Charlotte’s Web

If you think this is going to be a heartwarming tale about a good book from my childhood, I cannot possibly tell you how wrong you are.

I’m extremely phobic about spiders. The earliest concept of hell I had as a child wasn’t a mental image of a fiery cavern — it was a damp, earthen-floored basement, dripping with cobwebs. There’s something unearthly and infernal about spiders: all those eerily crooked legs, that scuttling gait when they run or climb, the naked horror of the big hairy ones who jump, like they can’t possibly get close enough to you in order to scare the bejeezus out of you. Don’t even get me started on the poisonous ones. I saw my first black widow at about age ten and had more nightmares about it than anything else I’d seen until then, except the hideous baby from “It’s Alive” and a couple of campy monsters from Saturday afternoon reruns of “Shock Theater.”

If a spider is big enough to be visible to the naked eye, that means it’s grown big enough that it needs to be killed. If it’s larger than a nickel, that means it’s big enough that someone else needs to kill it, because I can’t bring myself to get close to the thing. My ideal spider-killing tool is a flamethrower, but none of my landlords has ever agreed with me about this.

When I lived in my first apartment, I had a small deck on my porch, and a writing spider took up residence there.

Here’s the exception: I don’t loathe and fear writing spiders the way I do the rest of their diabolical species, although I don’t plan to invite them in for cocktails, figuratively speaking. Writing spiders have had Charlotte and Miss Spider as their goodwill ambassadors, which means I won’t kill them. Some friends accuse me of having this particular rule so I won’t look ruthless and ill-tempered enough to kill Charlotte. To those friends, I say, I’m not inviting YOU over for drinks any time soon, either.

But anyway, writing spiders. I can restrict my phobia to a certain extent. I just save that unused horror for the next time Animal Planet features some fool pointing to a bird-eating spider, or John tells me about a recently discovered undersea arachnid that’s roughly the size of a ROOM —

‘Scuse me a minute.

OK, sorry about that, I just had to go take a couple of Valium to get past that image. I’m all right now. Really. The shaking goes away in a few minutes.

So a brightly painted yellow-orange-and-black writing spider moved onto my deck. I was unexpectedly cool with this. It was March or April, and I wasn’t going to be using the deck for at least another month or two anyway, by which time Charlotte would’ve either bought the farm or moved on to one. And I had to admit the web was a work of art, enormous and symmetrical. She could’ve caught a beagle in it. I admired it from a healthy distance: at the time I was still a size 2 and didn’t want to end up in some spider’s freezer, waiting for the next time the spider family wanted Irish Stew.

Charlotte put her web up every evening and took it down early the next morning. For a few days it went up and came down in roughly the same spot, the far corner of the deck. If she’d asked me, I would’ve said that was the best place for it. Instead she began moving the web in increments: it crept along the length of the deck, closer and closer to my front door and my uncomfortable proximity. It was OK, I told myself. Writing spiders were harmless. Harmless! Charlotte could only harm me if I was a grasshopper. Besides, the children’s department supervisor at work had just read the “Miss Spider” books at storytime last week, and even I had been charmed. I couldn’t bring myself to fear Miss Spider, right? None of the four-year-olds had seemed to.

The web moved closer yet to the door, finally approaching the steps at the corner of the deck, still too close for my taste but apparently moving south, down the handrail. This was fine. I didn’t need to use the handrail anyway, I told myself — a short fall wouldn’t even bruise me, and besides, a couple more days and she’d be gone.

The morning after I had this desperate thought, I was scheduled in early for work. I had to leave the house just before sunrise to make it on time, and I went about my usual morning routine and opened the door to leave.

There was Charlotte’s web, spread across the doorway, exactly the way a horror-movie director would place it. And smack in the middle, at face level, sat Charlotte, probably blinking at me with (shudder) all eight eyes.

I screamed so loud my throat hurt.

I slammed the door and backed the hell away, still shaking, and a few minutes later opened the door just a crack. Yep. Still there. She was slightly bigger than a Cadbury Candy Easter Egg. If she was, like her namesake, pregnant, she looked ready to deliver the world’s entire population of writing spiders for the next year.

I shut the door again and thought about my options. There had to be somebody I could call.

My dad was at work.

My boyfriend was at work.

The police would lecture me for calling 911 over a spider, unless  — and I seriously considered this — I stabbed my own fingertip with a safety pin and claimed I’d been bitten. (I had terrific health insurance at that job.)

So, watching the clock, I did what any reasonable arachnophobe would do: I called in sick to work.

I didn’t open the door again until three in the afternoon, when I knew Charlotte would’ve taken down her latest display. That evening I called my boyfriend and he brought over a can of New and Improved Raid! Now With Malathion, and we shellacked my entire apartment front with it. We then spent the rest of the night coughing up pieces of our own lungs amid the resulting cloud.

The next morning Charlotte was gone. I felt guilty for about 0.05 second, but on my way to the car I felt less so: she’d packed up and moved across the way, to live on the front porch of a neighbor I didn’t like.

I never sold another Miss Spider book without a brief attack of the shivers.

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15 Responses to “Charlotte’s Web”

  1. Sounds like your visitor was a Garden Spider, harmless to everything but insects, but big enough to make you hurt yourself.

    I can’t bring myself to kill them, but I have been known to use the back door to avoid one. 😉

  2. pandemonic Says:

    This was hilariously told! I’m not afraid of spiders, but I do agree they have no place in a house.

    Just remember, Tiger, you’re about a million times bigger than a spider. You have the upper hand.

  3. tigereye Says:

    Thanks, guys — Pan, I may have AN upper hand, but I can’t forget that the spider has eight of them!

  4. Too true, and I can’t run up its leg. *shudder*

  5. *snicker* Tag!

  6. Daners Isadora Says:

    Is it wrong I laughed at you just a wee bit? Yes, yes it is, becuase I freak the eph out when I have to kill a spider with my own two hands. I get this creepy crawly feeling and every once in a while, tear up a bit. I feel your pain.

  7. I really hate spiders. I would have gotten the RAID out the first time I saw it or its web, regardless of how far from me it was. And if I had no RAID, I would grab hairspray or oven cleaner or anything that would spray and go full stream ahead on it.

    I agree with Pan…you did a great job writing this!

  8. Mrs. Crowe-Fassbender-Sutherland Says:

    You’ve been tagged. Sorry! Check out me blog, mate

  9. tigereye Says:

    Hey! I promise I’ll do it as soon as I get someone to show me how to make a damn hyperlink. John thought he could do it, but none of his examples work. Jeez. I can lecture on Shakespeare but I can’t do a simple computer trick…

  10. Mrs. Crowe-Fassbender-Sutherland Says:

    Hahah I’d explain it, but it’s all sorts of hard to explain.

  11. Easy…
    In Dashboard: Type your post. Highlight the text you want to be your link. Go to the little chain link icon and click on it. Then type in the url and fill out the box. That does it. Presto, you have a link.

  12. Test test test. I’m wondering if I’m losing it.

    I thought I made a comment here. I just had a comment at Stevo’s get eaten and at the exact same time one of my tabs flaked out on me.

    I think I wrote something about birds.

  13. Maybe I just didn’t press “submit”.

  14. tigereye Says:

    Corina, I’m definitely gonna try that — thanks! Sounds like WP’s used to idiots like me.
    ABS, you’re welcome here talking about birds, spiders, or whatever you want. Just hang out. Everybody pull up a chair. Drinks on me!

  15. Thanks. I know. That’s why I wondered what had happened. I think it was me being a spazz instead of a computer glitch.

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