21 5 / 2012
** This short story of mine was previously published in an anthology by Girl Child Press called “Just Like a Girl.” It has also been posted on A Word With You Press. It is my tribute to my hero, and one of my greatest inspirations, outsider artist Henry Darger.
The Conscience of Spiders
by Kristy Webster
Before I was a woman, I was a spider. My footsteps were silent. Cold, dark places were my home. I took what I needed and left the excess. No one told me what I was. I was born knowing it all, my purpose, my strength, and my prey.
Eventually I tired of the basement’s dank, moldy laundry. I wanted to nest in a higher place, to know the world at a distance, guarding my solitude with anonymity. That is how I came upon the old janitor.
He was called Henry Darger. I spun a web inside his apartment window. Other curious spiders joined me and Henry’s quiet audience grew. His apartment never knew day from night, and no one knew him but us.
We watched him glue portraits of baby-faced girls to watercolor landscapes stretched across the walls, the floor. Henry painted his heroes the Vivian Girls–little girls with penises who fought off monsters and men in military coats. We his spider daughters argued amongst ourselves. Is he a deviant or an innocent? Some decided he was the pornographer gone mad in his isolation. Others like me decided he was a child, clueless of the rules. The only undecided Daughter of Darger silently crawled across a wet painting until she reached the face of an unfinished pig-tailed girl, and blossomed from the child’s mouth like a tiger lily.
Henry’s thick, coarse, and charcoal stained hands are unspoken evidence of invented magic, places lit by his imagination. That’s when I envied the dreaming. Henry, in your dreams do the little girls defeat the evil monsters in the Glandolinian War? In your dreams have you spotted me, your protector of secrets?
Henry’s life took place on pages, tens of thousands of pages. But sometimes words were spoken into the deceivingly empty apartment. One year Henry cursed God for the snow, cursed the church for leaving him both fatherless and childless. These are moments I was tempted to reveal myself, but I knew Henry was a maker, something more than an ordinary man, capable of creating his desired company. I was superflous.
In Henry’s room, there were no empty bottles of liquor or wine, no excess articles of clothing strewn about the room. And in the thousands of pictures piled, stacked and sometimes scattered, there were no traces of Henry’s past, only the traced, drawn and painted faces of his little girl heroines, the pilars of his blooming story.
Henry is a snowflake in hell. My capsule of a body carries the hot poison that could melt him. But I want him to finish and I want the little girls to steal the waves of grass back from the dragons and soldiers. I want to know that the littlest beings can show the Giants the secret places they’ve been missing.
Thousands of water colored pages later, our Henry dies in his sleep. Not on his mattress which was buried in pages, but in his chair, at his desk, still in navy-blue janitor overalls, his hands and head resting on his latest collage of the Vivian Girls, who’d claimed the final victory.
People enter his sanctuary, our sanctuary. Strangers interpret the old janitor’s room. A woman in a pompous yellow hat calls him a recluse. The word rings true, resonates with me. I am the same. I spring towards the yellow to become a star atop the woman’s hat. I am invisible, her worst fear.
Little did I know that once I released my venom into the woman’s skin, I’d be caught and killed and this would be my last life as a spider, a small, unnoticed predator. If I had known that I would be reborn as the very same thing I poisoned, would I have let the strangers interpret our Henry’s works without interference?
In my new body I am a clumsy mess. Now gaudily visible I can no longer disappear into cracks, or make homes of windowsills and curtains. Even houses won’t conceal me.
Though I’m a woman now, I sometimes remember having been very small, and having hung from high places. In my home the smallest, most hidden places take precedence and I welcome silent visitors. The venom of my new existence is Time. I wait for the next rebirth. I ache for a transformation to be once again a selective danger.