Chocolate Spiderweb

By on May 30, 2011 in Contest Winners

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Multicolored spiderweb with fractals

I take a bite of the chocolate, which softens immediately between my teeth.  The inside is almost bready, sweet and doughy.  Of course.  Chocolate-covered cookie dough.  It is the obvious next move.  I nod my head, the half moon of uneaten chocolate and dough still lifted to my mouth, my free hand cupped under my chin, trying to catch any bits before they might fall to the floor.

“Good.”  My mouth is full, and I push the extra food into my cheek.  “It’s really good.”  My wife pointed it out to me, that I keep food in my cheeks so I can talk while I eat.  I never even knew I did it until we got married.  Drives her nuts.  I try to explain that in my family you had to get a word in whenever you could, at any cost, but she just smiles at me and shakes her head.  She loves my family, but I think she secretly wonders what she has gotten herself into.

We are expected at my mom’s in an hour or so.  My wife is already there, helping my mom pick things up around the house and starting the turkey in the oven for dinner.  I sent her early to stake claim on the biggest bedroom.  I have the Pack-n-Play in the back of my truck, and it will take up all that extra space, so in the end the biggest room will feel like the smallest.  My tiny daughter is with my wife, probably rolling around on the kitchen floor, playing with assorted kitchen utensils.  It’s just something my mom does: give kids utensils for toys.

My sister has finished laying out the Gummi Bears.  She is filling the bowl with more almond bark.  She pops the microwave door back open and puts the mixing bowl in and starts the time.  I am a slow processor, and though I should have told her we need to leave, she has already done all of these things before I think to say something: “Don’t we need to head out of here?” 

She turns from the microwave to look at me.  Her face is wet, and she has started to gasp and heave her chest.  Lately it comes like this, these fits of despair, out of nowhere.  She starts to wave her arms, like she is going to take off, up off the ground, and fly right out of this mess.  “Hey.  Hey.”  I try my best to sound like I understand, but I don’t, and I’m nervous that I brought it all on with that stupid comment about marathons and sugar and diet soda.  “It’s all right.  We can wait a little while longer.  Can I load up your stuff for you?” 

It’s my default, to carry something or move some furniture or hang some shelves.  When I can’t make sense of a situation, I have to move into the physical realm and use my arms and legs and just keep moving.  When my sister called to tell me about my brother-in-law, that he had lost his job and neglected to tell her again, this time for three weeks instead of two, and she doesn’t know where he goes or what he does all day and sometimes all night and what is she supposed to do and she can’t be married to him anymore but what about little Grace and seriously what is wrong with him — I hung up the phone and moved every piece of furniture in our apartment to a new spot.  But our apartment was kind of oblong and shaped strangely, and our furniture was either too big or too small. So when my wife arrived home from work, two hours after the phone call, I had moved our bedroom to the living room and most of the living room furniture to the kitchen, and the dining room table was set up where our bed had been.  She dropped her purse and her work bag, and I saw her face and she was going to ask, because she knows how I move things when I have trouble comprehending situations, but then I just sat down, right down on that big recliner clogging up our galley kitchen, and I cried and cried and cried. 

“I just need to finish dipping these little peanut-butter cracker sandwiches, and then I think I’ll be ready to go.”  She wipes her eyes with the back of the hand that holds the long wooden spoon.  A mess of her hair catches in the bowl of the spoon, but she does not realize it, so when she pulls the mixing bowl out of the microwave, she stirs her longest hairs into the mix.  I make a note to skip the little peanut butter cracker sandwiches.  “All the stuff that is going to mom’s is in the front entryway.  Would you really carry it out for me?  That would be so great.”  She smiles, but it’s mostly sad.  She turns back around to her bowl of chocolate and wax paper counter.

I walk through the dining room and into the living room and turn the knob of the front door in my fist.  I pull the door open and there, in the entryway, is what my sister has been doing for the three days since my brother-in-law left.  Stacks and stacks of Christmas tins, red and green and white and silver, covered in pictures of trees and snowflakes and laughing Santas and Ho Ho Hos and reindeer and stockings hung on fireplaces.  I open the first one.  Pretzels covered in chocolate, I can tell from the shape.  I open another and remove a piece, tossing it in my mouth.  Popcorn.  Completely covered in chocolate.  I open a third: Rice Crispy Treats.  A fourth: Gummi worms.  A fifth: Chex Mix, I think.  Sixth: Cheese puffs.  Not a good call.  I skip the seventh and wade through the tins, clanging like cymbals against my legs.  In the back of the entryway, I see what looks like an entire honey glazed bone-in ham covered in chocolate.  And a dining room chair.  And her entire drawer of silverware.  Also, a hairdryer.  And in the corner a small mattress, and on that small mattress, my sleeping niece.  All drenched in chocolate.  In front of me, covered in a hard shell and drizzled in white chocolate, like the pretzels, a piece of paper.  I fold it in half and watch the chocolate spiderweb, cracking into a thousand pieces.  I can make out her name and her husband’s name and an official looking seal.  A marriage license. 

I take high steps back to the front door, trying my best not to disrupt the precarious order of tins and cause some huge, awful crash.  I don’t want to wake my niece.  I crane my neck around the threshold and call back to the kitchen.  “All of this goes?”

“Yeah — can you just throw it in your truck?”  It makes sense now, why she had me come over in the truck.  I hear the microwave beep and think about reminding her that the little peanut butter cracker sandwiches are the last item to be dipped, but I know that it will take awhile for me to move all this stuff.  And I am glad to have the work to do.


This piece was the first place winner in the 2009 Wild Violet Fiction Contest.

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Luke Hawley lives in St. Paul, Minnesotaa, with his wife, daughter, cat, and dog. He is a student in the MFA program at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, and this is his first publication.