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Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 25.1 (2004) 124-127

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Each June when we arrive at our summer cottage in Maine and I open our Whirlpool Side-by-Side, its pungency, an odor mild and salty, not unlike that of dried seaweed, tilts me toward loathing. Peering inside I note drops of moisture on the isles and inlets of the fridge. Dribbles of last season's juice and milk miter glass to plastic. Silted threads of food and splashes of Pepsi mar the alabaster innards.

Like a neglected lover, my fridge demands instant attention. So, plastic-gloved and aproned, pristine sponge in hand, I kneel on the oak-planked floor to begin my dab and dibble. First, I pick out crumbs and congealed liquid with the edge of a butter knife. Then, swiping sponge through soapy water, I swirl grease from the plastic butter "den," flicking the ants, who sought shelter from the cold only to founder on these icy bluffs, onto the floor. Every June the same drill—every June the blotting, the scrubbing, the removal of winter's muck.

So much to do, so little time.

I am about to roll out a shelf when a shadow trailing below my right shoulder catches my eye. A few inches from me a spider dangles from her dragline. As I incline my head for a better look, she slips a smidgen, hovers parallel to my right cheekbone, then lounges comfortably in the space between refrigerator and range top. I stare at her; she stares back.

They say that spiders, in spite of their many eyes, have poor vision. But this spider sees me. She catches the flickering fuzz on forearms, the stray hair protruding from a nostril, golden flecks swimming in hazel irises. I let my breath out slowly and rise to face her, but she dances up the line, resting at the cornice of an oak cabinet. She is not a spectacular member of her species, not a banded Argiope decorated with zigzag black and white bands on her carapace, nor a Miracanthena enhanced by a hard, glossy abdomen. She is not arrow-shaped or star-bellied, golden or puff-furred. She is an ordinary black house spider, bullet-shaped and spindly. I sweep her kind into the trash daily. [End Page 124]

Perhaps sensing this, the spider angles above me for only a few seconds, then, rupturing the air with one foot, scampers into the cabinet, ingesting her line. I return to my labors.

The shelves of my Whirlpool are plastic and removable for easy cleaning. I drag them to the sink, turn on the faucet, and am joined again by my spider who swings back and forth at the end of her line in front of the kitchen window. Sunlight illuminates her body, accentuating the furry body hairs, the minute chelicerae forking in front of her mouth, ending in hollow fangs. Tiny spinnerets bellow from her abdomen.

As I turn on the faucet, the spider glides down her line. Now she is a dot paralleling my right eyebrow. Lifting my head to place her in focus, I see a lady lounging on her couch. When I squeeze my sponge, she curls around her line. A knot no larger than my smallest fingernail, she seems a blushing coquette. My sponge drizzles suds into the sink. Milady flickers out of sight, rebounding seconds later on a new line. In the sunlight I can make out her thorax and abdomen, the feelers on her head and her eight scrawny legs. Two long middle legs hug the line, the shorter, outer limbs probe the air.

She humps her back then stretches again. Dark dots, remnants from a long ago segmentation, dapple her carapace. One theory has it that spiders have evolved from marine-segmented worms. Looking at the spider now, with her compact, rigid body, it's impossible to imagine her undulating along ocean floors, legless and slimy, impossible to envision her minus her workmanlike legs. These legs—which seem never to rest, which agitate the air—creating geometric patterns...


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pp. 124-127
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