The sculpture outside of the National Gallery had always held a special place in his heart. Something about the thin, ribbon-like limbs of the spider always made him stare on in wonder. Araingée. Spinne. Araña. Spider. He traced the sounds of the word over and over with his lips in all of the languages he knew it in, a silent ode to the tangled twist of steel and bronze. Instinctively, his eyes followed the lines of the spider's legs up to the oval of the abdomen, screened in with mesh. Even from this far away, he could see the smoothness of the marble-carved eggs inside. It was all incredible artistry. Poignant, too, he thought; a spider standing tall and proud in the middle of Sussex Drive, inches and yards away from the Prime Minister's symbolic home. Remarkable.
It was, he knew, called 'Maman'. Mother. An interesting comparison. Now, in the pitch dark of a moonless night, it looked more insidious than ever, stretching up into the blackness of the sky.
A part of him wanted to touch it. The bronze would feel nice under his fingertips, cool and hard and unmoving. Instead, with his hands so full, he could only imagine what the sensation would be like.
He peered around the street, finding himself satisfied in its emptiness, the thickness of the cover that the night provided him. The darkness was a lucky coincidence. Even he couldn't anticipate a blackout like this. Divine intervention, perhaps. It was the only way to explain how the street lights had flickered into oblivion just an hour before he decided to make his move. A higher power could be the only explanation for how the same humidity that caused the beads of sweat to trickle down the back of his neck was the same humidity that had caused the power grid to fail.
With his hands under her shoulders, dragging her along over the pavement, he struggled past the spider. Without the lights, there was little to dodge, no shadows to crouch in, no wandering eyes from across the street. This late, there would be no one around. Still, it was better if he didn't take chances. The man grunted and hauled her body further up in his arms. A sharp tug of pain spread out across his lower back, and he stopped abruptly to hiss in a breath before he carried on.
From the base of the steps, the cathedral seemed so tall. For a moment he stood there, enraptured by the statue of the Virgin Mary, high up in the distance. It was beautiful, all bronze and smooth lines sitting there atop the steeple. Not unlike the spider sculpture, he thought. Mamans, mütter, madres. Mothers. Both of them, arachnid and mammal, one to a sack of marble eggs and the other to the son of God.
He wished he could be up there with the statue. The lines of the walls dragged his eyes downwards, over the metal bars the curved over the mesh of the windows. All of it, so beautiful.
He started up the steps backwards, lugging her body along with him. She was heavier than he'd anticipated; he'd either underestimated, or his strength was beginning to fail after all these years. It was a bit of a toss-up. Even he could admit that.
It didn't much matter: he managed all the same, one step at a time. Her body cracked against each step until they'd reached the landing. Standing there, trying to catch his breath, he could feel the beads of sweat roll down his neck, collecting on the collar of his shirt. It was a wet ring of cloth now, stuck to his skin. More and more, the grid failure made sense. Air conditioning was a rare commodity that was never wasted.
The cathedral door was only a few steps away now, and he tugged her along further until they reached it, standing under a bright light that wasn't shining. There, he let her go, watching her crumple into an unnatural shape at his feel. He was grateful that she hadn't made a mess. The steps of this church were beautiful, carved into limestone and deserving more than smears of crimson blood. To dirty them would feel like a sin.
Without power, the night was unnaturally quiet. There was no constant hum, no music from open apartment windows. It was as if the city had curled up and gone to sleep, wrapped up under a thick blanket of summer heat and smothered into silence. He gave himself a second to admire the peacefulness of it; it wouldn't last forever. Eventually, he blinked. He reached down and took the woman by the shoulders again, tugging her up and kicking at the back of her legs until she collapsed on her knees in front of the door. Then he crouched down next to her, fiddling with her torso. It felt as good a time as any to pray.
"Our father who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name," he murmured under his breath, quietly so as not to draw any attention to himself. Not that there was any attention to draw. "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in is in heaven."
There was a backpack slung over his shoulders. It wasn't heavy, but cumbersome all the same, so he shrugged it off and set it beside him. He unzipped the zipper and reached down inside.
"Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us," he carried on. The skull in his hands weighed almost nothing. He leaned forward to place it between the woman's hands. He made sure to turn the face towards the church, "and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil."
When he was finished, he leaned back to admire his work. She was beautiful now, like the others, like Mary and the spider. Maman, mutter, madre. Unable to stop himself, he peered down at the skull clasped between her hands. The carving in the top of it was deep and rough, and for a minute he could almost remember the day he'd done it. The knife had etched through the bone and sent white slivers flying up at him. It almost hurt to leave it here now.
"For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory. Forever and ever."
He leaned back on his haunches and pushed himself up to stand. Soon either the sun would come up, or the power would flicker back on, and he had to be gone by then. Whichever one came first.
It was a shame. He would have bowed her head to pray with him, had she still had one.