Friday, December 11, 2015

The Blessing of the Christmas Webs (with apologies to E.B. White & others) (#FlashFictionFriday*)

“Mom, can we please have a Christmas tree this year?”

Jake Arainey was six years old and turned his charm on full strength. Gently pleading with his mother, he made his blue eyes as big as he could. He’d learned this made him nearly irresistible to adults.

Before Helen could reply, Jake’s older sister Samantha spoke up.

“We can’t afford a tree, silly! Besides, we don’t have no decorations!”

“We don’t have any decorations,” Helen said, correcting Samantha’s grammar with a word and a look. Samantha, who was 11 going on 21, got the point.

“Yes ma’am, we don’t have any decorations,” Samantha replied teasingly in a mock-formal way. “And we still can’t afford no tree!” She winked at her mother who rolled her eyes and then laughed.

Unimpressed with the play between his mom and sister, little Jake began to more earnestly make his case.

“We have to have a tree,” he begged. “If not, where will Santa put our presents? Even without decorations, a tree smells good in the house. And ...”

“We get it, already, Jake!” interrupted Samantha. “But you’re still forgetting that we don’t have the money for a tree, do we mom?”

“Well, no, not really,” sighed Helen. “But Jake has made some good points. Maybe we can find something tomorrow that doesn’t cost too much. But now, it’s bed time.”

***

The “house” the Araineys were living in was a rented mobile home, more commonly called a trailer. Everything was cramped.

The kids grudgingly shared a tiny bedroom right next to their mother’s teeny bedroom. They’d been living like this for about eight months since their apartment and everything they owned had been lost in a fire.

The year prior to the fire, Tom Arainey, devoted husband and father, had died without warning, from an undiagnosed heart defect, while driving. The family was left without a dad, a best friend, and a car.

Ever since, life had been hard in more ways than one, but Helen did her best for her kids.

Their church was helping with the rent for the trailer and just recently had given her a few Christmas presents for the kids. One of the church families was letting her use their second car until she could find a way to get her own. Insurance snafus were holding back much needed money.

As He always had, Helen knew God would provide.

***

The next morning they awoke early as usual, had a meager breakfast, then Helen went to work at the local diner and Jake and Samantha went to school.

When the kids came home that evening after school and activities, Helen was stirring a pot of soup on the stove.

On top of the little table where they ate stood a small, densely limbed evergreen about two feet tall. When Jake saw it his eyes got bigger than the day before.

“A tree! We got a Christmas tree!”

“Looks more like a piece of a tree, if you ask me,” assessed Samantha, always the cynic. “It’s smaller than you, Jake.”

“Be nice, Samantha,” admonished Helen. “It’s small, but didn’t cost anything. Some men were clearing the lot by the restaurant and I noticed them just as they were about to toss this little tree into the chipper. They were happy to let me have it and even made the stand for it out of wood scraps. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a lovely gift from God. As for decorating, after you both finish your homework, we’ll make some popcorn to string.”

“And eat!” exclaimed Jake excitedly. All through dinner, he couldn’t stop staring at the tree, taking in its foresty aroma with every bite of soup.

***

As they wrapped their popcorn string around the tree, Jake pointed into the branches declaring, “Hey! There’s something in our tree! I saw something move in there.”

“There’s nothing in that tree,” said Samantha. “You’re just seeing things.”

“Maybe it’s a Christmas spider,” offered Helen.

“Yuck! I don’t want spiders in our house,” said Jake as he stepped away from the tree. “They can bite!”

“Oh, Christmas spiders don’t bite, Jake. They just spin magic,” explained Helen.

“You’re making this up, aren’t you, mom?” questioned Samantha. “There’s no such thing as Christmas spiders. They would have said so in school.”

“Not everything that’s true gets taught in school,” Helen countered playfully. “While they’re rare, I know Christmas spiders are real because I’ve seen what one can do. When I was a little girl.”

“Really?” said Jake. “What kind of magic did it spin?”

“I was ten and we had a very nice tree, beautifully decorated. But there was one spot that was bare because the branches curled away from each other in a very odd way. My mother tried her best to fix a decoration in those unruly branches, but it just fell off. So, she gave up, telling me, ‘Well, Helen. I guess this is the spot for the Christmas spider to decorate. I’ve not seen one in the tree, but it must be there since the branches won’t cooperate with me!’”

“My mother explained that God sometimes sent a Christmas spider to decorate the tree in homes where there was a special need," Helen continued, “to remind the family of how much He loved them. And as a sign of how He was going to bless them in the New Year.”

“Usually, there would be one place on a tree that God kept open just for the Christmas spider to weave a magical web on Christmas Eve. A web of blessing that would be in the shape of the Star of Bethlehem, or a snowflake, or both! The bigger the web in the tree, my mother said, the greater the blessing could be expected.”

“Did you have a need in your house that year, mommy?” asked Jake.

“Yes, we did. There was a war going on and my older brother was a soldier. He had been seriously wounded and was in the hospital many miles away in another country. We weren’t sure he was going to survive. But let’s get back to the tree and the spider.”

The children did not object as Helen continued the story.

“That year, on Christmas morning, right in the middle of the bare spot was the most beautiful web ever spun. It looked like an eight-pointed star with a tiny snowflake in the center. It was the most amazing thing I’d seen up to then. Before we took the tree down that year, my dad helped me slip a piece of construction paper behind the web so we could preserve it.”

“Where’s the web now?” asked Jake. “Did you ever see the spider?”

“No, we never did see the spider. And the web was lost years ago,” Helen replied wistfully.

“What happened to your brother? Did he live? Is he okay now?” asked Samantha.

“Oh, yes, of course. He’s your Uncle Joey. You’ll see him tomorrow. Now, since it’s Christmas Eve, how about some hot chocolate?”

They sat quietly sipping their chocolate and admiring their little tree. Even though small, it filled their cramped trailer with a strong scent of pine. Jake peered among its branches, trying to see if, indeed, there was a spider crawling about. Again, he thought he saw something moving around, but never got a clear look.

While Jake was hopeful he also had his doubts since there were no bare spots on their tree.

Finally, the chocolate was gone and it was bedtime. After the kids were in bed and asleep, Helen placed their few gifts around the tree. She was very grateful for what they had, but wished for so much more for them all.

Lying in bed, she prayed quietly, “Father, we could sure use a few blessings this coming year.” Then she fell asleep and into a dream of her husband’s arms.

***

When they awoke on Christmas morning, it had snowed and bright sunlight poured in through the trailer’s tiny windows. Jake was the first to get up. He zipped to the tree to get his gifts. Then stopped. He looked up at the tree and stepped back, his mouth falling open and his eyes growing larger than ever.

“Hey! Mom! Samantha! Wake up!” he shouted urgently. “Quick! You gotta come see the tree! Hurry!”

“What in the world?” Samantha grumbled as she pushed aside her blankets and came to stand next to Jake, and then froze, staring at the tree.

“Uh, Mom,” Samantha called out loudly. “You really do need to see this.”

Helen was in no hurry to leave the warmth of her covers or the comfort of her dream of Jake. But the kids always got up too early on Christmas and she knew she had no choice but to get out of bed. She reached for her robe, wrapped it around her, and joined the kids, rubbing her eyes and yawning, craving coffee.

“What’s going o....” the end of her last word fell away into silence as her eyes cleared and she saw the tree.

All three stood dumfounded and filled with wonder in front of their tiny, now elaborately decorated, Christmas tree.

It sparkled and glistened in the sunlight as if it were covered with millions of miniature diamonds. On every side, complementing their popcorn string, were neatly spaced gossamer shapes that more or less looked liked stars and snowflakes, delicately and densely woven from silky filaments.

The entire tree was laced with silvery looping strands that went around and around the tree. The bright snow-amplified sunshine streaming through the windows combined with the draft that seemed always to blow through the trailer caused the webs to undulate and shimmer as if they were alive and electric.

“Wow!” whispered Jake. “There was something in our tree. It was a Christmas spider!”

Then, as her gaze moved up the tree, Samantha suddenly pointed at the very top and squealed. “Look! There it is!”

At the very top tip of the tree was a large, reddish-greenish spider with its back toward them, not moving, looking very much like a small star, illuminated by a single golden sunbeam.


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* It’s flash fiction Friday! (To learn more about FFF, click here and scroll down.) 
Flash fiction is nothing more or less than a very, very short short story. And this one, being a little over 1,000 words really isn’t a flash story, but it is still very short fiction. 

I actually wrote this a few years ago. And, I swear, at the time I wrote it I had no idea that there actually was a folk tale about Christmas spiders, and several books on the topic. I kid you not! It was only after writing the story that I decided to do a search and discovered that my story idea was not entirely unique. I guess there is a chance that sometime in my life I heard or read a similar tale, but I have zero recollection. Oh well. Here is my take on this old tale. I hope you enjoy it! Please let me know your thoughts and reactions in the comments! 

I'm sure there was at least one spider in a corner at the original Nativity. “The Nativity” by Jacob Jordaens, Bridgeman Art Library,Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery, UK.

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