The girl was sitting with her grandmother beneath the tree. The grandmother had smile lines so deep that her eyes were mere slits through which her sparking brown irises shone. The girl’s eyes were wide and the whites of them moist and smooth. They hadn’t spoken for some time and were comfortable and still. The moss beneath them was compressed into two seats, perfectly conformed to their respective buttocks.
Then, movement. A brown spider with white markings ran across the girl’s ankle and she thrust her leg away from her body, foot flexed, dispelling the creature from her skin. It fell to the ground and scuttled towards the tree trunk and up along its grooves. The girl’s neck bent back as she watched it move upwards. The grandmother gave her a stern look, mouth downward as to create a crevice on either side of it. The girl said, “Bugs are strange.” The grandmother wrapped bony fingers around the girl’s arm and squeezed gently, and the girl softened physically at her grandmother’s touch. The girl said, “They move so quickly and I can’t understand what they might be thinking.” The grandmother took one finger and placed it firmly between the first and second knuckles of the girl’s left hand. She looked the girl in the eyes and made a sound through her teeth, “Fffffffff.” She then leaned sideways and began to stand up, walking the heels of her hands along the tree trunk as she straightened her spine.
The grandmother searched the branches of the tree for a few seconds, acknowledged her selection with a nod of her head, and paused. She placed her right foot at the top a large root, shifted her weight forward, and reached a small, thin arm upwards towards a wet branch. Her fingers plucked a tiny object from the branch, and she rolled it between her fingertips as she descended back into a seated position, nestling to create a new spot in the moss and dirt. She tilted her head and raised her eyebrows and presented the pod-like brown item to the girl by placing it in her left palm. The girl prodded it with her right index finger as gingerly as possible before looking up at her grandmother and asking, “What is this?”
Reaching into her pocket, the grandmother pulled out a small leather case. She unzipped the case and removed an ivory pocketknife, barely the size of her ring finger. She took the object from her granddaughter’s hand once more, holding it with her thumb and forefinger, and inserted the tip of the knife into it, pulling towards the tendons in her wrist. A green fluid began to bulge from the slit created, not quite liquid enough to drip. The girl made a sound, like a moan that escalated in pitch. The grandmother said, “This is a chrysalis. A caterpillar formed it, lived inside of it, and then secreted chemicals that dissolved its own body. If I hadn’t cut it open just now, it would have reformed itself back into an insect. A butterfly.” The girl looked from the sticky knife back to her grandmother, mild discomfort and confusion on her face.
The girl asked her grandmother, “Why did you do that to the chrysalis?” The grandmother replied, “To show you. This is the world you live in. And I brought you here.” The girl nodded and looked down towards the spot on her hairless ankle where the spider had crawled. Her gaze remained there and she breathed through her nose, lips pressed tight. In thoughts that were not yet so fully formed, she realized that one caterpillar had never had a chance to become a butterfly because her grandmother had a child, who also had a child, who she loved enough to want to teach. And that the spider she had shaken from her leg might, at this moment, be beginning to form a web at the top of the tree between two branches, where it would catch and eat hundreds of mayflies and moths and beetles, and where it would lay eggs containing new spiders, which might or might not crawl up the legs of other humans living in and on a completely foreign scale of size and time.
Rebecca Leibmann-Smith, Untitled
American, b. 1982, playing from New York City, NY, USA
Rebecca Liebmann-Smith, also known as Booters, is a social work student, writer, artist, aerialist, and bartender from New York City. She currently lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn with two human roommates, two cats, one python, and a gecko. Her mother is a health writer and her father is a humorist. Her parents were her main writing influences, along with Roald Dahl, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Thomas Pynchon, David Foster Wallace, and Patrick McGrath. Rebecca.LiebmannSmith@gmail.com.
Thoughts on the Telephone process
At first, I experienced a strong desire to somehow get it “right,” to read into the original concept that inspired the very first piece in Telephone. When I realized this was not possible – especially if I overthought it – I simply had fun with it, and let the piece to which I was assigned marinate in my consciousness over a couple of weeks before I started writing.