I got back from a run just after rain. The heavy humidity wreathed me in an ugly layer of thick sweat. Absentmindedly I made my way upstairs, got a change of clothes, and started up the shower. It took me no time to shed my sweaty garb and enter the wash of warm water. The even temperature and clean cascade of shower water washed away the layer of sweat. When I pulled my head out of the first pressured touch of cleanliness I was surprised to find that I had a visitor.
The tiniest spider I had seen in a long while was trekking its way up the wet, curved edge of the ivory white bathtub. Recently I had decided that I’d be a friend to bugs that weren’t a bother. Why write off a beetle or spider for their scary appearance? If I had any anti-insect feeling, I’d leave it for the blood sucking ticks and mosquitoes or the moths that eat at my clothes. Though, I had to admit to some weakness in my commitment. Ants and roaches feel like dirt needing to be scraped and swept out of a house. Centipedes and scorpions, I am pretty sure, crawled out of my nightmares and need to die, lest they drag me backwards into the darkest parts of my screaming subconscious. But spiders catch all the ants, moths, mosquitoes, and flies for me and have never given me a bad bite before. So I commit to watching this wayfaring arachnid without shaping its journey.
It can’t be bigger than half a centimeter, with a dark back and striped legs. The pattern at first appears exotic to me. Is that a black widow? My hand quivers and moves to smash it, but black widows have a weirder pattern from what I am told. What about a brown recluse? It could be, but it seemed doubtful and even if it was, it was moving away from me.
All eight of its tiny legs ply upward toward the exit of the tub. What was it doing here in the first place? Had it just hatched from the egg to tread on the wrong path? The splashing water does not reach the furthest curves of the shiny white bathtub. At its current distance the spider won’t get swept up, but the moisture builds with each second. The spider, mostly incomprehensive of its current danger, skirts along the edge of the tub in skitters. It climbs upward, but in diagonal patterns. Those little legs work overtime, but in short bursts only. The spider stops abruptly after each stretch. Does it need to ply that slippery surface for eight minuscule crevices and edges to dig into?
I lean in to get a really good look at it. Those eight legs grind to a halt and almost bunch up. Just one fuzzy tendril touches the forward ground the spider will move to next. I can’t see its eyes or hardly even where each leg separates. It sits like a tiny brownish-black ball of material entirely alien to me. With the way it stalls, it’s almost as if it acknowledges me. It might be good to smash it before it jumps on you. I don’t make any sharp move and instead just lean back.
As soon as I do, the spider starts up again with gusto. The eight legs skitter skittishly along a straight, diagonal line toward the edge of the tub. I am not even thinking of washing until it climbs up to that edge and spins a webby way down. With each second it gets a little closer. It sprints for an instant, and then stops.
It must stare up at that endless white curve and see the brilliant light of the bathroom glare at it. It must be like climbing toward the sun itself. All the white noise of the bathroom fan must roar into every inch of the empty space around it. The megalith waterfall splashes out a loud warning of the deep drowning behind it. It lurches to a stop, maybe petrified, maybe just cautious. Then it shoots forward again, maybe terrified, maybe self-assured and arrogant in the face of the great unknown around it. Each leg feels for a way out as the condensation mounts until every edge of the tub becomes slippery. It is right there, not more than a few inches and one or two good sprinting stints away from the edge. But it pauses. It looks back, and I feel myself certain in it. I am assuming the arachnid’s survival. It stops and it stares back down the slippery edge it had just scaled and all the licking tides that would swallow it up. The light above it burns so bright. It plummets.
The tiny brown body cannot latch on any longer and it spins in a half second straight down to the bottom edge of the tub. The water does not engulf it instantly, but the edges of the small pool around my feet splash at it. I want badly to know if it still lives, so I take a step forward. The pool pushes outward with my foot and eats up the bug like it were nothing. Crap.
Ravenous pools of swirling water whip it all around the far edge of the tub that it once clung to. It bunches up and I think for sure that it’s over now. Why did it look back? Why did it pause? It was there. It was right there. Then the torrent pushes it up against the steel basket full of bathing supplies. With one last gasp, all of its eight legs catch the silver surface and cling tight. The mighty silver box must have shined so bright beneath all the whirring light. As the vision in every single one of its eyes had gone blurry beneath the beating waves, it must have seen that shine and stuck to it as soon as it brushed against the cold metal.
Now I get out of the shower, eager to help this time. The water pours off me and makes a wet mess of the all the slightly stained tiles in the bathroom. I dry my hands fast and snatch a wad of toilet paper. I reach into the shower and press the white toilet paper up as close as I can to the spider without dislodging it. But it just clings to the silver. The water has washed away all sense and maybe even life in the bug. It might just be a body wrought with rigor mortis, clinging instinctive to the now empty husk of life. The shower spurts, the water level rises, and it is awash. I step back in and scoop it up on the toilet paper. My eyes scour the tiny thing for any sign of life. Now I can see the edges and boundaries of each leg. All eight have bundled tightly up, pointing toward the center of its underbelly. I have seen enough dead spiders to know what that means. I can hear myself sigh through all the white noise and for a second I wonder why.
Tomorrow or maybe the day after, I will go running again. My feet will smack against every grain of grey concrete in the sidewalk. My chest will rise and fall with every breath and sometimes it will feel so hot inside my lungs that I think they’ll light on fire. In one second I’ll be speeding to a good tune and bouncing atop steady breaths. In the next I will slow and struggle with the bridge of a song and the sharp heat in each inhale. Sometimes my eyes will go blank and I will see daydreams play out to the incessant rhythmic sounds dancing in my earbuds. Sometimes my eyes will look up. The sun will beam down at me so hard I’d swear I was running right at it, flirting with every quivering treetop along the way. Maybe it will even rain.
~Austin R Ryan