A stranger had made their house a restaurant. We went to eat there.
I didn’t know the family at my table, but they loved me. I was a mother to the children, wife to a woman.
We sat at a long table in the living room, wallpaper fraying on the walls. A light fixture hung above our heads.
The light was dim, the fixture cobwebbed. Hanging in the webs were many corpses of thick-legged spiders.
One of them moved. All of them moved. What I’d thought were many dead spiders was one the size of a housecat. It was alive. The proprietor of the restaurant house, a strange woman I would never want to see near food, reached up. The spider climbed onto her arm and she carried it to a stairwell I hadn’t seen. The spider leapt off and crawled down.
I asked the woman where the stairs led. She answered but I couldn’t hear. I tried to ask again, but I was squirming against the sheets, and the tugging of my body pulled me out and away.
I was sweating through the bed, face streaked with tears.
I leapt off and tore wet sheets away. No spider there.
I pictured him climbing down the wall as I sat in my bathtub. I saw myself reaching into the cereal cabinet I can’t look into, as it’s too high up, as he waited in there for my hand to brush against him.
I turned my apartment upside down. No sign of the spider. No webs, no dead or dying flies.
I couldn’t stand still. I felt everything on my skin. Crawling. Creeping.
He was such an awful spider. He was the biggest thing I’d ever seen.
I went outside. I wore no coat. But no one frowned or shook their head at me, Little Miss Muffet shivering her way somewhere. The sidewalks were empty.
I went into a diner where I go for breakfast when I’m tired of being alone. I was halfway through a plate of eggs when the spider came through the door.
He wore a black suit, red shirt, and black fedora. His face was paler than mine and younger, but he moved like he was old. And I wondered if that’s the worst thing about spiders, that they move like they’re so old but none of them are.
He sat beside me. I knew it was him. He moved the way he’d climbed into the woman’s hand.
“I looked for you,” I said. “In my apartment.”
He didn’t answer. He continued facing forward. No one took his order—because of his species, I’m sure. I watched his reflection on the napkin dispenser. His eyes were completely black.
I said, “I didn’t want to ever see you.”
I knew he heard me, but he didn’t respond.
“Why were you at the restaurant? How did you find your way in?”
He turned on his stool to face me, finally, so slowly, like he almost couldn’t move.
He pulled a napkin from the dispenser, took a pen from somewhere, and wrote big letters, a pen stroke here, the next there, the meaning of the message accruing across the minutes I watched him work. A patchwork of scratches and dashes arranged with meticulous care appeared on the napkin.
He leaned back. I read his webbish words.
I WAS COLD.
Of course. It had been warm in the light fixture he’d emerged from. The restaurant house was hot as summertime. The fixture must have been the most welcoming thing in the city, to a creature that was drawn to heat.
When it’s cold out, bugs come in. Snakes and lizards, too.
I said, “You are so frightening. It’s horrible.”
He kept watching me.
I covered my face.
All I wanted was for someone to come and take the spider away. But no one would ever do that.
I had to leave and do it slowly. Move like a spider.
As gradually as I could, I pulled a twenty from my pocket and placed it on the counter.
It took forever. The spider watched. I couldn’t believe his patience.
I stood and walked like a glacier to the door.
When I was outside, I looked back in. I swiveled my head on my neck so slowly, like I was almost not moving at all.
I saw the spider unfold himself from the stool where he was sitting.
He started to leave. He went faster than I did. Spiders really move when they want to.
I took the shortest, most gradual steps, making my way up the street like my joints were rusted. I expected any moment to feel the spider’s legs on my ankle or the back of my neck.
But I didn’t feel him. All I felt was cold.
I stopped and turned around at last to see him climbing. With all of his legs he was creeping his way up a wall on his way to a window. It was shut, but he found a crack between bricks and slipped through, legs first, then the rest of him.
He was looking for warmth again. He would find it in another woman’s bed, in a dream she had that morning of a sweltering attic or an endless pit of fire.
Robert Long Foreman’s recent books are WEIRD PIG and I AM HERE TO MAKE FRIENDS. Read more and find out what Rob is really like at robertlongforeman.com.