It was late and the bottle of wine was slowly emptying and the tongues of cigarette smoke licked my cheeks as they rose and assembled in haze above us. We said we hoped it would rain.
There are not many things that go together like lateness and wine and rain on a tin roof.
So when it rained we drank more wine and I told stories and said silly things.
And then there was Beetle.
A bbq sat dormant from winter, the hose stretching down lay unconnected to the gas bottle on the floor and it was between the front left leg of the bbq and the descending hose that little Beetle was suspended in mid air, caught by the single strand of a spiders web.
Look at the beetle he said, its been caught in a spiders web.
And so I looked and then I couldn’t take my eyes off it.
Where in human history and wherever in the predictions of our future has there ever been even whisperings of technology that could match the remarkable spiders web: A thread of spun crystal, invisible save only for the moments it catches light and in its holding of water droplets like threaded diamonds on a priceless necklace. So impossibly fine that as you near it you shallow your breathing believing that this spun crystal will shatter even at your exhale.
But it doesn’t shatter.
It stops fast moving things dead in their tracks. It will hold arms and legs still with the power of iron yet as gently as a whisper.
No, never will there be in all of our future an invention as remarkable as the spiders web.
We watch Beetle fight against these chains it can barely feel and probably not even see and in that moment, I want him to get free. There was only one strand, Beetle will get free if he can have a bit more time…
And then there was the spider.
She free falls down and kisses Beetle with more crystal thread. Up she goes and the thread is secured to the wood, then down again and with another kiss there is another thread and again she ascends and secures it.
Up and down and up and down she goes and she is moving with such speed and the beetle may not get free now. We are mesmerized by the methods of the spider. She knows exactly what she is doing. She makes no mistakes.
I ask if we can set Beetle free and he says no, we don’t have the right to set Beetle free and I know that’s the truth.
“Who will win?” I ask. And he asks me who I think will win. “I desperately want to say Beetle, because I want him to win, but if this were a bet I would put my money behind The Spider, and I feel terrible for saying that but it’s the truth”
He agrees. The Spider will win.
He explains “The spider won the moment Beetle flew into the web. The spider was up there the whole time looking down. She saw him suspended there, struggling against that single thread and she wasn’t worried. She would have been up there saying ‘struggle all you want to little Beetle, its no use.’
And she was right, he has already lost.
“This wouldn’t make a good thing to bet on would it” I said “because no one would bet on Beetle, they would all back the spider wouldn’t they” and he said “No, I think you could convince a man bet on Beetle. You would say to the man ‘look at how big that beetle is! Its wing is several times bigger than the whole spider and he’s got two of them!’ You could convince men to bet on the beetle because it makes sense. It makes sense for Beetle to win on size alone. But Beetle isn’t going to win. The spider is.
“Do you think he knows it?” I say “Do you think he knows he has already lost? Does he know he is going to die?”
He says he doesn’t know for sure, he says that he thinks Beetle would know he was in deep trouble, but he wouldn’t be fighting if he didn’t think he had a chance to survive.
And the spider is still moving up and down and up and down and with each kiss the crystal shackles tighten.
“But maybe not” I say. “Maybe he does know but he cant help himself but to fight. Is it possible for a creature to ever just accept death? Even in the moment where you see death all around you and its inevitable, don’t we still rage against it? Doesn’t the Gazelle still run from the cheetah that she knows she could never outrun? Doesn’t she still kick out as the cheetah tackles her to the ground? And humans? Even in our darkest or dangerous moments we never just lay down and die, we still buck against it.
I have seen people who are moments from death but are still gasping and gasping, just wanting One. More. Breath. So I think Beetle knows he is dying, but he cant help but fight against it and so even Beetles must value their lives.”
Because of this thought I look at him and ask him to please set Beetle free. When he doesn’t move to do so, I ask again. I know that he wont though. It would be more unjust and more unkind to interfere and so all we could do was sit there and watch as Beetle fought and fought against the crystal thread that was being knit together into a beautiful white shroud, bandaging him up for wounds he’s yet to receive.
He goes very still.
We talk about how remarkable this scene in front of us is. We say how privileged we feel to be observing this moment between Beetle and The Spider and how tragic it is that we spend time and money chasing experiences or sitting in front of the next big blockbuster film and yet as he put it “this is one of the best things I’ve ever seen. This is the real blockbuster.”
Suddenly Beetle rouses himself. Oh my darling little Beetle. He puts in one last go at life, one last fierce struggle and then without warning….
Beetle flew free.
We gasped and then we were quiet as we watched Beetle fly up, up, up into the light where all the other free bugs danced and then out into the darkness of the night.
My eyes filled with tears and I felt so moved that I couldn’t speak. I had spoken death over him because I could see it was inevitable but I was wrong. I called out to beetle that I was sorry that I didn’t bet on him, that I’m sorry about what I had said but he flew away regardless.
We didn’t set him free, he set himself free. And even though he was wrapped in the crystal cage and there was no way out he set the example that no matter how hopeless things look, no matter how trapped you feel, don’t give up. Because like Beetle showed, it may be that one last fight that sets you free.