I heard the buzzing like a crying child or a siren in the night. A wail or a scream. Except it was a house fly and I was brushing my teeth. But I knew it was the sound of struggle. The sound of a fly battling a spider. Have you heard it? The distress call of a house fly? I did not know I knew this call but there you have it. You get accustomed to so many phenomena in your everyday. I stopped my brushing to have a look around. To get a better listen and locate the battle ground. It wasn’t a vigorous buzzing – like the loud buzzing flies make when you’re trying to fall asleep – mashing their bodies up against a lightbulb or window.
I am grateful for the spiders that live among us though their webs are profuse in our home. Difficult to contain. One restless night, not so long ago, unable to sleep, I went downstairs so as not to wake the others that slumbered peacefully. I could see, in the light of a full moon, billows of webs. Floating. Rising and falling in the heated air that rose up from the wood stove. A thousand strands of silk, usually invisible in the grey and angled wintered light of day, were plain as anything.
Anyways, I set my toothbrush down, rinsed my mouth, and went to the window from where the noise emanated. I listened to the buzzing that surged and subsided. The sound struggled like a dulled chainsaw might, the sawyer rallying the engine, each subsequent burst a little less vigorous and quicker to end the duller the chain.
The morning was sunny, and it was spring and the first tickle of newly hatched flies were invading the house anew. Sometimes by the dozens. Overwhelming us. They come through our loosely secured borders. Window screens with tears, or the back door left open to the fresh spring air. Most of our windows are without screens. We enjoy an unobstructed view. Sometimes wasps or bees or even a hornet will make their way in. Too many of these and we have to haul out the screens.
We have odd windows. A style that swings open sideways. Windows made special to fit the log cabin we live in. The screens are difficult to impossible to find. Usually they have to be specially made with their little doors that open to the window latches – sideway handles that lift upward so the windows can be pushed outward. Expensive to replace. So we make due. Some of the little doors are duct taped shut and others so broken we don’t even bother. There are square holes where the doors ought to be – making the screens all but pointless. I tell myself the spiders will take care of the flies and all the other buzzing beings. It will all work itself out. The bathroom window itself has one big odd sized window with its screen on, but the little door to its window handle is broke and gone. But we forget this. We’ve gotten used to the brokenness – it happens. Sometimes quicker and more easily than one would like.
In the upper left-hand corner of the window, or more between the screen and window, and close to the eaves that block the bright light of the day, I saw a dark movement. A fly jumped up and down and then stilled. I could see the spider. Barely. Though the open window let a sliver of light in, it was still dim and difficult to see exactly what was unfolding in the corner. Just barely I could see a blackish spider. Its round bulbous back was turned to me and long elegant legs worked furiously to succumb a fly. Tufts of silk floated. As my eyes adjusted, I could make out the cocooned bodies of others. Other flies I supposed. White and still and woven over into something else entirely, strewn down along the window sill.
Up high, where the spider worked, near the window top, was a sprawling and artless web. I mean it lacked design. Nothing intricate. This spider was no artist. I watched as best I could, the dying of the fly and the spider weaving. I tried to identify the spider. The large black body. The sloppy webs. The deliberate grace. Upside down. Legs stretched upward, dexterous as human fingers. Eventually the buzzing stopped and I watched as movement ceased. Watched as the spider encased the body in white. Then I slammed the window shut.
I searched for my spider on the internet. Possibly a western Black widow. Not common but not unheard of in these parts. Dangerous to humans. Poisonous. Deadly even. I went back to the bathroom to look for the spider – to maybe get a better look. It was gone of course. And then there was the large gap in the screen and the shut window and I realized my foolhardy ways. That I had set things so the only place the spider could go was inside. Then I looked around the bathroom, like I hadn’t done in a long time, as if it were a restless moon filled night and everything was suddenly plain to see. I looked up at the ceiling, and trim. At the place the trim was falling away from the wall. I noticed all the gaps where a spider might scurry and hide, all the places they could thrive and prosper and grow. Most everywhere I saw webs like a Black widow might make. Realized they owned this space and most likely had for some time.
I backed away slowly. Went back to the computer and searched again and found to my relief that there is a spider called a false Black widow. It looked more like my spider. Common in our area, likes living in the dark corners of a home. Its shadowed windows. The false fellows are aggressive though. More likely to bite. Less poisonous but plenty of grief. My son had many spider bites over the years, with swelling and puss and flesh turned hard and red and inflamed. Trips to the doctor. Bites on his legs and arms and cheeks. The more I thought on it, it was these false Black widows that did this to my son.
Can I confess something here? I haven’t mentioned any of this to anyone. Not to my husband or son. I haven’t told them about the spider lurking in the bathroom, in the bedrooms. What our house might harbor. And that maybe we should do something. For days I meant to vacuum and sweep. Tend to the window screens. But I didn’t. That is not what sat with me though, through one day, and the next, and the next. Through dinners and dog walking and homework.
My silence haunted me. You know? Or the silencing. The silenced. As I go off to my living. I still hear over and over that last muffled buzz. Imagine the steady attack of the spider. The persistence. I remember the way I watched. The glee. Entertained. Fascinated. The way the fly sounded an alarm for help. I heard it. I did. And then I didn’t.