‘Furies’ by Letitia Payne

spider web hanging over green plant

Mud pies and whole lives lived under a branch of a tree – anywhere is a home that you’ve made. In the crevice of a rock, a clearing in the woods, bottom shelves of bookcases and the lines of a web in your windowsill. In these things you are whole: wife, mother, virgin, keeper. 

At the bottom of the garden you and the boy divide your kingdoms. When you were smaller you used to catch butterflies in the cup of your hands, crush spiders with sticks, turn them all to stew in empty flower pots. One time you’d chased a spider through the backdoor right into the kitchen. The boy said he didn’t mind the ones with the long legs, they seemed too fragile. But that day she’d come too close, and you’d minded it then. Her egg sac spilled onto your mother’s linoleum when you’d poked at it. After, you retreated to the embrace of the woods, where the hum of the motorway spilled over the borders. Curled into the undergrowth you felt them creeping through the forest decay beneath you, vengeful Furies of the kitchen massacre. 

You knew you were cursed then, the rot had seeped into your palms and you never bothered to wash it out. Twigs snap beneath his wellies and all panic is lost in a single frosty exhale. Your father takes your hand and leads you back to the house. He tells you of when he was your age, somewhere much warmer, of scorpions crawling into children’s ears as they slept in olive groves. You tell him of the boy and your kingdoms, he tells you to draw out a map. Your mother never mentioned the spider eggs scattered across her kitchen floor. 

But you think of it now. Long after back garden borders crumbled, and homes became four walls above high street shops. You think of it now that you stand before the paper bag that holds his ashes. Through the streets of the city you carried your father, morgue to home. The city turned to flatlands and barren winter fields and he sat there beside you on the passenger seat in the woven basket you picked up from the charity shop. 

He’s in your arms as you walk him through the house, past the kitchen where the linoleum curls up at the skirting boards. You pause at the door frame, clutch the handles of his basket a little tighter.

They see you now you’ve come home. 

Out through the back, summer had been long trampled into what remained of the grass. The season’s decay so mottled with the living the two become indistinguishable. You keep on, all the way to the very end where the lines in the map you never drew began. There, the woods awaited your homecoming with that same embrace, you pulled him into it with you. Curled into the alcove of a tree trunk, you set him down beside you in the undergrowth. All the lives you wove beneath this tree, all the things that made you feel like you could be whole. You are none of these now. 

Beyond the wood’s edge the motorway works itself up into a rhythm as workers return from their city hives. You thrust your hands deep into the undergrowth and feel the rot once again reach up for you too. These vengeful spirits whisper to you the things you ache to claw back. 

Daughter, keeper. 

Turn them all to stew in the cracked remnants of flower pots. 

Meet the Author!

Letitia Payne is a short fiction writer from Norwich, UK. Due to her background in theatre she often intertwines classical themes within her writing. She has published two prior works: The Lights You Leave On (Kalopsia Literary Journal, 2021) and Bury the Box (Bandit Fiction, 2020). You can also find her giving much shorter takes on twitter: @letitiarpayne.