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?
Will some of their eyes be mine?
Musa Gurnis lives in New York.