Not As Strange As The Truth

The Bite of the Brown Recluse

The garden was a mess. Years of careful preparation had allowed my spring plantings to thrive untended. Now, vegetables and weeds entwined and my usually bountiful harvest lay rotting from one seasons neglect. Pests had gleaned what they would and a light frost had taken most of the rest. I had little hope, even for the carrots.

In years past I had filled mason jars with vegetables that lasted well into the new year. This year I had been too preoccupied with the divorce.

I put on my gloves and surveyed the wreckage for a starting point. I decided to walk each row, pulling the plants as I went and depositing them in the crude wire cage Roger had built as a compost heap. Remarkably, it was one of the few things I associated with him that didn't seem to involve any decay. I could still make out the rinds of cantaloupe I had tried to grow two years ago. Roger had suggested I grow them although he would never really show any interest in the garden and had only built the compost cage after seeing my garden supply catalogue with the expensive deluxe compost bin circled.

I was half finished when the phone rang. I stood still and strained to listen for the message I expected to follow. It was my lawyer with the latest counter-offer from Roger’s lawyer. I found this to be a refreshing way to communicate with Roger: things were said; responses were given; questions were asked and answered. The pace of conversation was only slightly slower than in our marriage and much more thought went into everything that was said. Roger would sometimes give the appearance of giving a great deal of thought to things, but seldom would anything be said that shed light on any subject.

The rest of the work on the garden was made easier knowing that it would officially be mine. I could get over trading off the sedan for the wagon and I didn't really care for the cottage - another Roger idea that seemed to be just a permanent 'vacation problem' solution, but worked only to further isolate us from the world and each other.

I had put the rake and my gloves away when I noticed the pile of tomato stakes. I had abandoned the garden long before they were needed so they had not been used. I picked them up in one armful to bring to the shed. On the way I felt a stinging on my wrist and I assumed it was due to a splinter and continued toward the shed. When I braced the load with my upraised knee and reached for the shed door I saw the spider.

It was one of those moments that surely must be happening faster than it seems. It seemed that we stared at each other for much longer than the time it took to drop the bundle and shake the spider off. In any event, its image was fresh in my mind and I had the thought I should go in the house to try to identify it. My wrist showed only the slightest mark, but the sting was very defined and worse than the average mosquito bite.

In the house I got out a field guide to insects and spiders and began thumbing through. I felt like a victim of a crime going through mug shots of possible ‘perps’ and half hoped to see a picture of Roger on the next page. "That’s the one officer," I thought as I reached the Brown Recluse. It was at the limit of its range, but the ‘MO’ fit: it seemed to like wood piles just like my tomato stakes.

Roger had a similar MO. He would sit quietly in the debris of our lives and pounce if disturbed. I had been his victim enough that I took great care not to disturb ‘things’, but this became a burden I no longer wished to bear.

I called the clinic and eventually got to talk to a doctor who said she would take me whenever I could get there. I hung up, showered, changed and left for the clinic - ignoring the blinking light indicating an additional phone message had arrived. I had myself to think about now and that’s all I wanted to deal with.

Driving to the hospital, the doctor's reassuring words: ".. painful, but seldom fatal .." made me laugh and - for the moment - relieved all pain.

Copyright © 2001, Greg D'Unger