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Fear of Spiders

Summary: An original short story about a boy's fear of spiders may ring familiar. The story was written by a friend who would like to stay anonymous. Comments are welcome.

Why I can't kill the darn thing, I am not sure. There it is, hanging from its web, obtrusive, blocking my path through the garden, daring me to make the first move, but I can't do it.

Even spiders feared my father. Instinctively they knew that if they were spotted climbing a stem on the floral wallpaper of the living room they would be sucked into the hose of my father's vacuum cleaner to suffocate on the dust. Or if one was crawling around the basin of the bathtub my mother would cry out and my father would be there in an instant with a wad of tissue paper. He would use it to scoop up the trespassing webspinner and crush it between his fingers, then flush it down the toilet to decompose in the sewer. Orb weavers, crab spiders, jumping spiders, or daddy longlegs. My dad would be equally merciless.

If you kill them, they can't come back, he would say.

My father applied this same ideology in his business. He was a malpractice attorney and was as adept at squashing doctors and their lawyers as he was spiders. He made his fortune by capitalizing on suffering brought on by who he liked to refer to as œThe Quacks.

Once, while I was still in grade school, a freckled red-headed kid named Frankie Tucker, who I wasn't friends with because he didn't play kickball at recess or soccer after school, told me that my dad was suing his dad.

œWhat did your dad do? I asked.

œWhat do you mean? He is a doctor.

œYeah, but he must have done something wrong, right?

œNo, he is a doctor, stupid.

œDon't call me stupid.

Frankie walked away sullenly, not turning back around to see my agitated countenance.

His father was a cardiologist and had screwed up a heart transplant. My father won the case, his father lost his license to practice medicine, and the next year Frankie transferred to the public school a few blocks away. I would see him occasionally. He would be walking home with a knapsack filled to the bursting point with books, the zipper straining to keep its teeth clenched, and Frankie would clench his teeth and not acknowledge that he saw me. I didn't care. Frankie was not even a part of my world. He was poor, scholarly, and unathletic. I was none of those things “ at the time.

I liked to play sports. I was on most of the teams at school, but my talents were lent best to baseball. I played third base and made varsity sophomore year. I loved the feel of the ball slamming into the palm of my mitt, the thrill of shagging a ground ball and throwing it all the way across the field to get the guy at first, or the exhilaration of hitting a pitch solidly, feeling the vibration in the bat travel up to my arms, and watching the ball sailing over the left field fence.

When my dad wasn't busy ruining lives, he would take a few minutes to throw and catch with me in our spacious backyard. One hot summer day, I was about 14 years old, we were out back and he was trying to show me how to throw a curveball. 

œGrip the ball with your middle and index fingers perpendicular to the seams at their widest point, with your thumb underneath the ball¦ and so on. He was very exigent, and nothing could stop him once he got started.  I didn't want to disappoint him so I hustled sixty feet away and gave it my best shot. The ball came out of my hand all wrong and flew over my father's head. It rolled along the emerald grass into an open crack of doorway of the tin-roofed tool shed where my dad would sometimes hammer away at an insubordinate piece of furniture.

œI'll get it, I said.

The woodshed was dark and when I pulled the string hanging down from the solitary light bulb, it flashed and burnt out, startling and blinding me. My eyelids fluttered, doing their best to help my pupils adjust to dim light. When I finally got acclimated, I located the errant object in the back corner of the shed. I walked over to retrieve it, but halted when I saw something in the darkness next to it flinch. It was a massive wolf spider. With its long, fat legs covered in thick, brown hair, it was bigger than a golf ball. It was crouched in a dangerous looking bunch right next to my baseball. My father might strike fear into this creature's tiny heart, but I backed away.

œDad, there's a spider.

œWell, then kill it, and get back out here so you can get this right.

I paused and looked at the thing. It wasn't moving, but gave the impression that it was capable of dashing off and relocating instantaneously if I took my eyes off of it. It would dart into a crevice where it would watch me with eight black eyes, multifaceted like cut diamonds, and squeeze its venomous, diaxial fangs. Still, somehow, I couldn't kill it, and now I don't think it was simply because of fear. Standing over the spider I felt its life, its independence and will to live, I felt that it had as much right, or at least desire to be there as I did, and me killing it just because I was bigger than it wouldn't be fair.

œI c-c-can't, I stammered.

There was a tense silence from outside the shed. I heard my father walking over and then he appeared in the doorway, his figure framed against the dying afternoon light.

œKill it, he said.

The spider still had not moved. I took one step forward, but looking down at my expensive, new Nike cleats, I knew that I would not be able to bring my foot down. The thought scared and disgusted me, and I felt guilty. Suddenly, as if sensing my trepidation, the spider sprang into motion and began running for cover behind my dad's workbench.

œGet it! he screamed, pushing me out of the way to get to it, as if he wouldn't be able to live unless it died. He brought his Nike down on it before it could escape to safety. The thing was smeared in a big wet spot on the concrete and bits of hair and leg were stuck to the bottom of my father's shoe. He was breathing heavily.

œNow get the ball and get back out there. After another hour of practicing I got the ball to move in a small arc.

That night at dinner I didn't eat much. Calamari didn't seem very appetizing, although my mother heaped it onto my plate. My father ate his squid with long, purposeful chews. I didn't like the fact that he killed the spider. I liked it even less that he did it and not me, taking my honor as if I wasn't worthy of it, triumphant and self-satisfied that he had prevailed, and disappointed in my failure.

I think that is why I don't like spiders.

Click here to watch my short video on how to keep spiders in check.

photo credit: <a href="[martin]">[martin]</a> via <a href="photopin">photopin</a> <a href="cc">cc</a>

photo credit: <a href="♥KatB'>">♥KatB Photography♥</a> via <a href="photopin">photopin</a> <a href="cc">cc</a>

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