Along Came a Spider.
“It’s hard to say,” the doctor said as he squinted at her arm. The tiny ray from his pen flashlight bounced around the wound.
Earlier that day, she’d texted a picture of it to her family - Mom, Dad, two sisters, little brother, sister’s fiancé - with the caption: Does this look like skin cancer? If that wasn’t the perfect example of their warped family dynamic, she didn’t know what was - after months of silence and awkward estrangement, she sends a picture of an oozing misshapen sore on a group text, to which they spent the full day trying to diagnose her. It ended with her stoic, emotionless father texting an emoji of a spider.
“It looks like it may be a spider bite,” the doctor concluded, clicking off the pen light. “Basal cell usually doesn’t itch. I’ll give you some cream and we’ll go from there. I really don't think it's any type of skin cancer.”
She rolled down her sleeve. Guess her dad was right.
She thanked the doctor, took the prescription, and headed out of the building. It figured; she hated going to the doctor and her first visit after a couple years was over a goddamn spider bite. It only further cemented her title of Reluctant Hypochondriac.
Home was a century old reconstruction they couldn’t afford on the top of a hill in the nicest neighborhood around. Even their driveway was grandiose, a long stretch of concrete that made you feel as though you were driving up to a magical castle. The trees were ancient as well, towering above like judgmental giants. You have the perfect home, the perfect life, why are you so unhappy? they chastised every time she pulled in.
“It’s not skin cancer,” she called to her husband as she headed to her office.
“Well, are you dying?” he called back from his, across the hall.
“It’s a spider bite.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” he snorted. “Well, sounds like you’re stuck with me for a bit longer.”
The rest of the day was eventless; piles of laundry, bits of work, kids’ homework, dinner, crazy dogs running circles in the living room. She finally settled into bed at eleven or so, absently scratching her arm as she browsed through her phone. She cursed when she noticed the wound had gotten bigger, the big red circle with its oozing middle extending further up her arm. She’d forgotten to pick up the cream from the pharmacy.
That night, she dreamed she was in a dilapidated house with leaking sinks, rainwater pouring down crumbling fireplaces that did not work. The house was in shambles, puddles of filthy water kicked up by the feral cats and dogs that raced through them. Every hair on her body stood up in disgust as she clamped her eyes shut, wondering why the fuck she was raising children in such a mess. How could her husband have picked such a shithole - to save money? When she opened them, there was a spider feasting on her arm.
The next day was exactly the same as the day that preceded it, numb as she listlessly performed the daily dance that was life. Her little brother texted her in jest: Spider bite sounds cool. Let me know if you suddenly start shooting webs out of your palms.
The wound was still getting bigger, now taking up the better part of her arm. She’d intended to run to the pharmacy at least a million times, but there was always a distraction, something to sign off on, a runny nose, dog vomit to clean up, a kid that needed to eat. She found some cream around the house and slapped it on, wearing long sleeves so it would stay covered. She had some errands to run tomorrow, she’d pick it up then.
That night she dreamed of fingers probing her body, tenderly caressing her hidden spaces. She experienced the full moment of bliss in her dream, until she opened her eyes to see a giant, hideous spider above her, dripping poison from its fangs onto her chest. She screamed herself awake, snuggling against the heavy wall that was her husband, as she tried to calm her racing heart and ignore the ache between her legs. Her arm itched, but she refused to scratch it.
The next day was a repeat of the thousand before it, this time offering a fresh determination to get the cream. The itching had reached maddening proportions, the lower half of her arm now completely red, the sore staring at her like an angry, oozing eye. She tore at it with her fingernails, drawing blood before she wrapped it up with a big Band-Aid. She dropped the kids off at school, stopping to take a quick hike before she headed to the pharmacy.
There was a fragrant breeze in the air, one that reminded her of her teenage years when she thought each day held the promise of a new adventure. She was always a seeker, an explorer, loving life as it was. Where did that girl go? she wondered as she stomped through the snow. She loved her family, loved them so much she could burst, and yet…? Where was the adventure life had promised? Somehow she'd lost it, perhaps between Kid Number One and Dog Number Four.
A hawk screeched over head, distracting her. She realized she was itching her arm through her sweatshirt. It must have been hard, because splotches of scarlet now ruined the fabric. She cursed; this was her favorite shirt, one of the few that weren’t black. She needed to get that damn cream already.
It was six in the evening when she finally made it to the drug store down the street. The bespectacled pharmacist told her she needed to come back tomorrow; they had to order it since it was a special kind and it wouldn’t be in until then. She nodded, paid for her pack of gum, and headed home.
That night, she wrapped her arm in an old sock so she wouldn’t scratch it in her sleep. She drifted off thinking of her childhood, how one night she dreamed a spider was calling her name. She screamed so hard, her mother came racing in. She watched her kill the wolf spider that was sitting behind her nightlight, which had created a giant shadow crawling up the wall.
It was talking to me, she sobbed to her mother.
It was only a dream, her sleep-deprived mother said coldly. I killed it. Now go back to sleep.
When she woke, blood and pus had soaked through her makeshift bandage. She unwound it to discover her arm was now covered in sores - eight to be exact - spider eyes that gazed her, adoringly.
“I think I need to go to the hospital,” she whispered to the empty spot on the bed. She could hear her husband and the kids downstairs, a typical Saturday morning. She thought of yelling for him, but she doubted he would hear her.
“I don’t think I want to get rid of you,” she admitted to the eyes.
They seemed to share her sentiment, crying tiny streams of blood onto the bed sheets.
She sighed, listening to the mayhem ensuing downstairs. She should go down there and spend time with them, like a good wife and mother. Then she thought of the mess, the dogs, the sink full of dishes. The world of demands, the pressure to be perfect.
Perhaps she would just stay in bed a bit longer.
The spider in her arm agreed.