The web was stretched across the torn screen door of childhood as I lay upon a cot set on the star-dark sleeping porch, far from Chicago, in a summer house shared with a foreign artist who, my mother said, was starving though he cooked us goulash and Hungarian red peppers. A Thai prince had brought Seckel pears. Other people also spoke in funny ways.
Fox River was a little stream beyond the garden. All day I'd waited, stalking crayfish, but no foxes came.
I was five. Fireflies were perhaps a species of real angel -- miniature, electrified. "Go catch nine in a jar," my mother said.Perhaps she meant: "Run out and play." I didn't want to harm the fireflies' wings, so I came in, was kissed and sent to bed.
The grown-ups in the lighted room talked long, while overhead their creaky ceiling fan wafted everywhere the smell of colors. I could still hear the buzzy of fat mosquitoes and thought of the black wasps who daubed their nests beneath the eaves and might still be awake.
One firefly flashed throughout the porch, exploring corners and extiguishing my terrors in the dark, then sought exit but got caught within the web.
The spider darted out along the rails of his inexorable arrangement, bit the firefly right in half, stepped back, and carted off the frontal section. He returned to grab the remainder. Flash, flash! The spider fled. Then out again. Flash, flash, the ice green light when the spider touched it.
A dozen times the spider walked his wires to snatch that magical flashing, a dozen times sprang back and fled.
I curled up tight upon my cot. Too scared to call my parents; if he should hear my voice, the spider might zip over to me on his shining wires and I could not flash, although my mother used to claim my eyes shone in the dark just like the eyes of cats of foxes.
The spider played his game for hours. From the lighted room, where the grown-ups were, flowed songs, the music of balalaikas and accordians. No chance they're hear me. Nor was I allowed in there. Nor dared I cross the room, push past the web.
I heard my parents go to bed. Too late to rescue me. . . .
Then the scholar from Japan, who was to sleep here on the other cot, observed the odd phenomenon against the screen and called our host, the painter with the strange and double name, Moholy-Nagy.
He saw I was awake, sat on my cot, and we watched the spider till my fear turned into fascination. He told me how the talking frog retrieved the princess' golden ball, then turned into a prince, he called me princess, and bent down to kiss me with his dark mustache. I feel asleep within a web of white mosquito nets.
At dawn: a wisp of dust across the threshold.
I angled out, still seeking foxes by the stream, and, among the tiger lilies, tiger cubs.
At noon they spread a picnic on the grass; black bread and smelly cheese. My milk had soured in the old ice box, but the Thai prince fed me blackberries and cake. Some Southern writer read his manuscript, and a tiger swallowtail alighted on his plate. The scholar from Japan drew fireflies in the sand.
Moholy-Nagy tried to present me with a canvas painted just with eight bright lines. My parents thanked him but sait it wouldn't go withh our antiques at home, and he should better try to sell it somewhere. He offered me an orange striped kitten. . . .
At dusk we drove back in the mottled green jalopy to Chicago. Somehow I smuggled the kitten home. Soon we moved back East. Moholy-Nagy grew famour, and his paintings sold. With time I am still growing up.
Still, in ever spider web I see a firefly. I hear the awkward accents of Moholy-Nagy telling me of magic and of metamorphosis, lulling me to sleep. And on certain summer nights, I smell his wafted paints. . . .