spider slayer

Marlena Chertock
Content Warnings
"A ghostwhite spider haunts Zev..."
Dec 28, 2020 9:50 PM

A ghostwhite spider haunts Zev. Every time she opens her driver's door, gets ready to put her key in, there she is, crawling across the windshield. Zev kills her with the windshield wipers, wisps of eight white legs smearing.

Zev thinks she's rid of her, but she keeps showing up while she's driving to work. Zev stops driving as often. Her door handles sticky with silk. She wipes the enemy fiber off on her jeans.

Zev gets in her car and presses the gas hard. She goes 45, 50, 65 mph, sees if she can fling the ghostwhite off. But her centimeter body stays hunched on Zev's driver's-side mirror, mocking her.

Sometimes, when Zev's falling asleep, the ghostwhite rustles in her ears; its tangled threads clogging her nose, so she has to breathe through her mouth. She checks the time on her phone throughout the night. 11:30 p.m. ... 1 a.m. ... 4 a.m. The disrupted sleep sinks her eyelids. In the morning, she swallows her pills and skips breakfast.

Once Zev gets to work, she pleads for the ghostwhite to stop haunting. She doesn't want to keep killing reincarnations. The ghostwhite doesn't seem to listen. She darts under the hood, out of Zev's view.

Maybe a mother spider lives in her engine, warm and cozy. Laying millions of eggs, so they can spread throughout the entire blue body of her car, threads covering her tailpipe, webs so thick she can't see through her windows.

At lunch, Zev daydreams about poisonous bug bombs and sticky fly catchers. She'll build a miniature mousetrap and glue it to her mirror. Dangle strips of krazy glue from her tailpipe. Word will spread that she's the spider slayer. All the ghostwhites will avoid her car, their eight legs freezing when they see her parking. None will dare balloon a web parachute from the trees to her hood.

It's becoming fall—the air smells like crunchy leaves. Zev hopes the ghostwhite will stop infiltrating her sleep if it becomes the smallest iceberg. But she remembers first seeing a spider, stark white on her bathroom mirror, last winter, crawling on her reflected cheek. The same one still haunts her. Zev smooshes one crawling across her radio with napkins from her glove compartment, makes sure she's dead.

Maybe in her past life Zev was a witch, the spiders a visible path of where she walked every day, the bathroom, the grocery, the library. She must have liked them. They kept her company during her long drives into the countryside, where she'd find a space to set up her magic circles.

The witch trained the spiders to balance her weight on their tiny bodies. They lifted her as she whispered chants and secrets to them. Their many legs like thousands of caresses. She took off her crystal earrings and necklace, her skirt, and floated in the river. The water was frigid on her powerful skin. She ate wild berries while her skin dried, spiders nestling on her hairy legs.

Zev wants to feel like that for once. She wishes rolling out of her warm covers every morning wasn't like getting stuck on the ghostwhite's sticky silk: the more she struggles, the more bundled she becomes.

Months later, Zev wakes up to gray sun meagerly filtering through the fog. Thousands of yellowing exoskeletons scattered along the covers. They float to the blue carpet as she makes the bed, their bodies drowning in the fibers.

Zev takes her pills and looks at her reflection in the bathroom mirror, spiderless, a faint smile. Spider carcasses are on her toothbrush, in the toilet bowl. She tosses them all in and flushes them away. Their eight legs sucked into the pipes.

She finishes getting ready, washes her plate from breakfast, pulls on a scarf and hat, goes out to the car. No ghostwhite on the windshield. None clogging the tailpipe. She drives slowly to work, since she doesn't need to shake off her body.

Zev parks and looks in the trees. There must be thousands sheltering up there in the leaves, weaving warm webs to survive the winter. She thinks she sees one trailing through the wind on its string. For a moment, threads itch the back of her throat. She finishes her tea, scalding any remnants of web, and walks in the door.

MARLENA CHERTOCK has two books of poetry, Crumb-sized (Unnamed Press, 2017) and On that one-way trip to Mars (Bottlecap Press, 2016). She lives in Washington, D.C. and serves as the poetry editor of District Lit. Marlena is a graduate of the Jiménez-Porter Writers' House and uses her skeletal dysplasia and chronic pain as a bridge to scientific poetry. Her poems and short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Breath & Shadow, The Deaf Poets Society, The Fem, Paper Darts, Wordgathering, and more. Find her at marlenachertock.com or @mchertock.