Anybody's Skin


 

"A woman can hide her love for forty years, but her disgust and anger not for one day." – Arab Proverb

8:30, or so, maybe? Hmmm. Dolores made her way into the bathroom and hitched up her t-shirt, lowering herself onto the toilet seat.  Releasing a stream of urine. Her head lolled back and she breathed a sigh of relief.

Bliss.

Her walls, wonderfully sore. Neville had put his back into it, alright. Started humming Ice Cube afterwards, too.

As the stream gurgled into the bowl, Dolores took stock of the aftermath. Sperm oozing from below, breasts sore, nipples tender, and rubbing against the t-shirt. Lifting the hem of her shirt to her chin, a ring of purple bruising circled one nipple. She could see it now: her cussing Neville for his nonsense, and him simply offering to kiss it better.

 

Tsssssssssk.

Call of nature answered, Dolores stood up. Reached for extra sheets of toilet paper and ran through the routine of wiping away spent sperm.

“…honey?”

 

Downed paper and flushed.

Not all bad. Back to bed, chill for a while, and at least I won’t have to get in the kitchen until noon. A little quick breakfast, read the paper… Like many day jobs, Chelsea and Westminster’s fracture clinic was enough to wear on Dolores until the weekend rolled around so she could lounge and berate the weekend for being too short. Never enough weekend. With the kids at basketball and Neville staying over, she could berate the weekend for a different reason.

 

Better get back to bed, then.

“…honey?”

 

Dolores recoiled flinching. The voice was so small, it didn’t register at first, coming from the bathtub. Without wondering why a voice would come from the bathtub, Dolores peered over the rim to investigate.

 

A spider – several inches from the plughole. Body the length of her fingertip to her knuckle, jointed legs motionless. For now.

 

Dolores stiffened. Not only was she a little scared of spiders, but their habit of appearing unexpectedly didn’t help either. Those things were disgusting to look at to start with. More so if you looked at them longer.

 

Now came the dance. No sudden moves, everything stealthy and deliberate. Hand moving of its own accord, eyes never moving from the spider in the tub. Ugly thing too: black-brown against the white of the bath’s enamel.

 

“Honey?”

What?

The voice, small and tinny, coming from the tub.

That’s the spider.

 

That’s not possible. THAT’S not possible.

In spite of herself, Dolores leaned closer and in response the spider oriented itself to face her. Dolores clapped a hand over her mouth.

“Dolores?”

Open-mouthed.

“Baby, it’s me! Can you hear me?”

 

Of course Dolores could hear. She just couldn’t believe.

There was no such thing as a talking animal, let alone a talking spider.

Let alone Neville.

“Baby, don't you recognise me?”

This was unreal, horribly so.

 

Hands fisting now, grabbing the hem of her t-shirt and pulling it down, tenting the fabric over her breasts. Recognise him? This was just a spider, for crying out loud.

“Baby …baby, I know you’re scared. I'm scared too. But if you just have a closer look, you'll see it's me. Please? Just have a closer look at my face?”

“Neville?” She paused, licking her lips. Her mouth felt dry, unable to work in the absence of saliva. “W-what happened?”

“I don’t know. The last thing I remember was we were in bed, you got up to go to the bathroom, and the next thing I know I'm here, like this.” As if for emphasis, the foremost pair of legs lifted a little.

 

Dolores gave a slow nod. “Okay. Just …don't move for a minute, okay? Let me look at you?”

 

No answer.

 

“Okay?”

 

“Okay.”

 

Inching closer, Dolores bent at the waist, hands feeling for the edge of the bathtub before bracing against the rim. Each moment brought more detail into view, from the grouting at the rim of the bathtub to the gleam on the bath’s enamel.

Aaaaaaaand…

The segmented body; two segments. Black-brown. Little bristles on multi-jointed legs. The head did look a little lighter in colour than the body though.

Please, no.

Closer still. The head had a face, a brown face. Black fuzz on top…

in a short and tidy flat-top.

A face? Human face?

 

“Neville?”

That small bristly head, giving a slow nod.

“Oh, my God. Neville, what happened to you? I left you in bed –”

If that’s Neville in here, what’s in the bedroom? She straightened, stiffening.

“Baby, please, no!” – the voice, tinny from the bottom of the tub, but louder now as the spider scuttled forward. “Please, just … don’t leave me just yet, okay? Stay with me while I try and figure this out?”

 

“I just wanted to go in the other room –”

 

“And do what? Leave me here? Or find something to get rid of me with?”

 

Dolores watched, mouth agape. More than anything, she had wanted to flush the spider down the plughole, but any move toward the shower head would be seen, and the thing would make its move before she turned the water on. Running away didn’t help, because she’d need to use the bathtub sooner or later and what you didn’t want to happen was for the spider to escape. No. You’d get something to kill it like the old loofah in your dressing table drawer, or a copy of the Nation –

 

“Baby?”

 

Breath coming in rapid gasps, Dolores nodded. “O-okay. Just try…”

please don’t move, please don’t move

“…try not to move, okay?”

 

“Don’t worry: it’s not painful of contagious. I mean, I’m not doing a happy dance or anything.”

 

Cheeks flexing as she gave what she hoped was a reassuring smile.

 

“Baby?” The spider crept forward a little. “You do realise it's me, right?”

 

A non-committal nod.

 

“Remember when we were out in the garden that time, and you thought a wasp had come for you? Turned out it was just a dandelion ball floating across you. Such a wuss.”

 

Another smile, more genuine this time. “Sure.” Wait, when was that? Not that she remembered, but the memory held conviction.

 

Looking at any spider, what might take away the horror or the disgust was once you got past the initial shock of the thing. Especially given, as the rational mind would know, that a spider was too little to do you any harm. Unless you were in the Amazon rainforest or something, and then it would be a poisonous bite. Here in Thornton Heath, the only poison you had to worry about –

 

“…of here? The walls of the tub are too slippery.”

 

“Sure.”

 

“If you take a length of toilet paper and drape it over the edge of the tub, that should be enough.”

 

“What, babe?”

 

The spider skittered backward and sideways. “I said if you run a length of toilet paper over the tub the edge of the tub and down to me, I can get out.”

 

Oh.

“Is there paper there?"

 

The words were still sinking in as she turned to look over her shoulder. Yep. At least half a roll. “Some left, yeah.”

 

“Okay, then.”

 

Her heartbeat, thumping steady and hard. Senses taut like piano wire, ears straining. No sound from the bedroom: not yet, at least.

 

“Dolores?”

 

She nodded, eyes widening in acknowledgement.

 

“Would you bring me some toilet paper now, please?” Not the loudest voice at all, and yet it conveyed the undercurrent of forced patience. Patience that was wearing thin.

 

But the words wouldn’t come. Faced with the surreal and the horrific, the words locked in her throat, immovable like text on printed pages. A wave of goose bumps crawled across her skin.

 

“Baby, I can’t stay in here, can I? We need to figure out what’s going on – together. The only that’s gonna happen is if you help me out of here so we can do that – together.”

 

“I know, babe,” she said, her voice hardening.

 

“So, why aren’t you helping? Like, now?

“I’m helping, aren't I? I'm here, trying to keep you calm, but you're –”

you’re making my skin crawl

She shook her head. “ …not helping.”

 

And that was the truth. One look would make anybody’s skin crawl, and that was bad enough when he/it was still in the tub. Now they were moving past ‘in the tub.’

 

“Baby, please, listen to me.” Legs moved in a hideous ballet as the spider inched closer. “I know this must be unsettling for you. Imagine how this is for me: I don’t whether you’d help me out or wash me down the plughole.”

 

“Baby, I wouldn’t do that.”

 

“But you were thinking about it though, weren’t you?” It skittered forward. “Weren’t you?”

 

“Baby, please,” she whispered. Herr mouth felt dry.

 

“Now you're being selfish.” Those thin and bristled legs, flexing in a restless cycle. “This is how I look now, and you don’t want to lift a finger to help. All about you. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I see what’s going on now.”

 

“That’s rubbish.”

 

“Then help me out!”

There it was. A solid argument was still solid, no matter who – or what – it came from. Cringing, Dolores turned away from the bathtub, and reached for the toilet roll. Wadded sheets felt rough and awkward in her hand. In pulling off a line of sheets, she nearly dropped the roll as she put it back, her breath hitching in a gasp. Turning her attention back to the tub, she braced against its rim, the line of toilet paper hanging outside the tub. The spider still inside. Motionless.

 

Am I really doing this? God, really?

A footstep behind her. “Who’re you talking to?”

 

She turned.

 

Neville, naked, except for his boxers. Broad-chested, a kite of curly grey hair tapering down over his belly. Gold-tooth glint in his smile. “Going senile already?”

 

On seeing the look on her face his smile faded. “Honey, you okay?”

 

Something feathery nipped the side of her finger and she flung her hand away. A moment later, a small but clear thmpf! at the bottom of the tub. Dolores, shaky now, looked at her hand. No visible cut or sign of blood that she could see.

That doesn’t mean anything…!

Silence, screaming at her.

Horrified, she returned her gaze to the tub. The spider now further along in the tub stopped its crawl and angled its body to face her.

 

“I didn't think I could make it. But it’s incredible what you can do when you put you mind to it, y’know?” It scuttled nearer, this time reaching the sheer surface of the bathtub’s walls. Dolores shrank back, to the sound of tinny laughter. Echoing along the bathtub.

 

“Honey, you’re okay?” A hand on her shoulder now, heavy and coarse.

Dolores shrank back from this too, turning as Neville’s other hand came up to her other shoulder and held her steady. Mind racing, she battled to find traction: Neville’s high top, thick curly moustache hanging over his top lip, a faint smell of sweat and Sure deodorant. Down to his broad bare feet, toenails thick and pale yellow.

 

“There’s a spider…”

 

Neville dipped his chin and gave her a look of mock exasperation from under hooded brows. Easing round her, he unhooked the shower head from its nook, holding it over the tub as he reached for the tap. “No need,” he said, putting the shower head back. “I must’ve put the fear of God into it. Little bastard’s run away now.”

 

But Dolores didn’t feel so good. The side of her finger, tingling from where the thing bit her, now burned like resting on a used hotplate. The rest of her hand, tingling now. She held her hand up to her face, appraising the flesh of her palm, the brown intricacies of its creases.

 

“Run it under the cold tap, and you’ll be fine.”

 

She sighed. “Yeah, yeah. I guess that’s all –”

 

She gasped, and staggered back, dizzy. Cold and hard, the sink stopped her, pressing against her spine. This was alarming. The fact that even if you had such a scare, you should still be in control of your faculties – the only way you’d lose that control was if something was wrong.

 

Like if you were bitten.

Neville grinned at her in bemusement. “Honey,” he said, hands reaching for her, “you’re okay now.” His hands felt strong and coarse, but …less assuring now.

 

Her own hand hung heavy with uncomfortable heat.

 

“It …” She swallowed, willing herself to calm. “It looked like you.”

 

One corner of Neville’s mouth twitched in a humourless half-smile, his gaze narrowed at her.

 

“What?”

 

“The spider,” she whispered, almost pleading. “It looked like you.”

 

Now his smile was cautious. “You’re saying the spider …looked like me?”

It sounded foolish when she said it. But, out of Neville’s mouth, it didn’t sound foolish, but rather sly. On the heels of that came an ugly thought: if the spider was in part Neville, where was

 

the spider in you?

Oh, God.

Narratives and images overwhelmed her; from a mental playback of when Neville dug deep into her, coarse hands grabbing her ass, to a glimpse of the Neville-spider up close, another thought of Neville’s face changing as eyes shifted wider apart in his face, making room for another two eyes. A spider crawling over her from an armchair or banister, oblivious to the difference between flesh and furniture…

 

Still, her hand hung heavy. Warm. The flesh of her palm, feeling tight like a balloon. Not that she would look at her hand right now.

Neville, still smiling the smile of the cautious, moved closer, and now Dolores held a hand in front of his chest, stopping him short.

Don’t touch me, don’t come near me.

Her mouth pulled into a grim line. “Just give me a few minutes.”

He weighed her, before turning on his heel and disappearing back into the bedroom.

At least now, she could think.

 

But it bit you. You dropped your guard for a moment and it ran up on you and bit you. Dolores lifted her hand to her face, saw her palm was raised as if filling up with air or fluid.

Infection. Pus. Irritation. And your …your finger.

She bit her lip, eyes closing as she fought to organise her thoughts. Momentary blindness shook her legs, and she collapsed, barely catching the side of the bathtub. Right now, cool enamel in her palm was a mercy. Her breathing sounded loud in her ears as if it were someone else’s.

This where panicking gets you, you need. To calm. DOWN. What you do is you get straight back, wash the affected area with soap and cold water, then dig up a little something to clean the wound. Dettol? We’ve got a half bottle or so. Daub that on some cotton wool and then get yourself –

Movement in the plughole as the spider crept out and crawled back along the bottom of the tub, stopping inches away below her.

Dolores fought to push to her feet  and found with rising alarm that her muscles wouldn’t obey.

 

The Neville-head turned in her direction. “The other one,” it said. “It looks like me. Take me to it.”

 

Speech wouldn’t come. Her tongue lay in her mouth like a dead animal. If anything close to speech would come, it would be a scream.

 

“If I crawl on to you, will you take me?”

 

The only answer was the flare of heat in her hand, seeping past her wrist.

And the spider inched backward in preparation.

 

END

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Photography by Josie Macdonald Photography © 2020 and Ronya Galka Photography © 2020. Used with permission