She doesn’t remember when she first noticed it. Retrospectively, the last few months melt in a kind of blur. The weather might be responsible—summer temperatures unusually lasting, bleeding into fall, have dimmed her awareness of the passing season. The afternoon darkness seems incongruous, unreal.
She has missed Halloween. That night she has worked late. Then she has played the piano and lost track of time, finally crumpling on the couch with a book. Meanwhile, unusual outside animation has peered through. There must be a very lively party near by—lots of guests arriving, departing. Quite surprising on a weekday, yet not a problem. She has barely registered.
Only the morning after her brains have connected the dots. “It’s November already,” she has sighed. Right! So yesterday was Halloween! She has missed it for the first time in her life.
She must have spotted the thing around Halloween. Nothing strange—the house is full of spiders. They are harmless and she enjoys them. They are elegant, too. She loves the fluid motion of their nimble legs—fingers on a keyboard. In the shower she can leisurely watch a few, intent at their dance. She doesn’t bother removing them.
But this one, perched high in a corner, looks huge. Weirdly shaped, segmented… isn’t it normal? She remembers something from her school days. Abdomen, cephalothorax—spiders’ bodies articulate in the center. Why didn’t she observe the phenomenon before? This specimen must be bigger. Much bigger.
She has chanced upon a mega-spider, enormous. A vague sense of alarm trickles down her spine. “Should I worry? Is it poisonous?” Soon her apprehension dissolves. It must be innocuous, she is sure. Only, an extra-large size.
It is growing. Day by day, shower by shower. At least, sometimes it looks larger. Is her observation reliable? She can’t tell. Today she is quite certain, and the shiver resumes down her back. “Will it keep swelling?” Then, confusingly, it seems to have shrunken…
There is another spider in view. She checks and compares. This new one is average. An oblong shape, indistinct—no waistline, no upper and lower body are discernable. This one perfectly represents the category. It is pale—a grey shade—while the giant is pitch black.
Once or twice she has seen it capture its prey. Strange behaviors… she didn’t recall having studied them. First the prey (a little fly? a small bug, inconspicuous like a speckle of dust) is stilled in place, paralyzed among the spires of a quasi-invisible web. The big guy comes near and does something with its legs. Something frantic, or so it looks because of many limbs juggling—fingers racing on keys for a rapturous grand finale.
The predator paws its prey, nimbly, skillfully… like a potter at the wheel, a cook expertly stuffing some bird, a very quick knitter. A magician playing a trick of cards under the audience’s hypnotized gaze. The whole scene has a trance-like quality, suspended as it is in space and time—both precipitous and infinitely slow. She is charmed. A bit scared as well. With no reason, truly.
Then she sees the prey has also grown bigger. Wrapped it in a tight cocoon, now it looks like a detached segment of the spider itself, which is coming closer. Will it gulp the morsel? Will it glue it to itself, then gradually absorb it? She doesn’t see it happen. Not because she doesn’t want to but, please, she needs to get dressed and go. Learning about spiders’ feeding habits isn’t today’s plan. Or tomorrow’s. It is totally irrelevant. She is wasting her time.
Later, though, she can’t avoid noticing the creature has swollen, like the snake gulping an elephant in one of her children books. Did it swallow its booty altogether? Without breaking it down? It must have.
Then it is back to normal. Approximately. Back to normal, she thinks.
She is witnessing the prey-catching, prey-petting more often. Maybe a kind of lent ended and a feasting season begun. She is dazzled by the motions: the creature seems to have more limbs than it should. Is she counting sixteen? Paired like for a double-stringed guitar. Are the spiders two? How comes she didn’t guess? Joined, attached. Perhaps making love. Wouldn’t it be something? She should get her glasses. A step stool.
Hell, no. She needs to get dressed and hurry. She is late.
It is one spider only. It has shrunk to size once again. She can count the legs—they are eight. Their fast motion gives an illusion of quantity—an optical lure. When they fumble the unfortunate captive they have a dizzying effect on her nerves. There is a slight obscenity in what looks like erotic foreplay, preluding to the incumbent annexation. To the mysterious merging she has never managed to watch.
But of course, the beast doesn’t know a curious eye daily violates its privacy. It safely inhabits its own universe, surrounded by the magic circle it has wrought—a small galaxy, satellites gravitating towards the center, following the unavoidable laws of attraction.
She has noticed it frequently bends at the waistline, hanging loosely at the bottom of its master web. Doubled over, it draws a letter V in the air, coarsely traced in black. V for victory—its favorite pose. It looks ominous.
Not only is the spider too big (will the anomalous growth ever stop? should she worry?) There is also no reason why it should hang in her shower. True, she never cared for an insect-free bathroom—but proportions do matter. This thing is so conspicuous it becomes intrusive. Sharing quarters is now inconvenient. Embarrassing.
Obviously she should dispose of the thing. What is she waiting for? She must kill the spider. This particular one, taking itself for the master of the place, uncaring of limits. Indecent, to say the word. “I will kill it”, she murmurs while she grabs her towel. Then another though tickles her: she should get a stool and her glasses. She should look at the monster, once, really close. How ridicolous. Get dressed. You are late.
“I must kill it,” she repeats each morning. But she vaguely senses it isn’t time yet. Instead, she would like to… can’t she avow its ugliness enthralls her? Are all things bad so charming, you can’t help another good look before getting rid of them? Are monsters so attractive you cannot let them go? She must kill the spider. Today.
A chill goes down her back when she draws the curtain, fumbles nervously with the faucet, gasps for the comfort of hot running water. Is the cold—isn’t it?—making her shiver. Winter has finally arrived. Cold, cold, cold! She mutters. Foam is lathering on her skin like a shawl of snow. Looking down at her goose-bumped limbs, she wraps herself in her own arms, oblivious of all.
Cold has come at last—a long delayed spell, a sentence postponed.
Toti O’Brien’s work has most recently appeared in Masque & Spectacle, Feminine Inquiry, Indiana Voices, and Italian Americana.