Tea with the Jorōgumo
When the rumors about the beautiful spider-woman appearing in attics and capturing unfaithful men began to swirl, the reactions were mixed. Most were the everyday variety, shock and fright. Mrs. Edelbaum over on the corner thought it was the end of times. That led to other people thinking a reckoning was well on its way. But then there were the men like Harvey Durosey and Sam Tinsley. They wanted to meet the spider-woman. Saying things like 'have at her' and 'I'd let her take me to the attic any day'.
I knew better. Both in common sense and as a person. I reacted like the authorities. Thought it was simply a rumor. The men just running away with some other woman, away from their wives, children, and responsibilities at home. A spider-woman? A Jorōgumo? What nonsense.
Then one night after the kids were in bed and I had poured the glasses of wine, there was a creak above us.
"Did you hear that?" Lila asked.
"Worried about the Jorōgumo?"
She laughed. "I'm a woman, Ben. The legend says she only goes after unfaithful men."
"Well, do you want to go find out?"
We walked up the stairs and down the hallway. The creaking above grew in volume. A little squeak here became a larger crack there. Lila feared the kids would wake, but as we passed by their door, they slept soundly, wrapped in their blankets, snug as bugs. We tiptoed along. Reaching up to the string, Lila put her other hand to her mouth, motioning for my continued quiet. She pulled down the attic steps, and, to my surprise, there was a flickering orange light within the otherwise dark space.
We climbed up the thin steps. As we did, while noticing thick spiderwebs and dying flies, we heard the clinking of dishes. Porcelain? Fine china? A tea seat maybe?
When we came across the summit of the climb and looked through the attic, in low candlelight and sitting at a small tea table, sipping from a little blue teacup, dark hair tied tight behind her head and slender body draped in a sleek white linen dress, was a beautiful woman. I was entranced. But then I saw them. Sprouting from her back, hiding in the shadows of the attic, were eight enormous, hairy spider legs.
The Jorōgumo looked at Lila and me, smiled, and said, "Sit. Have some tea."
Pulled in by her polite voice, though still frightened, we did as we were told.
She poured us our tea. Taking another sip herself, she then asked me, "Why are you afraid?"
"Because," I said. "You're the Jorōgumo. You capture men. Use them to spawn your offspring. People say you're a monster."
"Tell me, have you met a Jorōgumo before? Have you seen my 'offspring'?"
"Well, no, I suppose not."
"But," Lila said, "Why are you here then?"
The Jorōgumo smiled again. Then the large spider legs from her back began to move. Slowly lifting her slight frame from the small stool, the legs flexed and her body swayed suspended over the both of us as she skittered across the attic with incredible speed. Her white dress then began to unravel at the skirt's edge. A silver web reached below and attached to the stairs. With another creak, the web pulled the stairs back into place. The Jorōgumo had closed us in the attic.
"I come to protect the children."
"My children are fine!" Lila yelled.
"Yes, I'm sure they are. Sleeping soundly while you carry out your affair below them."
"But that has nothing to do with my kids. They're healthy, happy."
"And will they remain so when your husband finds Ben here?"
"Uh," I said. "So, does that mean you're just here for her?"
"Ben!" Lila said.
"So weak," the Jorōgumo said. "Both of you, so foolish. Unfaithful, conniving. And these poor children are left to deal with what you reap." She raised herself up to the attic's arch, hidden in darkness for a fleeting second, and then lit a match, the small light bringing clarity to the rafters.
Illuminated on the ceiling, wrapped in cocoons of thin silver webbing, were scores of children. All of them sleeping. And behind the flame, the Jorōgumo's beautiful face had changed. Extra eyes, growing fur, and fangs dripping with a purple venom, the woman was ready to end us both.
"Not once," the Jorōgumo said, "Not once after I removed those unfaithful swine, has anyone mentioned the children. The loss of the man, the breaking of the marriage, the beautiful spider-woman in the attic; all of that is talked about. But nothing of the broken lives of babes.
"Don't you touch my kids! Don't you hurt them!"
"Nothing of the sort, dear Lila. I'm freeing them from tragedy in the protection of my web." The strike was quick. Teacups clattered to the ground and before I could react Lila was wrapped in the web, silent as the grave. The Jorōgumo then turned to me.
"I-I-I didn't do anything wrong. I'm single, I'm faithful."
"Faultless." Her head tilted. "That's what you think? The silent predator in the night is much more dangerous than those that hunt in the light. You are exactly what's wrong."
The spider-woman rose again. I looked up. The cocoons, the eggs of spider-children began to hatch, all of them reaching out with stubby limbs to the Jorōgumo, the unrelenting protector of the brood.
About the Author
Andrew Lesh is a writer from South Bend, Indiana with an MFA from Butler University. His works have previously appeared in Coffin Bell Journal and Blind Corner Literary Magazine. He currently lives and teaches writing in Tyler, Texas.