Bruce in the Packet

145. Stories of Insignificance

I am a prodigious letter-writer. Writing letters is an exercise in clearing my thoughts and raising my determination to write better. I often take thoughts and phrases out of the letters to incorporate into these essays for Snakeskin.

I was writing my daily letter to my stepmother-in-law. I’ve missed only one day in the last four or five years. There was a fuzzy ball of fur hanging by a thread from my Black Welsh Mountain sheep cardigan. I went to remove it and it mysteriously vanished. I took off the cardigan and searched for the loose thread. There it was again. I pulled it off. It was a different kind of thread than I expected. It was not wool. It was silk. And the fuzzy ball proved to be a spider who, at that very moment, began racing up the thread to where it was stuck to my finger.

An instinct kicked in and I panicked. I tried shaking the spider loose, but she stayed clinging to the thread and the thread stayed stuck to my finger. My reaction was out of proportion to the threat. The creature was smaller than my pinkie and weighed little more than a postage stamp. One does not feel its weight. She probably wouldn’t stick her fangs in me unprovoked. But what do I do to keep her from reaching my finger? In a desperate act, I flapped my arm and hand more vigorously, successfully dislodging the spider. But where to?

I assumed she fell into the long hairs of the sheepskin throw rug beneath my bare feet. She would be impossible to find in that brown rug. I went back to work on the letter I was writing. That is when she reappeared, coming over the horizon of my big belly and making her way up my striped shirt.

I looked for something on my desk by which I could capture her, but she was not prepared to stay in place while I searched. She began scrambling up my chest. That silly instinct kicked in again and I leaped to my feet knocking the chair over. Did I believe that by standing I could increase the distance between us. My chest and the spider rose with me, and she kept coming, was about to disappear under my chin.

Not wanting to crush her, I brushed her off. Again, I assumed she fell into the shaggy scatter rug where I could not find her.

This time, I went into the kitchen and fetched the handheld vacuum. First, I vacuumed myself, up and down both trouser legs. Then I began vacuuming the sheepskin rug. She darted out of the rug and dashed across the bedroom carpet to reach the wall. There she buried herself in the crevice where the wall and floor joined.

I put the vacuum back in its charger in the kitchen. Having decided we both had had enough excitement, I chose to leave her be. If she decided to climb the wall, I was prepared to reconsider her capture and releasing her outside. But she chose to stay where she was, so I left her alone.

This was the story in the letter to my stepmother-in-law. I wrote about it practically as it was unfolding. I reread the letter and thought the tale amusing. The letter finished, I slipped it into an envelope and began another letter.

This time the letter was to my friend and fellow snailor, Skip in New Mexico. I retold the spider story, now in the past tense, taking care to polish it. I repeated the good stuff, that had been spontaneous. I expanded the details. I found better word choices. And all the time analysis went on in my head to explain and appreciate the significance of the event.

Do we discover significance or assign significance? I didn’t write those thoughts into Skip’s letter, but left them in my head to percolate. What is the value of elevating such a story to be retold in letters? Is it sufficiently entertaining? Skip enjoys photographing the wolf spiders that he calls roommates. He should enjoy my story and will probably scoff at my cowardice.

This is the importance letter-writing has for me. It is a casual exercise in expressing my thoughts and feelings on paper while giving an account of my existence in the context of where and when I live. It fulfils my personal definition of “art”, the conscious endeavor to communicate the experience of existence. And this is what I know, that I think best with a pen in my hand.

My story will never become as iconic as the Robert Bruce story about the spider he observed in a cave. Still, there is another spider story in my notes I wish to share.

Ms Keogh, my cherished companion, and I were visiting with her youngest brother’s family in Thaxted, England. As the weather had gotten colder, the spiders had moved into the homes at Thaxted. In my brother-in-law’s household, spiders were never killed. Even the cat, Little Dude, would track them, following them across the floor with his nose practically pushing them along, but he wouldn’t eat them, even though I told him they tasted like lobster.

Ms Keogh woke one night and decided, since she couldn’t sleep, to go into the living room and read. The room we were in was in the back of the house and cramped. She climbed over me to get out of bed, which woke me. Then she turned on the light. Dangling from the ceiling over my head was a spider.

Out of respect for the house rules, I was not killing spiders that even threatened my personal space. I asked Ms Keogh to remove it for me. She said, “I’ll do better than that. I will make it disappear altogether.” With that she shut off the light and closed the door behind her as she left the room.

Her technique did not work. The spider instantly grew to 26 pounds, which stretched the silk cord that held her until she was only four inches from my face. I carefully slipped out from under the dangling spider and found the light switch. Before I could turn around and check, the light had already restored the spider to her normal size, the silk thread snapping back to its original length.

I got a broom. With the spider dangling from the end of the broom, I moved her to another room. Surely a story of significance to the spider, if she kept a diary or wrote letters.

Mr Bentzman will continue to report here regularly about the events and concerns of his life. If you've any comments or suggestions,
he would be pleased to hear from you. 

You can find his several books at Enshrined Inside Me, his second collection of essays, is now available to purchase.