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“Cocoon” © 2021 by Gianne Encarnacion

My grandmother turned into a cocoon, and there’s very little left of her now. Some things do remain: the green veins in her arms visible through layers of silk, her short legs, twisted into a curl and wrapped by the translucent web, her black eyes that still blink. Those little dark beads watch me come and go, alarmingly so. If she’s trapped, how can she see? If she’s watching, what does she think? I used to talk to her. Sitting by her side, I touched the bridge of her nose, and whispered: you’re looking beautiful today, grandma. How are you feeling? You will be fine. Everything will be fine.

“I have so many things to do,” she told me when it started. The silk was not as thick yet, and she often changed positions inside the cocoon. “Bills to pay. People to see. Parcels to deliver.”

I brushed the silver hair off her forehead and smiled. “You can do this any other day,” I said. “When you’re feeling well again.”

“I’m feeling great,” she insisted, but her expression faltered. Grandma yawned. “Just drowsy. Very, very drowsy.”

The silk was soft at first, spun by invisible hands. At times, I tried to remove it from her arms like dead skin from a snake, but it returned almost immediately. When I hugged her, it brushed against me, smooth and thin, but after a few days, little urticating hairs sprouted, and I could no longer comfort her.

“Try to rest,” I said as she tried to struggle. “You will feel better soon.”

She didn’t. I want to believe she could have fought it somehow. That she could have made her own decisions. This is the kind of trick my mind plays on me: she could have enjoyed her time out of the cocoon if it wasn’t for me telling her to rest. She could have set the pupa on fire if I didn’t convince her to sleep.

But I did, and now she’s in the middle of the living room, silk glued to the ceiling, to the walls, to the floor. Her shape is only residually human: there is a head, a neck, a torso, two arms, two legs. She lives in her own organic sarcophagus, but her eyes still look at me. Not all the time. Not every day. Sometimes it happens when I walk near her: blink. I call her grandma in the same way I did when I was a child: blink. I unwrap a candy she used to like: blink. Sometimes, she ignores me instead, and stares at the flaws of the cream-colored painting of the walls, small bubbles of humidity forming underneath. In the past, she would not have been able to stand it. She would have cleaned it to exhaustion. Now, she just looks at it.

I no longer interact with my grandmother. Her responses are all gone. At most, her eyes follow me, then ignore me. They focus, then depart. Street noises don’t startle her, but if I’m nearby, she wriggles inside the cocoon. I can’t see her face anymore, just her little black eyes.

“Good morning, grandma,” I say after waking up. We don’t see each other during the day. Then, before turning off the lights: “Good night.”

She can’t answer; she can’t hear; she can’t move. She’s uncomfortable, but doesn’t seem to feel pain. She can see me, but doesn’t know who I am.

Her cocoon continues there.

I find myself strangely accustomed to our new routine. On sunny days, I cool her with a fan, and her lusterless eyelids flutter with the breeze. If it’s cold, I wrap a blanket around her, and the cocoon vibrates whenever I sing or play any song she used to like. Her favorites are Carnival marches from the 1940s and 1950s, and she accompanies them with a faint humming sound, muffled by silk.

“I’m wondering what will happen when you get out of there,” I tell her as I spray the house with air freshener. Lavender, from the same brand she used to buy. Anything to make her react. “If you ever…”

I don’t finish my sentence. The idea of what will happen next has been haunting me and turning into disturbing images during my sleep: I imagine inhuman hands, brittle, long and feathery, tearing the graying coat that covers her. A viscous amber liquid leaking from the corner of her lips and melting the tough carcass. Something that is not her coming from within.

At night, the house is full of moths, and they dance around the light bulb, almost mocking me. I wonder if that is what I will find when her eyes finally stop moving, glassy and white as silk covers the last visible bit of her face. I dream of my grandmother breaking from her fiber cage, her body deformed into an oval shape, her forelegs broken into two thin twigs, her fuzzy wings extended from wall to wall.

“It’s still you, grandma,” I tell the cocoon. “No matter the shape you will become.”

It takes me some time to realize she needs help. Grandma, I say, burying my fingers into her silvery shell. My hands burn as I crack the dried silk, and the first layers fall around my feet like crumpled paper. Beneath, the silk is white and braided, gluing under my nails, but I rip it apart, even more fervently than before.

“See,” I tell her, wiping the sweat off my forehead, “you’re free now.”

But there is no answer, because there’s nothing left in the cocoon.

Nothing, not even a pupa. Only the space she once curled into.

I touch her cocoon, fragmented and lifeless, and it crumbles, slipping through my fingers in a gust of white dust.



H. Pueyo (@hachepueyo on Twitter) is an Argentine-Brazilian writer of comics and speculative fiction. Her work has appeared before in Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, Fireside and The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, among others. Find her online at hachepueyo.com.
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