23 September 2005

Spider Chronicles: First Installment

(WARNING: Contains graphic photos of arachnids in ....erm... positions.)

I am terrified of spiders - terrified. They make me scream like a girl – which is OK in some ways and not entirely unexpected, since I am a girl.

However, it’s not really the thing to do in front of the three-year-old. First of all, it seems to make the three-year-old scream too, and we get plenty of that already. Second of all, she really doesn’t need to be terrified of spiders. Logically, anyway. We are people. People are bigger than spiders. We can easily squish them. They are more scared of us that we are of them. (You know that line – your mother told you that one. I haven’t actually said it to my daughter yet, since I’m not convinced of it myself and I’m a terrible liar).

In any case, I don't particularly want to pass this terror – or whatever bit of it isn't genetically programmed - on to the tyke, so I've been working on it.

Working on it means that I try to tone the decibels down a notch or two when I do unexpectedly happen upon something a tad too leggy. It means I wash the spiders in the bathtub down the drain all by myself, rather than howling for the husband to come do it for me. I've even crushed one or two in a kleenex on my very own. I've gotten to the point where I can actually smile when we see one in its natural habitat where it belongs (i.e., not inside my house).

And then, like good mommy, I show it to my daughter.

"Look, honey," I say, forcing child-like wonder into my voice. "Look at the pretty spider!"

She comes close to peer at the grotesquery of legs and abdomens - from behind me, since I instinctively fling out a protective arm.

"Wow," she says, none too sure of this enterprise but wanting to please me nonetheless. "He's beautiful."

She nods, looking at me for reinforcement. I nod back, not entirely sure who’s reinforcing whom. We move on – quickly.

We are making progress, though. We are - when spiders started building webs on my windowsills this summer, I just sort of left them there.

OK, hello, Reality Check: they're on the windowsills outside. OUTSIDE. Which technically, puts them in their natural habitat and removes any right I might have had to rid the Earth of them. Reason #1 for leaving them in situ.

Reason #2: Sheer laziness. I'm not the world's greatest housekeeper. In fact, I may even be the world's worst housekeeper (but that's another story and will have to wait for another post).

Reason #3: I am NOT getting that close to them.

Seriously, the one that has set up shop in the living room window is like four inches long - I'm not kidding, here's a picture to prove it. He’s HUGE. He could bite my head clean off. I'm sure of it.

In other words, I’m not getting anywhere near the monster to remove it from the window. (C’mon, I'm short - barely over five feet tall. Even if I get up on a ladder, I’ll still have to wave a broom over my head at the thing. And what do you think will happen when I do that? Of course! It’s going to drop down the back of my neck and into my shirt and make me scream like a girl. [shudder] Think I’ll pass on that one.)

Anyways, the fact that they cannot be removed has engendered what I'm calling "enforced observation". They're there. They're sort of horridly fascinating. You can't help but watch them (if for no other reason than to make damn sure they haven't figured out a way through the glass).

The funny thing is, they've turned out to be rather interesting.

I couldn't quite believe it when I found myself climbing onto the counter to get a closer look at the ones in the window over the sink. There were two of them (didn’t get pictures, sorry) – long-legged, globular-bodied things that hung upside down and – I swear – kept their butts turned towards the sun all day like some kind of grotesque, inside-out sunflowers. Why would they do that??

Did you know that they can be clumsy? They can! I actually saw one drop a fly that it was wrapping up to eat. It was perched over it and sort of frantically wrapping because something else had been caught in its web. Maybe it was hurrying to finish and get to the other snack, I don’t know, but it actually dropped the fly. At that point it paused (whether from irritation or confusion, I couldn't tell) and then went to the other bug – and proceeded to hang under it, in case it dropped that one, too. So, apparently, they can learn from their mistakes!

Weird. Anyway, one of those got named Petra and found its way into my novel (a dark fantasy/horror/science-fiction/epic adventure - it fit right in!). OK, I was going to write a poem about it, but poetry is way too much work and I needed something sort of nasty and scary and creepy to go along with one of my villains (a sour old woman - it was actually her idea to name them. I'm not kidding, I had nothing to do with it!).

We named the great big yellow and white and black one in the living room window, too. In an attempt to make him seem a bit less frightening to my daughter, I got her to pick a name out. I think it worked. She named him Jack and said she wasn’t sure where his wife Jill was at the moment.

“Maybe at work,” she said, nodding confidently.

“Maybe,” I agreed, feeling a bit less terrified myself.

Now Jack is an entirely different sort of spider from Petra and her cousins. He’s big and he's bold, for one thing. I mean, look at those colors! Does he not scream ‘predator’? And while Petra’s legs were barely noticeable, Jack’s legs are splendid, articulated, yellow and BLACK - absolutely elegant. He's proud of his legs, I can tell: he caught something yesterday and afterwards I watched him as he – honest to god – cleaned them. I’m serious. He lifted each ‘foot’ to his ‘mouth’ (mandibles?) and sort of appeared to ‘lick’ them off (or whatever the mandible equivalent would be). After that, he swiped the length of each leg against another one like he was brushing off crumbs.

Compared to Petra, he’s a neat-freak! Take his housekeeping, for example: Petra’s web was this sticky-looking, unorganized mess (not unlike my living room, actually), while Jack’s is the classic, big, perfect spiral – never a spoke out of place. He even sits in the middle of it (and for some reason writes a long series of M’s or W’s above and below himself). Jack works hard on this web – I think he rebuilds it every morning. I’m a really bad sleeper and more mornings than I care to admit, I end up on the couch – just feet from Jack’s bug catcher. Well, starting about 4AM, he’s delicately traversing the spokes and attaching the crossbeams. He’s quite graceful – one rearmost leg swiping his ass (no doubt that’s not the technical term...) and the other pulling down the next spoke to attach the strand of silk. It’s amazing!

Today he caught a cicada (see illustrative photo). I’m sure that’s what it is. It's huge – bigger than his is. I showed it to the three-year-old and as she was in the act of recoiling in horror, I quickly explained how Jack has a different kind of mouth – like two straws that he had stuck into the bug so he could drink it. She stopped in her tracks and went closer to the window to look for them.

She looked at me sagely and said, "Maybe he's drinking orange juice."

I smiled. “Maybe,” I said. “Maybe.”

And maybe we’re getting somewhere. Maybe.

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