Once upon a time there was a young woman, and her life was perfect. She had an exciting job in the big city and a cute, one bedroom. She’d decorated it with items carefully curated from antique stores and outdoor markets that she’d discovered on walking tours of the city, hand-in-hand with her boyfriend, on Saturday mornings. Sunday mornings were for lounging in bed, catching up on the news, and eating bagels while wiping the cream cheese from each other’s lips and gazing into each other’s eyes. She had nothing to complain about, except one small thing — something so small she berated herself for letting it bother her at all. But bother her it did, and increasingly so.
The three spiders living high above the cupboards in the kitchen watched it all unfold, giggling to themselves. They wove their webs and waited for the straw to break the camel’s back.
The youngest of the spiders became impatient as the young woman found ways to calm herself. She would give herself pep talks in the mirror in the mornings, do yoga, and drink calming teas when she came home from work, imbibing a little too much wine before bed. It was enough to keep her smiling, rolling her eyes, and sometimes throwing a punch at her boyfriend’s arm when he said things that bothered her.
The older spiders advised against the young sister taking any action to speed the story along.
“These things play out in their own time,” they said.
But the young spider didn’t want to wait. One day, when the young woman was washing dishes, she dropped on her web to dangle just inches from the young woman’s head. The young woman didn’t notice, so the spider climbed up and dropped again and again until she was rewarded with a spine-tingling scream.
The boyfriend ran into the kitchen. The young woman pointed wordlessly at the spider, scurrying back up her web.
The oldest spider growled, “Now we’ll have to move.”
The older sisters anticipated the flurry of cleaning that ensued. They hurried the youngest over the doorjamb into the living room.
“But listen,” said the youngest.
The boyfriend laughed. “How can you be afraid of a little spider? You’re such a girl. Oh wait, are you on the rag?”
“Not everything is about me being on the rag,” the young woman exploded.
The sisters giggled. Even the older ones had to agree the youngest had moved things along nicely.
“Just hold the goddamn ladder,” the young woman said.
“I’m not going to reinforce your hormonal instabilities,” said the boyfriend. And he left the kitchen.
The young woman swept a broom across the top of the cupboards with such ferocity the sisters feared she might fall. Then, she climbed on the counter and sprayed poison over their old home.
“See?” said the oldest spider.
“And yet...,” replied the younger, indicating the young woman entering the living room, seething with rage.
“We have to talk,” the young woman said through gritted teeth.
The sisters listened eagerly.
The boyfriend interrupted. “Honey, I took the liberty of running you a hot bath. I thought it would be nice after all that cleaning. “And,” he continued, “I have a nice Cab Sauv that I was saving for the weekend, but a glass or two might be appropriate now?”
The young woman forced a smile. She was so lucky to have such a thoughtful boyfriend. How could she stay angry at him?
The sisters sighed and began spinning new webs. The oldest took the highest point in the corner above the bookcase. The next oldest spun hers from the first web’s mid-point down. The youngest spun hers from that mid-point outward to the right. When they were done, the three spider sisters crawled back to inspect their design.
“Not good,” said the oldest.
“She swallows too much anger,” said the middle sister.
“She’s going to get sick and die,” said the youngest, “we have to do something.”
“We could ask the Mother,” suggested the middle sister, eyeing the oldest uneasily.
“The Mother can be capricious,” said the oldest.
“We should do something,” insisted the youngest.
They set to spinning their question into a single web. They spun a three-sided web, then concentrated all their skills on stabilizing the form into a pyramid. They were too exhausted when they were done to even admire their work. They huddled under the crown moulding and rested.
Their labour was rewarded. A dark shadow appeared in the centre of the pyramid. The strands of the web shimmered and shivered, vibrating with the voice.
“I see,” it said and began to laugh — not the sort of laugh that made the sisters want to join in; it was the kind of laugh that made them share worried glances.
“It is done,” said the voice and the shadow disappeared from the web. The pyramid collapsed onto itself, which was a shame because the sisters couldn’t read what would be done. They had to wait and see, like everyone else.
Just as the voice pronounced, “It is done,” the young woman was hand-in-hand with her boyfriend, perusing a table of used books at an outdoor market. A book dropped from the table at the young woman’s feet — she almost tripped over it.
She picked it up and read the title aloud: “Spells and Incantations Useful to Women.” She had trouble reading it because it was actually spelled, “Spylls and Incantatyns Usefyll to Wymyn.”
“I’m clearly meant to buy this,” she exclaimed.
Her boyfriend said, “Really? A book falls, and you believe that has meaning?”
Of course he would say that, and of course made the young woman even more determined to buy it. The bookseller saw at once that this was the case and promptly doubled the price of the book. The young woman frowned but paid without arguing.
The young woman, finding some time alone, flipped through the pages while nursing a glass of wine, hoping for an amusing tidbit she could share. The recipes were complicated and convoluted — they addressed things such as how to bring down a fever, how to end a pregnancy, how to de-bitter an eggplant...
In fact, thought the young woman, the book should have been titled “Thyngs That Wyre Usefyll to Wymyn Pryor to Modern Syence.” Yay for Modern Science, concluded the young woman as she set the book aside. It wasn’t the entertaining read she had anticipated.
The youngest spider sister was disappointed. She had no doubt that the book was the result of their question to the Mother.
“Perhaps the Mother made a mistake?” she whispered.
“Hush your mouth!” exclaimed the other two sisters.
“The Mother is never wrong,” asserted the oldest.
The boyfriend saw the open book on the kitchen table. “Are you on the rag again?” he asked.
The young woman dismissed the book with a wave of her hand. “It’s silly,” she said. But when he left the room, she slammed her glass down so hard the stem broke.
The three sisters sighed.
A breeze blew through the open window setting the pages of the book to fluttering until it settled on a page. The fluttering caught the young woman’s eye and she read the spell on the opened page.
“A Spyll to Grant Wyshes... What would I wish for?” she mused. She looked down at her broken glass, then gulped the remaining wine before throwing the whole thing out.
The spiders leaned closer and peered over the edge of the cupboard.
“Be careful what you wish for,” murmured the eldest.
“I wish he knew what it was like,” thought the young woman, with a spiteful look toward the living room.
The spell was simple, with minimal ingredients — a candle, paper and herself. All she had to do was write her wish on a piece of paper and burn it over a candle while repeating her wish out loud three times for nine days straight.
She performed the spell in the bathroom, at night, before bed, with the door closed. Even the spiders couldn’t hear her wish. Nine days proved surprisingly difficult. For the first three, the novelty of what she was doing maintained her determination; on the sixth day, she went to bed forgetting to perform the spell and had to muster her will to drag herself out from under the covers; on the seventh, she was feeling bored of the whole thing; however, by the eighth day, she began to feel a bit excited to see if it would work, and that carried her through the ninth and final day.
The spider sisters were excited. They wove and tried to read their webs but couldn’t discern anything. Their web building became sloppy and disorganized. The oldest blamed the youngest for errant design; the middle sister blamed both of the others, and the youngest swore she’d done nothing different than usual.
The young woman waited, but nothing changed.
The spiders quarrelled miserably with each other.
Twenty-one days after the ninth and final burning of her wish, the young woman saw the first signs that her wish might come true.
“Did you shrink my pants?” the boyfriend demanded one morning.
He checked his puffy belly out in the full-length mirror hanging on their bedroom door and burst into tears.
That night he was restless, tossing and turning. She heard him get up to go to the bathroom. She was still awake when he rushed back out and shook her.
“I have to go to the hospital, right now! I’m bleeding from...”
The young woman got up and fetched him one of her pads. She showed him how to put it on.
“You’re being overly dramatic,” she said, “it’s just your period.”
The spider sisters forgot their quarrels and laughed and laughed.
The boyfriend went to the doctor. The doctor concluded he was menstruating.
He refused to go to work, afraid he’d leak, and his secret would be discovered. He alternated between throwing temper tantrums and huddling under a blanket, drinking warm tea.
A few days of this and the young woman began to lose her patience.
“Pull yourself together,” she said.
“You don’t know what it’s like!” he shouted.
They stared at each other.
“Really?” she said. “Really!?”
He threw himself on the couch and refused to talk to her.
He wouldn’t get out of bed except to go to the bathroom and change his pad. Once, he got up to make himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He ate it standing at the kitchen table. The book lay there, still open onto the “Spyll to Grant Wyshys” page. He read it as he ate.
“Here we go,” said the oldest spider.
He read the page again. He fetched out the candle holder from the bathroom, with the candle burnt low and surrounded by ashes. He sat these beside the open book and waited.
When the young woman came home from her work, he was trembling with rage.
The young woman could see there was no denying the evidence. She pulled out a nice Merlot she’d been saving and poured him a glass.
“I’ll run you a bath, sweetie, it’ll make you feel better.”
He swallowed a gulp of wine. She ran him a bath and lit aromatic candles meant to soothe.
He shouted after her, “But I want my testosterone back!”
The truth was, so did she.
The sisters saw it wasn’t the same between them, even after his period was over. They weren’t surprised when the young woman began the nine-day spell once more. The sisters could hear the boyfriend and the young woman chant the spell together. Three times, while burning the wish for him to return to normal, for nine days.
The boyfriend moved out. He couldn’t forgive the young woman for wishing that on him; she couldn’t forget how pathetic he’d been.
Nine days after he moved out, the young woman became ill with a fatal cancer that took her life a year later.
And that’s the story of how a young woman lost her ever-so-thoughtful boyfriend, of how the boyfriend learned a “Spyll Helpfyll to Wymyn,” and how the spider sisters lost their sight; for never again were they allowed to see a design in their webs.
And the Mother laughed.