I am pottering around the house, minding my own business. It’s pouring with rain outside. Benny follows me, crying, and as I pop two slices of bread into the toaster I pick up his bag of treats.
“Want a treat?” I say. “It’s been ages since you had one.”
Benny fixes his gaze on me and says nothing.
I walk back with him into the living room. I usually sit on the beanbag while I feed him treats and pretend I am teaching him to sit. I stop suddenly, sensing a funny kind of danger before I’ve computed what I’ve seen and translated it into a word: spider.
I stand for approximately six minutes, staring at the spider. The smell of burnt toast floats down the hall. Benny becomes increasingly agitated by the bag of treats in my hand and motions to climb onto the beanbag.
“NO,” I say to him.
The spider has sensed the ginger monster’s movements and begins moving across the beanbag. I feel my skin crawl and The Spider Itching begins. I stride across the room and grab the first substantial book I find – The Norton Anthology of English Literature, which has killed many a spider in its time and has never ever been read – and, my hand forced into action by the moving spider and Benny’s aggressive pacing, I drop the book onto the spider.
I stand there, shocked that I did anything, reliving the moment when I released the book, questioning whether the spider escaped, what it’s doing, what it’s plotting. I try to problem-solve the shit out of the situation. I conclude knowing that there is a 50% chance the spider is dead and a 70% chance it’s under the book isn’t really enough. I also conclude that I in no way have the metal to move the book or the beanbag.
I turn the TV off and eat my toast whilst watching the beanbag for entertainment. Then I post a picture of the spider to Facebook, canvassing whether anybody local might like to come and remove it for me. MindReader’sSister suggests putting a cup over the spider, explaining that the initial outlay of fear is a worthwhile investment vis not knowing the spider’s exact location. I explain the beanbag issue (and that I have psychological issues, obviously) and she wishes me luck.
My phone rings. “Hi Bill,” MadFather sings down the line to me. He does genuinely call me this.
“Hi,” I say. “I have a situation.”
“I’m just having a lovely lunch.”
“There is a spider.”
“Oh,” MadFather says. “Oh. Where?”
“On the beanbag. Under a book.”
“Right. What’s your end goal?”
“Dead spider,” I say, checking the sofa carefully for spider-offspring and lowering myself onto it.
“Can you pick up just the back page – just the few back pages, be brave – of the book?”
I remember MadFather taking me out by the hand into the garden. I can’t have been more than six. He’d pick up large garden spiders and lower them gently into my shaking palm; I’d feel their tickly, oily feet as they walked across it. Even then, we were trying to cure a spider phobia that I was seemingly born with. It obviously didn’t work.
“There would be two possible outcomes,” I say. “One, the spider would run away and I’d just put the book on it again. Or, two, the spider wouldn’t be there, which is the worst-case scenario.”
I don’t point out that the actual worst-case scenario is a nest, in the cupboard in the living room, thousands and thousands of spiders running down from the lights, cascading down the stairs in a dark river, running all over my body and me dying from a heart attack in my hallway.
“So thinking the spider is under the book is better than knowing it’s not,” MadFather says. “Fair enough.”
“I want the spider dead.”
“Then pick the book up, and get another book. Shake the beanbag until the spider falls on the floor and then kill it with the second book.”
“I… I can’t do that. What’re you up to?” I walk slowly into the kitchen, looking at the ceiling and into the corners of the room and get my full teapot. I bring it into the living room, check the beanbag/book situation, and pour myself a cup of tea. When in doubt…
“Working. Got a lesson at 3.30.”
My lawyer hat pops on as I open negotiations.
“I’ll pay you £30 to come and remove this spider,” I say. “Genuine offer.”
“Genuine rejection. I’ll earn £40 teaching.”
“Is it just the one lesson?” I say, considering if peace of mind is worth more than a £40 dress to me.
“I’m going to watch twenty minutes of Federer Vs Djokovic, which is priceless. Then I’m going to teach for two hours and earn £40. Then I’m going to come home and watch Murray play, which is also priceless.”
“If you come to me after you’ve taught I’ll put the tennis on and cook you dinner and make you tea and give you reasonable petrol expenses,” I say.
MadFather considers my offer. “Deal. See you at 6.30.”