Portals by Brandon Haffner

Cat sits at the kitchen table eating all the cookies.

Her father is here, too, scrolling his phone. He’s running for mayor, and he’s losing. Even she knows that. She hasn’t read the articles, but she can read his stony face. 

She picks her nose. She blinks hugely. She blows a raspberry against her wrist. I’m not here, she thinks. I don’t have a face or arms or tummy or legs. 

A Cat with no legs.

Rain streaks the window. The cookies disappear.

She tries provocation. She throws her feet onto the table, wiggles her toes. Her feet are dirty.

Piano seeps from the neighbors’ into their kitchen as she considers a physicist’s puzzle: if she knows the outcome from his face, is his face a portal through time?

Something dashes from the cookie plate. A spindly dark thing. She pulls her legs down and brings her face to the table’s edge.

A small black spider.

It notices her and freezes. At this distance, she can see its little hairs, little eyes. She whispers: I won’t hurt you, spider.

She brings her chin to the table, opens her mouth, and lets her tongue unravel onto the wood like stairs from an airplane. She waits. For a long time, the spider doesn’t move. Then it crawls forward, stops. Crawls again, slower, until it crawls so close all she can see is her own nose. A tickle on her tongue. She almost laughs it right out. But she holds still until she feels it climbing the inside of her cheek.

She clamps her teeth down. The spider has a light taste, like wet earth.

She doesn’t swallow right away. Instead, she runs to the bathroom mirror and opens her mouth. She wants to see what the spider looks like spread across her teeth like red paint.

But there, in the mirror, is the spider, exploring the terrain of her tongue.

She shoves her fingers into her mouth to pull it out, feeling betrayed, like a deal’s been broken, but the spider skitters toward the dark space of her throat. She turns on the faucet, fills the bathroom cup, and drinks so quickly she coughs water into the sink.

She opens wide and stares into her mouth’s dark corners. Did something move? Is that you, little spider?

In bed that night she thinks of the eggs the spider will lay inside her, of the spider babies that will take over her body. They’ll leak from her nose while she answers questions in math class. They’ll invade her brain, make her think and talk and move like a spider. She’ll grow extra legs.

Not so bad. Who wouldn’t want extra legs? Now she lets herself drift into dreams.

No one. That’s who.

Legs for arms, legs for a head, legs for a tail or two. Down the stairs for tea and pancakes.

The mountain of cookies restored. His stony face sees her finally, mutant, monstrous—how could he not?

Brandon Haffner’s work appears in the Harvard Review, Sewanee Review, New Orleans Review, and other journals. Haffner has been awarded residencies from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (Moulin a Nef), the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, and elsewhere. He directs the creative writing program at Longwood University and lives in Richmond, VA.

Tarantula, hairy spider
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