Accidental Queen of the Spiders
by Zina Hutton
Edited by Brian J. White
No one ever talks about how many spiders live on the island.
No one ever talks about the way that the spiders share equal street space with chickens and humans alike, skittering down the sidewalks and crossing streets just as fast as you’d expect something with eight legs to be.
No one ever points out that the spiders on the island are extremely well behaved or that they tend to come out in droves when Carnival comes and everywhere you look there’s something fried or sticky smeared across dirt that vibrates along with the steelpan band music. (They eat very well that week and still no one notices how the spider population of the island tends to swell around the main street especially during the first day of Carnival where there’s food all over the place.)
Most of the time, people don’t seem to see anything wrong with the fact that the spiders outnumber them by like a billion to one, or with how the entrances to their tunnels dot every bit of crumbling-sand dirt or how even on the beach you’re more likely to catch palm-sized spiders scuttling amidst the weeds than crabs.
No one ever talks about the spiders, and
With so many spiders scrambling around and doing their little spider things, you’d think that more people would notice them. You’d think that more people would talk about them. Or at least that they’d talk about the way that when you’re in line for anything on the island, you’re likely to be waiting in line with at least ten spiders. (Those spiders that range from the tiny little jumpers that skitter away at the first sign of confrontation to the big ones that sit like bullfrogs waiting for flies, all eight of their gleaming eyes staring as if in challenge.)
But no, no one does that.
Everyone ignores the spiders living around them, living with them, as if it’s just normal to wake up to spiders writing sonnets in webbing or herding thumb-sized cockroaches into pens made out of nibbled-upon pencils.
It is still weird, but it is also very rude to ignore those things, and that’s how it begins.
She starts leaving things out for them.
First, there’s food.
Not much, not enough for the roaches to sniff out and come running at her, but enough that the spiders can feel as if they’re getting respect. Crumbs come first, little greasy bits of johnny cake and cheese spilling out of her napkin in a small pile in a poorly dusted corner of the kitchen.
When she comes back two hours later, the crumbs are gone and there’s webbing stretched out across the corner. When she takes a picture of the webbing and then zooms in on her phone, she can see the words “Thank you,” spelled out in the spaces between the sticky strands.
Later that night, when her father destroys the webbing with a careless swipe of a broom, she actually finds herself upset over it.
After johnny cake crumbs, she moves to sticky sweet-sour tamarind balls that she half-wants to keep for herself because they’re so good. But she’s already eaten six of them in the time it took to walk up the hill to her father’s house and that just isn’t fair.
(She’s very big on fairness you see.)
She leaves the tamarind balls on little plates from the tea set that she hasn’t used since she was six, spreading them out in that same corner like she’s offering a meal to royalty.
The next morning, she gets up earlier than her father and finds empty plates and a little chip of glossy obsidian wrapped in a piece of banana leaf. She strokes her finger over the gift and smiles, happy that while she’s noticing the spiders that live on their island, that they’re noticing her too.
She starts playing music in the kitchen, starts living her life in that low-ceilinged room when no one else is home to see her shaking it alongside several spiders that turn out in droves when she’s alone. She keeps feeding the spiders too, branching out from the brightly colored ones that come inside and hide back of the stove when the yard floods, to the spiders that have more presence than some people do as they scurry down Main Street.
After a week, she notices that there are hardly any insects scurrying around her father’s house. No roaches drop down on her when she uses her computer in the dark, and she hasn’t seen a mosquito in three days.
After a month, she notices the spider trails. Every time she leaves the house to go walking down the hill to the bus stop down in the projects, spiders follow her. Some are very polite about it. They scramble after her in unobtrusive ways, there but not there. Some of them are bolder, stronger palm-sized tarantulas that come up to her and tap at her toes with their hairy legs until she notices the pinprick pressure and crouches down to receive a bit of favor from them.
Sometimes, the spiders give her chips of worn glass or rock.
Other times, they give her seeds or costume jewelry that’s older than she is and covered in caked-on dust to boot.
And one time — the most important time — the spiders come up to her while she’s sitting on the steps out by the college, so many of them at once that she doesn’t understand why no one is seeing them and saying something. She’s on the steps with bits of orange peel scattered around her bare feet when a bird eater spider as big as her face and as brown as her skin pushes through the crowd of smaller spiders with something wrapped in webbing sitting on its massive back.
She takes the package because she can’t imagine doing otherwise.
Underneath the webbing is a crown.