Baseball

"I wrote 63 songs this year. They're all about Jeter." Just kidding. The game we love, the players we hate, and more.

Culture and Criticism

From Norman Mailer to Wendy Pepper — everything on film, TV, books, music, and snacks (shut up, raisins), plus the Girls' Bike Club.

Donors Choose and Contests

Helping public schools, winning prizes, sending a crazy lady in a tomato costume out in public.

Stories, True and Otherwise

Monologues, travelogues, fiction, and fart humor. And hens. Don't forget the hens.

The Vine

The Tomato Nation advice column addresses your questions on etiquette, grammar, romance, and pet misbehavior. Ask The Readers about books or fashion today!

Home » Stories, True and Otherwise

Lucille

Submitted by on August 28, 2006 – 11:37 AMOne Comment

Katie found Mike standing motionless in the kitchen of the cottage, grocery bag on his hip, staring into a corner of the ceiling. She reminded him that he was supposed to look up into a light, not just regular up, and he said he didn't have to sneeze; he was watching a spider. Katie said she hoped that, by "watching," he actually meant "preparing to smoosh and flush down the toilet," and she took the bag from him and handed him a section of newspaper for that purpose.

Then they had the same conversation they always had when confronted, as a couple, with an arachnid, to wit: Katie wanted it flattened and introduced to the plumbing. Mike wanted to respect the natural order. This conversation customarily ended with Mike escorting the spider off the property and reciting what he thought sounded like a Viking funeral prayer while Katie rolled her eyes, but today, Mike bolstered his argument with a special-circumstances claim.

"First of all, as renters, I don't feel we have the right to meddle with indigenous fauna," he said, "but also, check it out," and he pointed at the web. "She's a vegetarian."

Katie peered up into the corner above the fridge. Sure enough, she could see suspended in the web a tiny floret of broccoli no bigger than the fingernail on her pinky. She could also see the spider, a fairly large specimen about the size of a nickel who was making what looked like a hand-washing motion.

"'She' is also rubbing her hands together evilly," Katie said, shuddering slightly, "so when you're done anthropomorphizing 'her,' I'd like you to get 'her' out of here, because she's grossing me out."

"Don't talk to me in air-quotes, please," Mike said, without looking away from the spider.

"Sorry, Mr. Indigenous Fauna," Katie said, and started putting things away. Mike went up a stepladder, coaxed the spider onto the sports section, and ushered it outside. Over the icy wheeze of the freezer, Katie heard him address the spider as "Freyja," and rolled her eyes to complete the ritual.

After dinner, Katie was reading on the sofa when Mike called her into the kitchen. He was standing at the sink, sleeved in suds, looking up again.

"Another one?" Katie said.

"Same one," Mike said, and then he said, "Oh, no, don't," because Katie was dragging the stepladder out from behind the back door.

"Come on, Kates, she's fine."

"She's not fine," Katie said, tearing seventeen paper towels off the roll. "She's showing intent."

"She's having a snack," Mike said.

"She's having an appetizer," Katie said. "We're the snack. The midnight snack." Katie steeled herself and marched up the stepladder, but when she got to eye-level with the web, she paused. The spider did seem to be having a very human-style snack, absently nibbling an ort of broccoli and leafing through an invisible magazine. She looked not just like a person, but like a person Katie knew.

"This is going to sound crazy," Katie said, "but you know who the spider is kind of reminding me of right now?"

"Who?"

"Lila."

Lila was a friend of theirs who had a stated distaste for correct posture, and would never sit up straight if she could lounge instead. She had decorated her apartment like a '70s conversation pit — no furniture with legs, at all, just soft rugs and hundreds of cushions.

"Let's see?" Mike said, drying his hands. Katie came down, and Mike went up.

"Oh, she's totally Lila. All she needs is a teeny copy of Vogue."

"I thought the exact same thing! And some teeny votive candles."

Mike climbed back down, and they spent a satisfying twenty minutes brainstorming interior-design ideas for the spider while they dried the dishes. On the one hand, Katie kind of still wanted to kill Little Lila, but on the other hand, she'd just explained very seriously to Mike why Little Lila would consider café curtains tacky. And she'd believed it, too, that Little Lila was too chic for that sort of window covering.

Mike closed a cabinet and asked if Katie wanted him to put Little Lila back outside.

"She has a name now and everything, but…yeah, I guess put her outside," Katie said, but as Mike went up the ladder with a paper napkin, Katie added, "If she's done eating."

"She's done."

"Okay, so yeah," Katie said. Mike tweaked Little Lila onto the napkin and carried her out the kitchen door; Katie watched guiltily. When Mike came back in, he pulled Katie's ponytail and said, "She'll be back." That was Katie's cue to roll her eyes, so she did.

When Katie came into the kitchen the next morning, Mike was sitting on a stool, watching a cabinet like it was TV.

"You're kidding me," Katie said.

"Dude," Mike said, pointing his chin at a blueberry suspended in mid-air.

"Holy crap!" Katie said. The blueberry moved almost imperceptibly higher. Attached to the blueberry was a sticky strand of web, and at the top of the strand was Little Lila, winching it upward with a palpable air of determination.

"I was going to make pancakes. Next thing I know she's in the carton, picking herself out a nice one."

Katie edged around behind Mike, not taking her eyes off the blueberry, and went to the coffee machine.

"She was, like, inspecting them, I swear," Mike said.

Katie felt around for a mug.

"She just tied a rope around it, basically?"

"Basically," Mike said.

"How long has she been –"

"About half an hour."

The blueberry was a foot in the air.

"That spider doesn't mess around," Katie said.

"No," Mike said, "no she doesn't."

When the blueberry got to eye level, Mike proceeded with the pancakes. Katie drank coffee and watched Little Lila, and she and Mike joked about not leaving an egg out on the counter, or their cigarettes, and it started to get hot in the kitchen so Katie went to open the kitchen door while Mike plated breakfast. She didn't realize her mistake until a cool breeze wafted past her and she heard Mike say, "Oh, shit," and when she turned around, she saw the blueberry lying on the counter on its side like a beached whale, and a long silky thread waving in an air current, and Mike cringing.

"Oh, no," Katie said. She went over to the counter and looked up. "I'm so sorry! I wasn't thinking."

"It was an accident," Mike added, putting an arm around Katie. Little Lila had bunched herself up, defeated, and Katie's eyes burned, watching her.

"God, I was going to be so psyched for her, with the blueberry," Katie said, and then she said, "I am about to cry! I hate spiders, what the hell?"

"That was a pretty big blueberry," Mike said.

"She had it, too. She could have gotten it up there."

"I know," Mike said. He stroked her hair. "Do you want to pick out another one for her?"

Katie frowned. "I'm not five."

"I know, I'm asking — do you want to."

Katie did want to, but felt stupid saying so.

"Or maybe a chunk of pancake?" Mike said, and Katie laughed and thought, the hell with it, I'm stupid then, and she said, "Maybe we could put both on the counter, and she can pick."

So they did. They put another blueberry of about the same diameter on the lip of the counter, and a very small blob of pancake next to it, and Katie apologized again and said they hoped Little Lila would have breakfast, their treat. They sat down at the table and tried not to look over at the counter, making idle conversation about whether to go to the beach that day, and after a little while, Little Lila hopped a line down to the counter, gathered up the pancake chunk, and climbed back up.

At the beach, they spent the entire time talking about how they hoped Little Lila wasn't too mad at them, and how weird it was that they even cared, and then when they got back to the cottage, the TV was on.

"This isn't funny," Katie said.

"…I agree," Mike said.

"I'm serious, Mike, I am not laughing."

"So am I, neither am I, what?"

Katie dropped her beach tote and folded her arms. "I need to speak to you in the yard for a minute, please."

Mike pulled an "all righty then" face and followed her out the kitchen door.

"So, let me get this straight. You think I turned the TV on, somehow, from outside the house –"

"Do you expect me to believe a spider turned the TV on?"

"Why are we in the yard, then, Katie?"

"She is a spider, Mike!"

"Yeah, she is! And we're out here because you don't want her to hear us talking!"

"Could you keep your…"

"…voice down?" Mike finished.

They stood in the yard in their wet bathing suits and stared at each other for a moment. Neither of them knew what to say. Mike went to the car, grabbed his Parliaments off the dash, brought them back, lit two, handed one to Katie, and said, "Well, at least she's not watching Oprah."

"What is she watching? I didn't even notice."

"I think it's Court TV."

Katie looked at her cigarette, and then willed herself to look at Mike.

"Are we losing it? Seriously."

"Seriously?" Mike repeated. "Seriously, I…don't know."

"Spiders do not watch television, Mike. You know?"

"Yeah, I know."

Katie stubbed her cigarette out on the lawn and lay down with her head in Mike's lap, and Mike said, "Best vacation ever," and Katie giggled. She was punchy suddenly, dislocated, like she'd stayed up all night, and startled-bird thoughts were flying around in her head, flapping furiously and not alighting anywhere. She sat up again and said, "Okay."

"Okay?" Mike said, field-stripping his cigarette butt.

"Okay, if we're losing it, we're losing it, but let's not pretend everything's normal."

"Fair enough," Mike said.

"Because it isn't."

"I agree," Mike said.

"So."

"…So."

Silence again. Katie opened her mouth, closed it, got up and went into the house, and grabbed a piece of paper and a pen. Mike followed her in.

"What are you doing?"

"Finding out if we're losing it," Katie said, and wrote the words "YES" and "NO" on a piece of paper and put the paper down on the counter, and looked up at Little Lila.

"Hi," she said, absurdly, and then she said to Mike, "Can you turn the TV off?" and then she faced Little Lila again and said, "We need to ask you a few questions." She tapped the piece of paper. "So, if you could just land on YES or NO. If you understand us. Okay." She was getting dizzy. "So…do you…understand us?"

Mike pulled up stools for them to sit on. Katie eased onto hers without taking her eyes off Little Lila. To her left, the kssshhh sound of Mike opening a beer at 2:30 in the afternoon, to toast their madness, or maybe he meant to puddle up a few drops for Little Lila, who knew. Anything could happen, it seemed.

Little Lila came to the edge of the web and dropped down. She paused above the paper as if to orient herself, then landed with the faintest pif and walked over to the word YES.

"Could be a coincidence," Katie said, almost to herself, and Mike said, "Okay, let's ask her a question that's definitely NO," and said to Little Lila, "Are you Charo?"

"Is she Charo?"

"Well, she obviously isn't, so sue me. …Look, look."

Little Lila was walking over to NO.

"See? Not Charo," Mike said, and elbowed her.

"Well done, professor," Katie said, and addressed herself to Little Lila: "Is Mike an idiot to ask you if you're Charo?"

Little Lila walked back over to YES.

"Hey!" Mike said, and then he said that at least they weren't losing it, in that case, and Little Lila moved over between the YES and the NO and stood there.

"Wow," Katie said.

"Smart-ass," Mike said, and then he said, "I think you need a beer also," and Katie said, "Uh huh," and Little Lila went to stand on YES again. It took Katie a second to figure it out, and another couple seconds to pour a capful of beer for Little Lila and put it on the paper.

"We're getting a spider drunk," Mike said, watching Little Lila clamber into her kiddie pool of Heineken. "This is kind of awesome."

"Is your name actually Lila?" Katie said, and Mike said, "Give her a minute to drink at least," but Little Lila climbed out and made a trail of wet pinpoints on the paper and over to NO.

"Are you a female?"

YES.

"Does your name even start with L?"

The spider stayed put.

"Okay, got it. …Lisa?"

NO.

"…Linda?"

NO.

Fifteen minutes of L names: Letitia, Liz, Laverne, Lexi, Larissa Lorraine Leanne. The temporarily de-named spider sat on NO, grooming herself. Katie, hypnotized by her speckled legs, got the stares while Mike kept guessing, and only roused herself to point out that "Lyndon" isn't traditionally a woman's name.

"Fuck it: Lucille."

YES.

"Lucille!" Katie and Mike said at once, and Mike sang a few bars of the Hollies song, and when he was done, Katie introduced herself and Mike: "It's nice to…meet you?"

"Are you named after Lucille Ball?" Mike said.

NO, and a detour back to the bottle cap.

"Have you –" Katie began. "Do you — have you communicated with people before?"

Lucille went back to the space between YES and NO.

"What does that mean?" Mike said. Katie didn't know. She didn't know what to ask next, exactly, either. But Mike did.

"Are you a person? Trapped in — there?"

YES.

"So you haven't always been a spider."

NO.

"You used to be human."

YES.

"What happened?"

"That's not yes-or-no, Mike."

"Oh, right. Um, okay, okay — do you know what happened?"

NO.

"Do you think you know what happened?"

YES.

A scramble out the door, then, to buy a Ouija board and more beer, and after that, over the next few days, the story — Lucille had had an affair with a married man; the man's wife, a practicing witch, had found them out; Lucille had awakened one morning in a bed the size of a football field, made her way to a mirror, and discovered her fate. Lucille walked many miles on the board to tell them everything, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, scuttling, trudging, letter by letter, never misspelling a word. She told them two winters had passed. She told them she watched TV for news of her disappearance. She told them she had come back inside not to eat, or to speak to them, but in the hope that Katie would kill her. She told them she missed ice cream.

At the end of the week, Katie and Mike packed up their things and drove back to the city, with Lucille seatbelted into an empty egg carton in the back. They didn't talk much, just about traffic and stopping for gas. Katie looked out the window, wondering which corner of their apartment Lucille would pick, thinking up ways to keep their friends from stepping on her. Riding through the cities and towns, Katie looked at the big warehouses and bell towers they passed, the smiling clock faces, and thought to herself, what a big world it is. What a big, hard world.

Before going out to find a store that would have board games for sale, they'd asked one more question.

"Can what happened be undone?"

And off on their errand they'd left her, standing between YES and NO.

August 28, 2006

Be Sociable, Share!


Tags:  

One Comment »