Strength in Numbers – Madeline Mora-Summonte

Jordie talks to the spiders. Now that he lives with Pappy, they’re his only friends. Herds of them drift through the backyard. Some scatter and scuttle away while others settle, hunkering down like grazing livestock.

Jordie hides under the scarred picnic table. Weeds lick his skin, green tongues tasting his fear. Pappy lunges around, cursing at all the webs. One stretches from the sagging gutter to the old recliner Pappy dragged outside ages ago. Another spans the window with the ripped screen. Smaller webs drape over the broken toilet and the old tire and the moldy stacks of newspapers, making the junk almost pretty.

Pappy rakes yellowed fingernails through the delicate strands. Jordie traces the ragged claw marks on his left arm from when Pappy grabbed him earlier and yelled at him, for something, for nothing. Jordie had sniffed for the alcohol he remembered from his long gone father’s breath, but all Jordie had smelled on Pappy was tuna fish and burnt coffee and mean.

Pappy plops into the recliner, stretches out beneath the gnarled tree he uses for target practice. His snores rattle his bones, whistle through the black cavern that should hold his heart.

Jordie considers slipping back inside. He can read his comic books and maybe find something to eat besides tuna. He wishes for cereal and for cold milk to pour over it and cartoons to watch. But Pappy never lets him watch TV. It’s only for baseball and boobies, and I watch a lot of both, Pappy said on Jordie’s first day there. Pappy had laughed, the sound cracked and dry like the old leather on the recliner.

A small spider settles on Jordie’s knee. Another crawls over the insole of Pappy’s bare foot and scampers up his pants leg. Jordie giggles, picturing it crawling into Pappy’s underwear.

A larger spider drops like a paratrooper and lands on Pappy’s cheek. He scratches at his face. It dips below Pappy’s ear, disappears. Others scurry over the dirt. They race up the recliner and over Pappy. More plummet from the tree.

Jordie forgets about comic books and food and cartoons. The spiders weave their webs, plastering Pappy to his chair. Pappy shifts, mumbles. The sun slides across the sky, the shadows deepen.

Jordie scoops up the spider from his knee and walks over to Pappy, whose face is the only part not yet covered.

Pappy slits his eyes. “Get away from me, boy, or I’ll smack you so….” A spider bustles over Pappy’s forehead. He tries to raise his hand to knock it away. When he can’t, when he sees why he can’t, his blue eyes, so similar to Jordie’s, go wide. “What the Hell?” A small spider squeezes into Pappy’s right nostril. Pappy honks and thrashes his head from side to side, but it doesn’t reappear.

Three tiny ones slip between Pappy’s lips. Jordie imagines the webs’ strands sliding between Pappy’s teeth like floss, wrapping around his tongue, stilling the dangling bag in the back of his throat.

Pappy glares as Jordie holds out his hand. A few spiders join the one still cupped in his palm.

Jordie watches Pappy gag, mouth gobby with filament, until the rest of the spiders seal Pappy’s eyes shut.
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Madeline Mora-Summonte writes from Florida, where she doesn’t spend nearly as much time walking with her husband on the beach as she’d like. To read more of her published work, please visit her at The Shellshank Redemption (http://MadelineMora-Summonte.blogspot.com), where she blogs about books, reading, writing and tortoises.

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