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Damn Good Listener

Damn Good Listener

Damn Good Listener

by David Holloway

I know you shouldn’t keep wild animals as pets, but I’ve had the same spider in my bathroom sink for over two weeks. I first noticed her about three a.m. on a Monday morning, when I got up to pee. She crouched in the corner of the sink farthest from the door. I started to crush her with a magazine, then I thought I’d find a way to carry her outdoors, but it was three in the morning, and the desire for sleep won out over both impulses. The next morning, she sat in the same spot. Legs bent, abdomen against the cold porcelain of the sink, facing away from me, but with several of her glittering black eyes looking back into the room. I waved good morning. I wondered what she saw with those many eyes remembering an astounding video about fly’s vision. If a fly could see so much of the world what could a spider see that would allow it to catch a fly?

She didn’t react to my movements, but stayed immobile, sleek, alert, and ready to jump one way or another. She wasn’t a hairy spider or a web-spinner but a hunter. Imagine a speedboat the size of a shirt button. Black glittering abdomen and thorax with multiple eyes on her head and crooked brown legs. Poised and ready to fight or flee, a vision of dainty wickedness.

I shaved carefully, making sure the hot water didn’t splash her. She seemed to enjoy the steam. Maybe she came from the tropics or warmer climes. We held many one-way conversations over the next several mornings. Spiders are damn good listeners. I guess they have to be patient. I began to regard her as a pet, a confidant even. I called her Betty. I don’t know what she called me.

Sheryl came by to help clean out Ava’s closet. She’s taking the clothes to Goodwill for me. I told her she could keep anything she wanted, and she decided to keep some of the shoes. Sheryl has small feet, just like Ava did.

On her way out the door, she put her hand on my wrist, “You couldn’t have done anything. Ava was determined to walk a dark path.”

We hugged each other with tears in our eyes. I didn’t have the strength to argue that I should have done more. When Sheryl left, I tackled the biggest job, the liquor cabinet. I made a party of it. With the Rolling Stones blasting in the background, I poured all of the booze down the kitchen sink. The empties filled two recycling bins. It felt good to get rid of that slow poison.

I didn’t feed Betty. I wouldn’t know how or what to feed her. What did she eat? Ants? Gnats? She’s pretty tiny. Some disgusting little creepy crawlies that come up out of the drain would be my guess, in which case, more power to her.

I began to take Betty for granted. It never occurred to me how fragile her existence was. Then I came home Saturday as my housecleaner, Kenneth, came out the front door carrying a bucket of cleaning supplies.

“Hey, Mr. Green, did you know you had a giant spider in your sink?” he asked.

“What?” my heart raced.

“Don’t worry. I took care of that sucker. I’m not afraid of spiders. I chased it down the drain and then ran hot water full blast. Definitely washed its body away into the sewer,” he made a whooshing sound like running water and climbed into his car.

In the upstairs bathroom, the sink gleamed, white and empty, just like my life. I sat on the bed with my face in my hands. I told myself that she was just a spider, a little shiny eight-legged beast that didn’t even know I existed. I cried when Betty reappeared two mornings later, looking fresh and rested–as if she’d been at a spa.

I opened the cabinet under the bathroom sink to get a new razor and found Ava’s cosmetics. I couldn’t identify the purpose for many of the creams, ointments, and powders, but I recognized the pint of vodka hidden behind everything else. Betty crawled to the edge of the counter and watched as I cleaned it all out.

Betty and I continued our one-way conversations. The night before Kenneth came to clean. I nudged her onto my open palm. She trusted me. I couldn’t feel her, not her weight, or even her sharp little feet, but she was there. I eased my way down the stairs and out to the screened porch. When I stretched my hand out Betty jumped onto the old wooden card table and then stopped. I sat next to the table and we enjoyed the moonlight together for several minutes, neither of us speaking, before I went on up to bed.

For the first time in months, I dreamt about Ava.

David Holloway writes from Savannah, Georgia. He has published work in The Mad River Review, The Offbeat, Agnes and True, and Gargoyle, among other magazines. Due to early traumatic experiences, he does his best to avoid bagpipes and parrots.