Spiders Are Not People
My long-dead parents’ house is infested with spiders. I’ve spent many sleepless years watching them. They skitter out from under dishes, loose papers, the pillows I kick off the bed in the night. They crouch in corners, tight circles of them, weaving away like old ladies. They swing from the ceiling on shining threads and slink between door jambs and behind picture frames and into the ears of my dusty stuffed animals that huddle on the shelves like refugees from my childhood. Spider tracks leave Sanskrit in the dust.
They only come out at night, but they’re around all the time, sleeping, as I suppose all creatures must. I’ve finally had enough.
“Come out, spiders,” I say. The afternoon is murky, and a gray light creeps in the windows. “I know you’re there. I know you can hear me.”
I say it again and again. I say it until the words no longer have meaning. Finally, a single fat-bodied spider descends on what looks like a strand of spit inches away from my eye and says, “I speak for the spiders.”
I tell the spider that enough is enough. I tell the spider that they are messy, with their abandoned webs and the spackling of their tiny poops under my furniture. I know that they are crawling into my mouth at night, and it must stop. This is my house now. They are not allowed here. I have rights.
“I’m hearing a lot of anger,” the spider says. “Why don’t you tell me about your parents?”
And so I tell the spider. I tell the spider how they stopped seeing me at the end, both of them going down in a mental mist where I was everyone and no one, and that it doesn’t bode well for my own impending old age. How it was supposed to be so sad when the memories of special times with their only child disappeared, only they had none of those to lose. How even before their decline, they never really saw me. How I was an obligation, a chore. How they got me out of the way as quickly as possible so that they could go on to the things that really interested them, like the television or food or sleep. They didn’t keep one thing from my childhood, not one hand-turkey or one crayoned card from a Mother’s or Father’s Day, not one lumpy “World’s Greatest” mug. My name was misspelled on the will, and I suppose I’m lucky that they remembered it at all. And now I live in their house with their money and all these spiders, generations of spiders, and there’s not one spider in the whole house who remembers my parents or what they did to me and didn’t do for me, and the spider hums and nods to itself. A smaller spider drops down on its own silver thread and gives the Spokes-spider a corpse wrapped in silks. The Spokes-spider bites and sucks ruminatively before speaking.
“We may have one who remembers,” the Spokes-spider says. “The Matriarch is very old. If any of the people remember your parents, she will.”
“Spiders are not people,” I say, but the spider does not seem to hear.
“You will have to go to the attic,” it says. “She will speak to you there. She cannot come down here anymore.”
And with that, the spider gathers itself upwards and disappears into a crack in the ceiling, taking its meal with it.
I haven’t been into the attic since my parents died. From what I remember, it is full of the things that made them responsible adults: car manuals, tax records, expired rebate forms, boxes of receipts. All the way up the stairs to the second floor, the spiders are everywhere—more than ever. They swirl around the banister and cling to the ceiling. They cuddle with dust bunnies. I almost crush four or five when I pull down the ladder that leads to the attic. I climb up and wait for my eyes to adjust, listening to rustlings in the dim.
I am expecting a shriveled, decrepit spider in the corner, perhaps with an attendant spider in a tiny nurse’s cap feeding it pureed grasshopper, and other than for the nurse spider, I’m right. Except for the size. The spider is the size of a Volkswagen bug and takes up most of one side of the attic. She is gray and molted, the cruel barbs and joints of her legs festooned in the dusty weavings of her own offspring, as they must be if they call her The Matriarch. Her eight oblong eyes are dull and her mandibles open and close slowly, like fingers beckoning into her maw. The fat-bodied spider from before, or at least a similarly fat-bodied spider, is perched on the largest mandible, whispering earnestly and riding the thick jaw in and out on its slow undulations.
It’s been longer than I realized since I’ve been to the attic. I wonder what she could possibly be eating up here to stay alive this long, but the gloomy shapes I first took to be lumps of fallen insulation, upon closer inspection, turn out to be desiccated squirrel and rat corpses scattered around, each draggled mess honeycombed with cocooned balls of spider eggs.
The Spokes-spider finally speaks from the Matriarch’s mouth. “The Matriarch knew your parents well.”
It looks at me in what I sense is an expectant matter, as does The Matriarch. As do probably thousands of glittering eyes up among the roof beams matted with old insulation and from beneath the flaps of dozens of ancient cardboard boxes.
“Ok, great,” I say.
The Spokes-spider pauses, then speaks again. “So, now you know that someone remembers your parents. They live on.”
“And she will pass on her stories to the spider children, and they to their children, as is our way in remembering our honored dead.”
“As a repayment.”
“For your kindness.”
“In not destroying us.”
As in, they think that it is out of kindness, and not out of lack of motivation, that I have not fumigated the place. And I realize the only pests I have trouble with are the spiders—no cockroaches, no bats, no mice. Now I see why.
“That’s not really what my problem is,” I say.
“Tell me more,” the spider says.
“Tell me more,” the spider says.
I pull up an ancient rocking chair that might have belonged to one of my great aunts. I hover above the mildewed cushion to let a few dozen spiders run out from under it to new hiding places. When they are gone, I sit. There is so much to tell.
I tell them all the ways my parents failed me, how they didn’t stay for my soccer games or bring cupcakes to school on my birthday. They didn’t force me to take piano or dance lessons. They didn’t take me out for ice cream when my report card was good, didn’t lecture me when it was bad. They didn’t snap pictures of me on prom night or mail me cookies at college. All these things I should have had. All these ways I wanted them to look at me, parent me, but they never did.
The Matriarch and the Spokes-spider never blink. Their eyes glitter into darkness as the sun goes down, until the attic breathes with chill evening air. I run out of things to say. I don’t move.
Finally, the fat-bodied spider speaks again. “I’m hearing a lot of loneliness. But we do not understand. Our children raise themselves. They grow up without aid. They leave and return. It makes no difference. They are not alone. You are not alone.”
“I’m not a spider.”
“You don’t destroy us. You are not alone.”
“I’m not a spider.”
“We could be friends. We could talk to you, bring you gifts. Tell you what you want to hear. If these are the things you truly want.”
“I’m not a spider. It’s not enough.”
“I’m not a spider.”
“Tell me more.”
And I tell them more. I tell them everything, and the sun appears and disappears across the dirty window at the end of the attic, and I talk until I’m hoarse, until I can’t feel my legs, until the spiders name their children after me, until I’m shrouded in silk, until I tell them to make me forget.