Thursday, February 09, 2006

Relationship Ads

In computers there's a thing called proxy cache. That's when your Internet connection keeps a familiar page loaded in its memory, speeding up your browsing time because you're not forced to sit and wait for the familiar web page to grab all its content from scratch and put it back together again each time you visit.

I looked at her like she was that.

It hadn't got to the point where I didn't recognize that she had gotten a haircut when she went out and spent a hundred and sixty dollars highlighting and chopping at her already beautiful hair to accentuate, she said, the luminous parts.

It hadn't gotten to that point. Yet.

But it had reached an impasse'.

Cosmopolitan. My wife loved it. I didn't care one way or the other. She looked at it with a calculating interest, the same way my secretary at the bank looked at a box of Krispy Kreme donuts.

"Don't worry Harry," my wife whispered. I smiled up at her, thinking that my reassured smile would let her know that I was, indeed, reassured.

They say that when you fall off a horse you should get right back on because otherwise you might never get back on. I heard lots of people say that when I was in Iraq. It was a morale-booster.

I felt a ribbon of air waft across my hair. A rubbery thud from a door swinging closed. I smelled purer air than the air out there in the hospital corridors. The air was cleaner, reminding me of peroxide when you pour it over a cut and the impurities bubble forth.

It could have been a space ship I entered.

I felt my wife caress my brow, running her fingers lightly through my hair.

I guess I was a little afraid. My heart was pounding in this new room, the rhythm like a dream I used to have of myself running down a highway, each step thudding in my ears, and each placing of a foot causing me pain as though my feet were covered in a suppurating formation of blisters. The shoes filled with goo. Clug-Clug-Clug. The trees quiet of all bird songs and the highway empty of all traffic. Clug-Clug-Clug. At the end of the dream when I looked down I saw the pus sloshing from my shoelace holes and the sides where my ankles met rubber. I looked behind me. I'd left a wet trail of blister pus on the highway. I woke up usually when my dream-self had decided to chase the trail back, to see where I had come from.

The dream used to bother me because I figured a repeat-dream was trying to tell me something. If you have a dream at least once a year your mind must be muttering the same unintelligible words to you, right? Like an SOS on repeat.

That's how I felt now. Each squeak of the bed's wheel, each breath, I felt the sides of my mouth cracking with pressure. I felt sweat running in my armpits.

I reached out. She gripped my hand with her delicate own.

"Harry," she said. "Do you have second thoughts?"

I shook my head. "Never." Although I did.

I thought she must be smiling.

I told myself, she's probably more nervous than me. She was going under the knife next.

***

I heard another voice. The nurse. Her accent was faintly German and she spoke with deliberate thickness. The nurse was telling my wife she had to wait out in the waiting room. "Ja have ta wait out there." If I concentrated I could hear my wife's thighs rubbing together.

"Honey," I heard my wife's voice. "The nurse says I have to wait out there during the operation."

"I heard," I told her.

She took my hand in her own.

"God bless us," she said. Something soft brushed against my forehead as she kissed it with cobweb softness. Her lips moved to my mouth. I tasted her, taking in a breath of sharp perfume. Her lips were so soft and full and welcoming. Like neither of us wanted to fail the other, as if even such a thing as tiny as a kiss can allow disappointment to achieve truth and reality.

Suddenly I was overcome with lust. The way she smelled and the touch of her soft skin on mine. The moisture in her red and full and quivering lips mixed with excitement and fear at the impending surgery.

Those lips smiled.

I smiled back.

"Keep your fingers crossed," I told her. I hoped my voice was brave because I didn't feel all that brave. I had undergone major surgery after a car wreck when I was in college but I did not remember much about it.

She was gone. I smelled the orderly. I heard him laugh briefly and discuss something in tones of high excitement with the nurse while we waited for the surgeon.

We had flown to Berlin for this surgeon. My wife had first read about him in the new Cosmo. Her voice had broken with excitement while she read, reminding me of a third grade teacher who had read The Red Badge Of Courage that same way, indulging us by changing her manner for each character. A doctor had placed an advertisement in the Cosmo for a new medical procedure that could restore a healthy relationship between two people. The ad described it as being as easy as flipping a switch. To be able to flip a switch and move beyond all the hurts that were destroying your relationship.

"They say he can cure relationship problems," she told me. "Honey."

I told her no because I did not believe. Besides my health insurance would not cover the expenses of the operation.

His name was Helmut Lamp. Doctor Lamp owned a medical facility in Berlin. She emailed his facility; it turned out he was actually visiting Chicago for a conference at the University of Chicago, and he offered to meet with us.

The day Doctor Lamp showed up at our modest house, my wife and I were both nervous. When he came walking up the driveway he wore a double-breasted suit and was nearly seven foot tall. I have always been interested in remarkably tall people, and such a giant caught my interest. Someone that tall probably has to have custom fit clothes made, unless he does not mind wearing the hideous styles; which are, invariably, the type of clothing they sell for the very tall. Heinous Bermuda beach shorts of a fashion that went out of style the day it was introduced, which was probably in the mid-eighties during the surfer-wear heyday. I might have made a quip on that very subject, but I don't remember.

What I do remember is the way he smelled.

He smelled bad. Moist-bad. The same smell as when I lifted up the corner of a board after we had just gotten married and moved into a new house; it was rough work getting the board up and when I finally did I was astonished and horrified to see an army of black garden spiders, the really big kind, glare at me angrily and scuttle for my feet to crawl up my pants legs and get revenge.

I had fled and purchased spider poison at the Value tool supply store.

He smelled like that; wet and earthy, like something that crawls between the dark places. I must have immediately wrinkled my nose because my wife kicked me. I straightened my features out and shook hands with Doctor Lamp.

The whole meeting he appeared irked to be there and I don't think I helped because I asked him very piercing questions on the subject of restoring relationship integrity. I felt I was well-within my rights but he reacted as though I were insulting him.

"I don't think you understand Mr. Rosenberg. Many of the populace on this side of the Atlantic continue to believe that medical advances not originating in America are tabloid sciences." He made an annoying sound when he talked, clicking and smacking his lips after his S's.

"Then why aren't they doing it in America," I countered. I was enjoying myself.

"America is not the only country, sir, with advances," he retorted. "Other technologically advanced cultures are capable of progress. Progress in science. Progress in advanced weaponry. Progress in love."

On and on it went, back and forth, while my wife talked on the phone to my mother. I was later to discover, from my wife, that she had told my mother about the possibility we wouldn't get a divorce after all, and had a very tall, very intelligent and very sophisticated German gentleman discussing it with us on our veranda.

I inherited all my stubborn attitudes from my mother, and she reacted the same way I reacted with Dr. Lamp. Had I listened, I would have heard my mother making statements that were as doubtful of the procedure as my own.

Although my wife was not, I was very surprised when an administrative assistant who worked for Helmut Lamp contacted us two days after his visit and told my wife that the good doctor was most impressed with both of us and had cleared his schedule, which was backed up more than a year, to operate on our relationship.

I was to be reset, to my old self. My wife, too. We would lose all of the bad memories that had brought our marriage to its knees. It would be like we had just met, with just a flick of a sterile scalpel on a mental switch.

My wife celebrated it as a huge victory.

While I enjoyed her celebrations on our behalf, I knew that the cost of the operation would drain our resources. When I called attention to this my wife shushed me. She was very good at that.

***

"Well, hello my American friend!" The doctor shouted. The seven foot tall man was dressed in white and I was struck by a brief fit of hilarity when I pictured him wearing nothing but a pair of Bermuda surf shorts and his white doctor's coat, a stethoscope hanging around his neck like a gold and diamond hip hop medallion.

"Doctor," I answered, trying not to seem like a man lying in a hospital bed awaiting someone else's mercy.

"I saw your wife in passing. She looks very beautiful," Lamp said.

I wasn't absolutely sure that I wanted Doctor Lamp making comments about my wife just before operating on me, but I wasn't going to make a scene either. He spoke to me for a little longer before he became very quiet. I could still hear the orderly talking to what I assumed to be the nurse. He was complaining about something by the tone of his voice, but I couldn't quite make out just what he was complaining about.

"We're going to put you out," Lamp said. "Let me reassure you Mr. Rosenberg, this is an utterly safe procedure. When you wake you will feel disorientated and dizzy but this will pass. You will be new again."

One of the strangest things about losing the stability of your relationship is the feeling of absolute despair.

I lay there wondering what it would be like to be new again.

***

I heard the nurse talking to Lamp but she whispered, and I hadn't noticed it before, but she had a way of clicking through her words in a sound very reminiscent of a fingernail tapping on wood. I heard more thick accent then I did words.

I wondered if there was a bright light showing. The doctor told me not to move. A sharp prick. The last thing I remember was that clicking sound as I fell unconscious. I smelled the moist smell, remembered very clearly lifting the board in the backyard and the smell wafting from underneath the rotten two by four. Then I saw my wife's face and I bet I smiled up at Lamp and the nurse, as I faded into the dull heart of a grey light.

I stood in a great hall filled with phone booths. Full sized phone booths, the kind Superman used when he needed to put on his costume. All the phones rang at once. I couldn't decide which phone to answer. I knew that my wife was calling but I could not decide which phone to answer. They all quit their shrill ring at the same time leaving the great hall quiet and still. I wondered if my hesitation had caused me to miss some opportunity to escape, and if I would be trapped in the great hall forever. I hadn't noticed it before but none of the phones that had recently rung had phone cords. The receivers seemed ominously unconnected and suddenly I was glad I hadn't answered any of the phones.

That's when I woke up to a fuzzy world filled with dark rubbery blots and grey smudged blurs.

I heard a soft voice cooing to me like I was a baby again. When I attempted to get up and move closer to make out the blots and smudges a hand held me down. I was forced to lay there while the voice continued to coo, in a tone that reminded me of my own voice that I had used on Spot, the cat, before he got out the front door and was run over by a Ford Escort on a Sunday afternoon. I cooed at him when he was a black and white kitten and he'd come into the yard looking for food. I cooed to him when he was a cat, when I was alone with him. I cooed over the broken pile of cat, the mush of ripped muscles and squashed bones. The driver of the Escort, a high school male with greasy black hair and mouth full of braces with bits of food stuck between them, kept apologizing and calling me sir as I cooed and I wonder if he thought I was cooing to him.

I felt another prick. There was intense pain in both of my eyes. I could not move them. They also felt hot. I tried to say something but I was having some sort of spell of dry mouth because the words stuck on my tongue. I was swept under again; I felt a vast wave of patterned darkness and for an instant fireworks went off in my brain.

I was in the great hall again. I suddenly realized I could see. Of course, I knew I was in a dream. I noticed there was no green. There was plenty of blue. There was plenty of black. The hall ceiling and walls were brushed gold.

The phones rang. This time I decided to answer one of them. I picked the one closet to me and picked the receiver from the handle.

"Hello."

"Harry." My mother.

"Mom?" I asked. I suspiciously looked around the hall.

"Harry," she said. The phone grew hot in my ear. I dropped it. The cheap black receiver started to melt, peeling away revealing the ditzy substandard electronics beneath the black coating.
I heard my mother weeping from all around the golden hall, her voice sniffing back anguished tears.

"They," she said.

Have you ever been hung up on? I mean really hung up on, like in a movie, when the phone rattles out a bleating siren of total finality?

That's what I heard, but magnified by the large hall, as though the noise bounced around, from wall to ceiling to floor to wall again.

My ears whistled like a five o clock siren.

I opened my eyes.

I stared into an empty white ceiling blank as a ghost.

It took me a moment to realize I was in a hospital gurney. I sat up and looked at a nondescript room, no TV, no vase of flowers; but there was a big grey dry sink connected to a white cabinet filled with medical supplies.

It took me a longer moment to realize that I could see again. I blinked and my eyes felt soaked with something like petroleum jelly. I didn't care how they felt, because they worked. I could see again.

The door opened to my room. I do not know why but some inner voice, some random thought that might have been left over from a troubled childhood, told me to lay back and close my eyes, and fast.

I followed the voice's directives. I closed my eyes and held myself perfectly still at first - then I had a thought: sleeping people never stay perfectly still. So I moved around a little.

When I opened my eyes I saw something that made my heart race like my veins and arteries had been replaced by a horse track. My plumbing went hot and my blood ran cold.

It was not the prickly black hair of the thing, and it was not the multifaceted clear eyes like an old teddy's bead-eyes, it was the eight legs that sprouted from the white nurse's outfit. They had little growths of grey skin the color of old mold at the stalk ends.

It was not that the eight legs of the spider-nurse were waving like weeds in a spring breeze. It was because they were reaching for me.

I got out of bed, blinking afterimages from my eye. I heard the spider's voice come clearly out like a human voice with a German accent.

"Mr. Rosenberg, you should not be up and about just yet." The voice had a register of fear in it. I knew I was not supposed to be awake.

I ignored the coolly professional voice, trying to wipe away the cosmic dust-looking objects superimposed on my vision. All I could think was: get away from the enormous spider. I worked on instinct, remembering the dry sink and jaggedly moving in that direction. I looked back once to see if the spider was coming but it stood, the antennae on its head almost looking puzzled, staring after me with all hundred or so beady eyes.

I reached into the sink. Nothing there. I moved to the cabinets. I saw a white cardboard box about the size of a matchbox. I opened the cabinet and got it down and opened the box and shook out a dozen or so syringes. I still had my back to the giant black spider. It didn't appear to know what I was doing. I took two syringes and held them in my fist so the syringe handles did not show, so all that showed was the needles. I walked toward the arachnid. I made myself smile, deep and earnest. I let the smile touch my eyes. I took some acting courses at a community college some years ago and I put every ounce of what little I had learned from the woman who taught the class into my performance. The spider reminded me of a humanoid Tarantula.

When I got close enough I plunged the syringes into the thing's head at roughly the perimeter where a person's ears would be. I shoved the needles in and pushed the inject button.

I don't know what was in those syringes but the spider did not scream while it thrashed around. It made no human noise at all but I got a real good gander at the size of the thing's fangs. It shuffled and twisted and a pink foam bubbled from between the fangs and dripped to the floor where it smoldered like acid.

Whatever this thing was, shook in a death rattle like a belly dancer rolls her stomach. A moment later it expired.

I leaned against the sink and threw up until all I had left was bile. I could taste the bile in my throat and it reminded me of the stuff eating away at the tile flooring so I threw up some more. When I was done I turned around to inspect my handiwork.

I felt like I had to inspect this thing I had killed, but I did not do it like a hunter inspects the carcass of his recent kill - I felt nothing but terror looking at the thing on the floor. It really was a giant spider. The thing jerked every so often with a death-kick and all eight limbs moved. I was kneeling by it when I heard voices.

By this time I trusted my new sense of danger and I hurried to the light switch and flipped it. But prior to flipping out the light I retrieved two more syringes. I took a position by the door.

I waited.

The door opened and a black stalk fumbled for the light. I turned the light on for it and when this spider, even bigger - it was the orderly who had been complaining to the nurse in the background when I was getting prepped for surgery - came into the room. I put the syringes in the exact same way. It struggled as I pressed the needles in - the left one fell out of my hand but I pushed the needle in my right hand all the way. I hit the mother brain. The thing went down. It scrabbled its eight hairy black legs.

But I was already creeping down the hospital corridor, my ass hanging out the flaps of my hospital gown. I had two new syringes primed and ready.

The third spider I took was another nurse. It was a smaller spider with brown fur instead of black, and when I withdrew my syringes I kept them. She had been on the phone. I picked up the phone.

"Hello?"

On the other end, some furious thick clicking. I hung up.

I was almost out of reception when someone found the bodies; not sure which body they found or how close they were I hid in a maintenance closet. I would have moved the corpses if I could have and hidden them but they were too heavy and I did not want to get any of that acid on me.

I heard voices screaming even with the door closed.

I found a wooden stick next to a yellow mop bucket and some wet floor! signs. I regularly played softball a couple times a week in a league and I knew how to hit a ball. I figured bashing a ball would be the same as bashing a spider. Then I decided that hitting a giant spider with a board was definitely not the same as squashing one with your shoe. I put the stick down.

Suddenly I felt disorientated, and crouched next to the mop bucket. I couldn't think of anything but my wife and how much I wanted to reach her and make sure she was safe. My eyes were not working right, though. I kept seeing bottle rockets going off in my peripheral vision. I don't know why I did it but I cried because of this whole situation and, surprisingly, that seemed to do it and I once again looked at the world without the special effects, or the roller coaster feeling.

I kicked open the door. I was going to go get my wife.

My fighting spirit quickly left me as I stepped into an empty corridor. There was no one to fight. I scurried - a bad term, I thought - down the corridor. That was when I took a good look at my syringes. Acid had eaten through them. All that was left were needle nubs. I cursed and dropped them.

I found another operating theatre and opened the door. There was a guy in the bed and he was snoring, dead to the world. I rifled through the medical cabinets, thankful that the spiders at least stocked the place like a real hospital, finding an identical box of syringes. This time I took a couple extra and put them in my right sock. I bit the tops off two and spit them, the same as I done with new BIC pen caps in Mrs. Osgood's seventh grade homeroom.

I shook the guy awake as gently as I could. He roused slowly, and when he finally came awake he stared right through me.

"Doctor Lamp?" He asked.

I realized he was disorientated.

"Hey man," I said. "You don't know me and I don't have time to give specifics." I ran him through the story. I basically told him I had been just like him, and woke up. I did not describe the giant spiders. There was no time and I did not want him to think I was crazy and waste more time trying to convince him I was not crazy. So I told them they were terrorists.

I got him to his feet. His name was Mark, he was from Kansas, and he had a degenerative disease that mostly ran dormant in his family until he had gotten married and realized he was possessed by Rage.

"This was my wife's idea," he said.

"Yeah, mine too," I replied.

"I knew this was a bad idea. I knew it from the very beginning." I let him rage while I tried to plan out how we were going to get out of here. I finally had to tell him to be quiet, though, because his voice got louder and stormier the longer he set into his subject.

"Sorry," he said.

"Let's just get out of here."

"I still don't understand why you think we're in danger..."

"Shhh," I told him.

I heard a couple voices in the corridor.

"Lay down," I ordered.

When the two spiders held open the door they only saw Mark. I was getting the door shoved in my face and pressing myself against the wall as close as I could get. Mark did as I had asked and lay in the hospital bed. He added a touch I would not have: he snored. He drew breath in and let it ripple out with a deep, annoying liquid gurgling sound.

The spiders stared at him for a moment, and I got my syringes ready - feeling like an expert by now. I thought we were done for but they released the door. After it had closed, I sighed

"They gone?" Mark asked.

"All gone."

I helped him up.

I took a hold of his hospital gown by the sleeve and we made like prize winning dogs at a dog show, parading for the exit.

I didn't know my way around but it wasn't that big of a place. There was no one in sight. We finally reached the door that led to the receptionist desk. The wall was transparent plastic of some kind. I looked through and saw a wide desk, stacked with clipboards.

But

There were spiders in there. One spider in particular made my blood run cold. It was twice the size of the orderly. Some pre-civilized sense went haywire when I saw the enormous creature and I wanted to flee right then.

It reminded me of an office strategy meeting; the smaller spiders were listening to the larger one, and I could almost make out a few words, if not for the transparent wall, because they were speaking English. They had German accents but they spoke English.

I dragged Mark away from the transparent wall.

"We're going to wait," I told him. "Right here."

I kept thinking about my wife. I seem to have done the cliche and woken up into a nightmare, and I wondered where she was, if she was okay, trying not to think about what might have happened. I refused to think that something might have happened to her. She should be waiting for me, somewhere out there in the waiting area of reception, and that's where I needed to be. I needed to get through those spiders.

Mark asked me for a cigarette but I told him I did not smoke.

"I smoke two packs a day," he declared.

"Yeah."

"Yeah." He scratched his chin. "I mostly roll my own. Smoking is good for the soul. Some say it isn't good for you but those who say so have got no souls."

I was busy watching the large spider give orders to smaller versions. I should have paid more attention to Mark.

When I turned he was opening the wooden door to reception. He was opening the door right into that horde of spiders out there. I grabbed but it was too late. The door swung open. Mark opened it in a Rage.

He saw and turned back toward me, intent on running.

It came quick, definitely quick, but not painless by the look on Mark's face. The big spider - the really big one, put a big leg through his back at midriff level. The leg popped out Mark's front with a bright red spat! The leg dug in, barbed at the joint, and pulled up, effectively splitting Mark vertically up to his chin. His last look at me was a half-pleading one. He yawned like he was looking up for pop fly and his head broke off its neck and went rolling into the wall leaving a trail of blood like paint from a drippy paint roller.

I turned on my heel and took off down the corridor. The spider made a clicking sound behind me. It sounded like ire. I wasn't going to stick around and find out how it was feeling.

I rounded a corner and chanced a look back. Sure enough, the spider was rushing down the corridor, going right up the wall and running upside down on the ceiling when there was an empty gurney or other obstacle in its path.

Shit. There was no way I could outrun this: I had the two syringes and I decided to turn and face the thing's charge. I swung around prepared to feel one of those legs or worse (the spider crawling over me, dripping hot venom on my face and shitting web) but the spider stopped and regarded me.

The voice that came from the thing was none other than Dr. Lamp - and the human tones caused my mind to jerk in surprise even though I had previously experienced the nurse speaking in clear Homosapien English.

"Do you think we might talk this over like logical beings?" The Dr. Lamp spider asked.

I did not hesitate. "Sure," I said.

"I mean you no harm."

"Sure," I said.

"I can reunite you with your spouse. Your very beautiful wife."

"You can?"

The spider's fangs clucked in a very human gesture of impatience.

"She's waiting in my office. I will take you there, directly. As a measure of trust I will even lead the way."

The spider did not wait but turned and scuttled back the way it had come, still doing that disorientating thing of crawling on the wall and ceiling if its path was obstructed. I followed at a distance.

I hesitated at the threshold to reception. Mark's remains were cooling and the air smelled like evacuated bowels.

Dr. Lamp, unsettling as an arachnophobic's worst nightmare, gestured with one black stalk. To my discomfort the end of the leg was stained cherry, thick root hairs pressed down with sticky blood like he had applied a liberal amount of hardcore salon hair gel, the kind that cost twenty dollars and change per application.

What the hell.

I followed

Walking by the spiders filled me with a primal fear and I could smell that wet dark pungent odor of things that live their lives hiding underneath things, stale, moist, like the bottom dregs of a movie theater popcorn popper. The only thing missing was the pale acne-sore refreshment guy asking if you wanted to try a combo, his inquiry bored and yet resolute.

Mimi was waiting in his office. She stared straight ahead like someone who has recently learned of a death in the family. Her eyes were wide and fearful, because her arms and legs were cocooned in silky spider fiber. What the hell. There was a free chair. I sat.

She started right away. She did not need an invitation to harangue me I knew. I admit I was still a little surprised when she brought up my habit of putting things in the microwave without putting a paper towel down so whatever I was cooking exploded all over the microwave - and she had to clean it while I went back to watching an Everybody Loves Raymond rerun.

"You don't work," I told her. "You had a job when we married, Mimi. WHAT HAPPENED TO THAT?"

"Whatdoyoumeanwhathappenedtothat! You didn't want a wife, Harry," - she put poison in my name. "You wanted a sexy housekeeper!"

"How can I change, when you don't like anything about me?" I asked. I had been saving that one up. I think she must have guessed from my expression - I had also been saving up that expression - it was one part hurt dignity and two parts noble suffering.

"You smug bastard," she sang. "How could anyone like you if they knew you?"

"Well I don't know, Mimi," I sang back. "You should have married Jeffrey. You could have been the happy couple riding off into the sunset. -but I'm not sure he could support you on his gas station salary."

"Mr. and Mrs. Rosenberg," the huge spider - Dr. Lamp - interjected: "part out your problems is not giving concessions to your partner." The spider tsktsked. "That's why you came here, isn't it? To reboot to the beginning before you had built up defense systems."

We were both silent, taking this in.

"I want children," Mimi said. I looked at her. She looked at me.

"How can we have children if you don't work? How can we afford a child on just my salary?" I was getting my rhythm.

"Sometimes I feel like you keep me around as a sex puppet," Mimi said. She turned to the spider. "He just wants to drill me and roll over and go to sleep after he drinks a twelve pack of beer and watches ESPN."

Tears rolled down her cheeks and she looked at her restless hands.

"THE CRYING THING," I screamed. "Do you see that?" I asked the spider. "Do you see it? That's what she does, that's her favorite thing to do. She Cries. SHE BLUBBERS."

Mimi was crying like she couldn't take a breath, incoherently waving her hands in shooing motions.

"Mr. Rosenberg, nothing is ever solved by shouting." The spider's multifarious red eyes picked me apart.

"Yeah, I know." I looked at Mimi. Something snapped in me. Here we were in this place, and she was trapped in a chair, and we might not survive. "I'm sorry I raised my voice," I told her. I crouched next to her, as if to study the efficiency of her tears.

"I'm sorry," I said.

She stared straight ahead, face glistening.

"I'm sorry, Mimi."

She still didn't look but when I begin to say it a third time she said in a cold, distant tone: "I heard you, Harry."

"Here it goes again," I said. "See this is what she does. Poor martyr. Saint Mimi the blessed. IF YOU'RE GOING TO BE A SAINT DON'T BE A BITCH ABOUT IT," I yelled.

"Mr. Rosenberg," the spider said. It was a warning.

"Look what you've got us into, Mimi. Just take a look around. Does this thing look like a MARRIAGE COUNSELOR? We flew to Berlin on a trip we can't afford for a procedure we can't afford and look at you with your tears, not accepting any of the RESPONSIBILTY."

"If you don't keep your voice down, Mr. Rosenberg, I'm going to have to eat you." The spider gnashed its fangs. One of those fangs was about the size of my hand.

I walked toward the door.

"Oh yeah," I said. When I had been sitting I had filched the syringes hidden in my sock and I kept them palmed. The spider looked like it was getting hungrier - and possibly - angrier. I approached it.

"Are you going to let us go after this little session?" I asked.

That wet ugly smell. "Gah," I said.

I saw the spider rear back and one of the legs looked like it was about to swing into action.

"How much do I owe you for our session, doc?" I asked, plunging a syringe into the thing's forehead, dead on. One of the legs came around and batted me to the wall where I brought a few diplomas down with me. My left arm left numb, I had difficulty sitting up. I looked at it. Glass shards blooded my forearm and I think it was snapped underneath the elbow because it flopped like a headless chicken when I tried to move it.

Dr. Lamp - the biggest spider I had seen - my guess was that it was the king - was down. The enormous hairy black spider leaked fluid from the hole I had made in its head with the syringe. Just like before, the blood hissed and spat like acid as it ate away what it touched.

I found a knife in the good doctor's drawer and used it to cut through glistening spider rope to free my wife from the chair. The stuff gummed up the blade and by the time I had finished the blade was ruined. I tossed it.

She was quiet all through this. When she turned up her eyes, looked at me, I mean - really looked at me, I saw a mixture of forgiveness and something else - love - I hoped - shining in her wet tear-stained eyes.

She still slapped me. She covered her mouth, stifling one of those crazy screams.

"Your arm," she said.

"It's fine. We need to get out of here. Worry about that later"

I walked around the elephantine corpse which took up most of the office and went through the good doctor's drawer. I wasn't sure what I was looking for. There was no phone. I kept an eye on the acid that had slowed to a sizzling few drops.

I found a bunch of popular magazines in the drawer taped with different colored note stickies. I flipped a few open. The stickies marked the page in each of the magazines where an ad was featured for marriage counseling and rehabilitation services.

"Jesus, look they've got them all."

She came up next to me.

"They even put ads in hunting magazines?" She asked.

"What - you don't think manly men have feelings?"

"I didn't say that, Harry."

"No, you implied it Mimi." I mimicked her: "They even put ads in Hunting magazines?"

She balled her fists at her side. "I'm sick of your - shit," she said.

I stepped up to her. "Slap me again. Go on, just like your mother did to your father."

"I don't even want to look at you," she spat.

"No - go on, Mimi, remember when you told me, just a few years ago that you were glad you weren't an abuser like your mother was - that you beaten the family ghost, as you put it. Well, honey - like mother like daughter."

That did it. Her hand came around. I grabbed it with my good hand.

"'Gotta be quicker than that, Mimi dear," I said just before she head butted me. My nose cracked in the mid-bridge and I cried in pain.

My bad arm flapping uselessly like a short, useless T-rex's arm, my nose bleeding profusely, I went down hard on my ass.

She was an apparition, The sides of her head shook like a cake in an earthquake.

"You dumb bastard," she screamed, making empty claw gestures at where I had been standing. "I am nothing like my mother. But you're a lot like my father and I'm starting to see that maybe my mother was right about men. All you men do is drink, piss, fuck, and watch TV."

"Real nice," I said.

That's when a baby spider fell from the ceiling. I knew it fell because it landed on Mimi's cheek.

One beat later, Mimi let out a strained, frightened scream.

The spider jumped off. I hurried to step on it. The spider was too fast for my foot, especially in my present condition. Mimi's cheek had a nice pink blister in the middle of it, toward her nose. I looked up.

"Mimi, follow me," I told her.

Her face had a nice shiny ball of bruise gaining leverage moment by moment from the spider bite.

"I'm not going to follow you anywhere," she said. "I'm calling this marriage off. What does a doctor say? What does a doctor say, Harry? Dead on arrival? Is that it?" Her voice was high and mellifluous. "We're Dead on arrival," she trumpeted.
I opened the door and backed out into the hospital corridor.

"Mimi," I said. "You need to come with me."

"I'd rather die!"

Spiders begin dropping on Mimi. Some of them weren't so little. When one the size of a small bird dropped down on her head, she changed her mind about coming. But it was too late. Spiders in all their black multitudes, hairy, and hoary, crawled up her legs, biting, poisoning, chewing. A real big one, about the size of a full-sized male deer crawled up her back and started nipping the back of her skull, at the nape of neck I had kissed so often and so passionately over the years. Her prophecy had come true. She lay jerking, throat opened and spilling a slop of foam and blood. Before I shut the door I saw her eye roll toward mine, her cheek on the floor. Then a spider crawled up and bit right into her eyeball, into the beautiful blue middle.

I let go of the door.

I detoured into a room. This one was empty. There weren't any medical supplies so I headed back out. I finally took the side of a gurney off.

I was closing in on reception, planning to just break through those spiders out there, none of which were nearly the size of Dr. Lamp. I could run through them and gain the outside door.

But reception was empty. The bored chairs, the receptionist's desk with a wall of colored medical folders behind her, each color corresponding to an certain age group, or a specific medical condition, or (most likely) letter of the alphabet- it looked like a place where people performed medical procedures. But when I spied over the desk back into where the receptionist would sit, the bottom of the chair was covered with sticky cobweb fragments. There were cages filled with fattened cats. Snacks at feeding time.

Mimi was dead. She was dead and probably eaten by now. I wanted to gas this place, burn it down to the screws. The thing was in my mind, though, running back and forth like a mechanic under a car, that, maybe it was for the best, a bad part, the part I usually kept under wraps, the self that had been created when I was on a tour of duty in Iraq. The thought I had often had over there in that desert landscape, when someone died. Better them than me.

Was it better her than me?

I would return and burn it all down.

Spiders hate fire.

But when I tried to leave, when I pushed open the exit; she was waiting.

She was big as a house.

I knew it was the female. I had forgotten that in many spider species the females are the big ones. This female had no rivals. When she looked at me she made a face that didn't look like a spider's face at all.

I held my piece of gurney and looked at motherfuckin' Mothra the spider. I threw the makeshift weapon down.

I thought about Mimi when I saw the blue sky grow black and hairy.

She looked angry. Why not? I had killed her husband.

She made a sound, that dropped me to my knees. She was laughing.

I closed my eyes. I knew the tone of that laughter.

Mimi had laughed like that when we argued and it turned out she was right. It was a full-throated laughter, genuinely callous and cruel.

The queen said: my children killed your wife.

God, can I never get away from these women, I thought.

The answer learned, as I was being digested, was no. Their names were written in my blood.

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