Sam Edsill

Posted on November 7, 2011

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Spider Bite

The spider had crawled into her car through the window, she said. It was black and big as a racquetball, with a red spot on top. She couldn’t see it anymore. It might be scurrying around under her seat. Her rust-speckled black Oldsmobile was parked behind the large metal kiosk where the canister came out, so I couldn’t see much from my vantage point, behind an inch-and-a-half of bulletproof glass (though Marv had once told me that this was just a ruse, that most banks only had reinforced bullet-resistant glass and that some years back a young teller—somewhere in Alabama or Ohio, he couldn’t remember—had laughed at a man who drove up to her window and aimed a shotgun at her, demanding money, had looked into his eyes and said make me, and had gotten her head blown off). Marv turned to me, his feet dangling idly from his raised teller chair, and shrugged his shoulders. Then he did that thing where he pushes off from the counter and spins like a whirligig, with his legs straight out, and I laughed.

“It’s in here somewhere,” the woman said. “It crawled right out of the tube and into my car.”

For some reason she reminded me of my mother, the way she’d get nervous over little things, like if I came home from school with a new bruise, or if our cat threw up on the sofa sleeper. Ever since dad left she’d been just a little on edge. She’d tried to compensate by caring about me and Derrick even more, but it always seemed like she was scared of everything, and I learned that it was best to pretend to be soothed by her concern.

The woman had climbed out of her car and I could see her now. She was tall, with her graying hair dyed blonde and trimmed into a short bob, and held a cell phone to her ear. She was describing the spider to the person on the other end, her voice tempered with a kind of forced steadiness, like the way a drunk person will try to act sober and it just comes off all wrong.

“It’s as big as my hand,” she said, “with a bright red spot on its back. That means it’s poisonous, doesn’t it?”

I thought about turning on my microphone and explaining to her that the pneumatic pressure that shoots the canisters, torpedo-like, through the long plastic tubes into and out of the bank would make it impossible for anything to live inside them, let alone a large spider, which would be squished when the canister came crashing down. Also, that, should an eight-legged, red-spotted monstrosity with a quarter-sized thorax have been running around in the canister when I sent it out to her, I probably would have noticed. Maybe she thought that one of us, me or Marv, had put it in there as a joke. But then I remembered that the customer, as they say, is always right. So I kept my mouth shut.

Sandra, our manager, came out of her office and walked over to us. The bank was usually quiet during the middle of the week, and none of us really had much to do after we’d finished running the morning’s business deposits, so any time anything remotely interesting happened, it usually attracted attention.

“What’s going on here?” Sandra asked. “What is she talking about?”

“She thinks there’s a spider in her car,” Marv said.

Sandra pushed the talk button on Marv’s microphone, and I heard the faint crackle of the wind outside.

“Ma’am? Can you pull your car forward?”

The woman looked around, apparently surprised, and saw where the voice was coming from. “There’s no way I’m getting back in that car,” she said.

“We’ll have someone out there in just a moment,” Sandra said. Then, turning to us, “Well, what are you waiting for? Go out and help her.”

I’ve been interested in spiders since I was young. When I was eight my dad got me a pet tarantula named Webster. I’d asked for a tarantula because in Home Alone the kid’s brother had one, and it had come in real handy when he needed to scare off intruders. My dad decided it would be best if he kept Webster at his apartment because he didn’t think mom would understand. “It’s really a guy kind of pet, you know what I mean?” he said, grinning and flexing his arms. After he moved out of the house, dad started spending a lot of time in the gym, and his body began to get bulky, like he had sacks of potatoes stuffed under his skin. He always wanted to take me and Derrick to the Y with him, but neither of us were interested in weightlifting or exercise, so Webster was a compromise, a way for us to bond as men, sharing our fascination of the creepy and strange. The first weekend after we got him Dad showed us how to feed Webster by fattening up crickets and then placing them in the tank. Derrick watched us from the bed, peering around to get a better look.

“Can I hold him?” Derrick asked.

“No,” I said. “You’re not supposed to hold him too much. He’ll get scared.”

“He’ll get scared? How could anything that ugly get scared?”

Dad reached his hand into the tank. “It’s OK, James, he can hold him for a little bit.” I watched my dad gently brush one of Webster’s legs with his index finger. Webster’s leg pulled back a little, but he didn’t move. Then, slowly, he guided the spider onto his other hand and lifted him out of the tank.

“Here, hold out your hands.”

Derrick froze up for a second, but then cupped his hands together, a nest of fingers and palms, and dad set Webster down in them.

“There you go. How does he feel?”

“Prickly.” Webster sat in Derrick’s hands, holding out two of his legs for balance, like a tightrope walker.

Marv and I walked through the kitchenette to the back door that led towards the parking lot. In the six months since I’d been working there, Marv had showed me all the places where he stashed tiny bottles of Smirnoff, which he drank on his lunch break. He quickly climbed up onto the counter and reached up to the top of the cabinets where no one could see and pulled down two of them. He tossed me one.

“We’ll need some of these for sure,” he said. We drank them quickly and tossed the empty bottles into the dumpster.

“She probably thought that she saw a black widow spider,” I said. “Those are the dangerous ones, with the red hourglass spot on the back of the abdomen. She might have seen a jumping spider, though. Those are small and harmless.”

“I don’t care what it is, man. If there’s a spider in there, you’re dealing with it.”

We walked over to the drive-thru. The woman was sitting on the concrete ledge between lanes, staring at her car. I asked for her keys and opened the door to peer in.

“Be careful,” she said. “I just called the extension office and they said it’s poisonous.”

I lifted up the floor mats and peered under the seats, but I couldn’t see anything, so I got in the drivers’ side and pulled the car around to the back parking lot. Marv opened the other doors and we looked around in there.

“Are you sure you saw something?” I asked.

“What, are you saying I’m lying to you? Is that it?”

“No ma’am,” I said. I was kind of feeling the vodka at that point. “Nothing of the kind. Just trying to assess the situation.”

“I know what I saw,” she said.

Derrick and I had only had Webster for a few months before mom found out. She was really upset, and said that if we weren’t careful that he could bite one of us and we’d have to go to the hospital. We tried to explain to her that he was harmless, and that tarantulas hardly ever bite people, but she wouldn’t listen.

“I don’t care. It needs to go, and I don’t know if I want you over there anymore if your father can’t be responsible. Why would he think it’s okay to let you keep a giant spider as a pet?”

We tried to keep Webster as long as we could, but eventually Dad agreed that he had to go. The night before we were going to take him to the pet shelter, Derrick and I tried to sneak off with him. We filled our backpacks with clothes, food, and a jar of crickets, and put Webster into an old Tupperware container and snuck out of the apartment. Halfway down the block I noticed I’d shut the lid too tight, and no air was getting in, so I took the lid off.

“You’re not holding it steady enough,” Derrick said. “Look, he’s crouched down in the corner.”

Derrick reached in to pull Webster out, but grabbed him too forcefully. I heard a shriek of pain, and saw Webster drop to the ground. Derrick’s face was red, his eyes filled with tears. I saw him lift up his foot and smash it down on the wounded spider, crushing it flat.

“Don’t move,” I said. “I see it.” Marv was outside pretending to look through the windows to see if he could spot anything, shading his eyes with his hand like a scout. His tie fluttered in the breeze. Marv looked at me through the window and cocked his head to the side a little. “Really?” he said.

“Marv, I need you to run in and get me a paper cup or something I can catch it with. Quick.”

“Yes sir!” He gave me a quick salute and jogged back to the bank door. The woman looked up at me from her spot on the curb.

“It’s just like you said, ma’am. This sucker’s huge.”

I could see her face ease up a little. She pushed herself to her feet and came toward the car, but she wouldn’t get too close. “Be careful,” she said. “Don’t startle it.”

Marv came jogging back out with a paper cup, and I could see he’d put a couple more bottles of Smirnoff in his pocket. He gave me the cup.

“It’s right on the inside of the door,” I said. “When I tell you to, I want you to open the door, and I’ll run out. Okay?”

I pulled out a piece of paper from my pocket and got ready to use it as a lid to cover the cup. I placed the cup against the door and slowly slid it up, covering it with the paper.

“Now!”

Marv flung the door open, and I bolted for the dumpster. The breeze felt cool on my face, and I could hear my shoes clomping against the cement. When I got to the dumpster I hurled the cup in. Then, like a sprinting champion, I raised both my arms in triumph as I walked back to the car.

“Nice work, wonderboy!” said Marv. “You’re a hero!”

The woman thanked us for being so kind, and told us we should have an exterminator come out because there were probably more of them. We told her we’d get right on that, and waved as she drove away.

Marv handed me one of the bottles and I unscrewed it and took a drink. It burned my throat a little, and I coughed.

“There wasn’t anything in that cup, was there,” he said.

“The customer’s always right, Marv,” I said.

That night Dad drove Derrick and me to the hospital. He gripped the steering wheel hard. I remember telling him that it was just a bite, and Derrick was going to be okay.

“I know,” he said.

At the hospital Dad gave me his Walkman radio to keep me busy while they took care of Derrick. As I skipped through the preset stations—heavy rock, oldies, Top 40—I watched Dad walk over to a payphone to call my mom. His voice got really loud. I couldn’t find a station I liked, so I started playing with the tuner. I found a spot between stations where the static sounded like the ocean, or when you put your ear into a seashell. I turned the volume up loud and imagined myself on a beach somewhere, skipping stones into the surf.

We walked back inside. I went to the bathroom and splashed a little water on my face, because I was feeling pretty warm from running. When we got back to the teller line Sandra was waiting for us.

“So what happened?” she asked.

“It was a fight to the death, like one of those monster movies,” Marv said. “Wonderboy got it done, though. Spider eliminated!” He sat down at his chair and spun around. “Also, I think it bit me. I’m not feeling so good. Can I go home?”

“No,” she said. “But thanks for helping out.”

I sat down in my chair and logged back onto my computer. Another car drove up and I heard the tubes hiss again, and a canister came in like a missile.

***

Born and raised in Iowa, Sam Edsill is a freelance editor and writer living in Brooklyn with his girlfriend and their two cats. He received his MA in creative writing from the University of Northern Iowa in 2010.

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