Still busy moving into the new place and haven’t yet had time to work on any travel-related stuff. Thought I’d post a story I wrote some time ago, about spiders in Australia. It was originally written with a different audience in mind, but rather than spend time editing it for the blog, I’ve decided to simply post it with that caveat.
It was the second night after we had moved into our new, one-bedroom apartment. We were in Highgate Hill, a couple miles outside the center of Brisbane. Very suburban, but with just enough trees and parks around that it still seemed a little wild. You would see possums running along the telephone wires at night, bush turkeys digging around in our neighbor’s yards during the day.
The previous tenant didn’t leave us a very clean apartment. We scrubbed the hell out of it the day we moved in, but I can’t say I was terribly surprised to see a huge cockroach in the kitchen that first night. We resolved to clean behind the appliances and buy a bunch of roach traps in the morning.
Oksana, having scored a Work and Holiday Visa, was by that time employed. On the night of “The Arachnid Incident,” she’d gone to bed around 10-ish. I had decided I would take a shower first before turning in, myself.
Our bathroom – or rooms, rather – were split in two (which is not uncommon in Australian households.) There was a tiny, rectangular room with just a toilet and enough room for the door to full swing inwards. Adjacent in the hallway was another door into the shower room, where we also had our sink, mirror, and laundry apparatus.
I needed to use the bathroom first, but since I was going to take a shower anyway, I went ahead and stripped off my clothes and left them in the hallway. (We had a dirty clothes basket in the bedroom, but I didn’t want to disturb Oksana.) I went into the bathroom, closed the door, and sat down to do my business. I couldn’t tell you how long I was in there. It could have been awhile. I had my iPhone with me.
So I’m just sitting there, you know? Sort of leaning over, looking at the iPhone in my hand, when something pushes its way under the door. It was big – easily as big as my hand, though its legs were nowhere near as thick as my fingers. Hairier than my knuckles, though, I can tell you that. The worst thing, by far, was how fast it moved. Once it unfurled its legs from under the door, that fucker moved! Skitter-skitter-stop. Skitter-stop.
Outwardly, I hadn’t moved a muscle, but inside… Inside, I was all heartbeat and adrenalin. We locked eyes – we must have; he had ten of them – and I wondered if he was one of Australia’s incredibly venomous spiders. Why hadn’t I looked up photos of the Sydney funnel-web? Shit, shit, shit! Any movement on my part could spook him. Would he be aggressive, or would he just sprint around the walls of my increasingly-claustrophobic bathroom? I pushed the power button on my iPhone. The snicht sound of it closing down echoed off the walls.
He settled down where the wall met the floor, directly in front of me. I could have leaned forward and stroked his silky back hairs with my finger. Not that I would have. Despite being confined, naked, in a tiny bathroom with one of the biggest spiders I have ever seen, I was still sane.
Naked. Naked in every way. On the plus side, I now had a deeper, truer, understanding of the word “vulnerable.” I debated executing a slow, controlled wipe, but another twitch of the spider’s legs put an end to that idea. I reached for the door, opened it, slowly, and just wide enough for me to slip through sideways. In one motion I stood and pulled myself by the doorframe into the hallway. Only after slamming the door behind me did I allow myself to shudder.
What to do, what to do? Call it karma or fear of avenging kin, but I’m not a fan of killing spiders. Besides, these guys eat the annoying, bothersome insects, right? Judging from his size, probably some bothersome mice, too. Maybe small birds.
The only exit from the bathroom was back under the door and that would just give the spider access to the rest of our apartment again. How long before he tired of the bathroom and decided to squeeze back? If he disappeared again, behind the couch or refrigerator or something, there would be no sleeping tonight. Or any night.
I decided to wake up Oksana. She knows that spiders are my kryptonite (‘roaches are hers) and has been known to take care of them for me. Besides, I wanted her to see this goliath for herself.
I went into the bedroom and pulled on a pair of loose sweat pants. I woke Oksana up and told her there was a giant spider in the bathroom.
“So? What do you want me to do about it?” she asked.
“I don’t know, but you have to see it!” We moved out into the hallway and I opened the door just wide enough to poke my head in. The spider had moved to the far corner, which was still not far enough for me. I back out and let Oksana have a look.
“Fuck! That’s a big spider!” She retreated in a hurry and we closed the door once again.
“What are we going to do?” I asked. “Do you want to try putting a bowl over it or something?”
“Do you think we should kill it?”
“I’m not doing anything with it. I’m going back to bed,” she said.
“Wait, wait, wait!” I said. “We have to do something. If we leave him in there, he’s just going to hide in the apartment!”
Oksana sighed and tried to think. She was still groggy from being woken up.
“Why don’t you take the screen off the bathroom window and let him run out?” she asked.
“That’s…” I thought for a second. “That’s actually not a bad idea!”
I reached into the second bathroom and grabbed a mop. Five feet long, and capped with a sponge. That should be enough to keep the hellspawn at a safe distance, I thought. I handed the mop to Oksana and told her to chase the spider back into the bathroom if it made a run for it. She looked at me sideways, but didn’t say anything.
I had the more difficult job. I had to lean into the bathroom, over the spider, and unlatch all four hooks on the window screen. Then, without letting it fall, I had to extract the unwieldy screen from the bathroom. All without removing my eyes from the spider, and all with only my left hand, because I couldn’t seem to release my grip on the doorknob with the right.
Our bathroom windows were made of immovable glass slats, angled to prevent someone looking in, but otherwise open to the world. If that eight-legged monstrosity could fit under the door, he could climb out between those slats with ease. With the screen removed, there was no further impediment to the spider making his exit. I closed the door again.
Oksana and I traded mop for screen. I took a few deep breaths, visualizing what I was about to do. Coax the spider up the wall and out the window with the mop handle. How hard could it be?
“Here we go,” I told Oksana. “Don’t let him run back into the apartment.”
“Uh-huh,” was her reply. “Right.”
I eased the door open. The spider had moved again and was directly across from me, at the base of the wall with the window in it. Good. All he needed to do was go up and out.
I started to move the mop in his direction. Slowly. I had stopped breathing some time before.
Suddenly, the spider raced up the wall! My heart lurched as I jumped back into the hallway. So fast!
I peeked inside. He had stopped halfway to the window. Steeling myself, I again edged the mop handle into the bathroom. This time, the spider reared up in an aggressive stance, raising its front legs as if to grab the mop itself. As if to run along its length and then onto my arm. Fuck that.
“Jesus Christ!” I yelled. I yanked the mop back, and pulled the door shut with a slam. I never took my eyes off the spider, so just before the door closed, I saw him start to run across the wall again.
Oksana was at the end of the hallway, eyes wide. “What? What happened?”
“He ran!” I said.
I had to force myself to calm down before opening the door again. I couldn’t wait too long, though, because he could still try to squeeze back under the door.
I opened the door again. The spider was gone.
Rather than a feeling of relief, I felt instead a terrible sense of dread. “Oh,” I groaned. “Oh, shit. Shit, shit, shit!”
“What?” Oksana asked.
“I don’t know where he is.”
He could have gone out the window. He could have run behind the toilet. He could be on the other side of the door.
We couldn’t go back to sleep until we knew for sure. I craned my neck into the bathroom and examined the walls, the ceiling, and the floor. Nothing. I had to step all the way into the bathroom to look behind the door. Nothing.
That left the toilet. I leaned forward and flushed it (finally), the sound loud in the tiny room. I waited to see if anything would run out from behind the bowl. Nothing. There was only about a foot between the toilet and wall on each side. To see behind it, I was going to have to put my head into that claustrophobic space. That arachnophobic space.
I could see most of the wall behind the bowl. After examining both sides, I was sure he wasn’t hiding there. The tank, though. The tank was right up against the wall. There was a flat gap between the two and it would be just like him to squeeze back there are bide his time.
Godammit! We couldn’t brick up the only toilet in our apartment!
Not knowing what else to do, I banged on the porcelain tank a few times. I took off the lid, trying to see down behind it better. I grabbed a flashlight and shined it into the crack on one side and looked for the shadows of legs projected on the opposite wall. Nothing.
Finally, I concluded that the spider must have gone out the window. Probably.
Oksana handed me the screen. “I’m going back to bed,” she said.
I took my much-needed shower and joined her shortly thereafter.
And that’s the story of how we were able to sleep in our new apartment in Australia.
We did manage to take one photo (unfortunately without much perspective) of my bathroom visitor (see above.) Based on that photo, as well as copious internet research, I’m reasonably sure it was a harmless Huntsman.
Here’s an apt description from the Australian Geographic website (which also has a better photo):
Huntsman spiders are widespread in Australia. They are famous for being the big (up to 15cm leg-span) scary, hairy, black spiders bolting out from behind the curtains. In reality, they are reluctant to bite and more likely to run away when approached and their venom isn’t considered dangerous for humans.
Their danger comes more from causing accidents by the terrified drivers who react to a huntsman jumping out from behind the sun visor or dashboard of a car when it’s in motion.
Despite their intimidating size, huntsman spiders can be an ally in the house; they help with pest-control by eating smaller insects.