The Spider in the Sink
by Jean Ryan
Ants are easy. Their very numbers make them expendable. They goad you into it, the way they march across the kitchen and besiege your sugar bowl in broad daylight. Who wouldn’t pick up a sponge and decimate them?
But what to do about the spider in the sink? No bigger than an aspirin, it shrinks in terror when your hand approaches. Somewhere the little fellow made a wrong turn; it does not want to be in your sink and now it can’t get out. With a splash of water you could send it down the dark hell of your plumbing; you wouldn’t even have to look. There is a chance the wee bug would never cross your mind again.
You don’t take that chance. You tear off a piece of toilet paper and nudge it beneath the creature, and in your nightgown you walk through the house and out the back door and you shake the tissue over a bush. One day perhaps this spider will eat the aphids off your rosebuds. But that is not why you save it.
Your husband did not wave before he pulled out of the driveway and your thoughts keep snagging on this. Every morning you wait for that gesture, his hand arcing out the window, and today he simply drove off. Now as you push his clothes into the washer, you try to recall what color shirt he was wearing, which pair of boots, and your mind draws a blank. Not much was said over toast and coffee. Your heart did not melt at the sight of his thinning blonde hair and you can’t say if his gaze lingered on you. It would be on a day like this, without clues, without touchstones, that he would leave and never come back.
Already the heat is pressing on the house. You part the living room curtains and look at the sky, pale yellow, but dark on the horizon. Out there, just above the wheat fields, clouds are building. Just as you imagined.
By now he is at the McKeever’s. Grace has brought him a cup of coffee and he is talking with her as he nails up paneling. Every few minutes, though she tries not to, she regards his tidy rump. Grace has a crush on Tad―most women do. It’s the blonde hair, which curls ever so slightly around his collar, and his blue eyes with their sand-colored lashes, and the clean cut of his jaw, and the shy smile he offers to not just everyone.
You hear about the pitfalls of marrying a gorgeous woman but less is said about gorgeous husbands. It didn’t matter a few years ago, when your thighs were tight and your skin was creamy smooth, but now that the crow’s feet and spider veins are appearing, you wonder what he’s up to. You see him putting down his hammer, reaching for something else. It doesn’t help that his work takes him into other people houses, usually when the mister is gone. You haven’t heard any rumors, and he still gathers you in his arms when he gets home and pulls you on top of him more often than not, and yet you wonder.
You go into the bedroom, take off your nightgown and stand before the full-length mirror. Because of the heat, your long auburn hair is pinned up. To hide the strands of gray, you are using a rinse that has just a bit more red than your real color. Your brown eyes still shimmer, though the wrinkles around them are getting deeper. Your breasts are high and your waist hasn’t thickened. The trouble begins with your bottom, which has always been too big; now you see some dimpling there. Worse yet are the twin bulges of flesh on your hips, the saddlebags your mother, and her mother, wore; and lately, on your thighs, the small red whorls of broken veins. In front of you are the facts, thirty-nine years of them, and while there are plenty of mornings you resent this body, today, somehow, you feel sorry for it. Slowly, respectfully, you pull on your clothes.
Washing the breakfast dishes, you keep edging looks at the sky. The clouds are coming closer, mushrooming upwards. Under the dense mantle of air, each stalk of wheat is poised. You peer at the top of the hackberry tree and notice the birds are gone.
The radio waits on the kitchen table. You dry each dish, you sweep the floor; at last you bite your lip and reach for the dial. Over at the McKeever’s, your husband is listening to his scanner. Grace doesn’t mind the noisy static, or the fact that he might bolt from her living room at any moment. Everyone knows about Tad.
You open the refrigerator and let the cool air chill the sweat on your neck and shoulders. Already it is ninety-two. Again you visit those tall pine trees, that blue mountain lake in your mind. If it weren’t for Tad you would have moved out of Enid a long time ago.
You were born and raised and married in the path of tornadoes; all your life you have been a target. Not that you haven’t been lucky. You haven’t lost anything that couldn’t be replaced (and falling in love with a carpenter was certainly fortuitous), and it’s a fact that most of these storms don’t amount to much. Still, you’d like to live one spring without knocking on wood.
The rain starts while you are dusting the coffee table. You pause at the window and watch. Punk…punk…punk punk, the slow fat drops strike the road, sending up puffs of dirt. Tad hears it too. He puts down his handsaw, walks over to the screen door. He sniffs the air, eyes the clouds; his stomach tightens.
The rain falls harder, bending the wheat, filling the road with puddles. To the north the sky is almost black. You can see the flashes of lightning.
When they issue the warning you are not surprised. You knew it was out there somewhere. They say it’s big―a half-mile wide and headed for Jefferson.
Your husband is already in his truck. He shifts into reverse, bumps and splashes down the drive. The wipers are going full tilt. He gets on the CB, tells Duane where to meet him.
As long as you have known him, Tad has been chasing tornadoes. He is not, you admit, as fanatic as some. He does not spend the entire month of May driving around Tornado Alley, analyzing radar images and estimating wind sheer. And rarely does he actually see what he’s after―most of his chases end in a bust. But if a storm is close enough, if there’s a chance he can get there in time, nothing on earth can stop him. You have told him it’s foolish, that he will get himself killed. You have cited the damage done to the truck, the cost of all those repairs. You have begged and scolded; you have even threatened, but by now it’s clear you’re not leaving this place, not, that is, until you’re a widow.
You sit down at the red Formica-topped table and fix your gaze on the radio. They’re rating the tornado an F4. It has blown through Jefferson and is now moving west toward Nash. People saw two huge funnels which merged and picked up a barn. Homes are gone; cows are dead; a girl and her father are missing.
Tad picks up Duane at Everett’s Dairy and they head north on 64. Rain beats against the windshield, gushes down the sides. “We can’t see anything through this shit,” Duane says, squinting at the thick clouds ahead of them. Tad turns up the CB and the cab ricochets with voices and static.
“It’s in Nash―we gotta take Cochran Road.”
Tad knows they should stay off the dirt roads. But this one’s a maxi. And they’re so close.
You don’t have to worry about the others: your boys had the sense to move out west and your mother is safe in Muskogee. As for this house, well it’s not exactly a dream come true. Indeed there are times when, studying the worn yellow box from across the road, its two front windows like small sad eyes, you wish for a strong wind.
Tornadoes can change direction on a whim and this one might decide to plow its way toward Enid. You’re aware of this and yet you don’t move from your chair. There is no need to take cover, no reason to collect your valuables and stow them in the basement. You have used up your luck. It is not the house you will lose today.
Tad accelerates and the tires fling mud on the doors and windows. They are close. Wind pummels the hickory trees. Leaves and twigs and paper whirl through the blue-black sky. A ragdoll flies past. Now they drive into hail. The icy chunks bombard the puddles, bounce off the hood.
They can hear the wind, can feel it pulling on the truck. Tad reaches for the video camera.
At his funeral he will be a hero. His father will muster the strength to offer a short eulogy through which his mother will sob. Men will be stone-faced; women will shake their heads and recall his smile and the way he listened when they spoke. Two of these women will weep and from this you will draw irrefutable conclusions.
You will move to a state with mountains and water. It will not help. You will sit on your porch at dusk and gaze at the pine trees and listen to the loons. You will think of silos and wheat fields and wind.
Suddenly it is there, so massive, so near, that all they can see is one brown whirling side. Tad lets go of the camera and reaches for the gear shift.
“We’re too close,” he says, yanking the wheel to the right, turning the track partway around. He shoves into reverse and the truck’s back tires lurch into a gully of mud.
“Do it, man―get us out of here!” Duane shouts.
Tad shifts gears, guns the engine; the truck shudders but stays where it is. He reverses, tries again―the tires just keep spinning.
Duane pushes open the door and jumps out.
“No!” Tad yells. “Stay in the truck!”
But Duane won’t stop. Hands frozen on the wheel, Tad watches him run through the wheat, his white shirt getting smaller and smaller, until it’s gone, and there is only the roaring curtain of wind.
The tornado expired just south of Pond Creek. It battered four towns and left a woman wedged in a tree. She is the only confirmed death, but several people have not been accounted for.
The storm has cleansed the earth and the air does not feel like warm cotton anymore. You walk out to porch and sit on the glider. Gently you push your feet against the floor and the seat begins to swing. Beyond the puddle-pocked road the wheat is bent and glistening; above it swallows dive. The neighbor’s bloodhound barks. A fat grasshopper lands on the screen.
Just after one o’clock they show up. You see the truck coming down the road, and Duane’s orange baseball cap, and then Tad’s arm, waving. For the hundredth time, you get to your feet and wave back.
You are lying alongside Tad, your front pressed lightly against his back, your hand resting on his waist. All you can hear are his slow deep breaths and the constant chirping of crickets.
Sure enough you think about that spider. You didn’t see it fall from the tissue and you hope it landed safely, that it found, on the glossy contours of a leaf, something to eat, perhaps a mite or two. You hope, when the rain came, that it chanced upon a cozy niche, a place to curl up its legs and rest. Soon enough it will find another precipice, will wander across the length of the leaf, and cling, bewildered, to the edge of its world.
* * *
Jean Ryan lives in Napa, California, and her writing has appeared in a variety of journals to include The Massachusetts Review, The Summerset Review, and The Foundling Review. Her novel, LOST SISTER, was published in 2005 and is available on Amazon.com. “The Spider in the Sink” was originally published in Artisan in December, 1999.