Conium Press author Matt Tompkins recently wrote a brief essay for Fiction Southeast‘s “Why I Write” column. He discusses an early love of books, and how books were always there for him as a child; Matt notes that “books never mocked, never judged, never shrugged, never slurred, always answered.” He goes on to discuss his later evolution from reader to writer, exploring creative text as “a way to process, reflect, and integrate my own experience.” Read the full essay here.
Matt is the author of Souvenirs and Other Stories and Studies in Hybrid Morphology. He works in a library and lives in upstate New York.
There’s a spider where my engine should be. It was never a special engine. A ’97 Jeep Grand Cherokee and whatever kind of engine they have. Six cylinders, I guess. I’m not a mechanic. I need a ride to work. The spider’s curled up, nested like a giant fist under the hood.
I text Sherry. She texts me back. She’s upstairs about to take a bath. I text that it’s the middle of the day. She doesn’t text again.
I knock on Hal’s door in the next townhome. He answers in his bathrobe holding a clear mug of coffee. Through the side you can see tan granules of sugar swirling. “Tim,” he says. Gray hair all feathered to his skull like he just woke up.
“You know cars, right?” I say.
He shrugs. “Thirty years ago, maybe.”
I show him what’s under my hood.
“How about that,” he says. “It’s a spider. Part of the Lycosidae family, I think.” The eyes are the size of bowling balls. Hal pokes one. The mandibles twitch. He wipes the finger on his robe. “Yeah. Your engine’s missing.”
We stare at the spider until work calls to tell me I’m late.
I thank Hal, slam the hood, and run inside to swipe Sherry’s keys from the hook.
This job is boring. I use an automated die press to cut out labels. Stickers and tags and that sort of thing. Line it up and set the speed. They fly by all colors. The machine keeps track by counting tiny black tick marks on either side of the roll. I have no idea how many labels I’ve done by now. More than a billion. At the end of my shift I can’t remember what a single one looked like, but they’re shipped in their brown boxes to whoever.
I climb the stairs and flick on the light to see that the spider has plastered its fat abdomen over our entertainment center. Completely covers the screen. The legs flayed out, butting against the ceiling like a tangle of furry arms. I have to watch something or I won’t be able to sleep. I settle into the couch and hit the remote. The sound’s all muffled and whatever’s onscreen lights the spider’s belly like underglow. I turn it off.
Sherry’s in bed, but I text her anyway.
I take a night stroll to the mailbox at the end of the street.
Two bills and a credit card offer.
I let myself back in. The spider’s not there anymore, but neither is the screen.
The office door’s open.
Inside, the spider’s upside down on the floor, legs shriveled up like a mummified monkey paw. I toe it. Like a bundle of dry leaves—almost weightless.
Something moves behind me. Sound like very wet lips smacking together. I turn.
Ten in the morning. Sherry’s still in bed. The Internet repair guy’s here. He puts his hands on his hips and cocks his head. “That big white sack is full of babies,” he says. He means baby spiders, I think.
“I thought so.”
“It’s right over your laptop screen, and the wire running through the wall. You said you have cable and Internet?”
“The Mach Six package.”
“I’d say this is your mama spider.” He gestures at the dead one. He’s wearing plastic slipcovers over his boots.
“I’m not sure what to do here.” He takes a seat on the spider’s mouth. “Between you and me, it’s the government.”
I raise my eyebrows extra high. “The government.”
“They’ve got their hands in everything.”
“They do.” I’m putting him on.
He wipes the tip of his nose with his inner elbow. “It’s all rigged. Everything.”
I nod enthusiastically.
Walking him out, I broach canceling our service but the Mach Six comes with a hefty termination fee.
“Don’t try to do it yourself,” Sherry says. “What do you know about spiders?”
I’ve dug the baseball bat out of the garage. Haven’t held it in years. It’s wooden, dented but still shiny. “I tried calling people.”
She ambles back to the kitchen to finish her bagel.
The sack has taken up half of the room by now. Shapes inside like sleeping cats.
I imagine it’ll tear like cotton candy. But when I swing, the bat just splats and sticks there, half submerged. I pry. No use.
The sack has a pulse.
The dead spider has begun to fester. The knuckle of one leg’s been swallowed by the sack. Something must have a hold on it because it starts to slide in.
The bat has already been absorbed.
I sit at the table, across from Sherry. She has a mouth full of bagel. Her eyes say, Well?
“I give up.”
She swallows. “It’ll take its course.” She’s all that keeps me going.
In another room, something explodes.
About the Author:
Benjamin Allocco lives and teaches in Upstate New York. His short fiction has appeared in Prick of the Spindle and Fiction Southeast. You don’t know him, but he thinks you’re pretty alright and would like to hear from you more. Tweet at him here: @BenjaminAllocco
This story is one of The Conium Review‘s nominations for the Sundress Publications anthology, Best of the Net 2015.
Image Credit: ©
/ Dollar Photo Club