The Charlemagne Dialogues
by Whitney Trettien

A spider dwelled in the corners of her bathroom. Who are you? she asked curiously, a frizz of shampoo sliding down her cheek. Why do you watch me bathe? Who are you?
     I am Charlemagne, the spider answered.
     Why are you here? she asked through the rushing water.
     The steam grew thick and suffocating, hot against her throat. She closed her eyes to the poignant smell of soap; I have conquered this realm, answered Charlemagne sublimely. She shut off the shower, and the steam dissipated; the spider had disappeared.
     The next day she showered early, delicately, curiously, as if she remembered something that remained a dream thickened by tension. You've had a hard day, said Charlemagne suddenly, his voice richly enveloping her; the scent of lavender permeated the water, and she bathed in diamonds raining from above. I have, she answered softly, and did not notice the spider curling its spindly legs around the mirror. You need to relax, he said, and the water formed a fuzzy puppy snuggled warm against her weary breast; she sank deep into the tile where the diamonds piled high around her melted flesh.
     Above the steam, the spider waited.
     The day turned fresh upon her lips; the warmth segued to a cold saltiness, and she was jarred by the hard diamonds, water pelting her. What are you doing to me? she asked the spider perched precariously on the curtain rail.
      I do nothing, he answered. I have seen you tired and weary, and I have felt your jubilance, so intoxicating. You think of Communism and the revolt.
     "Stop talking in riddles," she said. "You confuse yourself, and you're being dumb. You're being stupid. Stop saying things you don't mean."
      You think you are a pacifist, but you read and plot violence. Long ago you overfilled yourself with flesh, wanting someone to turn you inside out. You believed that you are more than just the blood and bone, but you had deceived yourself. Now you are Lady Chatterly void of a lover; you sink deep into yourself dreaming of success.
     "You don't mean it."
     You owe money on the book. It's wet and wrinkled now, like thick lace.
     She shut off the shower; the silence was sharp. Through the thinning steam she saw the spider's body, white to the edge of transparency and nearly camouflage against the tiles. Curiously she thought of an article that she had read about the pepper moths; in the industrial parts of London the pepper moths were turning gray and dark like the city, blending into their environment, assimilating to an industry-weary people. The animals showed signs; she stared at her white tile, pure even when crusted with soap scum. The spider's two beady eyes followed her stare silently, dashingly, questioningly. Stepping carefully from the shower, she retrieved an empty tampon box from the trashcan, plucked the inert spider from the tile, and dropped it into the box. She rolled the thin cardboard closed. Silence again thickened the air. Her hands were still.
     Quickly wrapping herself in a robe, she ventured outside. The wind cracked ice against her wet body as she slid the tampon box into her mailbox and raised the red mail flag. Slamming the door against the wind, she retrieved an old radio, plugged it in beside her bathtub, and turned it on.
     She sat down in her waiting bathtub and watched beads of water trickle down the white tile like perspiration. A song was just ending; from the speakers floated "and that was Burton Cummings, with 'Charlemagne.' Now finishing up our Canadian Rock set..."
     Turning on the faucet and plugging the drain, she melted into the water and sank deep, deep within herself, images of Che burning brighter and brighter against the pure tile.

Back to the Fiction List