Little White

Austina Wan
A spider was weeping on a willow tree.

The willow tree stood near a shallow pond. Among the white, long willow boughs, the spider had made herself a magnificent home. She had chosen this place because she liked the tenderness of the willow, a tenderness doubled by the reflection in the pond. She had also chosen this tree for an artistic reason: her web would display its utmost beauty when laid over the willow boughs. And when a gale came by—swaying the boughs, the web, and the water—the spider sighed with satisfaction. For art, she always thought, takes not only its own form, but also that of the surroundings, the air, the feeling.

The spider was pure white. Her whiteness was not that of snow, nor of dove, but of bones buried too many years ago. Other spiders envied her, because her whiteness represented all the innocence of heart and purity of soul; and the tiny hints of gray in the white gave her a little bit of sadness, which made her more endearing. The other spiders, with their dark bodies and rainbow colors, looked more stunning. But poison ran in their blood.

This white spider was quite isolated from the other spiders. Whenever she was near them, she would overhear their conversations about how massive their webs were—so that they could catch more insects at a time—or how complicated they had built their webs, so that trapped insects could not escape. They showed off their speed in web building. They boasted about their intelligence over those unfortunate insects that were dazzled by the appearance of the web and were then fooled and became food. She could not help but think that they brought shame to the spider species. For survival, they manipulated their beauty and turned it into a cunning trap. But she, no, she would never turn her web into a trap! What degradation. To her, the spider’s webbing skill was truly the happiest and the most unique blessing one could ever wish for. What could be more gratifying than being able to extract from one’s self the essence of being and transform it into a fascinating piece of art? She kept away from the other spiders who would sneer and jeer at her, because they thought she had no ambition and pretended to be unearthly.

Now she was weeping, all alone, because a tragedy had happened. Last night, fifteen insects clung onto her web. This particular web, which she had woven a few nights ago as a celebration of her coming-of-age, was the one she had poured the most of her heart into by far. Now these filthy beings had spoiled it. The sacred art, created from the blessed skill, was blemished, absolutely contaminated, by things so ugly, so untouchable, so opposite to her artistic standards! Fifteen ugly insects jumping on her, invading her territory of beauty. This was too much.

But the most agonizing was that the web was now lost. The other spiders, overhearing her achievement, had been inflamed with jealousy and had marched to her home, torn the web down, and thrown it far away. The white spider did no even have a chance to see her masterpiece one last time.

In the midst of her sobs and heaves she faintly heard someone exclaiming under the willow.

“What is this thing that’s sticking to me?” a man said. “A spider web?”

The spider’s eyes shone—it could be her web! Quickly she slid down a willow bough. But in her excitement, she lost grip and landed breathlessly on the man’s chest. The spider looked up timidly. The man wore nothing except the web, which was wrapping around his right upper arm like a silver tattoo.

The spider surveyed the scene: a naked man with an air of righteousness; the pond nearby; the willow; and the forest behind. The white spider was overwhelmed by this piece of beauty. She stayed on his chest, this time bravely looking into his eyes, which she found were equally absorbing because they seem to reflect only truths. She asked him to give her back the web, for it was a symbol of her coming-of-age, an important day that announced that she finally possessed full femininity. The man, now calling her Little White, agreed, though he said he was sorry to have to give away this semi-transparent tattoo.

He used his finger tips to lift up the web from his arm carefully and paying attention not to break the threads. The spider moved back and forth, using her more delicate legs to untangle the small knots. She eyed him now and then as he handled the threads meticulously. Oh, how her heart melted, and dissolved into so much love, when she saw his eyelashes all pointing down, as if all his carefulness was flowing from inside, streaming through the lashes, and settling on the web. Never had she met anyone who treasured her web so much.

Given the massive size of her web and the delicacy required for the task, they leaned together on the willow from sunset to midnight, unpeeling it. At last! The man gently held up the whole undamaged web, and with all the tenderness he had, wrapped it around the spider’s white body, making it a night cloak. The night dew had come, all falling on the silver cloak.
“You’re like a queen, Little White. A beautiful queen in a jeweled royal robe.”

As she crawled, the rest of the robe followed behind her, making a swish-swish sound on the grass. She crawled this way and that way, in front of him, singing a lullaby.
The night dew falls like a moonlight stroke.
All falling on the silver cloak.

She went this way and that way, making a trail of sparkling dew behind her and in front of him. She felt like a queen in a cloak bejeweled with dew.

That whole night they sat together under the willow. The man said he had long lost the feeling of wearing something on his body. He had tried on different kinds of clothes. Women had bought him shirts and suits, but those were not his style, not his taste, not his color. Women had knitted sweaters for him, too. One cutting was so bad that he could not move as he liked—obviously it was not knitted especially for him, but the woman had gotten the cutting from a pattern book. Another time, the threads were so itchy that he could not have a minute of peace in it. That was the most expensive and highest quality of thread, but it irritated him. The last time, he recalled, was the one time that made him never want to wear any clothes again, because once he had pushed his head through the thin collar, he could not pull his head out anymore. He would still be stuck in that sweater had he not made up his mind, after many sleepless nights in it, to cut it up with a pair of scissors. Though it was violent, he said, it made him feel free again. But as naturism was not very popular in the human world, he gave that world up in exchange for freedom. After all, he could not find any love that was not intended to trap him. What more could that world offer? And this place under the willow seemed a nicer place.

She looked up, and noticed a streak of loneliness passing through his eyes like a meteor—a faint wish that he had made, but immediately cast away. He must be missing his world. She thought of the silver web on his arm, the semi-transparent tattoo on his strong brown arm. She thought of him bearing that tattoo and walking in the human world.

Day and night she worked on a huge project. She took out her coming-of-age masterpiece, thinking that he was the only one to whom she would want to give the web—the web that embraced all her sentiments, femininity, and her own self. Now she would expand it, intensifying it with more life and love. While he was asleep, she laid herself on him, listening for his heartbeat, feeling for his temperature, and going up and down, back and front, to take detailed and exact measurements.

Many days passed. One night, as he was just about to sleep, she yelled from above the willow tree. She said she had something very heavy that she could not carry. Layer by layer he waved away the willows, until, as if unwrapping many tissue papers, he arrived at the precious gift. A real robe, in human size, hung on the willow. It was so soft that it swayed with the willow. It was so shiny that he saw his own reflection like he was looking into the pond. It was so silvery white that it was as if the spider had given herself to him. And the dew jewels that had once adorned her, would now adorn him.

He said nothing except her name Little White, Little White. He imagined this tiny, tiny spider, who accompanied him in the morning, staying up at night and extracting all there was in herself. Little White. Little White.

When he put it on, he was surprised that the robe was so soft, so soft, like how soft running water was, for Little White had woven it with the most delicate threads which were only possible when the spider weaved with her heart. He wondered how many threads she had extracted from her own small being, and he felt his heart ache for her almost risking death. Wearing it now, he was careful not to overstretch it. But she said, “It’s tailor-made! Perfect fit! It will adjust to your every move. Now you have something comfortable to put on you can go back to where you belong.”

But he would not go. Little White. My Little White.

“Go, go! That’s where you belong. That’s where you wish to be. I made this so that you can go.”

No, my Little White. My Little White.

“Why won’t you go? Why? If you don’t go, I- I will become selfish and want to keep you here in the forest.”

Keep me then, my Little White.
“Why? What for? Anyway a man doesn’t take a spider for a wife.”

I do.

You do?

I do.

You do? You do? I do, I do.

That night, in their happiest moment, they felt like queen and king, in a silver robe that enveloped them both.

But often, the white spider saw the same meteor passing through his eyes when he talked about how he used to plant flowers in the backyard of his cottage, or how he liked to chat with the wise old man next door. It was a meteor that gleamed for a brief moment, but quickly vanished. Was she selfish to keep him in the forest? Was she not making him happy enough? Somehow she got a little frustrated at herself being only a spider and not a human. Though he said it did not matter, she thought of asking the spirits in the forest for a favor.

She made up her mind one day and bravely asked, “Please, Spirits of the Forest, would you turn me into a woman?”

The spirits said, “But you’re already given a very unique blessing. If you want to be a woman, you have to return that blessing as an exchange.”

Not being able to weave! The thought upset the spider. But then, she had already created a masterpiece, and she would not regret it being the last one. What’s more, if she was a woman, he would love her even more and he would stay with her forever. So she agreed to the exchange, and was turned into a very beautiful woman, as white, as delicate, and as pure as her spider self.

The human world was full of excitement. To the spider’s surprise, she found that she could weave very well. Indeed, her skill surpassed the town’s best dressmaker. She thought, after all it was not so bad a sacrifice. Only that she would now rely on a pedaling machine, and she could not feel the art coming from inside herself as sensuously as before. And although there was also a willow tree outside their little house, and a pond in the garden, she was always in her little sewing room. It was new and exciting to be able to put on her own dresses made from cloth woven by herself. She started to walk this way and that way in front of her mirror all the time. The more she looked into the mirror, the more she found this collaboration of her skill and her own beauty very thrilling, especially after she realized that if she dressed up to buy apples that day, the grocery men would give her extra apples. The more she thought of it, the more she believed that it was really a gain.

“My dear, look at this red dress! Do I look charming in it?”

“I prefer white, though, Little White.”

"But I like this. For the upcoming village party, I want to weave a golden cloth, and make a very, very large round skirt. When I dance, the skirt will sweep across everyone’s feet. And my skirt will catch all the praises from their eyes.”

He did not reply. Suddenly he noticed that his robe, which had been shining a silvery white like the white spider herself, had become dimmer. She said he had worn it for too long, so she would weave a new cloth and make a new robe. But he said this robe was made of material that could not be found in the human world. She laughed, “with my skill I can weave cloth that everyone likes. And doesn’t the weaving machine make better cloth than a spider?”

He, remembering the sensation of her tiny spider body crawling over him, insisted, “No, I think I will always wear this. This is the most comfortable robe.”

But as she started to weave the golden cloth, and as she imagined how stunning she would look, the robe not only became even dimmer, but he also felt it loosen and cease to feel like part of his skin. When she tried on the golden dress, which could be compared with the queen’s ball dress, his robe started to make a cracking sound when he moved. At the party, when she was enjoying all the men’s gazes upon her and her golden dress, the threads began to come off. The threads became so sparse that he could feel the wind blowing into his body and the falling leaves scratching his skin, leaving scars all over him. One thread fell off after another, until he was quite naked. Everyone screamed except the two of them. One in a golden dress, which was collecting men’s gazes, the other bare because love had dried up and disintegrated, thread by thread.

But she could not run to him, because the gazes were so heavy that she tripped and fell on the muddy ground. When her golden skirt was weighed down by more than fifteen gazes, he had already walked halfway into the forest.
© 2010 Austina Wan. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Austina Wan lives in Hong Kong and has learned English as a second language. It is difficult to mediate between the Chinese voice in herself and the desire to write beautiful English, but she likes the challenge nonetheless. Her first published work appeared in the undergraduate journal the Albion Review.
Black Lantern Publishing © 2008. Design by Pocket