Anne Leigh Parrish Writer

Spider Web

Originally published in the May 2014 issue of The Corner Club Press



            She was drawn to his watercolors. Gentle landscapes, ponds and rushes, and a sky so soft and blue she wanted to rise and just drift away. His work often had that effect on her, of eliciting a physical response. Later pieces, which featured animals and people, all with some sort of minor flaw—an odd skin tone, disproportionate limbs on a dog or horse, a woman’s jagged hair made of harsh, black dots—could bring tears to her eyes. He wasn’t particularly gifted; they both knew that. But he had passion. That’s what counted.

            Nonny wrote poems no one wanted to publish, so one day, in a state of exalted frustration, she published them herself online in a blog she named I Give You My Word. She didn’t know how to promote the blog, however, so the poems went as unnoticed as they had before. Giles thought her poems were fine, wellcrafted, especially one which began with the line, “A beam bears or makes light.” He didn’t know anything about poetry, though. He admitted as much one night after too much to drink in the bar at The Duckbill Inn, where they’d first met and visited when they wanted a taste of nostalgia.

            Nonny wasn’t young. And she wasn’t rich. But she was comfortable. Her father left her some money, which she invested with great care. She had no children and had never been married. These facts she attributed to being completely ordinary looking. Medium height, just a little overweight, brown hair that shined only when she had just washed it. Otherwise, it reminded her of a mouse’s fur, though mice, Giles informed her, were, in his experience, usually gray.

            “Give it time,” she replied.

            She was pleased with her wit. She was pleased by the quiet atmosphere in the bar that evening, several months into their relationship. She was pleased with Giles, who had about him an air of unrelenting sorrow. She had always been drawn to moody men, perhaps because they reminded her so much of her father, an artist at heart who gave up a love of music to practice law—tax law, the dullest and probably most lucrative kind. What he learned from his clients, he passed on to Nonny, his only child. Always play the market long, never short. Balance your equities with bonds. Pay attention to emerging markets. Most of this went over her head, but she knew a winner when she saw one, and so far, she’d been lucky.

            Giles had been married before, when he was much younger, in his early twenties. By the time he met Nonny, he was thirty-eight. Nonny was forty-five. She was already going through menopause, something which apparently ran in her family. She would have asked her mother, if her mother hadn’t left. Giles was sympathetic to Nonny’s condition and even took it as explanation for why she didn’t like sex. Maybe his ex-wife had been lukewarm about it too. He might be used to lack of initiative and passive acceptance, even the gritting of teeth until it was over and done.

            They agreed not to marry. Neither saw the point. He moved in with her, though they’d considered having her move in with him. His home was deplorable. That was the only word for the cracked tile floors and strange smudges on the walls, as if in moments of sudden grief he brushed his hands over the uneven surface. The result of a “plastered plasterer,” Giles said.

            Giles was a tall man with a bad back, which made painting on his feet difficult, so he sat in a wicker chair that wobbled. In Nonny’s small, charming cottage, with a full view of the lake from one window and a deep, dense wood from another, the chair and his easel had pride of place in the center of the living room. Nonny once had her writing desk in that same spot, and she gave it up the moment Giles claimed it. She was happy to, and if not happy, at least unperturbed. Giles was like a large planet she became content to orbit around, though her orbit was hardly smooth or regular. He made demands which taxed her, and which he thought should be very easy to accommodate. One of these was his taste for sauerkraut, the smell of which Nonny found nauseating. Giles made his own brine.

            Nonny kept churning out her poems, and Giles kept painting. He had a friend in the village who ran a little gallery where his work was sometimes exhibited. The village was a tourist trap, a scenic place fifty miles or so outside the city where day trippers came to eat, drink, marvel, and often part with their plentiful cash. Nonny took a dim view of city people. Giles rather liked them. He particularly liked one older couple who took a fancy to his rendition of a cow, a barn, and a tree that had been struck by lightning. Nonny didn’t feel it was his best work and was stunned—even a bit jealous—to learn that the couple bought it for the requested price of five hundred dollars. The couple asked Giles and Nonny to join them for drinks at the The Duckbill Inn. Nonny was reluctant to go, yet she didn’t want another lecture from Giles about her chronic lack of support. She supported him plenty, particularly in the matter of money, since he seemed to have none of his own.

            Nonny made an effort. She put dark shadow on her eyelids and rouge on her cheeks. She clipped back her hair, which gave her a severe appearance. She wanted to look in control, slightly cynical, as if the whole world were there purely for her own amusement. Giles also took pains with his appearance. He shaved and cut himself. The bleeding took time to stop. He fussed with a speck of Kleenex he pressed to the wound. Nonny said he’d be fine and that he should continue to get dressed. He didn’t want to bleed on his new shirt.

Nonny didn’t know he had a new shirt. He explained that it was a shirt he had had for some time, though never had worn. When he put it on, Nonny saw why. It was loud, with wide black and white stripes. But when paired with a pair of black jeans, he looked rather dashing, she had to admit. Better than she did in her wool skirt that was too short, thus revealing too much of her thick thighs, which she tried to hide inside a pair of wool tights. Since the bar at The Duckbill Inn was so warm—an angry fire blazed in the two-hundred-year-old brick fireplace—Nonny found herself sweating almost at once.

            The couple, Mr. and Mrs. Baxter, arrived late. Giles had already had one glass of wine  and fretted that they might not come at all, which would mean he’d have to pay the bill himself. His mood turned sunny the instant they walked into the room.

            Mrs. Baxter was old money. Nonny could see that right off. Her silk blouse and wool slacks were stylish though unpretentious. Her hair was short, iron gray, and nondescript. It was her jewelry that said what she was used to. All diamonds—nothing oversized, vulgar, or gaudy, just simply first-rate pieces that Nonny despised herself for admiring. Mr. Baxter looked like a man who spent a lot of time outdoors, probably on a golf course, which, given that he was obviously in his fifties or even sixties, meant he was retired. He had a bit more flash than his wife did. On his pinky he wore a ring with a thick gold band and a fine ruby stone, which Nonny also admired.

            They ordered martinis. Nonny continued to nurse her white wine, which she didn’t care for. Giles had a second, then a third glass of cabernet. His mood was splendid. He’d always been an artist, he told the Baxters. The Baxters were thrilled. Giles was clearly the real deal. The conversation grew livelier as time passed, though Nonny contributed nothing. A dull ache had settled under her rib after Giles introduced her as “my friend,” which earned her a brief appraisal by Mrs. Baxter, a smile from Mr. Baxter, and not a single question about her from either.

            She excused herself and escaped to the ladies’ room, where she gave herself a long assessment in the floor-length mirror. She decided she was pretty, a conclusion she came to from time to time in moments of growing unease.

            When she returned to the table, the Baxters proposed that she and Giles collaborate on producing a children’s book. Giles had just told them that Nonny was a writer, and since Giles was such a fine artist, the outcome of their efforts would be brilliant. Nonny took a moment to consider if they were joking. They seemed earnest. She was pretty sure that Giles thought they were a couple of idiots, because how could he not? A book was a serious undertaking, or so she always assumed. Giles immediately accepted their suggestion and turned at once to the question of royalties. It seemed as though the Baxters wanted to bring out the book themselves, under their own imprint. They knew nothing about publishing but would learn, eagerly. Giles would receive fifty percent of any royalties received.

            “Which means twenty-five percent for me,” Nonny said.

             Giles stared at her with bloodshot eyes. He seemed not to understand what she’d just said.

            “Do the math,” Nonny added.

            Mrs. Baxter suggested that they order something to eat. She was flushed with gin. Mr. Baxter looked like he’d overshot his mark, too. Nonny felt like the only adult at a table full of sloppy children. Giles said that since they lived just a hop, skip, and a jump away (his exact words), they should all repair to their house rather than continue occupying the bar.

            “I’m afraid our cupboard is bare,” Nonny said.

            “Nonsense! I just went to the store. And we’ve got all that fresh fish, remember?” Giles asked.

            The fish came from a neighbor who took his boat out whenever he felt a bender coming on. Being loaded on dry land seemed like a more serious affair than having a few on the high seas, he said with surprising candor, so when the urge hit, he made for the water. On that particular day, he offered to take Giles, and Nonny said it was fine if he went, but she would be the last one to notify the Coast Guard when they failed to return on time. The neighbor made the trip alone—and relatively sober, an unexpected benefit of getting a call, out of the blue, from his ex-wife to say she missed him. He came back with a freezer full of cod that he was kind enough to gut himself before passing about three pounds’ worth to Nonny and Giles. 

            “Oh, I’m not really a fish person,” Mrs. Baxter said. She looked at her watch.

             Mr. Baxter was staring at Nonny. Nonny looked away.

            “We need to devise the plot,” Mr. Baxter said.

            “What plot?” Giles asked. He’d been looking around for the waiter, who had disappeared.

            “Of your wonderful book, of course!” Mr. Baxter boomed.

            “Our wonderful book, you mean,” Mrs. Baxter said.

            “Plot?” Giles asked again.

            “As in the beginning, the middle, and the end,” Nonny said. Her mood was improving. She intended to give Giles a piece of her mind once they were alone.           

            “A remake of Little Miss Muffet,” Mr. Baxter suggested.

            “But, Horace. That’s just a nursery rhyme,” Mrs. Baxter said.

            “That was Claire’s favorite. Don’t you remember?” Mr. and Mrs. Baxter grew quiet. Their silence continued.

            Nonny moved her glass of wine a few inches along the smooth surface of the red linen tablecloth.

            “You want us to produce a children’s book based on a nursery rhyme? Is that it?” she asked. Like a gust of wind on a day that had otherwise been completely still, the idea suddenly took shape in her mind. A new portrayal of the spider as the victim of Miss Muffet’s ignorance, a general exposé of the importance of insects and their place in the animal kingdom, maybe borrowing a little from Charlotte’s Web: the idea of a spider as a savior and Little Miss Muffet as an ignorant, uptight imbecile. But then people who thought that little girls should be encouraged to achieve and be confident would object to that characterization, however subtly presented. Little Miss Muffet would have to be a heroine in her own right, too. The spider and Miss Muffet could join forces and take on the world’s problems—the spider with her ability to spin the truth out of filaments of fact, and Miss Muffet the spokesperson for any number of worthy, humane causes.

            “You look like you’ve had too much to drink,” Giles said to Nonny. He made sure to put a little tease in his voice so it wouldn’t sound like the rebuke it really was. Not a rebuke against her consumption of alcohol, of course, because she’d had only the one glass of wine. His displeasure came from what he read as a look of pure joy.


Though Nonny never spoke of her, she was often on her mind. The woman her father took up with after her mother walked out. Her name was Arabelle. Arabelle had a habit of getting fixated on something, a flaw usually, a smudge on the ceiling or a crack in a cabinet door, which caused her to stop what she was doing and consider. What was there to consider? Nonny never understood. Either you sought to solve a problem, or you didn’t. Simple problems didn’t get any clearer just because you pondered them longer. It wasn’t what her eyes fell on that obsessed Arabelle, however, but what they represented in her own life. The hold Nonny’s father kept on his money, to be exact. His reluctance to spend on niceties, pleasures of any kind. Not a Scrooge exactly, because he was decent to Nonny and allowed her the things she both needed and wanted. Her tastes were plain. He never had to dip too far into his accounts to accommodate her, except once.     

            Nonny had just gotten her driver’s license. She was careful, even hyper vigilant, behind the wheel. She never had tasted alcohol or smoked pot. Her life was quiet and proper. On that particular day, Nonny’s father let her drive herself to school. He owned two cars: a Lincoln Continental and a twenty-year-old Mercedes Benz. The Mercedes was a stick shift, so Nonny drove the Lincoln. Arabelle was put out, because she thought of the Lincoln as her personal car to use whenever she wanted, though she seldom went anywhere except into town to look at clothes, add up prices, then prepare another campaign to persuade Nonny’s father why she should have them. Arabelle had a little money of her own from a previous marriage but felt it was beneath her to spend it.

            Nonny was asked to stay after school to go over an English paper she’d written—her very first attempt at poetry. If you want me to, I will / If you force me to, I won’t / for this is the law of a woman’s heart / which beats for herself alone.

            The teacher didn’t comment on her literary brilliance but asked about the origin of that particular passage. Nonny was at a loss. Her teacher, Mr. Neville, was in his late forties, which made him ancient in Nonny’s eyes. He was short and round, the kind of person who should have a jolly, cheerful air, but not Mr. Neville. His shoulders slumped, and his voice was tinged with sadness, as if everything he said might, at any moment, touch upon some great tragedy.

            “I won’t mince words,” Mr. Neville said. “We are here to protect our precious students. I want to know if you have met with harm. If someone has harmed you or threatened to.”

            “Me? No! Of course not!” Nonny couldn’t imagine that there was anything in her demeanor that would give that impression. She was pink cheeked and energetic, if on the quiet side. She typically kept to herself, but she did have one or two good friends, other serious girls like herself with whom she would sometimes giggle in class. She had to think, as Mr. Neville looked her in the eye, that his concern stemmed from knowing about her mother’s abandonment. Her father had gone to the school to make everyone aware of the situation. He didn’t ask the staff to do anything in particular, just to be alert to signs of unhappiness that he might overlook.

            “You’re sure?” Mr. Neville asked. He sounded exhausted.


            “Well, then. You have the makings of a fine poet.”

            It was getting dark on her way home. Dead leaves rushed across the pavement. Drops of rain fell onto the windshield. Nonny turned on her lights. She kept her eye on the speedometer. The impact was so slight she didn’t register it at first. Not until she was at the stop sign thirty feet beyond did she become aware of someone shouting, another person running, and the rain coming down much harder all of a sudden.

            The little girl was only eight. She wasn’t wearing a helmet. Her bicycle was new, with plastic tassels hanging from each handlebar. At first the blow to her head didn’t seem too bad, then her condition worsened, and by the time a neurosurgeon had been flown in from Providence, she was gone.

            One witness said she’d veered into Nonny’s car. Another corroborated that. The question was, why hadn’t Nonny seen her? She considered this at the police station with her father at her side.

            “Something caught my eye,” Nonny said. She was pretty sure that she was going to wake up any minute now and wonder what was for breakfast.

            “What was it?” The investigator wore a tweed jacket, nothing like a regular police officer. That, and his patient voice—so like Mr. Neville’s earlier in the afternoon, though really, it wasn’t possible that all of this was happening on the same day—told Nonny to take her time and answer carefully.

            “Something small and dark. It was there, then not there,” Nonny said. It was all she could recall.

             Later, in a private meeting with Judge Richards, a friend of Nonny’s father, it was stated that Nonny had no history of mental disorders. She was not given to hallucinations. The meeting was held at the request of Nonny’s father. Though Nonny hadn’t been formally charged in the matter of the little girl’s death, her name should be cleared, once and for all. And it was, the minute the district attorney declined to prosecute.

            But the child’s parents couldn’t be kept still. They wanted to bring a civil suit of wrongful death. Nonny’s father met with them and their lawyer and made it clear, as their lawyer already knew, that they’d never win a dime. The child had just learned to ride the bicycle. She’d gone out, alone, at rush hour. She was clearly unsupervised, and though it pained him to say it, the parents were just looking for someone to blame for their own negligence.

            Yet a few weeks later, the family received an envelope containing a large sum of cash. When Nonny’s father was asked by a reporter if he’d been the benefactor, he calmly denied any involvement whatsoever.

            “Just some good soul, feeling their grief, who wanted to be of help,” he said. Nothing more was ever said on the matter.

            Nonny never determined what the small, dark thing was that caught her attention for that split second. In time, she thought it was any number of things—a leaf, a bird, an evil spirit. It was Arabelle who suggested it was a spider, which Nonny found apt. Arabelle with her plans and schemes knew all about spiders, didn’t she? Over the years, Arabelle came and went as her patience—or lack thereof—with Nonny’s father’s grip on his assets got the better of her. One day she went away for the last time, and Nonny was both saddened and shocked to discover her father weeping silently in his study.


Nonny’s idea was that Little Miss Muffet and the spider should become fast friends and travel the world. Little Miss Muffet would provide a portable web for the spider, conveniently named Arabelle. The web would be housed in a porous piece of cloth around Miss Muffet’s neck. The web, on a fancy wooden stand, would sit in the windowsill of whatever grand hotel room they occupied so that Arabelle could catch flies. When they returned home, the spider would chronicle their adventures in arachnese, the language of web weavers, which Little Miss Muffet would preserve for all time.

            “It’s retarded,” Giles said.

            “It has a message.”

            Giles snorted. He was drinking. His mood was bad. He’d had a postcard from his ex-wife asking for money. Apparently they came every couple of years. This one claimed the usual urgency. He read it to her: Darling. This time I’m serious. PLEASE!

            “Darling?” Nonny asked.

            “She’s sort of melodramatic.”

            The card was from Athens. Nonny didn’t see how someone who had gotten herself to Greece in the first place needed money. Giles explained that the last he’d heard, the ex-wife was working in a hotel over there. Maybe the job ended or she’d gotten fired and couldn’t find new work. Didn’t she know by now that Giles had nothing to give her? Then the other shoe fell. He did have something to give her—the money from the trust account he managed on her behalf.

            Nonny went into her modest kitchen with its plastic countertops and old appliances and poured herself a glass of the nice French wine Giles had bought the other day to celebrate the Baxters’ patronage. The kitchen had a built-in banquette in the corner by a window that looked into the back garden. A deer stood there, nibbling the rose blossoms that had just opened on the only surviving bush. Four of the original five that Nonny had planted, in an uncharacteristic fit of zeal, had died. They stood nearby, a chorus of thorny, brown stalks. Nonny had lacked the energy to remove them.

            Giles joined her.

            “I didn’t tell you because it’s not my money,” Giles said.

            “Why are you in charge of it?”

            He sat, crowding her on the banquette. It was a complicated story, he said. His wife, Meredith, had a history of mental illness. She had mood swings and was given to bouts of frantic anxiety. She was very young when they met, only eighteen. He felt protective of her. He couldn’t help it. He supposed that was why he married her in the first place. She was attractive enough, but he wanted—he didn’t really know—to make her better.

            Nonny had trouble seeing this trait in Giles. He was hardly protective of her, nor nurturing for that matter. She had begun to wonder lately if she had made a mistake. She wasn’t sure she was happy with him. Just the night before, she told herself to hang on long enough to complete the Baxters’ project. Listening to him then, she was moved by his candor and the dark light in his eyes as he recalled it all, as if the world around him had just melted away and he was back in time, giving his heart to this wretched, afflicted woman.

            Life with Meredith was no picnic, Giles said. The constant ups and downs. The creeping fear that she might do away with herself. She mentioned suicide more than once. Her family was glad then that Giles was in her life. It became his full-time job to keep an eye on her. Always a little uneven in the employment department, Giles willingly gave up working at a paint store to stay home with Meredith. While he hated advising wannabe artists on how to mix and blend colors, he found that he preferred it to endlessly trying to keep Meredith amused. Things between them quickly soured. Meredith was, by turns, manic, full of unstoppable energy— running him ragged with her schemes to redecorate the small apartment her parents paid for, a new hobby she took up like yoga or belly dancing—then she always collapsed, stayed in bed, refused to speak. Doctors were no help. Medication did nothing. Giles lost patience. They quarreled. They accused each other of not really caring.

            Then came the physical part. The pushing and shoving. Meredith would get frustrated with some tiny thing, blame him, and want to hurt him. He didn’t take it seriously at first. She was so small and weak. But then she hit him with an umbrella and left a painful bruise. He threatened to leave her. She went on a verbal assault about each and every one of his faults. He was stupid, talentless, would never amount to anything. She did him a favor by staying, because who else would want him? He was stuck with her; he’d just have to go on taking it because he lived off of her parents. He’d better watch his step, too, because she could cancel the arrangement just like that. She even snapped her fingers when she said this. To Nonny it all sounded so childish and clichéd, but she could hear in Giles’ voice how important it had been to him then, how important those words of Meredith’s still were.

            Giles wasn’t proud of it, but the fact was, he started drinking. She drove him to it. And when he drank, his temper sometimes got the better of him. He never touched her. Instead, he broke things. Bowls, glasses, and a radio all got hurled at the exposed brick wall of their apartment. The neighbors called the police more than once. Giles was even taken to the station once and interviewed in a hostile manner. No one could believe that it was his wife who was the instigator.

            One day, when Meredith was pouring it on again, he pushed her down the stairs right outside their door. He couldn’t say he hadn’t meant to. He didn’t recall just what he’d been thinking at the time, only that enough was enough. Meredith landed badly and broke her collarbone. No one witnessed the fall, and later, she swore to the authorities that she’d stumbled. Her blood alcohol level lent truth to the story. Somehow, after all of her cruelty toward him, she couldn’t bring herself to make a formal accusation. He took it as a token of the love which he knew had been there all along. Yet they couldn’t go on living together. They both knew that. They separated, then divorced. Meredith’s father was prepared to go on being the administrator of the trust he’d established for her years before, but Meredith insisted that control of her assets be turned over to Giles. The father took a lot of persuading, apparently, though Giles wasn’t privy to the exact details of his difficult conversations with Meredith.

            Nonny asked why Meredith couldn’t handle her own affairs. She was an adult, wasn’t she?

            Meredith lacked the confidence to pay attention to money. She was afraid that if she had complete access to it, she’d run through it in no time. Her parents were dead. She didn’t want to turn to other family members, with whom she’d never been very close. Giles was the only one she could trust. And he had to do it, because Meredith had kept his secret.

            “But who would care now, after all this time, if she told the truth? You could always deny it. You weren’t named in any report,” Nonny said.

            “You don’t understand.”

            That was true. She didn’t.


Nonny gave up on the idea of Little Miss Muffet traveling with the spider. Instead, she thought the spider should teach Little Miss Muffet to weave. Little Miss Muffet would become so successful that her tapestries would be known far and wide. Again, Giles expressed only lukewarm interest in this narrative. He was hard at work. He’d given up watercolors for the moment and was using charcoal. His time seemed to be spent on the spider itself. When Nonny suggested that he move on to something else, like a scene or setting, he told her to go write another one of her stupid poems. That stung. She demanded an apology, which he gave, only because he wanted to be left alone with his easel.

            Giles was contrite later that day and on into the evening. He said he’d been unfair to her, and he hoped she’d forgive him. He knew he could be a real pain. Hearing from Meredith had unsettled him. Nonny hadn’t asked if he’d complied with her request for money. She assumed that he had.

            That weekend, the Baxters were in town again. Giles invited them over. He wanted to show them his concept for the spider. Nonny was on edge. She was no good at entertaining. Giles told her not to worry. He’d been in touch with the gourmet food store down the road, and a nice plate of hors d’oeuvres was being put together for them. That sounded expensive to Nonny. She tried not to worry. If the book went well—when she finally pulled the story line together—it was going to be a big hit. She was sure of that.

            Rather than dressing up as he had the first time around, Giles remained in his work clothes—old jeans and an oversized sweatshirt. He didn’t shave. His hands were smeared with black charcoal. It was important to look the part. Nonny didn’t change either. All day she’d been in a floor-length black skirt and a green turtleneck sweater that the advancing season made too warm. She added a heavy necklace of silver beads that had belonged to her mother. It had taken her years to find the courage to wear it. She’d worn it the night she met Giles, and she thought now that it had brought her luck, because they were going to be all right, after all. They were going to be better than all right.

            Nonny went to get the hors d’oeuvres. She was disappointed to see some deviled eggs. She couldn’t stand deviled eggs. The miniature quiches looked okay, and so did the selection of fruit and cheese.

            The Baxters were at the cottage when she returned. They were already enjoying the very good French wine Giles had bought that afternoon. Everyone was happy. Giles had his drawings spread out on the table. Nonny put the food on the counter, said hello, and joined the others in their perusal of the pictures. Nonny was excited. She was seeing them for the first time, too. She had made it a point not to glance at Giles’ easel while he was working, so that her impression could be fresh. The spider was in a variety of playful poses and settings. In some, she was in her web. In others, she was dangling from a single thread or scurrying across the floor. She had a human face, and always the same face, with round blue eyes, a pert nose, and full red lips. And she had human hair, a trim black bob. What the Baxters admired most was her tender expression. They were completely enchanted.

            Nonny poured Mrs. Baxter another glass of wine. Mr. Baxter consumed a deviled egg in one bite. Nonny asked if everyone would like to move to the living room, where they could be more comfortable. Giles had thoughtfully put his easel away so the path to the sitting area was clear. Nonny brought out the tray of food and some cheerful red paper napkins. She lit the two tall candles on the mantelpiece. She put in a DVD of light jazz and wondered if she should open a window since she was feeling so warm at the moment.

            Back in the kitchen, alone, she patted cold water on her face. Something flashed in the corner of her eye. When she turned to look, it was gone. Early in their relationship, Nonny had asked Giles about his ex-wife: what she looked like, how she behaved. Giles said it didn’t matter. Nonny pressed. The woman he reluctantly described, with a definite frown on his own face, had blue eyes, red lips—because of her obsession with a shade called “fire engine”—and short, black hair. Overall, she gave the impression of being something between a little girl and a grown woman. It gave her a certain charm, especially when she was gentle, at peace with the world.

            Even now, after all these years, Nonny thought. She dried her hands on a clean towel hanging in the handle of the refrigerator.

            In the living room, Mr. Baxter asked Giles if he and Nonny were going to give the spider a name. Giles said of course they were.

            “Any ideas?” Mrs. Baxter asked.

            Nonny stole herself out into the welcome darkness of her backyard before she could hear Giles’ reply.