She saw the spider with her right eye, and the snow with her left.
The spider. THAT spider. She’d already tried to catch it at least five times, a huge daddy longlegs she’d named Charlotte that seemed determined to set up housekeeping in that particular corner. She was afraid it might be preparing to give birth – as many times as she’d knocked it down it had come back; she’d never known a spider to be so obstinately territorial. But its favourite spot was too high for her short arms and legs to reach unaided and when she tried to poke it with her broom — handle or brush — she always ended up knocking it down to the grey floor, where it immediately blended in and disappeared. One time she’d knocked it into the sleeve of her sweater and though it must have come right back out she’d felt it crawling all over her skin for hours.
And snow. Last night’s had been the fall’s first real frost, and now here was snow, with a week left to go in October. It lay lightly on the ground, and wouldn’t stay, but still. She was battle-weary after last year’s long, cold winter; seven months of bone-chilling cold and snow frozen so hard it crunched like styrofoam under her heavy Sorels. Those boots had seemed a bit much when she’d bought them a year ago but they’d seen daily use from January to April. Rated for below 30, they hadn’t been warm enough on those -40 days standing in bus shelters obviously designed by someone who’d never had to take public transit. She’d yearned, not for the first time, for the winters of her youth in the Maritimes, where the Atlantic Ocean tempered the bite of the cold. But they’d had it bad last year out there too, with driveways and even some roads looking like canyons cut through mountains of snow.
Then she’d blinked and summer was gone and now it was snowing again.
She put a damp towel over the fondant she’d been rolling, brushed sugar off her hands then went to the porch closet for the stepladder. No sense trying the broom again, or the flyswatter, which had likewise proved no match for the nimble Charlotte. Mind you, one spider was a drop in the bucket, her basement was infested with the eight-legged creatures. Cobwebs blanketed the rough stucco of the ceiling and draped down the painted concrete block walls in the laundry room like some kind of kitschy Halloween decoration. Walking into the root cellar she always had a sense that thousands of tiny eyes were watching her every move. (She made a mental note to tidy up that space before she added new provisions at the end of the month.) There was no sign that the spiders caught flies or other bugs to earn their keep (she had a vague suspicion they lived on dust) but they certainly thrived down there, and every so often one decided to take up residence in the upstairs bathroom, or the office.
The snow caught her eye again as she set up the ladder under Charlotte’s latest web. The white stuff had figured prominently in the year she’d dubbed “the troubles.” Money trouble, health trouble, relationship trouble. Hardly anyone she knew had been left unscathed.
Snow had caused the roof of her gingerbread Victorian to leak — no ice damming thank god, no damage to the shingles or the attic, it was just the weight of the snow that caused the leak and once the snow was gone, the leak stopped. The leak — the money she’d had to spend to get the snow off the roof — had been her unexpected expense in March, but every month of the year had dug into her pocket to some unwelcome degree. In January she had put her 19-year-old cat to sleep and that seemed to have drained her mojo, setting her up for a year of unrelenting bad news. And her grief over the cat was still raw, months later. For nearly two decades she and the cat had been each other’s primary companion, but she couldn’t explain that to people whose lives were replete with friends and family. Talking about that kind of interdependence made her sound like some crazy cat lady. Not getting another one right away was probably a mistake. People like her needed cats to ground them. But that was her life story, really – love more than was advisable, lose the thing she’d loved, and take so long replacing it that it, finally, seemed impossible to do so at all.
She’d tried not to wallow in her grief but winter had been so cold, and she’d been so broke, that hibernating was all it seemed possible to do. Isolation became both what she needed and what she was left with. Maybe she’d go to the SPCA in November, when she’d be feeling stronger.
The one good thing about that snow out there, she thought as she grabbed a tissue and took a first heavy step up the ladder – had thought it when they discussed the weekend forecast at work on Friday and her co-workers had been horrified at the threat of snow: winter was coming and with it Dec. 31, and the end to what had been a particularly horribilus annus. She was going to crack a nice bottle of Champagne in two months and drink a hearty toast to the end of that sonuvabitch. She knocked the wood of the door jamb and looked quickly over her shoulder to check that Karma wasn’t lining up another kick at her backside for prematurely anticipating that her power would be back at full strength by the end of the year.
She reached out with the tissue toward the spider, but succeeded only in knocking it down onto the floor, where it once again became invisible.
She swore, sighed and climbed slowly down, favouring her bad ankle. She wiped her nose – it always seemed to be dripping these days – and tucked the tissue in the sleeve of her sweater before putting the ladder away. Forget the spider. Trick-or-treaters were coming and she had to get ready.