We have been reading Charlotte’s Web to the children at bedtime. Last night was the final chapter, and the whole book has been every bit as magical and sad and beautiful as I remember from my own childhood.
Scout was enthralled from beginning to end. I wasn’t confident of this when we started: books from this era move at a slower pace to those written these days (slower than, for example, Monsters Wear Underpants, a tremendous favourite of Ralph’s – thanks Mum), and Scout is only four after all.
But she soaked it all in, even the long passages about the changing of the seasons, the subtle shifts on a farm from one month to another. Even the brutal honesty about life on the land, about how spiders eat, about love and loss. It was precious to see her settle into this slower pace, resting up against my side and dreamily playing with a thread on her pyjamas as she listened, always begging for more when each chapter ended.
However, here’s something I did not even remotely pick up on when I read this book as a child: Henry Fussy. How did I not notice Fern’s complete desertion of her best friends, for a boy called Henry Fussy? I’m guessing I must have been so caught up in Wilbur’s and Charlotte’s stories that I failed to notice that Fern was having a story of her own, a coming-of-age journey that took her away from the barn and onto a Ferris Wheel instead.
And I get it. Fern wouldn’t be the first person to neglect her friends for a crush, and she won’t be the last. But…
Fern happens to be the only human on the entire planet with access to the MAGICAL WORLD OF TALKING ANIMALS.
Nope, not enough. Henry Fussy is over there.
Well how about this: Wilbur, who she claimed to love “more than anything else in the whole world” is going to be KILLED BY FERN’S UNCLE, unless Charlotte’s plan to save him works.
Henry Fussy paid for her ticket on the Ferris Wheel, so she didn’t have to spend her own money.
We learn Charlotte is dying. She is also about to become a mother, but will not live to see her sweet babies.
Fern says this has been the best day of her life.
THE PLAN WORKED! Wilbur is getting a special medal, Fern’s Uncle has never been happier, Wilbur’s life has been saved. The entire family goes crazy with pride and excitement.
Fern wants money so she can pay for Henry Fussy’s ticket on the Ferris Wheel.
And can I finally please point out, Fern is EIGHT. Girl, we need to talk.
After we finished reading Charlotte’s Web last night, we talked a little bit about friendship and love and death, and it was a little bit sad but a lot beautiful. I kissed the children, turned out the light, and went downstairs to make my dinner alone as Mr B was working late. Then about half an hour before my bedtime, he came home.
Pale, shaking, and giggling in a high-pitched, slightly hysterical way (you know, like Floki from Vikings, if you happen to watch that show). Turned out just as he was parking the car, a giant huntsman spider the size of his palm had scuttled across the windscreen of the car.
Then it disappeared. Somewhere in the dark. On the car. Waiting.
Now I happen to think Mr B is all man, but that spider knew better, and it reduced him to the state of a terrified little old lady. Me too, when he told me about it later. Oh man, I was terrified just from the telling.
Just as Mr B was about to venture out of the car into the dark, where the spider waited unseen – literally a nanosecond before Mr B opened the car door – the spider appeared again, millimetres from his face, crawling down the outside of the car window. Slowly. Big, hairy underbelly and powerful legs moving across the glass and across Mr B’s petrified face. If he’d opened that door even one second earlier, the spider would have landed on his head.
He scrambled over to the passenger seat and climbed out that door, ran back around to the driver side and whacked the spider away (don’t hate – neither of us could have got back inside that car otherwise), and came inside to giggle hysterically in the lounge room. Then he went back outside again to check whether or not he’d left the headlights on in all the shock.
When at last he came back inside for good and sat down, we both started laughing, because from time to time we like to dream about moving to the country: a tree-change and a slower pace of life. And then a spider crawls across the windscreen of our car and we remember that we are literally the worst people in the world to ever attempt life in the country. Completely pathetic. Nature wimps.
But in our defence, “That was no Charlotte,” Mr B said.