I adore animals. All of them, from the tiniest insect to the largest creature in the world. My garden’s full of birds and badgers, and foxes. There’s a beautiful blondie fox who walks along our big 16 ft wall. Such a handsome creature! I feed them but I make sure they don’t see me cos I don’t want them to get used to trusting humans. Just the other day I was bending down having a little chat with a stag beetle, who happened to be lying on his back in the middle of the pavement. I said "Why are you kicking your legs in the air like that, hmm?” and as I was speaking I became aware of this presence behind me. I knew it was a man. I could feel him - lowering - you know the way some men do. I turned around and said "Do you mind! I'm talking to a stag beetle," as if that was a normal thing to do. He moved off pretty sharpish I can tell you! Thin little man, he was, chicken neck and greasy hair. (I mean most animals are more beautiful than the human variety, wouldn’t you agree? At least I think so.) I suspect he thought I was quite potty. But if I hadn’t been there chatting to my handsome black friend, the man would’ve squashed him, that’s for sure. I don’t care what people think of me. Talk to anyone I would. Communication, it’s important – but I won’t be interrupted when I’m communing with some personage from the animal kingdom.
Once I was cleaning the windows – being ever so careful, as I always am, not to disturb the spiders in their webs, when accidentally I broke the thread of a particularly large web. “Sorry!” I said as the spider hurried into the corner. “I didn’t mean to!” I was so worried that I rang the zoo. The man was very nice and told me just to leave it. He said spiders shed their skins. “It’ll lie low for a bit,” he said, “and then move on to new territory” Anyway, it made me feel a bit better, so I did what he said and left it alone, though I couldn’t resist a peek now and then. Then one day when I looked I saw there was just the spider’s skin left – all clear and flimsy. I wondered where she had disappeared to, and I wished her well and didn’t think any more about it, til one fine spring morning, thinking I’d have a little go at the flower beds, I opened the garden shed, and lo and behold, there was a host of baby golden spiders running all over the place!
Mind you, though I’d never hurt a spider, there was a time when I couldn’t pick one up. Simply couldn’t bring myself to do it. That is until after the day I got trapped in the bathroom with one - a great big fat black, hairy spider. There was just him and me. He was crouching, or sitting, or waiting, or sleeping – whatever spiders do to pass the time of day – at the foot of my little statue of Venus de Milo on the edge of the bath. She just stared away to the left with her blank white sockets, taking no notice at all. My son says “Mum, you’ve got Thingumybob-phobia”. But I hadn’t. I respect spiders, it’s just that I can’t touch them. It was really quite irrational. Anyway, there I was, me and it. And no way out. With the lock jammed, and my husband out, I just had to deal with it on my own.
“It’s alright for you” I said to Venus who clearly wasn’t bothered one bit by the monster at her feet. “Greek,” I murmered to myself. “Used to monsters of one sort or another, no doubt. It’s probably a God in disguise. Jove or someone, playing a prank, getting his own back.”
At that the spider suddenly began to move- just a brief waver of legs, like it was pondering, “Now which way shall I go – up or down, or shall I go and annoy that strange pink creature in the corner over there?” Oh dear, I cursed my vivid imagination – always running away with itself. “ Go up there” I said, pointing to Venus’ head. “There’s a good spider.” But it didn’t go up. It came down from her plinth and began to move in my direction – slowly, deliberately like it knew it had all the time in the world. Which it did.
Oh God I said, and I inched myself round to the toilet, keeping my eyes glued to the spider’s progress, slammed down the lid and scrabbled up on to the seat. I was in such a panic. “Don’t be so stupid”, I could hear my husband saying. “It’s only a harmless house spider.” But it wasn’t. Not this one. Goodness knows what sewer this one had crawled out of. All the way from the Amazon, by the looks of it. Poisonous too, no doubt. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Venus, still staring off to her left, not taking a blind bit of notice of my plight. She on her plinth and me on mine. “You look as though you’re quite capable of taking big fat hairy spiders in your stride.” I said to her. “If only you had arms, you’d pick it up and put it out of the window for me, now wouldn’t you, nice lady?” I was babbling and my heart was beating very fast. The doctor said I shouldn’t get over stimulated. But what could I do? “Someone help” I shouted, knowing there was no-one. And in that moment I felt a kind of rushing in my head, a sort of sifting like sand in my veins, and I thought “Here we go. This is it. I’m going to die right here locked in the bathroom with a spider…..” Then all at once my mind became sharp like a clear pool of water. I was still and cold and calm. I could see the room, but only in black and white and I was no longer on the toilet, but on the side of the bath, looking back at myself getting off the the toilet, bending down towards the spider, cupping my hands round it, walking to the window and reaching up to the open crack. My hands opened cautiously and I watched myself gently touch the creature on its back before encouraging it to go outside. “Goodbye, dearest Arachne” I heard this other “myself” say. There was a glow all around me and my hair looked golden, not grey. I tried to move but I couldn’t respond to the impulse, my body was quite rigid. Had I died? Was I in a kind of celestial waiting room seeing myself as I could have been? A perfect version of me? As these thoughts went through me I felt a breeze drifting across my mind, and then everything went red and I found myself back on the toilet seat. I opened my eyes and looked everywhere for the spider, but it had gone. What on earth had happened? My heart rate was normal. No thudding in my chest any more. I felt perfectly calm. Just then I heard the front door. “I’m back,” my husband shouted. “I’m stuck!” I called back, stepping down from the toilet seat, “- in the bathroom with –” but I stopped myself. Had there really been a spider? I looked over at Venus who was as blank as ever. Arachne. Who’s she? Had I been dreaming?
The funny thing is since then I’ve lost my fear of spiders. Whenever I see one now I remember the Venus incident and a calmness comes over me. My white calmness I call it - cool and clear and still. Like marble.