“I was thinking about having Papa over for dinner on Sunday. You haven’t seen him for a while and he’ll probably really want to hear about your trip,” my Mom says as she files her nails in even strokes. She’s sitting on my bed, which is comically large in this bedroom. The heavy, wood framed, queen-sized piece, sits about eighteen inches away from the massive matching bureau, both of which served as sort of consolation prize for my significant downgrade in square footage when we moved into this house four years ago.
“What do you think I should make?” she continues, “I could make salmon but, OH MY GOSH! WHAT-“ she points at the spot above my bedroom door, “WHAT IS THAT??? IS THAT A SPIDER? PAAAAAT! PAT! COME HERE!”
“Mom! Shh, stop.” I laugh, “It’s a spider, yes, but, it’s dead.” It has, in fact, been dead for probably about as long as we’ve lived in the house.
“Well what in the world is it still doing up there?”
We take a second to examine the dark, crumpled smear, our heads cocked and noses scrunched in question.
“It’s a scarecrow,” I explain.
“Well, more like a scare-spider I guess."
“Huh. Okay.” She pauses, and then, “That’s just kind of…gross, don’t you think?”
“I mean, I guess,” I shrug. “The weird thing is though… it works.”
The pest control in our house has always largely been managed by my father. Instead of bug-killing, he humanely and calmly would grab the Spider Trap from the laundry room (a mason jar and a piece of thin, stiff cardboard) and would neutralize the situation in our bedrooms and common areas by scooting the many-legged creature into the jar and releasing it from the back door in a perhaps-just-as-lethal arc. Over the deck, out into the lawn it would soar, though one would be remiss to come back into the house without first double-checking the jar and doing the obligatory jim-jam body wriggle to ensure the security of the home.
The rest of us could manage the silverfish infestation well enough- there was no crunching noise or excess of paper towel needed as insulation against the act of the smush.
One summer, we had a flying ant infestation. I kid you not, those things were positively TERRIFYING. Just AWFUL. Fodder for a Ridley Scott film, the stuff nightmares are made of. They were coming in from some hole in the cabinet under the kitchen sink, and were about a full inch in length.
The very worst part was their thick, yellow stained-glass wings that made the most skin-crawling sound when fluttered. I am struggling, even now, not to vomit as I recall it.
You’d be home alone one afternoon, microwaving a hotdog or some such summer sustenance when you heard it: the unmistakable friction of scaley wings. The microwave would sound its beeps of conclusion, and you would freeze, the gooseflesh rising despite the sweltering July temperatures. Slowly, you’d reach behind you, fumbling for the microwave door, the frank, the white enriched bun and the ketchup bottle, all the while keeping both eyes on the ant-soldier. It would amble, stop, rub its filthy legs together over a crumb on the floor, and you, barefoot, would contemplate your escape route while munching on the hotdog.
A napkin squish had proven earlier in the week to be a really disturbing experience, as the strong armor of the ant-beast really required a firm and unswerving commitment to squishing. This proved difficult when your thumb and forefinger went in for the kill and were met with thrashing, thick legs and the whole napkin/half-dead ant-dragon situation was thrown to the floor with a girlish shriek, the kitchen fled on sunburned legs. At this rate, they were going to have full range of the house in days.
Vacuuming appeared at first to be a good solution, but the idea of just moving the living creature into another space where it seemed it could just mate with the other prisoners really freaked me out, and I abandoned that idea, dreaming of flying-ant armies marching back out the tube attachment, coming for me in my sleep.
Thus, necessity was truly the mother of my invention. I found a small, dense rectangle of plywood in the garage, about 9 inches by 7 inches. I brought it into the kitchen, and wrapped a paper towel around the board once, Scotch taping the edges on the backside of the board.
I either carried the board with me while making lunches, or left it near the microwave, in the event of an ant ambush.
What this weapon allowed me was the safety of distance, protection from creepy sounds, and absolute victory, until Dad had time that weekend to spray. It worked best if I had a stool, or if I had time, to scramble onto the kitchen counter. There, I would wait for the ant-demon to be in the middle of the kitchen floor, and, before it could sense its impending death, WHAM! The plywood weapon had been dropped on it squarely from a height of probably 6 feet: the collision of the wood and the linoleum shrouded the sound of the crunching of the exoskeleton, which made me queasy, and I didn’t have to get anywhere near the disgusting thing to kill it. Plus, clean up just involved removing the paper towel over the garbage can, and re-wrapping the plywood.
Until my more-genius notion of bug scarecrows, or, in this present instance, of the Scarespider. Since its fateful smooshing, I have honestly, I swear to you, not seen a single other bug in this bedroom. It is immortalized as a broken-legged, gut-smeared testament to my strength and don’t you forget it, arachnid community of Oregon.
Surprised even still by its effectiveness, sometimes I stare at the spot in the morning when I wake up, before I can rouse myself from bed. I think about the ability of the display of one defeat to preempt another. How beings can sense, out of self-preservation, when they are not welcome somewhere, as if they can smell the ghosts of the failures of their predecessors.
It’s why we don’t waltz into dark alleyways in cities; why we don’t willingly vault ourselves through manhole covers into sewers- why you don’t ever ever ever lock yourself in the bathroom when the murderer gets into your house: we have heard stories, and seen examples, of how these are not havens of hope and life, but dark tombs. So we try to avoid these situations- just sidestep them altogether.And gazing at that that Scarespider made me realize I’ve had a Scareboyfriend up for over a year.
The sad, smeared remains of the last one left on display, constantly referenced in conversation and determinant of moods – at first certainly meant to keep other possibilities at bay, but then, after a time, just a weird reminder of the power of hurt and decay.
When I get home from work tonight, I think I’m going to wipe the Scarespider off the wall, and clean up the stain with a little soap and hot water.