longer their back garden, but a wonderful new land of brightness and light. They stood at the door, for what seemed hours, completely lost in this new world. Then her father started. ‘Quickly!’ he shouted. ‘We promised to see your mother this morning! And I’ve got get these photographs developed!! We must go! Now!’
The rest of that day was a marvellous dream for Vindala. They rushed to the photographic developers, where her father drummed his fingers on the counter impatiently until the pictures arrived. Then they drove quickly to the hospital, and pushed open the entrance doors. In the corridor inside was the doctor, in his white coat, who had been looking after her mother. But, instead of looking serious, he wore a smile. ‘I’ve got very good news for you’. he said. ‘We’ found out that your wife had a very serious virus. It was not what we feared. We’ve treated her for it and she’s much better. In fact you should be able to take her home in a few days. You can go and see her now, if you wish’. Vindala’s father thanked him and together they rushed to where her mother was.
There she was, sitting up in bed, and looking much happier and cheerful. They both hugged her tightly. ‘Vindala and I have something to show you’. said her father, and handed her the photographs. Her mother looked through them in amazement, and then laughed in delight and clapped her hands. ‘How wonderful! It must have been an absolute miracle! It was this morning that they told me I was going to get better!’ Both father and daughter noticed the sparkle in her eyes, and for some reason, Vindala was reminded of the way in which the huge web had glistened and sparkled as well.
At home, Vindala was so happy to see how her father had begun to smile and laugh again. She left him to telephone their friends and family. There was something she wanted to do. Opening the back door, she suddenly felt very sad. The beautiful web had gone, with only a few glistening strands left on the bushes.
‘Hallo! Here I am again! Better is she? I mean this mother.’
‘Yes. And I want to thank you so much, I could almost kiss you!’
‘No you don’t! replied the spider hastily, scuttling up his silver strand. ‘You’d probably eat me! Any way, I’m not very good to eat!’
‘You made a miracle for us!’
‘Oh, well. The impossible’s easy, but miracles take more work’.
‘It was so beautiful’.
‘Yes, it wasn’t too bad, was it? Though I’ve made better.’
Vindala, thought for a moment, and then said, ‘I want to give you a name.
‘Not a nasty one, I hope’.
‘No’, said Vindala, ‘but I want to call you Bob’.
‘Yes, Bob. But I haven’t finished. I want to give you a title as well.’
‘Oh, please don’t start that. Your full title will be’, and she paused dramatically: ‘Bob, the greatest spider artist of all time!’
‘Hmm…I like that. All right, you can call me Bob. I’ve got to go. See you.’ And with that he shot up his strand and disappeared.
Her mother returned home a few days later, as planned.
Friends and family came for a feast to celebrate her recovery, and complimented her with great delight. Vindala’s father was happy again, and Vindala, felt that she had never loved her mother so much. There was singing and dancing and much chatter. Vindala was kept busy serving her aunts and uncles with food and drinks, and after a while she felt she needed to have a rest and some fresh air.
She excused herself and went into the kitchen. Drawing breath for a moment, she opened the door and stepped outside.
Frank Jackson (24/09/07)