And Melanie, in the soot-web of the spider, asks her riddle:
Why do people hurt?
Why do we have to suffer, and fear, and die?
And the spider glares at Melanie.
It is angry.
It is angry because it is wounded. It is angry because she stabbed it right in the eye. It is angry because the riddle is very difficult, and arguably invalid, and giving an answer involving spiders would redound unfavorably upon itself.
“It’s your fault,” the spider suggests.
But Melanie, she shakes her head.
She shakes her head, and it can feel her shaking her head, through the vibration in its web.
So the spider thinks some more.
“We’re attached to the things that hurt us,” the spider guesses.
This is actually pretty good, particularly under the circumstances, but it’s still not right; or, at least, Melanie is laughing a little, and fervently shaking her head, and the spider feels a moment of peculiarly stung pride.
“We don’t actually have to suffer?” proposes the spider, in a third and final guess, and Melanie is laughing now as gaily as the storm.
“It is because of the elephant,” she says.
And the spider cannot help it, it twitches itself upright, it staggers towards her on its web, it is all over rage. And it feels very strong, and then it feels very weak, as its nervous system misfires. And its face is all-over blood where Melanie had stabbed it, much worse than it had thought. And she is punching it, punching it, punching it and screaming, right where her knife had broken its eye.
Its world goes still.
It is the elephant.
Later she will remember this. Later, she will find it bubbling up inside her, will find Liril sitting there telling her, “I won’t make you that. It’s wrong.”
And she will burst out with, “It is the elephant,” and with laughing, and with desperation, and with discovering, to her regret, that it does not shatter every attachment, does not break down every web, does not bring an end to every difficulty—that it is inadequate as an answer to the difficulties of her life.
“It is the elephant,” the spider, blankly, says.
The patterns of lemma and corollary elude it. The soot ceases to make sense. And everything is clean and crisp and bright, in the world of the soot-spider, and nothing dark to it at all.
There is a hammering like an elephant’s stomp—
—in the chambers of its heart. The spider’s fragile life gives way.
[The Frog and the Thorn – PROLOGUE]
And Melanie lays gasping in the corner of a room, and her knife is ringing to the ground;
and the soot-spider slips on a single thread to the land that is after life.
coming up in March:
- letters columns;
- my birthday!
- quite possibly a special edition of Nobilis; and
- the next part of this story: A Lament for Amiel.