Every morning I check my slippers for spiders. I throw off the covers, fumble for my glasses and, with my feet chilling on the cold linoleum floor, check that spiders didn’t nest in my slippers overnight. There is nothing worse than feeling spidery legs thrashing against your toes or that !POP! as their small round bodies explode.
It is such a mess getting their guts out of faux fleece.
I don’t hate spiders. I respect the orderliness of their lives and the perfect webs between branches or in the tall grass. The dew on the silken strands glistens jewel-like in the morning sun.
But there is something horrible about the motionless way spiders wait and then leap on the unsuspecting bee or butterfly drawn in by that morning beauty, only to be sucked dry by the spider.
I don’t like the way the prey jerks and trembles as the spider wraps them in silk. I hate to see the suffering.
That’s why I usually smash those beautiful webs with a rock.
Her name was Emelia-Jean and she lived downstairs from me in the Imperial Apartments, an ancient, brick and wood, fire-trap building on the east side of the city. In the fall, when she moved in, it was the talk of the fifteen of us who already lived there. Emelia-Jean of the long gray hair that she wore twisted back in a perfect bun, her petite figure draped in a gray t-shirt and old-fashioned, frayed bell-bottoms with flowers embroidered around the hem. When I almost plowed into her going down the stairs from my third-floor walk-up, she gave me that wide smile of hers that erased any lines on her face and made me acutely aware of my wrinkles, my bowl-cut, graying brown hair and the creases in my shiny gabardine interview suit.
“I’m so sorry!” I said and caught her thin wrist to steady her. “Are you looking for someone?”
“Nope,” she said juggling a small box that still looked too large for her to manage. “I’m your new neighbor. Emelia-Jean Newman. I’m moving into 203.”
“Samantha Cooper,” I said. “Sam around here. You’re moving just downstairs from me. Let me give you a hand.” I leaned my photography portfolio against the wall and helped her with the box. I helped with five more, bringing them up from her car and introducing her to other residents. Then I noticed the time. I had an appointment for a possible commercial photography job. By the time I found my portfolio again, I had brought in six other Imperial residents to help Emelia-Jean, and I was hopelessly late and considerably more dusty.
“Thank you so much,” she said as I rushed to leave. “It looks like you’re a real leader here.”
“I just know everybody.” I shrugged and ran.
I didn’t get the job and by the time I got home, the Imperial Apartments were changed forever. Emelia-Jean had moved in and all the residents had helped her.
I think it was part of her plan.
It started with Stuart.
Stuart Blackman was a sixty-plus-year-old who lived on the first floor. A semi-retired saxophonist, he subsisted on a government pension and what he made busking outside the liquor store. He was a tall, balding drink of water with wide-set ears and a protruding nose that probably served him well when playing, and play sweetly he did. When his saxophone wasn’t in his hands he acted like he’d lost a limb.
Without his saxophone he bumbled around. The first time I met him he asked whether my daughter had left me or I’d deserted her. The awkwardness came when I told him she’d died. But he’d been kind to me when I moved in after my divorce. He’d invited me for coffee and had come to my place for tea. He’d played me songs when I was so tired I thought maybe living was beyond me. That man’s saxophone would purr and rumble and cry in his hands. He’d play me everything but Celine Dion, because we’d quickly established that I couldn’t abide that chanteuse’s music. He’d also been one of the people I introduced to Emelia-Jean and spent the day helping her move in.
I worried a little about his awkward questions, but things seemed okay. Stuart followed her around like a puppy and was at her beck and call. I noticed the coffee invitations came less often, but that was okay too. I was too busy. I had to hustle as a freelance photographer.
But then I didn’t see Stuart on the stairs. I didn’t see him busking at the liquor store either. When I went to his apartment, through the closed door all he said was “Go away.”
They found him a few weeks later. He’d died from a sleeping pill overdose though he had no prescription for them.