In my defense I would like to say that, in this very customer’s house, I have been stung by what I can only presume to be a black widow. It must have crawled, unbeknownst to my unsuspecting foot, under the tongue of my shoe. The first I knew of it was what felt like a red-hot-needle stabbing my foot’s upper arch repeatedly. I flung off the shoe and sock and found nothing: no thorn, no sliver, no insect, no wound, no mark. But over the next two days, my foot swelled and turned black. It throbbed, and the slightest movement or touch would set off the excruciating burning nerve pain.
I googled my symptoms and it was a spider bite: either a black widow or a brown recluse. How to tell: wait and watch- if the flesh starts necrotizing it’s a brown recluse. Treatment: for the black widow bite – do nothing – it will heal itself; for the brown recluse bite you go to the doctor to get the gangrenous parts removed. Shudder. But I kept my foot, and the pain and blackness faded over the next two weeks.
My fear and hatred of spiders began as a child fueled by my father’s stories of foot wide spiders he saw in New Guinea and Borneo during World War II. He claimed they could catch a man in their webs strung between trees. My nightmares featured spiders crawling all over my body and I couldn’t scream. I more than made up for it when I was awake, screaming at the tiniest spider until someone else smashed it.
It turned out my fear was justified. My father noticed I was scratching large, itchy but painful red welts on my legs and tummy. He said they were too big to be to be mosquito bites and it was winter so there were no mosquitoes around. He checked me for ticks then started going through my room even taking my bed apart piece by piece. It wasn’t until he lifted the box springs from the frame that a three inch black spider, a chubbier breed than a black widow, reared up on his hind legs ready to fight. I screamed and it’s possible my dad did too. Then he smashed it with a big boot.
That spider had been feeding off me every night. No wonder my nightmares were of spiders crawling over me. Some part of my brain had been aware. My spider nightmares gradually faded. But if I see a spider I am not at peace until they are dead. When I was living at home I called my father for all spider exterminations but as an adult living alone I have learned to kill them, mostly, by sucking them up with the vacuum. I like a five foot extendo- wand between me and the hairy culprits.
Now, unless it’s a two inch leaping wolf spider, I can pretend to stay cool in front of my cleaning customers. But I make sure spiders don’t want to live in any of my client’s houses. The first thing I do when I clean is cobweb (my personal verb for sweeping a long pole topped with a brush across the ceilings, corners, baseboards, door trim and light fixtures). Spiders expend a lot of energy producing the protein that is their web. Some species eat their web every night then reweave it in the morning. If you remove their webs the spiders will either go elsewhere or gradually starve to death. If I flush out a spider I make sure to smash it.
Some of my customers are spider savers. They pick them up with their bare hands or put a glass over the evil biters, sliding a piece of paper underneath, trapping the spider then carrying it outside. Where, I know they multiply then sneak back inside. One lady even has a clear Lucite suction tool she wants me to place over the spider who she presumes will wait patiently while I place a tube with a diameter not much bigger than its body over it. No way!
I want the length of the vacuum wand or pole between me and the hairy critters, so I don’t tell the savers when I dispatch their spiders.
The diminutive professor emeritus I’m cleaning for today is in the den watching the latest ruling of the Supreme Court.
In the bedroom, I’m in the cleaning zone–an active Zen like trance–doing what I call cleaner’s yoga, lying on the Persian rug so I can see under the bed as I pass the vacuum wand over the congregation of dust bunnies that accumulate as far from the edge as possible as if they were sentient beings and not just accumulated lint, hair, and dust.
Dust bunnies are scurrying toward the vacuum brush’s suction when in my peripheral vision I see something dark and furry with multitudinous legs run along the baseboards away from the vacuums suction and towards my face.
I leap to my feet as fast as my creaky joints will let me and shudder to expel some of my nervous energy. I hope I haven’t startled my client and rush to the den to check on her. She’s fixated on the blaring TV and hasn’t noticed my scream. Good. My panic has gone unobserved, besides she’s a spider-saver.
Back in the bedroom, I prepare for spider hunting. I retrieve the vacuum wand and remove the brush. I want to be ready to suck that spider up. Last I saw it was under the bedside table. Then I realize that my glasses have gone missing in my panic. I find them behind my back tangled in my waist length hair. When they are firmly set on my nose and hooked around my ears I use a standing yoga bend–no way am I lying down on the floor with a spider on the loose–to peer nervously under the bedside table, vacuum on and wand in front of me ready to suction or retreat.
In the spot I last saw the spider is a round dark brown object. It no longer looks furry or has legs. It looks like a large brown bead, but I don’t trust my vision in this dark corner. I give it a cautious tap with the vacuum wand. It rolls forward then with another small tap, it rolls back. Unlike a spider, it has not run, leapt or cringed. But the big ones never cringe. I tap it into the middle of the floor out into the light, still just a round ball. I’m finally convinced it’s not a spider and I pick it up.
I have just been terrified by a chocolate malt ball.