A Morning’s Tapestry

Ishrat Zaman

Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth.
-Buddha
The night has shattered.

                She creeps down the stairs, her footsteps deft and nimble. Her stomach sags, shrouding spools of silken threads. A loose strand trails behind her as she slips across the hallway, afraid to be seen by someone else. Outside, the sun swells over the horizon, its yolky edge flooding into the sky, spilling rays of molten gold that seep across the strawberry fields.

                The house slumbers on, a dormant volcano that stirs gently as minutes pass by. As the sun takes his throne in his vast blue dominion, he beckons to the world with a lazy hand and spears night through the stomach, yielding him to his knees. The tranquillity of his empire is fractured by twittering from swallows and blackcaps. In the distance, an owl hoots and tucks its head beneath its tawny wing, dozing for the day.

                She scuttles down the steps of the house, twisting past the front door, and shudders as she glances down at the family crest etched into the wood. A face, whose features emanate choler as potent as poison, sneers back at her. Her head protrudes with hissing snakes that coil about her like an ornate wreath, a token of an irreversible deed. Human, but monstrous. The gorgon has haunted her dreams for aeons, jolting her out of Hypnos’s pleasant embrace and rousing her in a clammy sweat, while her last words echo in her ear.

                “Don’t make my mistakes.”

                A grave warning she hadn’t heeded. It was never prudent to cultivate jealousy in the heart of a goddess, but to be youthful and talented is to be bold and arrogant. A mortal challenging Pallas Athene was unheard of. It should have remained that way.

                She had been confident that her deft hands could sculpt beauty that no divinity could ever be capable of; that her clever fingers could weave their way to victory with ease. Challenging a goddess refined in her artisanship was a risky affair, but she had proved her worth and emerged triumphant. For a single euphoric moment, the glory was all hers.

                But at what cost?

                The glow of victory had barely lasted seconds before it was stripped away, and she was shamed. No longer human, and no longer worthy.

                She had been bold. She had been arrogant.

                She had paid for her misdeeds.

                Running through the courtyard, she turns toward the orchards, the scent of fruit heady in the air. She scrambles over the broad cap of a mushroom, her legs slipping against the silky surface. Verdant grass ripples against her body as she leaves invisible footprints upon the earth.

                Encompassed in the break of dawn, she feels as if she were perched in the eye of a hurricane. The morning’s tempest burgeons upon her, crackling with hostility. Yet now, she is impervious, enraptured, hanging in a bubble of silence.

                Settling down between two olive trees, she eases the thread through her body, raising it as she starts to weave. Sunrise had always been her treasured time to indulge in her craftsmanship – a moment unfettered by the tumult of life. As she works, the tension floods out of her and her body relaxes, moulding against the rough bark of the tree trunk. Her limbs quicken, twisting the gossamer thread delicately as droplets of fresh dew speckle the threads.

                Her body works mechanically, and her limbs are dominated by an innate rhythm, manoeuvred precisely as though she were in a trance. Her mind is blissfully blank, but unease coils in the pit of her stomach. She can’t possibly do this – she isn’t who she was before. If only there was a way to unravel the past, reverse the damage that she had inflicted upon herself. Her fingers falter as her turmoil grows, rearing towards her chest. The thread moves slower, and slower, and slower, until she stops.

                The sun is waxing. The moon is waning. The truth is eclipsed.

                Sweat trickles down her back. She turns to her craftsmanship, but her legs are paralysed, her body immobile, as though she were dangling from a stretch of rope, hanging in the balance. It would only take a second to fall.

                Her mouth has dried up. Abandoning her work, she crawls through the long grass, searching for respite at the edge of the creek. The grass rakes against her body, raw, and limb by limb she drags herself to the water’s edge. White and amber narcissus flowers are peppered amongst obsidian rocks and haphazard dandelions. She clambers up a rock, her gait unsteady, and almost tips forward into the glacial water. Gasping, she drags herself up and closes her eyes.

                Imprinted against her eyelids, her reflection smiles back, and she collapses in relief at the familiarity of her umber eyes and bronzed hair.

                Still, the truth cowers in the shadows.

                Like rotting fruit, her reflection shrivels and sags in her mind’s eye. She grasps her face in horror, only to feel her arms and legs split in two, while her midriff collapses inwards. Her eyes protrude, the sclera clouding with darkness. As she shrinks, her chiton gapes across her figure, cavernous, and her humanity sloughs off her body like a serpent shedding its skin. Her mouth tightens, and a thousand regrets are silenced indefinitely. She opens her eyes and recoils.

                A breeze ripples through the valley, carrying a whisper.

                “I warned you.”

                Heart pumping in her chest, she tentatively stares at her reflection in the water.

                Gingerly, she feels her face. Velvety fangs jut from the corners of her mouth, dripping with venom. An excess of limbs crowd her body, and her bulbous eyes reach every single crevice around her with startling ease. Thin strands of hair are fuzzed all over her. She wants to scream – but who would hear?

                Bile rises in her throat, but she swallows it down and creeps back to the trees where her weaving hangs, discarded. Bathed in the morning’s glow, the silvery thread glistens, criss-crossing to form a gauzy spiral. It caves under the force of the wind, hollowing out; yet the stitches stay firm against nature’s adversity. As she stares at it, her pulse quickens.

                People would never flock to see the works of art that she could no longer yield. Her hands were fragments of what they were. The vestiges of her beauty had decayed. Like an old coin, her reputation was tarnished. All was lost – all except the tattered remains of her talent.

                With every loss comes a gain.

                She wrenches herself away from the water’s edge, tripping over a tangle of roots in her haste, and resumes stitching in a passionate frenzy. The earth is hushed as it beholds a sovereign who establishes her territory, weaving as no mortal or deity ever could. The four winds hold their breath as they gaze in wonder at the marionette who harnesses her own strings. Her heart swells as she discharges the final details, euphoria blossoming in her chest. Behind her, the sun rises.

                Two olive trees frame a spider’s web, luminescent in the morning light.

                Her tapestry is complete.