Diane Smith


Black widow spiders strummed their legs on the silken stands like violinists practicing vibrato. Joshua reached over my head and turned on the ceiling fan and red lamps. The warmth of his body, so close, cradled me.
“They don’t like sunlight, Tina. Usually hunt at night and never wander far from home.”
“We have widows in Cabo San Lucas. Yours are different. Here, at the university, dinner falls from the sky—like manna.” 
“Pretty much,” Joshua laughed. “The lab assistant feeds them at night.”
His features softened in the amber glow of the safe lights as the fan whooshed and whirred. Fifty glass jars lined the narrow wooden shelf. Inside each, a shiny black spider hung upside down, suspended from a web between two bony twigs, a red hourglass tattooed on its berry-shaped belly. The shelf rested at the height for my eyes, just two inches from their fangs.
Joshua tapped the shelf lightly sending vibrations through the wood. The spiders kicked their front legs in the air.
“My chorus line,” Joshua said. “Come closer, Tina.” He tilted his head towards the jars.
“I’m close enough!” I said.

“They remind me of Busby Berkeley's dancers. The ones in that old movie, 42nd Street, we saw last night."
"Not as synchronized,” I said. “What are you doing with them?”
“It’s not the spiders I’m interested in, but their webs.”
“Webs,” I repeated.
“—spun steel; the strongest of all spiders—just like the Guggenheim Frank Gehry designed in Spain— iridescent, odd-shaped panels, softly curving—like a wave in slow motion.”

“I suspect the fly would differ about this museum home? Mi casa es tu casa.
“Well, yes, the widow’s nest is made for one,” Josh said. “And a fly wouldn’t care for it. Their toxin liquefies the insects’ bodies—turns them into slurpies. These woven silky threads define their space in the vast Milky Way.”
“Adoro the architect, forget the spiders.”
“Of all the millions and millions of webs in the world, the widow’s web is unique to each widow, like DNA.”
“Where did you learn this?”
“Well documented, Tina. If I’ve learned anything important though, from these ladies, it’s tenacity. Destroy the widow's nest, she’ll build again. Steal her eggs, she’ll lay more. Tear her shawl; she’ll tat a new one.”

Joshua knew my parents died during a hurricane a year ago. Days of mourning swept into weeks, then months. I quit school because I could not focus on my studies. I often found my mind drifting back to that day. Then, I stared at the spiders closely. Something in me wanted to bump that shelf, or stick my hand inside the widow’s tangled home, let a lady have a taste. And with that toxin define the edges of existence, Dia de los Muertos: the Day of the Dead …as I reached to pick up a jar.

Joshua’s touch startled me as he lifted strands of my long black hair and brushed them against his cheek.

“Te quiero, Tina. Te quiero. I love you.”

He put his arms around me, clasping his hands behind my back as we stared at the last jar in the long row. I was afraid to move. If I turned I would knock the shelf. Josh wrapped tighter with the scent of love, wild cantaloupe roses pricking me with fear and pleasure; bringing me back to the room, to him, to the soft lights …

“And they’re shy creatures,” Joshua murmured in my ear.

“Spider man, you’re sweet. But not here, por favor.”

“And you’re sweet too,” he mumbled.

I felt like a star pulsating in the night.

A small tremor rumbled, transgressing place. “Wow. What was that?”

"Just a twitch from Mother Earth," Joshua said.

"That was more than a twitch. We need to go."

“I should move my black beauties. I could lose my research,” Joshua said, dust now shimmering in the light. “Tina, I’ll join you later.”

“We go together!” My voice was shrill.

“It will only take a minute to move them…”

"No …”

“Please …”

“If you're staying, I'm staying.”

Stress cracks on the wall rippled towards the ceiling; crumbling plaster drew my eyes above. I yelled, “Estimado dios, dear God, dear God. We must go—NOW.”

Joshua pulled an old-fashioned syringe kit off the shelf. “Antivenin’s in here. If anything happens, inject yourself, all of it. I only have this one dose…” he said, feeling the floor move.

“The big one is coming!” I screamed above the growing din.

Screws bolted to the shelf and wall developed hairline fractures that grew in seconds, then jerked free. Debris splattered and glass jars tumbled through the air, shards splintering on the floor, spiders dancing on our feet and legs. More plaster fell from the ceiling as a crashing noise swelled. The room’s window exploded, its frame twisting in the sun. Screeching steel on steel … was it seconds, minutes or hours?

I pulled the syringe from its plastic bed, hesitating, as Josh fell against the shaking wall. “Inject yourself, inject yourself nowwwww. Can’t mooooove,” Joshua slurred.

Exposed skin from our sandaled feet prickled with red bulls-eyes. I took his wrist, checking his pulse, and then grabbed his hand. His grip loosened and then he slumped to the vibrating floor, which soon erupted into two sections—buckling at the center.

Fleeting thoughts, the spiders’ toxins flowing through my system; flawless skies and calm ocean waters speckled with pelicans and gulls, my home, Josh's strange and clammy skin, the red safe lights throbbing and fading with my sight.

Misted mountains, pristine waters and the unrelenting sun warmed me. Square adobe buildings, in pastel yellows, oranges, greens, dark turquoise, shimmered with life.

Moans from Joshua grew fainter.

The ceiling fan stopped whirring as it dropped a foot, then dangled from the loose wires.

I walked down a brick path, past the watchtower, now looming towards the sky–so much taller and larger than I remembered, stretching forever, down a cobbled road to the center of beloved Cabo San Lucas. Tourists bartering for pesos and centavos. A guitarron played mariachi in the streets synchronized to the beat of my heart. And there was Josh, on the point beneath the mountains, overlooking the pier, beneath my mountains.

I fumbled with the syringe.

How much do I owe you for the rental of the snorkel and gear?” Josh said.

Twenty American.

“I’ll pay you twenty-five.

Muchos Gracias.

You’re welcome. What will you do with it?

Use it for school—I'm a medical student.

My stomach ached; I was nauseated and wretched.

Sounds like a good investment,” as his fins flapped and slapped against the hot sand, like a silly, white albatross waddling to the ocean’s edge.

I shook my foggy, thick head and stared at the syringe in my blurry hand. Joshua was unconscious now. A wild tango of thoughts flooded my neurons. Electric black hair whipped through the air, dark eyes burning as I plunged the syringe deep into the flesh.

"No, Joshua, te quiero, no, not a chorus line at all."



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