The Hunch- backed spider , he dangles from the ledge of the window sill ;Makes a weave , of spindly silver intricacy with deadly intent
A shudder , of the wind on the pane and he
Scurries back to the nexus of his lair
And hides monstrously there while moths
Come out to the flutter of the twilight
Perhaps in quest of a mate .
My aunt at our fire place ; We had lit the first fire of the autumn yet it was still September
-You could never rely on a summer after the races - my father said
- and my uncle agreed .. It seems to be getting colder every year now Jimmy
- seems so, my father said as he started to carve this ritual ham dinner after they’d come home from the races
Things change - my father said and that terminated the conversation .
After dinner we sat in front of the fire which seemed to blaze more fiercely and I and knew somehow ; Somehow it was too soon to let this summer abandon us ; so quickly ;
Autumn already .. Yet we were not ready And so soon would follow the winter .
And people died more often in the winter.
My aunt easily resigned to the close of summer was knitting in front of the fire as if she had just drifted from one year to another , as she always visited us during race week and the magical days of Christmas . Christmas holidays - delicious days which seemed endless in wonder in anticipation and yet all ways fleeted out the door after new years day ,
The woolly clink of the needles kneading in her arthritic fingers an intricate weave ;
A jumper for someone undeserving or a scarf so vivid in its coloration for someone who’d never wear ,
But she persists in the silence of her gentle self,
As we children looked out the window , past the dangling industrious spider
Into the bleak rain and the wilting summer .
My aunt brings her picture of St Anthony with a child Jesus in his arms reading a book.
And this is poised over her bedroom locker where she sleeps in my sister’s bedroom. For the holiday.
Her faith to this pious saint is unerring , unquestioning . He was the patron saint of lost things . And I remember how when my mother lost her favourite broach on St Steven’s day following the hunt ,we went out the following day and there in an open field my aunt without any fuss or surprise found the broach in the tangled grass.
My father shook his head , and my aunt said - its just St Anthony Jimmy
And he said
- Yea - and pursed his lips. He sounded unconvinced . But he too lost his golden pocket watch one day out shooting . And he put his scruples aside and we all went out to search for the watch across the ditches and dykes, through the tangled brush and scrub , and again without much more that a - yoo -hoo !! - across the fields she called us back . She’d found the watch .
My mother said - Definitely Jimmy .. Its her devotion to St Antony .. And again he shook his shoulders in amazement looking at the watch and said - Its some thing alright .. Its something ! And we wondered if at last he was yielding more to the powers of St Antony .
Then one mysterious afternoon my aunt herself got lost , or so it appeared . This was to my mothers great anxiety - a raging anxiety , for though much younger than my aunt she took an elder sisters responsibility as she believed my aunt was not frequented with the ways of the city . She was still cautioned not to talk to strangers . My mother searched the town frantically . It was so unlike auntie to go missing for a whole day . Would St Antony find her now ? And as only a mother can she inflicted all the anguish she suffered on all the family .
When she finally arrived home auntie said he was with a gentleman form New Hampshire . He was travelling on a liner berthed in the bay ,He took the ferry in to see the port of Galway . He was an atheist . that’s the first thing she told us about him. They spent the afternoon sitting on the promenade and it seemed for all his gaiety the gentleman ended talking mostly about St Anthony and she brought him to the church on the seafront and showed him a statue of her patron saint. They went for high tea in one of the finer restaurants along the sea-front . He insisted she come out for an evening cruise which the liner was dong of the bay tonight . No . she couldn’t do that . At least come to dinner as my guest , he pleaded . And she relented and they had dinner aboard the liner .
They disagreed on God ; she said he’d get a shock when he woke up and found there was a god ! - and he laughed and said shed get a bigger shock when she woke up and found there wasn’t .
This intriguing argument tortured my mind and I found no answers in my catechism .
If no one woke up there would be no questions or answers .
Did she convert him to Catholicism - that’s all my mother wanted to know
- time will tell dear , time will tell
What time . At the end of the world time ?
She was more than a little mysterious about her gentleman friend but told my mother he’d kept in touch and had invited her out to New Hampshire . But she never went .
New Hampshire indeed ! my mother seethed . - Do you even know where New Hampshire is ?
- its out foreign my aunt answered with a daunting implacable smile - just out foreign !
Her favourite air was a song called Mellow the Moonlight about a young lover trying to make good her tryst with her lover who had come knocking on her window as her mother was knitting and gradually dozing
Mellow the moonlight to shine is beginning,
Close by the window young Eileen is spinning.
Bent o'er the fire her blind grandmother sitting,
Is crooning and moaning and drowsily knitting.
Merrily cheerily noiselessly whirring,
Swings the wheel spins the wheel while the foot's stirring.
Sprightly and lightly and merrily ringing,
Trills the sweet voice of the young maiden singing.
Was she now forever spinning webs for her sailor- her liner visitor
All these years of knitting ; was she spinning a weave like the doomed spider in the window frame , who too would die with the coming winter ..
In the song , the daughter is trying to digress her mothers attention form her lover’s tapping at the window . Her mother is knitting too and is sitting in front of the fireside
And slumber is creeping slowly on her wizen shoulders
Eileen, a chara, I hear someone tapping.
'Tis the ivy dear mother against the glass flapping.
Eileen, I surely hear somebody sighing.
'Tis the sound mother dear of the autumn winds dying.
What's the noise that I hear at the window I wonder?
'Tis the little birds chirping on holly bush yonder
What makes you be shoving and moving your stool on?
And singing all wrong the old song of the "Coolin"?
And I wondered if she sang that song in memory of loss
The loss and find on the same day. I think she fell in love with her gentleman from New Hampshire
But she was entrapped in a web of spinsterhood.
It was the nearest thing to being a nun…
And she smiled too much to be a nun , and her manner was too old fashioned to live anywhere other than the village where she was reared . She was too gentle in her ways to do anything other than live out her life with her bachelor brother there in Kilconnell.
But my uncle found love late in his life and the two women lived in the veiled tyranny of one another .
And my aunt grew older and grew more feeble and her mind seemed to gradually lose its keenness and robbed her of the grace of her gentleness . She was treated for depression but she never really had better days after the new woman moved into the family home . At Christmas time she would visit us as she had done for neigh on 40 years , and she sang this song through the addled mind of her second infancy She eonly sang one verse in the end
Lazily, easily, now swings the wheel round
Slowly and lowly is heard now the reel's sound
Noiseless and light to the lattice above her
The maid steps, then leaps to the arms of her lover.
Slower and slower and slower the wheel swings
Lower and lower and lower the reel rings
Ere the reel and the wheel stop their ringing and moving
Through the grove the young lovers by moonlight are roving.
The spider ensnared his victim and my aunt for all her sowing and knitting and kneading myriad coils of wool in intricate patterns just became ensnared in time in the weave of her most precious memory of her love and that day, and the missing hours , and all that could have happened if they both awoke together one day after her tryst.
We all wondered about her gentleman friend , her devotion to St Antony , the mystery of her silent ways , and when she died my mother found her letters and told us his name was George .
The song ends in an equally ambiguous this verse .
There's a form at the casement, the form of her true love,
And he whispers with face bent, I'm waiting for you love.
Get up from the stool, through the lattice step lightly,
And we'll rove in the grove while the moon's shining brightly.
My aunt died a gaunt hollow figure of her former self. She sat on the side of the sofa , neither looking at the fire or the TV and repeatedly asking my mother if she should go to bed now. Gone was that often jovial yet pious person. The life had been sucked from her as if a spider within her mind had finally pulled in all her strings like a sailors net , and let no more thoughts flow freely . She was by then housebound ; never more to go roaming . Never more to meet another like her New Hampshire man .
She just faded skeletally when the withered flesh had long gone flaccid , but her mind was long gone by this stage .
In all the spinning and weaving of all our lives , do we become ensnarled by things experienced ; the pleasure and the dread ? And what tightens the spars of the network of our minds as we grow older ?
It this lullaby it is not clear if the young maiden makes her tryst with her lover at the window . Does she get trapped in the tyranny of her devotion to her mother ?
The maid shakes her head, on her lips lays her fingers,
Steps up from the stool, longs to go and yet lingers,
A frightened glance turns to her drowsy grandmother,
Puts her foot on the stool spins the wheel with the other.
And I hope my aunt stepped out in her new awakening
With George by her side ..merrily merrily