Dara’s house was old and porous. In September, in the waning warm days, the spiders claimed it for their own. They loved the north side of the house, where the windows looked out on a mossy strip of side yard shaded thickly by laurels and hollies. In those windows the webs proliferated, sticky swags and chapel veils jeweled with caught flies. One afternoon, sick of looking at them, and with nobody to do it for her, Dara went out and swept all the webs down with a push-broom. The spiders scattered. Some of them she shook off the end of the broom and watched skitter away into the leaves. The next day, they were back. When she wasn’t looking, they slipped through the loose sash windows in the kitchen and dressed the Blessed Mother, on the sill above the sink, in clinging white silk.
Dara wanted to turn to Jack and say — something. She couldn’t remember what, which was one more annoyance. There was something her mother used to say about spiders, and he remembered what it was, but she had forgotten. Not to be able to ask, “What was that thing my mother said that drove you crazy?” — this was driving her crazy.
When their daughter had gone away to college, Dara had thought she’d known what absence was. After the great move-out, she had decided to vacuum the daughter’s bedroom. Though she’d been fine, really, even splendid, all the way to the bedroom door, as soon as she opened it abandonment had smitten her like a physical blow: bed unmade, towels mangled on the floor, mascara wand balancing, as if it had just been set down, on the edge of a little crystal dish that held seven earrings, none of which the daughter had worn since middle school. The mascara in the tube had dried like clay. How long ago? Obviously there was newer mascara, and the daughter had taken it. When Jack came home that night, Dara had let herself cry out, on his shoulder, all the heartbreak of dried-up mascara wand balancing, as if it had just been set down, on the edge of a little crystal dish that held seven earrings, none of which the daughter had worn since middle school. The mascara in the tube had dried like clay. How long ago? Obviously there was newer mascara, and the daughter had taken it.
When Jack came home that night, Dara had let herself cry out, on his shoulder, all the heartbreak of dried-up mascara. When he had left, on the other hand, she hadn’t cried. The whole thing had seemed too stupid for tragedy. She had stood in the living room, arms folded on her chest, and said in a calm, toneless voice she didn’t recognize, “Why exactly is this not too much trouble? Why exactly are you bothering?”
He had looked at his shoes. Then he had looked at the door. “I’ve been unhappy, that’s all.” And off he had gone, carrying the duffel bag he used for his gym clothes. Now it contained all his socks and underwear, all his white v-neck t-shirts, fragrant from the dryer. Already his suits had vanished from the closet. This leaving had been going on for days, and now it was about to be over.
“I bought those socks for you, you know,” she said to the door as it shut. “I went to Walmart for you.” But he was gone.
Now in the golden early-autumn afternoon, again Dara brandished the vacuum-cleaner attachment. She ran it around the window frames, along the toe-kick beneath the kitchen cabinets, up and down the piano legs where cobwebs straggled and stuck. Several spiders went up the hose as well. What was it her mother had said about spiders? It was probably something dumb and obvious, like wherever you go, there you are. It was the kind of thing her mother had always said, the kind of thing that used to make Jack roll his eyes when her mother almost wasn’t looking. What an idiot, she thought. Jack, the idiot. Her mother was dead. If her mother had bothered him so much, why hadn’t he left years ago? Why had he waited? She had thought that everything was settled. She had thought that at last they would be alone together, for the rest of their lives, in their house. She had thought that this was what he wanted, and she had been wrong.
Instead, she was alone in the house, all by herself, except for the spiders, on whom she had declared war. When she glanced at the window, there on the shadowy side of the house where the hollies clustered, their berries still green among the sharp leaves, she saw an enormous spider rope-climbing, with infinite delicacy, claw over claw, the filament it had just let itself down on. Its red-striped legs reminded her of tights her daughter had worn as a little girl. When she pressed her face to the glass, its eight black eyes gleamed at her. On the window-ledge, between two candlesticks, a new web drifted, draft-swelled and shining with late sunlight. It might have been an old woman’s just-washed hair.