It happens in our sleep; we wake one otherwise normal morning to find the Garden District lawns overrun with towering green stalks and weird red blooms, delicate and menacing. When the owner of Holiday Heaven on Government Street committed suicide a week ago, hanging herself with a strand of blue outdoor lights, people speculated it was because of the upcoming season, how hectic things would be, overwhelming—but I knew differently: years back I’d heard poor Maudie say she dreaded nothing in this world like the blooming of the spider lilies in early October. We were both in therapy then and she told the whole group this. “I hate the way they just happen without warning. Setting out the recycle box you see your Bermuda is as green and level as it ever was—at dawn you go to fetch the paper and nearly die from fright. They’re alien,” she near about sobbed, setting up Bill Ford’s story on falling off the wagon during a late-night screening of Day of the Triffids. I think now of that sad old drunk and all those others; I’ve lost touch with them, every last one. If they’re alive and in town this day, they can’t miss what’s happened in our slumber, the spider lilies risen from the earth, surfaced like bad memories, drowned fathers, sprung up under the gaze of paperboys, garbagemen, lovers gliding off to stoplights, secretaries, meetings with the governor. They’ll come home, those lovers, past buses full of marching bands stopped for directions to Catholic High, come home past sno-ball stands boarded-up only last Sunday, come home past Holiday Heaven, dim for the first time since its Grand Opening, all the strands of icicle lights, all the waving Mrs. Claus’s, nodding reindeer, all of it, all that stuff dark and still and without power. They’ll come home and walk right past the dreadful miracle in the yard, come home to say, “What did you do today?” and you will lie. You will not mention the spider lilies. You will not lead them to the window and point at the aliens on the lawn. You will say “Nothing,” and then shudder when the lover doesn’t flinch.
Matt Clark’s novel Hook Man Speaks (Putnam/Berkley, 2001) was chosen as the inaugural title for the Texas Monthly Author Series. When he died in 1998, at age thirty-one, Matt was coordinator of the Louisiana State University Creative Writing Program. His stories have appeared in One Story, Southwest Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast, Flyway, and Yalobusha Review, as well as in the anthology Texas Bound. While a graduate student at LSU, Matt was fiction editor of New Delta Review, which now sponsors the Matt Clark Prize in his honor. This story, “Spider Lilies,” is from Matt’s unpublished collection South/West.
Illustration by Katherine Villeneuve