Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Chapter 7: OH MY GOD, SPIDERS!

Mrs Stoat was afraid of almost everything. Mimes, clowns, things that go bump in the night, being late, being early, slipping in the bathtub, not being able to pronounce the dish on the menu, being stopped at the airport, credit cards being declined, that awkward point when the green light changes to amber and you're not sure if you're too close to the intersection to stop or far enough that you won't skid through and cause a scene, and forgetting a colleague's name. And on the very top of that list, Mrs Stoat would be hard pressed to find something that inspired more terror than spiders.

Some time ago, when Mr Stoat shared an obscenely small den with his betrothed (who was then known as Ms Marmot - or Mindy), Mr Stoat's parents kindly offered to store some of the couple's excess boxes of knickknacks, books, blankets, newspaper clippings, and other cherished memories, in a long-forgotten back bedroom of their own large den. Large enough, Mama Stoat reasoned, to fill the gaping hole left by their own brood, who had long since moved off to the city to fulfill their dreams of seeing their names in lights, drinking their body weight in cheap liquor, and passing out face-down in the gutter. Mama Stoat expected that as soon as the two found a bigger den, the kits would come back for their things.

Several seasons later, with Christmas approaching, Mrs Stoat decided that maybe they should put up a Christmas tree. And bake mouse-shaped gingerbread cookies. And invite their extensive families over for the holidays. Mr Stoat, understanding that this meant traipsing around the forest, looking for just the right tree, seemed reasonably content to let his wife do what she wanted - so long as he had first crack at the cookies and she didn't use all of the spearmint leaves covering up the mice to look like Adam and Eve in that terrifying oil painting her grandmother hand hanging over the dining room table.

"Darling," Mrs Stoat called, elbow deep in flour and molasses.

"Yes, my little gumdrop?" Mr Stoat called back, elbow deep in a beautiful glass of a rich, chocolate stout - his reward for finding the most beautiful tree in the entire forest, chopping it down, and breaking half the branches by strapping it awkwardly to the roof of the car.

"Can you please bring the Christmas tree decorations up from the basement?" his wife asked.

With a great sigh, Mr Stoat put down the 5/16" wrench he was picking his teeth with, drained the last of his beer, and wandered himself down to the hole in the floor that his wife called the Basement. He sorted through boxes of knickknacks, books, blankets, newspaper clippings, and other cherished memories. But Mr Stoat did not find the Christmas decorations. He looked under boxes, in closets, in the garage, in the shed, behind the couch where he always found his socks, and under the fridge. But Mr Stoat did not find the Christmas decorations.

"Darling?" asked Mrs Stoat as she accidentally pulled the head off a mouse cookie that had the temerity to stick to the counter. "Do you think that perhaps the decorations are at your parents' den?" Mr Stoat stared at his wife for a moment, but they both knew he was thinking about beer.

So they bundled the dogs into the car and drove off to see Mama and Papa Stoat.

Mr Stoat slowly descended the rickety stairs and ignored their mocking creak-creak call. Mrs Stoat stood at the top, but did not follow her husband.

"Aren't you coming down?" he asked.

"No," she said firmly. "There are spiders."

"Are they the brown, hairy ones?" asked Mama Stoat.

"No, they're small and black," Mr Stoat called up from below.

"That's good. The brown and hairy ones jump. And they make you itchy!" Mama Stoat nodded to herself.

"Spider poison is stoat poison?!" shrieked Mr Stoat, undoubtedly quoting some television show.

"The black ones are black widows," Papa Stoat supplied helpfully. Mrs Stoat felt faint.

"Are you coming down to help me, my sweet?" called Mr Stoat, only somewhat condescendingly.

"No!" shouted his wife. "There are spiders down there!"

"So I have to carry all the boxes myself?"


So Mrs Stoat stood at the door and opened and closed it for her husband, but she refused to get any nearer the boxes, in case she were to get some spider on her. Even a little bit would be traumatic. Mama Stoat stood in the door with her and explained how some snakes hide in trees and drop out when they see some particularly juicy morsel walk by, or how some venom liquifies the victim's innards and drinks them rather the way one would drink a milkshake, but without the cup or the straw or the strawberry flavour. Mrs Stoat stood there and tried not to cry.

"Are you mad?" Mr Stoat wanted to know as he backed the car out of the driveway. Mrs Stoat fixed him with her best death-glare.

"Very mad," she said in a thin voice.

"You sounded funny-mad. You know. Ranty. Like that comedian that rants about everything." Mr Stoat fumbled for the name but came up with nothing. "You're not funny-mad?"

"I am not funny-mad."

Mrs Stoat explained to her husband that while it may be funny to tease her about her irrational fear of tin foil, it was by no means polite to make fun of her deathly spider-terror.

The entire drive home, Mrs Stoat remained silent, except when she thought one of the spiders escaped from a box and was crawling across the back of her neck. She sat sullenly on the couch, with her little feet pulled up underneath her. She watched television programs that had nothing to do with spiders (or her husband) in any fashion. She went to sleep and obstinately refused to dream of spiders.

In the morning, she had quite gotten over her anger. And screamed when the spider crawled out of her shoe.

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