The Witch & The Spiders Bite (Extract)

Like the veins of a leaf did the Amalfi coasts pathways twist, narrow and steep, throughout the city. Stepping down through the streets I found myself in constant awe of the sea, unmovable and ever-watching. Growing over me as the heat bore down. The pastel pink and yellow painted houses were darkened with age in this part. Cracks ran through, splitting open to reveal cement and yellowing stains. It was not far now, just a ten minute walk from the hotel. I thought back to the woman rummaging through her desk drawer when she asked for the reason of my visit. Grabbing a handful of sight-seeing pamphlets and bus schedules. The two boys playing in the sun stopped at the mention of the name. Crawling to the nearest seats to eavesdrop easier. The woman smiled politely and said she did not believe in such stories but it was wise to not talk so openly. Superstition chirps around the area like cicadas, heard but elusive to catch sight of.

They had spoke of her as Walking Weaver, or more apt the Spider Witch. A recluse, shut off in her home. She would come out to feed her minions and take word on their gossip. Ever-waiting for the news of a new-born baby. For the first night a baby would sleep alone, The Weaver would skitter over the rooftops when all was silent. Tapping on the glass to check for weary parent, she would descend. Upon morning the parents would check their child and witness a horrifying sight. Their child would lay still. Soulless.

I caught sight of The Weaver. Hobbled over the front porch of the address I had been given. Her straggly grey hair ran black at the end of the two fishtail braids. Speckled grey and black like the horses that ran across my grandfathers land. I put my hand on the cast-iron gate, unsure of how to breach this silence between strangers. Plants stretched out and tangled to form a tapestry of herbs and flowers in the front garden.

The old lady seemed oblivious to me watching. Pursed lips hidden under the furrows of her cheeks. The whites of her eyes shone out over the deep tan she must have acquired from walking outside for hours. I could hear her muttering to herself, scraping apart the remains of a fish with two forks. Digging into the skin, she tore it into smaller pieces.

She spoke louder, catching sight of me. Turning to face me she repeated her words. I froze, unable to remember any Italian I had recited before the trip. I waved my hands in the air, catching sight of the black mongrel beside the bench on the porch. Ears pricked, awaiting a command. I stammered a phrase. Pausing to recall the word for “speak”. It was the first line I had jotted down when I had made the decision to come here. I had repeated it countless times over the flight, under hushed breath to not engage the sweating businessman beside me in conversation.

‘I speak…little. You came. For witch?’

I nodded, dropping my bag onto the ground. Rifling through the side-pockets for the travel dictionary. How could I translate what I needed to say to her. ‘I traveled far.’

‘American.’ She repeated my word, letting it linger as she recalled something. Perhaps she knew why I had ventured all this way. ‘Yankee fucks.’ She spat out, plunging the fork through the fish head. Dumping the carcass into the dish on the floor. She tapped the dish several times before making her way to the bench.

‘Scusi,’ I said, finding I had jotted it down on the front page.

Her pebble eyes seemed sharper as they looked over at me. A long drawn out cry wailed through the garden like the breaking cord of dolls voice box. Crawling through the gates and other slivers of darkness, several cats slid out towards the fish. She waved her hands at me.

‘Please, can I just speak to you-‘ I darted back as the mongrel lunged towards to the fence. The folds of its lips raised to bare its teeth. I snatched my bag and backed away. She stood on, letting her mutt end the conversation for us. I would have to return the next day.