I wanted to invade my brother’s life, so I became a spider. My brother lives in another city. He drinks coffee and is gentle towards children. He is shy and intelligent, but he carries around a shame for both and therefore does not embrace either as part of his whole. He doesn’t have a lot of friends, or doesn’t talk about them. My brother has and always had a tender spot for living creatures. Each time we were together, pieces of single facts would gather and add one more quality to his personhood. He kept himself sealed up and collected, the reveal of anything was precious to him and it was rare form to witness his confessions. His coffee cups were deep, his pantry filled with jars of raw grains and meal. He was shy around me but I sometimes dominate, loudly and without apologies in public gatherings. In my new form I could observe without influence my little brother in his most comfortable. I crouched, tucked in a corner near where my brother sat, mug in hand and spine of book flat on the table. I was his sister. I was a spider.
Surrounded by the aroma of warm coffee with faint hints of berries, I relaxed in my new form and set out to build a web. There was no reason behind this decision, no explicit thought before I began to weave. I was not like my discerning brother who scrutinized every sip before it touched his lips. Choices did not spring on him. They were made. What kind of coffee was that? A dark and meaty Sumatra? A light Mexican bean? I hopped off my web to check. My brother was drinking espresso. Espresso! I thought. This had changed since we last met and he ordered a coffee with room for cream, which endeared me to him, as I drink mine black. He tasted his espresso by turning his full attention on the mug and criticizing each note of the bean, the roast, the fruit. He set the mug down without disturbing the thin orange foam at the top, which I would have sucked right off first sip. His glasses reflected the light from the window beside him and hid his eyes, which I remembered were sky blue when we were children. Beautiful blue, the old ladies pinched and cooed. What a handsome boy, they said, while my eyes became steadily greener like my fathers. True blue, baby blue, blue as the sky. My brother’s eyes were all the blues of innocence and beauty and his pupils like plush black clouds against the bright sky. I could rely on this blue, lean on it like a cane when we were together. My brother had the only blue eyes in the family. His lineage, his color, was singular. It anchored me to him and to our younger days. If it ever changed I would float free in the new color of his eyes without the surface of our shared history to land. Dependable blue eyes!
But I could see now they were not the same blue. They had waxed colder and paler, like water in the far north. My brother’s eyes were polar regions, glittering with boreal sun and blowing a frigid wind across the surface. They were two caps of grey ice that never warmed to reveal the marine beneath. I expected to see arctic life hunting, their coats turning white in the winter, dried blood on paws muddied to a cracked skein. Were the reliable eyes just underneath? Had his history—and therefore mine—become unhinged?
My brother was replaced twice before he was even born. Our mother was pregnant between my brother and I, but she did not carry to full term. She has mentioned this to me casually, like when she makes breakfast when I visit, her black and white TV sizzling on the counter. She said they almost adopted once, after me, but my father was too snagged by paperwork to follow through. I have felt this in my brother—a formless melancholy beat around him like a pumping heart, as if he felt responsible for the early failures of our parents. He might not even know these things if our mother considers me her only confidant. My brother and I don’t visit family at the same times, except every few years during crowded holidays, when information seeps like a tar we try to cover up. In our childhood, I was the reader. “You’re the reader,” my mother cheered. “You’re just like your mother,” my father barked. I was reading something they noticed, while my brother was not. From my hole in the brick of the café, I could see him reading a book I hadn’t read, and I did feel a slight embarrassment in not having read it before him. Older siblings never abandon this. My brother read his book, then closed it and leaned back in his chair. I spied from my web. He looked over the rail from the second tier of the café, which was situated in the larger market, and watched the flow of commerce below. The gradient of shops went like this: café, Italian deli, wine kiosk, cheese counter, hard sausage deli, and seafood at the end beside an open door and a rotating fan. I was startled when the other chair groaned under the weight of a man who had taken the seat. My brother greeted him and he sounded like our father, if we had known our father in his twenties. The growl of his deepening voice disturbed the surface of my web and broke an anchor. I drifted down on my sinking web and started to build a second. As I spun, I eavesdropped. Their chat was about things I was familiar with, and I came out of my corner just a little to listen to them speak. In low male voices they spoke of cooked meals, short essays, and the best way to combine gelato. They spoke of women and girls and the difference they saw between them. Mention me. Mention me, I begged. Talk about your sister. But he didn’t mention me. Was he not proud? Could he not see I had become a spider for him, because I loved him? I wanted to join them and tell them always combine cinnamon with tomato, always salty with sweet, and that some differences would get bigger and others smaller as they grew, aged and matured. I wanted to offer my experience. Of course, as a spider I could do none of this. A spider does not speak. She only listens.
My brother and his friend left and I was afraid he wouldn’t come back for his book that was still on the table. As a spider I could not follow him, book in arm, and rescue him from error. It pained me a great deal to let go of this desire. He did come back though, placed a second mug of espresso beside him and read again. He doesn’t only drink espresso, I thought, he has formed this habit of drinking at least two espressos in an afternoon! He doesn’t accept praise for his reading, or brag about his library like I do. He reads quietly and alone, but does not hide it from his friends. He reads books I haven’t read and hums to songs I’ve never heard. When he rolled up his sleeves, from my web I could see a tattoo I never knew about, faded in black line like it was inked years ago. How did I miss this? How did I miss my brother?
Was my memory already failing, or had my brother changed while I was away? I didn’t want him to keep changing, to keep growing up into this new person with whom I would need to trudge through the murk of conversation with just to find some trait I had once overlooked. My brother could not be the man he had turned into overnight. He could only be my imagining of him, drinking pale coffee and reading some novel I was quite familiar with, introducing topics among friends and relating to his family. He couldn’t be this person out of reach before me. He couldn’t still be my little brother.
But he was. He was something else, greater and more resolved. I could not grasp his new qualities and habits, or where he developed his reading taste. But I could still be a sister to him. I could draw him close enough to feel the mixture of difference between us, swirling around like two-temperature air boxing in the sky. I could be his sister, which gave our relationship meaning and weight. I could show him what I know and what I loved and he could show me more of his, and we could learn to understand each other. We could talk about our parents, what went right and wrong and what it looks like on the other side of pain, on the other side of art and love. I came out of my crouched place in my corner and threw up my arms to him. I opened my mouth to say I am proud, you are special, important and kind. You are my brother and always will be. Go forth and be loved. I stood on many legs and grinned at him, arms above my head and web half complete behind me. Surely one thing has not changed. Surely he still would never harm a living thing, even a spider. Even his sister. He grinned at me and I had bliss. I opened my arms wider and my mouth wider with joy and the last thing I saw was my brother holding his hand up to me, saying hello, and then, as it came down, goodbye.