By Anthony ILacqua
There was plenty of time for it, this Linda would say. She'd say there was plenty of time to watch a spider spin a web. She would defend herself and her time should she have to, but it was incredibly unlikely. She was alone on the patio of her house. The spider itself could not be concerned about her time or how she opted to waste it. The spider could not be bothered by her either, or the fact that it was a Friday. During the web spinning shifts, these were the least likely things for a spider to think about.
Linda reached across her chest and pulled the bathrobe closed. She tightened the draw-belt and settled her hands on her lap. She peered past the spider's web and to the cider-block garden wall just beyond. Occasionally, when the time permitted she spoke to the woman who lived on the other side, and more often, she spoke to the woman's little boy. The wall was what had attracted Linda to the garden, and the garden was what had attracted her to the house. She sighed. She pulled her hair and tucked it behind her ears. As her hands came to rest on her lap again, she looked at the spider. At the rate it was going it would be finished with the web before breakfast. “Oh,” Linda said. “I suppose that's the point.”
She stood. She was tall, very tall, especially in the dank little patio. The cover hung down low, too low, and during the hot-hot days, the overhang was at a height to create a bit of a convection oven. Linda stretched and touched the ceiling, it was still cool enough, both the time of day and the time of the year, for her to tolerate touching it. The stretch moved her taller and taller causing the vertebrae to separate. The end of the deep stretch made her body shake starting at the ankles in small jerks and then moving in a quick pace throughout her body.
She fell hard on the heels of her feet, and the rough skin was no match for the concrete of the patio's floor. “Good, then,” she said.
Somewhere, perhaps a block or two over, someone was grooming their yard with a loud machine. It was in all probability a hedge trimmer, because it was too quiet for a lawn mower. Linda didn't mind it, the yard equipment, it never had bothered her. She shook off the last of the stretch. She closed the robe again as she neared the spider. “Nice place you got there,” she said. “Did you get a good interest rate on it? Oh! I don't mean to be so personal. Oh? You don't say?” She giggled at the silliness of it. “Who talks to spiders? Oh well, do you need anything from inside?” she asked the spider.
The spider continued working its thread. Linda shuffled her feet across the concrete of the patio. The concrete was coarse, swept out in broad strokes and then painted. The aqua colored paint was very popular in the 1950s, she had been told.
Through the screen door she dragged her feet on an old bath towel. It was there specifically to wipe bare feet before entering the house.
The kitchen was a disaster. She didn't have many dishes, few pots and pans, but they all stayed dirty. She washed them as she needed them and occasionally wondered if it wouldn't be just as easy to wash all the dishes and just use the same ones over and over again.
She removed enough of the dishes from the sink to make it possible to put her coffee percolator under the faucet. She stared out the window as she filled the pot. Once the water began to overflow she casually thought about turning off the faucet. “What the hell?” she said. “Water is included.”
She smiled out the window feeling the water roll over the sides of the percolator and her hands. She'd been told that percolators had been very popular in the 1950s too. That was Miss Gladys. She'd lived in the block of houses at least since the fifties, at least that was the idea she let Linda believe. Miss Gladys was old, very old, and Linda who was already having trouble being thirty-two avoided her at all costs. Miss Gladys was the type to make anyone feel welcome, but that was not always what one might want in a neighbor. Any time Miss Gladys offered Linda iced tea, Linda refused and when the conversation grew wearisome to her, she tried to remember the exact instant the glass was put in her hand. “Ice tea must have been fashionable in the 1950s too,” she said. The smile relaxed as she looked from the window to the still running faucet.
The coffee can was empty; lean of any real traces of coffee. It was a fact now remembered that was nearly enough to cause panic. She had been eager to remember the coffee the day before, and it had gotten lost in the details.
Hastily, she dressed. Blue jeans and a t-shirt were the easy part, it was as easy as the choice to wear a baseball cap to cover her greasy hair. Linda stepped into a pair of flip-flops, worn ones, way outworn for their intended lifespan.
At the front door, she felt a thin spider web cross over her face. The feeling made her wince then dance. It made her hyper-aware of other webs, and even the stray hairs on her neck tickled in the same way. The dance made her throw the door open quickly with force.
On the front stairs she tried to regain composure. She closed and locked the front door and walked down the few steps and to the sidewalk. She quickly turned a sharp right, two reasons: this was the way to the shop, and if Miss Gladys was out, this was the way to avoid her. Linda took a few steps and heard something behind her, something that suggested a broom on the pavement and a broom on the pavement suggested the inevitable glass of iced tea she so adamantly had to refuse. She took another step, the kind to stab her direction with purpose and the few steps to follow were stiff legged and quick. The walk, which could not have been much faster than an out and out run lasted until she reached the corner. She turned again to the right and instantly relaxed her pace. Getting away was easy, it had been very easy, and she shrugged her shoulders when she thought that getting back into her house would not, or possibly might not be as simple.
She walked quickly through the produce area of the small shop and to the rear of it. She knew well enough where they stocked the coffee. There were a few options there, fancy coffees in brightly colored bags, vacuum sealed and square. There were the few varieties of instant coffee, and then there were the cans. Canned coffee, it was what she wanted because the already ground coffee reminded her of old times, especially the old times she had not seen, times before she was born.
“Well, if it isn't?”
“Yes, Mr. Godwin, it is,” Linda said.
“Well, Miss Warren, the young Miss Warren, how are you this fine day?”
“Uh-huh?” she said.
“The coffee going to do it for you?” he said.
“I'd like some cigarettes.”
“What?” Linda asked. “Oh, yeah.” She could tell him, but a conversation with Mr. Godwin was almost as bad as one with Miss Gladys. The only reason why he wasn't as bad was because eventually another customer would arrive and want to buy something. Linda began to look around for other customers and when she didn't find any, she tried through telegraphic powers to make the phone ring.
“Don't worry Linda,” he said leaning close to her.
“I won't tell anyone if want to keep it a secret,” he whispered.
“What are you talking about?” she said defensively.
“Nothing,” the old man said. He waved her closer. She obliged him and he continued. “That you smoke.”
“Oh,” she said. “Thanks.”
“What brand now?”
“What?” she said.
“What brand do you want?”
“Oh,” Linda said. She looked over his shoulders at all the boxes on the wall. It had been years since she smoked, two or three. Actually, it was nearly four. She could tell him that too, but it wasn't necessary. “I'd like a box of Winstons.”
“Oh,” he said. Had her choice been a revelation for him? She looked at the side of his head as he turned around and refused to say more. “Okay,” he said. “That'll be $4.75 for the small can of grounds and seven even for the cigarettes.”
“Seven dollars for the smokes?”
“Yeah, impossible to believe isn't it? Why, I quit smoking because I didn't want to pay more than fifty cents a pack.”
“Wow,” she said. She handed him the money, smoothing out the bills as she did.
“Things change,” he said.
“Yes they do Mr. Godwin, no truer words.” She quickly took up the cigarettes and pushed them deep into her back pocket. She grabbed the can and tucked it under her arm as he counted back change to her.
“Enjoy your day,” she said. She nodded to him, and quickly, easily, silently got out of the shop.
Linda hurried down her block toward home. Miss Gladys was there on the sidewalk sweeping the old faded and chipped concrete. Linda made it quickly to the row of houses, specifically hers, all the while with Miss Gladys's back turned toward her. She quietly removed the keys so she could get in undetected. No chance today, of all days, she thought. It wasn't until after she let herself in and locked the door that she thought of a perfect response to the iced tea of Miss Gladys. All she had to do was tell the old woman that she had a cake in the oven. Yes, that would be the stock answer, yes, anytime she was trapped she'd just tell her: “I can't now, I have a cake in the oven.” She just had to say it with urgency. Urgency was the key to it, it was the believable part of it. Linda practiced the statement as she opened the coffee. As she spooned the grounds into the percolator basket, she decided to make a full pot. It was one of those days, she felt. No, it was not a day to drink a leisurely cup with cream and sugar. No, this was a day to drink the whole pot, and black too.
“Oh,” she said. Her face was close enough to the web that her exhales caused the spider to bounce on the web. “You've finished already.” She held her coffee cup in one hand and the percolator pot in the other. She sat back where she had been when she first noticed the spider. She looked for movement on the other side of the cider-block garden wall, searching for something through the openings. She grew disappointed when she saw none. The distant hedge trimmer was silenced. She felt alone, and even that was not as welcomed as she though it would be, or should have been. Her head turned into her left shoulder. She buried her nose against the thin cloth of the old t-shirt. It was a comfort to smell the laundry soap, and even her body underneath. She held herself there long enough to stifle a cry which could happen any second. She closed her eyes and leaned back into the chair. The leaning back caused her to flinch from the sharp corner of the cigarette box poking her. She reached to take them out. She played with the unopened box for some minutes thinking of choice words to say, but none came to her.
She tamped the box against the heel of her hand and the tears began to start. She tore the cellophane with venom, she violently ripped the foil on the inside apart. She put a cigarette to her lips. She dropped the box on the patio table and began to look around wildly.
She had loved the garden, but now it was overwrought with weeds. She found the Bermuda grass so ugly, the last suggestion and action from Peter. He knew a thing or two about lawns, he assured her. He assured her that the Bermuda grass was heartier, would take less effort. What he had neglected to tell her was how ugly and course it was, not the kind of grass to relax on, lay on, play on, live on. No, this was shit, and she grew angry just thinking about it. She picked herself up from the chair and went inside.
The cigarette, unlit, dangled from her lips as she went through drawers. She looked feverishly for a lighter, and as she didn't find one it further infuriated her. She slammed drawer after drawer, and the choice words she wanted to say came out in one exacerbated “Fuck!”
She kicked the bottom drawer closed and stood shaking with rage. “Fucking hell, Peter, how could you?”
She turned on the stove. As the electric coils heated up, she calmed down and waited. The filter of the cigarette had grown wet from being in her lips. Once the burner glowed red hot, she held her hair on either side of her head and shakily held the cigarette in her lips. The whole procedure took all her concentration. Standing again, she exhaled the smoke in the kitchen. She turned off the stove and realized what was happening. “Oh no,” she said. She started to wave her hands around to dissipate the smoke. Then she stopped and took a huge pull on the cigarette. “I mean, good!” she said.
Walking out the kitchen door to the patio, she remembered the matches, two or three boxes of them in the bathroom in the medicine cabinet.
The cigarette did not provide the desired feeling. Rather, the half of it she smoked only made her feel sick. The coffee was worse than she'd hoped: bitter, burnt, metallic tasting. She sat quietly disappointed. She looked at the spider who after a long morning of work just waited for something to happen. She looked at the garden. She hated the place, the entire place.
There wasn't much for her in Burlington either, and the winter was coming on, but it was away, far away and it was hers. It was hers and not Peter's.
She started to cry again and this time there was no way of stifling it. She thought about having another cigarette, just to spite Peter. He had made her quit. She had quit for him, not because she wanted to, and now, she could not imagine smoking another one. She cried louder and she was unable to hear her neighbor on the other side of the garden wall. “Linda,” she said. “What's the matter, dear?”
“Oh, hi,” Linda said. “Nothing.”
“I'm coming over,” she said.
“Oh, no I—”
“Nonsense, let's talk.”
Linda offered her a cup of coffee and a seat. She struggled with it too, because she could never remember the woman's name.
“Are you smoking?” she said pointing to the box of cigarettes on the table.
“I was trying to,” Linda said.
“I didn't know.”
“Do you want one?” Linda asked.
“Oh, I shouldn't, but I'd love one.”
Linda excused herself and went to retrieve the matches. She shook the box of matches in her hand when she returned. The woman eagerly took a smoke out of the box and offered it to Linda. Gingerly, Linda took it. The woman struck a match and lit Linda's cigarette before lighting her own. “Now, what's the trouble?” she said.
The woman's words caused Linda to laugh. “Well, when you ask like that—”
“No, not exactly.”
“High school boyfriend just got married to your high school best friend?”
“Close,” Linda said. “How'd you know?”
“Because you don't have a dog,” she said. Both women laughed. “I'm close though, huh?”
“Yeah,” Linda said. “And it isn't a big deal.” For a moment, she believed it, too. Peter had not wanted children and had been obnoxious about it. He had told her for the five years they were together that he never wanted to be married. But it was all a lie. They had taken every precaution to avoid pregnancy. And, and just that morning, Peter had called. He nervously asked her how she was doing, how the house was. He told her how sorry he was, but it was all too late now. He was calling on his way to the courthouse. His non-ceremony. “Who is she?” Linda asked. It was in a callous tone, too. He worked with her, she was knocked—up. It was over. Linda gave a feeble congratulations and hung up the phone. She put on her robe and went outside and was grateful the news came on a Friday. “It's just not that big of a deal,” she said to her neighbor. “I have no idea why I was crying.”
“I would cry, too,” she said.
“Sure I would,” she said. Standing up, she put her coffee cup down and moved around on the patio, eventually getting to the grass in the yard. “I sure love this Bermuda grass,” she said.
“Do you?” Linda asked.
“Sure, great stuff.”
“Oh,” Linda said. “I don't care for it.”
The woman looked up, pulled on the cigarette and squinted through the smoke and into the shade to see Linda. She took a couple of small steps in. When she got closer, she smiled at Linda. “Oh,” she gasped. “I hate these things,” she said.
“No, wait—,” Linda said.
The woman lifted her hand and in one sweep, and she completely destroyed the spider's web.