What do Spiders Drink?

I don’t have much to offer in the way of surprises, but one thing I do have is my wonderful silver powder. This is no ordinary cosmetic: it’s a glimmering dust, consisting of tiny scales made from pigmented hairs which diffract light through an intricate, microscopic structure of ridges and holes. The effect, when applied to my body, is mesmerizing.

Of my ability to shine, I am certain. But I really wasn’t sure about Sarah, impressive though she was. She was definitely wasn’t normal. I even thought she might be a spider. So, when Sarah asked me out I balked. I mean, you would wouldn’t you? If you thought a spider wanted to go on a drinking date with you?

Despite my hesitation, I pondered carefully her invitation. If Sarah really was a spider, how for example might she have quenched her thirst come our date? Certain species of spider ingest nectar, while others consume morning dew. Romantic. Others eat their entire web, complete with the tiny water droplets deposited by the night. Charming, but a bit excessive, perhaps. But the Black Widow and Red Back only get fluids from the juices of their prey. Or post-coitally, by eating their mate. This was worrying.

You may ask what it was that made me consider if Sarah was indeed a member of the arachnid family? A fair question. It wasn’t so much the obvious signs – her ability to scale sheer surfaces, her enormous black eyes, her massive fangs, nor her love of flies and smaller moths. Not even her cocoon-like bed in the corner of the ceiling, connected by a single silver strand to a huge web spanning her room, would be enough of a clue. No, these details, on their own, could not justify my suspicion.

For example, a possible alternative explanation for Sarah’s bizarre appearance was that here, at the University, she was part of some kind of elaborate entomology experiment, meticulously observing and documenting the behaviour of spiders and associated insects. What better way to understand a living creature and its behaviour (not to mention feelings) than to become that creature? I for one would have been very interested to know what the bloody, spurting juices of a stunned fly, bound tightly in web-silk, tasted like to a spider.

Another possibility was that Sarah was in fact a dramatic arts student, focussing on Lee Strasbourg’s now famous method approach, where actors must inhabit the thoughts, feelings and indeed the physical attributes of their character, without relapse, for days on end in order to deliver realistic dramatic portrayals. Perhaps Sarah was just “getting in character”, as they say, ready to perform in Kafka’s Metamorphosis, and had for convenience, or laziness, decided upon a spider, rather than say, a cockroach, as her main source and inspiration? If you have ever seen Stephen Berkoff’s dramatisation of the Bohemian born writer’s classic, during which Berkoff, playing Gregor Samsa, spends almost the entire play hanging spider-like from a huge steel frame, this explanation becomes a real possibility.

A further, admittedly rather tedious, thought was that Sarah was a performance artist who, in the role of a giant spider, had teamed up with Damien Hirst to try to bring life to his rather hollow, vacuous and uninspiring works. I would have liked it if, as part of the performance, she had to eat Hirst after mating with him. Even without mating him would be ok. Leaving his remains to float, dead centre, in a vast fish-tank filled with formaldehyde, right next to his pickled sheep, cows, and sharks. The piece might have been called “I don’t know much about Art, but I know what I like.”

I have a very boring job here at the University. I volunteered for a special project they are running. There’s no pay, but everyone gets free accommodation and food. None of us know what the project is about, we just hang around mostly. Every so often, one of us is chosen by the scientist, and off we go. Only the scientist returns. Our accommodation is cramped and noisy, and at night there’s a lot of shuffling, scratching, chewing and fidgeting from the others. Fights break out from time to time. So dwindling numbers are good, frankly.

You might be wondering why I didn’t just ask Sarah, straight out, if she was in fact a spider. Call me old-fashioned, but don’t you think that would have been rather unromantic? I mean, which dating milestone is the one where you establish species? “Well hello darling, you’re looking absolutely reptilian¬†tonight!” Or the night after, and your date is in the shower: “Gotta go babe – call you, promise. Hey! What’s with your webbed feet? Oh, amphibian! Cuuuuute!!”

Faced as I was with a choice between another restless night in rowdy accommodation and a date with one of uncertain species, I decided to wing it and finally accepted Sarah’s invitation.

The big day arrived. But what to wear? I wanted to make a big impression. After all, if Sarah had gone to the all the trouble of making herself so spider-like, stunning and stark, then I felt I needed to meet her half-way. I couldn’t afford to be under-dressed. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, as they say.

I was sure that I could woo her with my magic powder, at least, and failing to come up with anything better, I covered myself from top-to-bottom in a film of shimmering silver dust.

At the appointed time, two huge, bespectacled blue eyes peered at me through the massive glass window of our dormitory. Then, our scientist lifted up the roof, reached in and delicately scooped me up in his net. With his other giant hand, he lifted the lid on a huge adjacent glass tank, labeled “Sarah” and dropped me onto the floor, opposite a grey-white cocoon. I shivered with nerves and anticipation. The scientist closed the lid above my head with a dull thud. At first there was no movement from Sarah’s corner. Perhaps she was not interested? Or not even home? My heart sank.

Then, a slight movement, and a black, hairy leg reached out tentatively from a circular opening in the egg-shaped nest. All of a sudden, Sarah flew out, her massive eyes glowing and with fangs bared. Magnificent and terrifying! She immediately started circling me, legs flying everywhere, while secreting silver-blue strands from her rear abdomen, which she wrapped around me in ever tighter bonds. Before long, I was completely immobile, my stunning silver wings now crushed firmly against my body. I was breathless with excitement! Sarah stopped and faced me head on. Opening her huge jaws, her gaping mouth greater than my own height, she closed in on me. As her fangs penetrated my long, slender body, and my juices start to flow out of me, for the briefest moment, I experienced a dazzling array of flying sparks, myriad colours and intense heat.

And then, I was in heaven.

© Simon Atherley, July 2014

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