I have a thing about spiders. Let me rephrase that; I go weak kneed and squeak like a trapped mouse when I run into spiders indoors. Too many legs, too fast, too unpredictable … ugh!
Outdoors, I have a “Live and let live” policy towards these creatures. I can actually concede that a spiderweb decorated with dewdrops is one of the more beautiful things Mother Nature has come up with, and in my more sensible moments I can even see the beauty in the spider itself – as long as its nowhere close to my hair. While digging in my flower beds I have no problem with one of the more long-legged varieties running over my hand, and the really small ones (the ones that jump) don’t bother me at all. BUT…
I enter my kitchen, and there, outlined against the light grey wall sits a beast, a monster. At least the size of a plate, if you ask me, while my family members will hem and haw and point out it’s at most the size of a thumbnail. Boy do they need to check their eyesight, right?
Some years ago my mother and I went on a holiday, and after having spent an agreeable evening together she retired to her room and I to mine. Three seconds later I was at her door because my room had an extra guest, one with eight legs, and I just couldn’t work up the courage to kill it, not when it was sitting just above the window staring at me. (Did you know spiders SUCK their prey dry? It probably considered me a promising little snack …) Fortunately my mother is braver than I am – or maybe it was just the mother reflex kicking in – so she took care of the problem for me. I swear she was grinning as she left my room.
I’m not sure when my aversion to spiders began. Okay, so having several recollections of having to pee in the middle of the night only to see a tarantula sitting by the toilet probably doesn’t help. (My father used to sweep them up and throw them back outside. Total waste of time; the moment his back was turned, back they came…) Reading The Lord of the Rings at the tender age of eleven was probably not a good idea from a spider perspective – I mean talk about the scariest spider of all spiders, Mrs Shelob herself. (Despite having seen the movie like twenty two times, I have NEVER watched the Shelob scene. I just can’t.) Having a mother that for months walked around with an unhealed hole through her foot as a consequence of a spider bite may have had some impact as well, and then there was the time I saw some of those giant spider crabs (I know; different species, but they look very similar) when I was snorkeling.
For a while I developed a theoretical fondness for spiders, and that was when I borrowed my younger sister’s book, Charlotte’s Web (Still one of my all time favourites). I loved this intelligent little creature that spun messages into her web to save her piggy friend Wilbur – testimony to just how eerily intelligent these little buggers can be. Actually, in many ways Charlotte was a WRITER – just like me – mostly of one word at the time given her chosen medium – not at all like me – but still..
Just outside the window of the room where I generally write, a big fat spider has spun a web. Every time I clean the window (in broad daylight, when the resident spider has retreated to hide in the window frame or something) I gulp some air, close my eyes and wipe the web away. An hour or so later it’s back, and I haven’t even seen it being spun. Creepy… We’ve avoided any closer contact with each other, the spider and I, but earlier this evening it committed the mistake of entering my house. There it sat, a big fat blob on my floor, and I’m sorry to say that my instinctive reaction was to … Splat! No more spider. As a consequence no more webs that will glitter in the early morning sun, no more potential hidden messages spun in gossamer thread. So now I worry that maybe this particular spider was my own little Charlotte, a muse of sorts, and now that she’s gone, well who knows what will happen? I’m halfway through chapter one of my new book and what if by killing the spider I’ve jinxed the whole project? Shoot!
Just as I finish writing this, I happen to glance out of the window. In the upper left-hand corner something is moving. I peer, rise to my feet and swallow back on an exclamation. A new sentinel has taken up its post outside my window, and if the previous one was big, this one is huge. The large body is a mottled brownish colour, a delicate cross decorates its back and I swear I can see it raise an admonishing leg at me. Oh God; the spiders are coming to get me!
Once I calm down I realise she’s doing her thing, spinning a net. If I tear it down, she will spin another. If I tear that one down, she will persevere and spin one more. I settle down in my chair and open my draft chapter, thinking that we have a lot in common, us writers and spiders. They spin, have their nets destroyed and spin it again. We write, tear our texts apart and rewrite. Luckily, there are some differences as well, like me not having eight legs or feasting on flies! For some reason that last sentence made me feel quite peckish. Tea and flies – sorry, biscuits – anyone?