I just finished Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys, and with all the talk of Spider stories in the book, it reminded me of a few of my own. (Neil Gaiman is a god, by the way, not only his characters.)
Spiders, to be honest, don’t bother me that much. I consider myself arachnophobic only when the abdomen reaches a certain diameter—about the size of a gumball (or bigger). Then they’re hair-raisingly horrifying; the very fact of their existence is plain wrong. But even then, I sort of appreciate them, because they usually just lurk about at night and silently kill the things that I do, in fact, hate with the passion of a thousand supernovas: cockroaches.
Ever since I lived in Phoenix, AZ, as a small child, where the bumbling, winged behemoths can clear a stand of bleachers in five seconds, I’ve had an undisplaceable fear of roaches. It’s irrational, I’m aware—they don’t bite; they aren’t poisonous. But they’re disgusting, and they have a tendency to fly or dash at you like little six-legged suicide bombers.
And, if you’re living in Ebodje, Cameroon, they infiltrate your hut at night, find the noisiest object in the vicinity (say, wrapper or a plastic baggie) and throw a party in it. All night. Every night. Even if you scour the floor for plastic baggies—rid the world of all plastic baggies, in fact—they find one.
The incessant crackling would cause me to leap up in the middle of the night in a blind rage, fling aside the curtain of mosquito netting around the bed, and reach for my headlamp and my can of roach napalm, a.k.a. Raid. (Yes, I’d found a canister in the “nearby” town, and yes, it’s toxic, horrible stuff. Such is my love for our little feeler-ed friends.)
My husband, on the other hand, doesn’t mind roaches, but takes issue with spiders. The giant, lurking ones. He couldn’t sleep if he thought there was one in room, watching us from the shadows with its copious pairs of beady eyes. In Ebodje, in a hut where you can see outside through the cracks in the walls’ siding (or see inside, as the village kids demonstrated), this is a problem, since things can squeeze inside pretty easily. His other problem is that he doesn’t like killing innocent, multi-legged creatures, like I do.
So one night, we return to our hut after a fun evening in the village, and I do my cursory sweep of the floor with the bright beam of my headlamp for cockroaches and/or plastic baggies (we, of course, didn’t have electricity or running water or anything fancy-pants like that), and my husband says, “Do a spider search!”
His first mistake. You never look for giant spiders. Because then you find them. Inevitably. Just like you don’t go looking for trouble. Spiders = trouble.
So I turn my beam of light toward the ceiling, and lo and behold, there, inevitably, is a giant-ass (literally) spider, roughly the size of my hand, only a couple feet from my upturned face. I, of course, screech like a wee girl, and do what I always do when faced with hideous creatures in our hut: dive behind the safety of the mosquito net.
The mosquito net is a beautiful thing, like all security systems in general: all safety is the illusion of safety. So, every night, I would cling to this happy illusion like it was a force-field keeping me from everything nasty in the night—like a little kid hiding from monsters under somehow-impenetrable sheets—tuck it in tightly under the edges of the mattress, and sleep like a baby till dawn. My husband, however, doesn’t allow himself to be voluntarily fooled like I do. (His second mistake.) He acknowledges the fact that if a giant spider wanted to rip our mosquito net to shreds and eat us, it probably could. Or maybe he just doesn’t like the invasion of our privacy with all those spying eyes.
So, just like the occasional too-curious kid, the spider has to get the boot from our inner sanctum. Except, giving a lightning fast, eight-legged monstrosity the proverbial (or even actual) boot is a lot harder than it sounds.
My husband grabs the most appropriately-sized spider-swatter he can find—a large broom. At first, his goal is merely to “shoo” our fuzzy friend out the window (third mistake), but shooing giant spiders is like herding cats. In a word: impossible. The thing skitters along the walls, defying gravity with lethal, skin-crawling grace as only spiders can do. And this spider is so big, I’m not kidding you, you can HEAR it scuttle, its rippling surplus of legs clacking over the wood—the most terrifying pitter-patter of little feet ever. It’s a black blur, racing around my husband, across the roof and over the walls, but never, of course, out the door or window.
All I do is shriek and clutch my mosquito netting and try to keep the Shelob’s younger sibling, whom I dub Fred, spotlighted with the headlamp, any minute expecting a spray of blood and my husband to fall in battle. At this point, he’s pretty damn sick of Fred and his own ethical aversion to murder (finally), and starts lunging at it with the broom, trying to spear it with the bristles.
Well, Fred can also dodge like a ninja. One minute it’s in the broom’s trajectory, and the next—poof!—it’s a foot to the left.
After maybe five minutes of this, my husband actually gets Fred to duck outside through a crack in the siding—but then it pops right back inside as soon as he goes outside to escort it off the premises. They play this twisted game of peek-a-boo—or maybe that carnival game where you’re trying to bop the gopher over the head with a hammer before it ducks back into its prairie hole (both gopher and spider are about the same size)—for another five minutes, before my husband is literally quite ready to kill something, if he wasn’t before. Still, he doesn’t break out the Raid. He’s too noble for that, even if it was my very first, high-pitched suggestion. This is a gentlemen’s (and gentlespider’s) duel, here—you apparently can’t just bust open a can of nerve gas on your opponent. (Fourth mistake.)
So when Fred is back on the wall outside, my husband doesn’t charge out. He creeps out, all spider-like, tiptoeing within broom-reach. Then he ever-so-slowly winds up, like the broom is a bat or a tennis racket. I know what’s coming, because I’ve seen my husband serve a tennis ball (again, both tennis ball and spider are about the same size). He can kill someone with his serve.
My husband swings, a full-bodied whip-crack, there’s an echoing THWACK and the sound of something tennis ball-sized hitting the trees off in the dark depths of the jungle. You can hear it bouncing off branches and rattling the bushes. Then silence.
My husband comes to bed. We go to sleep. I am woken up by cockroaches, but he snoozes soundly.
The next night, when we come home from a fun evening in the village, I scan for cockroaches, and he says, “Do a spider search.”
I say—and never have truer words been spoken: “If you seek giant spiders, you will find them.”
We find one. In the corner, like a big, black dust-bunny, crouched and sinister, as if ready to pounce. I swear it even looks like the exact same spider—Fred is back from the dead. Or maybe it never died, and this is round two.
The story repeats. And repeats for many nights thereafter, until my husband eventually stops looking for giant spiders because he grows sick of finding and doing epic battle with them.
It’s become a household saying—alongside all those others I don’t care to quote because mine’s the best—and the moral of this story:
Remember, kids, if you seek giant spiders, you will find them.