Encounters in the Darkness

Posted on June 26, 2010

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I get up in the middle of almost every night to go to the bathroom. I realize this is neither unusual nor fascinating, but it’s nevertheless an important piece of information. When I turn on the light, I immediately scan the floor for a spider. It’s a rare night when I don’t see one. And it’s always one — never two or three.

When I come across a spider during the day, I get rid of it with a sheet of paper. I slide the paper under the bug and toss it out onto the lawn. My wife prefers to flush it down the toilet, I think because it’s a shorter trip for her and gives the spider less time to jump up and wrap her in its web. Either way, hours later there’s an identical spider in the bathroom. Now I don’t know for sure what’s going on. Either it’s the same spider with an amazing sense of direction, or there’s a whole team of them hiding in there. The leader sends one member on a scouting mission, and when he doesn’t return, he’s replaced by another. Don’t ask me how they decide whose turn it is, but apparently they have that all worked out. Maybe they hold weekly meetings to go over the schedule.

What catches my attention at night, though, is the fact that when I turn on the light, the spider appears to have been in the process of scampering along the base of the wall, and then stops in its tracks. I used to assume it was reacting to the sudden brightness. But now I notice that even in the daytime, if I walk in on a spider in mid-journey, it stops moving. Is it just extremely sensitive to changes in light and shadow? Or does it see me? And if it sees me, what exactly does it see?

Sometimes I’ll take a step toward the spider and he’ll either stay dead still or race across the floor, headed for the safety of the laundry basket. I wonder, in my middle-of-the-night fog brain, if the spider has any kind of thought, any eight-legged version of, “Uh oh. Big moving thing could squish me.” Where would a spider get a concept like that? From seeing it happen to another spider? I never squish anything, except mosquitoes. But even if my son squished a spider in full view of another, does a spider have long-term memory? And if they only come out one at a time, how would a spider manage to witness the squishing of another? (I just realized how using a cute word like squish in the context of killing spiders detracts from its cuteness, so I’ll cut it out.)

Outside, I occasionally walk face-first through a spider web. It’s unpleasant, but it happens. When I consider how upset I get, I wonder what the spider thinks. This situation seems to me to be the equivalent of my spending a week building a toolshed and then watching as Bigfoot walks through it and destroys my work in three seconds. Does the spider have the ability to react in any way? And if so, is it even remotely similar to a tantrum, or at least frustration? Is the spider intrigued by this giant Twofoot that keeps wrecking its home?

Now when I go to the bathroom and catch a spider as it freezes in mid-step, I look closely to see if it’s carrying a tiny video camera. Maybe the team is really on a scientific expedition, looking for evidence of the legendary Twofoot. It’s possible that in the darkened world of our bathroom, there are wild stories that are told of spiders confronting a giant creature, then finding themselves instantly transported on some kind of flat, white vehicle and dropped into a field of tall green blades. Or worse, plunged down a watery tear in the fabric of spacetime, emerging seconds later on the other side of the universe, or at least on the other side of town.

Then again, that may be my middle-of-the-night fog brain imagining things again. During the day, when my head is a little clearer, I think about that spider running across the bathroom floor and realize it was probably just late for a meeting.

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Posted in: In Over My Head