As we strolled down the sunny street, I saw something on my boyfriend’s neck. I reached up and put my finger in front of the spot. The ladybug climbed atop and flew away before I could say “Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home…”
Our bathtub is surrounded by tiles. A very small hole appeared in the grout between two of them, near the top of the tub, without our noticing. Last weekend, I did notice something – a spider’s taken up residence in the hole. I have severe arachnophobia, and can’t even look at pictures of spiders. But our life lends itself to them coming here: shelves and shelves of books, some of them centuries old. Piles of accumulated objects. A dislike of killing moths or flies. Pretty soon we’re going to completely change every aspect of our apartment, and I hope that will mean it will become less of an attraction for spiders. But for now, there’s this one crouched in that hole by the bathtub.
We can’t use our bug gun ** to get him out, because the hole goes deep, and he just squeezes himself into it every time we try. My boyfriend figured he’d be too afraid of us to come out while we’re in there – but two times now he’s crawled out while I was in the tub. Luckily, he seems not to like my screams, and goes right back into the hole. (The neighbors probably don’t like my screams, either.) I’m terrified, but I have to admire the spider’s moxie. I guess he must hate all the banging as I clumsily and predictably knock shampoo bottles off the ledge with the shower head’s cord, or pull up on the knob just over his hole (after shaking myself out of fright-induced paralysis) to make the water come out of the shower nozzle. I want him the hell away from my tub. At the same time, I wish we could understand each other and set up boundaries and say hi.
Last week, I was changing when I noticed something on the floor. It was a large spider, curled and dead. I froze and couldn’t move for a while. I couldn’t get myself to touch it or remove it, not even with a broom. So I closed the bedroom door so that our cat Ali wouldn’t eat the body, in case it was poisonous, and waited for the boyfriend to come home. He isn’t particularly at ease around spiders, either, but he’s better than me. When it comes to spiders, we’re like an old couple stumbling down the sidewalk: He can still move without help, but I need a walker, or his steady arm to lean on. My boyfriend went into the room and carefully nudged the body with a tissue to be sure the spider wasn’t playing dead. Then, he rolled it up and put it deep into the garbage can, so I wouldn’t be able to see it.
“It looks like she must have been in pain when she died,” he said. “Her legs were curled up.” In French, all spiders are female, since the word for them has this gender. For me, a linguistic outsider, it seems at once silly – obviously lots of spiders are male – and a reminder that they're living beings. I told him I thought every spider looked like that when it died, but he told me how growing up in the countryside he’d often seen them hanging dead in their webs, limp as we’d expect a lifeless body to be. I was still doubtful, but I couldn’t look it up, since there might be illustrations. We felt sorry for this little body, and I hoped it hadn’t suffered at all – or, at the very least – not long.
I love our cat Ali’s fur. He has a beautiful, glossy black coat, but it’s not just that; his fur is medium-length, and when you kiss his head, you feel a slight soft cushion beneath your lips.
When we first heard about the massacre in Norway, people thought it was Al Qaida or another Islamic terrorist group. But I told my boyfriend, “That’s strange – that’s not usually how Islamic terrorists operate: they don’t specifically go to a place where young adults are gathered, and pick them off. That’s a Columbine-style thing to do, a vigilante move.” A few hours later, we learned that I was right. I’d somehow trusted the nature of these terrorists enough to feel they wouldn’t commit an act like what happened at Utoya Island. They have done equally awful – even worse – things – but this isn’t their type of work. Odd to think that for a moment, I felt that in some ways these men have a certain sense of honor. It will never erase or lessen the atrocities they do commit, but it was strange to feel that there were certain lines they wouldn’t cross. For now, at least. Just like trying to anticipate the habits of a spider, knowing what to expect from an enemy helps to make their presence more bearable. And just as I always hope a spider in our apartment will remain predictable in its movements, I hope that these terrorists will never think to turn to this different kind of evil.
I may have seen a dead human body before, without knowing it. I realize a lot of us probably have.
Going out this weekend, we noticed a group of people gathered in the square near our apartment. As we got closer, we saw there were medics there as well, trying to revive a homeless man who was lying motionless on the ground. We didn’t stay to see what happened, but it did make me wonder: This isn’t an uncommon city sight -- how many of these people have already left life behind, as our paths and eyes come across them?
It’s heartbreaking, and yet beautiful to die in such a way, cradled in the city whose streets you lived on. Like a pigeon. I’ve seen many pigeons dead or dying. They just sit down on a corner, unperturbed by the humans walking all around them. They seem very calm and very tired. Sometimes you can think a pigeon is dying, and really it’s only resting. As you draw closer, it rises at the sight of your feet and flies away.
In the city, “nature” isn’t the same thing as it is when you live in the countryside. We don’t necessarily know when different crops are growing. We’ve probably never milked a cow or slaughtered a pig. The birds we see are of a much more limited variety – unless we go to a zoo or a museum stocked with stuffed specimens. But there is nature here. It fights through stone and brick, through cables and telephone lines, a weed growing in a sidewalk crack.
**bug gun - A water-pistol-shaped device that's actually a sort of vacuum. It sucks bugs (small to medium sized) up without harming them and they are stored in a small plastic compartment. You unscrew said compartment to release them - outside. This is a device that's changed my life, and I'd recommend it to anyone and everyone. The link I included with this term in my post, will take you to a post of mine with a more detailed description, as well as a link for one you can buy online. And there's a picture of mine at the end of the post.