This is happening to me because I loved a man who was a spider.
When we met I was in art school. I wanted to be a sculptor. I had a studio I slept in near Denfert-Rochereau. Everything I owned or wore or ate off of had clay or plaster smudges. My work was rubbish — overwrought and derivative — I knew it. Still I was ambitious. I worked hard. Through some sleight of hand I had wriggled out of the life I was supposed to have and my greatest fear was having to return to Aveyron, to teach painting in the lycee and eat Sunday dinner with my parents.
One night I went to a gallery opening in the Marais and there I met Chelic. I was wearing a dress that was too pretty for anyone to take me seriously as an artist. It was a dark red vintage dress with a large block print of black poppies. It had a full tulle skirt, wasp waist, and pockets. Inadvertently I had dressed like my mother at a fancy dinner party, but I didn't care. I loved dresses with pockets.
The exhibition was a series of huge black and white photographs, all close ups of small pointy things: toothpick, needle, broomstraw, pin. I wasn't sure if I liked it. I went to the bar.
Chelic was standing in the corner, apart. He was tall and thin, very white. He had a shock of red hair and pale blue eyes. He wore a bottle-green velvet suit. He didn't look like other people. He looked like the crayon drawing of a malevolent child. He was drinking whiskey with great diligence. There were four empty tumblers lined up on the floor by his foot. I walked over and asked him what he thought.
“De quoi?" His French had a funny clicking sound which I assumed at the time was a kind of English accent. I hadn't yet seen the inside of his mouth.
"Of the show. What do you think?"
I can't remember what he said. He gave a long, funny answer that ended in an impersonation of a pair of broken chopsticks. I stayed speaking to him for a long time. The friend that brought me came over to say that she was leaving. I stayed. He was clever. He spoke to me as if I was a man. I thought he was interesting company.
That was September. We began to spend almost every day together. We'd meet at three at a bar called Bar Onze on rue Maitre Albert. It was a worker's bar with one tap, musty, windowless. No one talked to us. We'd sit in the corner drinking beer until closing. He told long, amusing stories about people he knew — acquaintances, never friends. He could skewer someone with an impression.
I had never before drunk with such purpose and commitment, never drunk daily and seriously as if going to work. I liked it. I stopped sculpting. I'd wake up around noon, drink Alka Seltzer and eat tartines until 2, when I'd walk down to meet Chelic at Bar Onze. I did that every day until late November.
At the end of the month Chelic had an exhibition. I knew, of course, he was a sculptor also. We talked obsessively about art when we were drinking but I had never been to his studio or seen any of his work.
When he invited me he said the show was all new pieces and it surprised me that he'd been working so much since we'd met and begun drinking together. He asked if I was planning to wear my red dress with the pockets and the poppies, not in a flirty way, simply as if verifying a detail in which he took an interest.
I didn't see Chelic for two days before his show. When it came the gallery was changed completely. Every surface — walls, floors, ceiling, windows, bar, bathrooms, welcome desk — was covered with a kind of dense, sticky white shroud made of strands and strands of different kinds of silk or silicon or paste. And his pieces were made of the same material, nests or cocoon type things suspended on stiff stems at odd angles from the ceiling. Inside them you could see bones, bent and bundled, the bodies of dogs, children, men and women, folded and wrapped. The show was a huge success. No one was working in that technique at that time in Paris. Everyone was curious about his materials, about which Chelic was coy. He wore a white suit, which made him seem even paler, like one of his own pieces. He sat on a shrouded bench in the corner and everybody came to him, the buyers, the gallery owners, critics, other artists. I brought him whiskeys and gossiped with the gallery receptionist.
When it was over we walked to Bar Onze. It was cold. It smelled like winter. I wore a red velvet three quarter length swing coat. I was afraid of myself, afraid of how brilliant he was and how strongly I felt drawn to his side. We were walking down hill down the rue St. Genevieve. I could see my breath in the dark. I announced in a brave and detached way that it shouldn't impose anything on him but that I, personally, felt I was falling in love with him a little.
“Don't worry," I said, "we can carry on as before. I'll manage myself."
He pulled me in with his arms. He was surprisingly strong. He held me locked to him and kissed me. Or, he pressed his human mouth to mine in an odd, cold way that technically would be described as kissing.
Then his mouth peeled back and in its place I felt two furred, hard tusks. Something sharp flicked in my mouth. I pulled back. I tasted blood.
“I love you too," he said.
A month later we were living together. I gave up my apartment and moved in with him. All my belongings fit in two suitcases. His studio was bare. There were walls, wood floors, exposed rafters, a stone fireplace. He had no human bed or food.
The first night I came he had bought tea and a cake for me. He borrowed chairs and a teapot from a neighbor. We sat politely on the chairs, not touching, eating cake from the box with our fingers. Then he drew me toward him with his strong, bony hands. He clicked in my ear. His feelers nuzzled my throat.
I undid the buttons of his shirt. "I want to see you," I said.
He stood, formal and serious, and undressed in his kitchen. His human body was like a twisted cord of rope, a bleached driftwood spar, unnaturally white. I stood an arm's length away from him and reached out to touch what seemed at first his rib. In my hand the skin grew pasty. I could see the growing outline of four folded black sticks or bones. I looked at him, his strange, serious face. I pressed my fingers through his skin, like wriggling through wet papier mache. I searched out and found and drew out and unfolded a long black jointed leg. The others followed, opened together like an origami flower. There he stood, naked Four human and four spider limbs, six feet in spindly diameter, resplendent.
"Wait," he said.
He moved into the bare white room and leapt up to the rafters. He crawled backward, rapid, watching me as he crossed and re-crossed, jumped and hung, from floor to walls to rafters, drawing behind him a shining white cord. He spun us a glistening hammock, an iridescent bed suspended mid-air.
I undressed, dropped my clothes on the chair. Those objects — the chair, the teapot, the clothes — seemed so coarse, so primitive. He lifted me into the air with one leg. He bound me with white cords. I felt weightless. He folded himself over me, fastened the little hooks and catches of his arms around me and held me fixed there. His abdomen shifted down, elongated. We started to make love. He still wore his human cock. He did not kiss me, he buried his head into my breastbone. I felt his human mouth peel back. I saw between my breasts the full shape of the furred black fangs, the long wet tube of tongue. The more I moved the tighter the cords became. He fucked me. He bit into my chest between the ribs, beside the heart, and sucked. His eyes swelled. His face became transparent. Eight glittering orbed lenses grew out of his forehead. I saw myself as I thought he must see me: shining, multiplied, a stained glass mirror, a kaleidoscope, light scattered underwater.
When he finished he scurried to the corner of the web and recomposed his human body. Neither of us spoke. I lay bound still, four feet above the floor, dizzy, unseeing. When he came back he slashed loose my cords. He fetched my purse from the pile on the floor, rolled us two cigarettes. We lay side by side in web and smoked.
It wasn't easy living with a spider. He hated human food and human bathing. We argued constantly about the lights, which I always wanted on and he always wanted off, and about the heat, which he kept cranked as if growing orchids. But most of it was beautiful. We built huge fires all winter from wood palettes he dragged in off the street. Some nights we went to the river. He carried me under the bridges on the Seine and we dangled from the undergirding for hours, talking, listening to the water noises, watching the peniches pass beneath us. He was incredibly agile. Often he would surprise me after he had left for work by crawling up the wall of our building to our window for another kiss.
It was an incandescent time, but also a restless one. He never slept. He moved all night around the room. I had strange dreams. I woke up exhausted. He worked constantly, silently, all night in the dark, sucking the bodies of stray cats, spinning, wrapping. Sometimes I heard their cries. I knew he ate other people. It was his nature. It was wrong of me, perhaps, to accept it, but I felt then that God who had made me and all the world had made him also and that somehow it must be right.
I felt sure he would never harm me, would never poison me, and this seemed to me a miracle of love.
My friends disliked him. They thought him cold and watchful. He had no human friends. Sometimes we went out with other spiders, but I felt that they dismissed me, thought me weak, a pet, or a meal.
We spent more time alone together. The best nights were in the spring when he would build a web in the Parc de la Villette and we would sleep strung between the branches of a massive oak. Then it seemed as though the whole night and all the stars opened up above us, for us, the fast wind pushing clouds across the sky. There were weeks together when I felt my whole heart was a flame, expansive, like the pictures of the saints, or that there was a pure, invisible cord attached to my ribs that pulled me. That was how it felt to be in love with him.
His body was a wonder to me, its secret workings and articulations. I admired his strength, his tirelessness, his cleverness. He loved me, I think, because I was so human, so plump and pink. I disapproved of killing. I was friendly. I liked human things: movies, Christmas. He teased me about how much I slept and ate and showered.
"Again!?" he'd say.
He began to be successful as an artist. He was home less and less. I was jealous. I tried to go back to sculpting but our studio was always full of his nightwork. Once my potter's wheel ended up cocooned in some piece of his that was just about to go out to a buyer. I wanted to break it open to get my wheel back. He said I was being irrational and he would buy me another. We had a screaming fight. He swore and clicked under his breath. I cried and slammed my way out.
When I came back we had a long, sad talk and he asked me if I wanted to marry him. He told me he thought I would be unhappy, that it would be better if I left, but that if I wanted we could marry. I said yes. I was miserable. He tied a thread around my finger.
We took the Eurostar to London so I could meet his father, who also wore a human body. They looked alike, Clerck and Chelic, except that Clerck's skin was pastier, his spider bulges more prominent. The family house was a huge, dark, rambling aristocratic pile. None of the lights worked. Most of the rooms were crammed with furniture from floor to ceiling. It was so hot I felt delirious. There was a constant sound of scurrying but I was never introduced to — or even saw — the rest of the family.
After dinner over port Chelic's father would remove his human head entirely. I had never seen this in all the time we had been dating. Clerck questioned me in a high clicking voice about my parents and my education. My father was a butcher and my mother a schoolteacher. I'd dropped out of art school after two terms. Chelic had gone to Eton and Cambridge. I realized his suits were hand-me-downs from his father. They were bespoke from a tailor on Saville Row.
On the third night we had a furious whispered fight in our web in the attic.
"Your father hates me!" I said, "He just stares at me with all those eyes, clacking his fangs. He doesn't think I'm good enough."
"That's ridiculous," Chelic said, "You just don't understand the English."
I cried. I wanted to go home. He pulled me tighter to him, held me in his legs and rocked me. In the end we fell asleep thinking of names for our children.
"What about Chelic?"
"I hate my name," he said, "It's not human at all."
"What about Peter? Or Anthony? Or Max? Or Sam?"
He laughed. "It won't be either/or," he said.
* * * * *
When we got back to Paris something had changed. We still talked as if we would get married but it seemed silently increasingly clear that this would never happen. I slept more. He drank more. The apartment was thick with his spinning, oppressively hot. I no longer felt like getting out of the web. My hair grew tangled in the threads. My eyes and skin felt filmy. I coughed up bits of netting all day long. I made bitter little comments about feeling like an insect. Chelic ignored me.
The sex became more violent, his feelers cut me, he bit more carelessly, closer to my heart and lungs, drank more. I felt sometimes that he hated me. I stayed in the web for weeks. I stopped eating or bathing. I lost track of days, of whether it was day or night. I became fat.
I realized I was pregnant. My belly distended, my skin became pasty to touch, and translucent. The growth is huge, hard. Chelic has become gentle again, but I know he is sad. He no longer wears his human body. He wraps me constantly. He broods over me, his weight fixed to me for hours. His spider body is all black, spindly. He is always watching, always awake, always working.
I can feel my children moving, their small legs beating and tapping the inner wall of my egg sac. They want to live and I don't.
Will he eat me? Will he make me into art? Did he love me? Or, did he love me the way humans love or the way spiders do? I used to think our love was more than human, now I think it might be less. And my children — will I be alive to see them teeming from my body? Will I live long enough to name them?