The Huntsman

Love makes you fat. That’s what the girl’s mother always said.  It makes you tired too. She figured that out on her own.

The boy lay face down on the bed, half asleep with his hand unconscious against the girl. She sat, awake, and watched the boy as he slept. His back was a landscape that seemed to cover half the bed. He drooled and snored quietly. His skin was the colour of the red earth. It made her feel translucent in her whiteness. She laid an arm across his back and her skin glowed like a moon above him.

They lived in a decaying granny flat, behind an abandoned warehouse, in an overgrown backyard, in one of those outer suburbs on the brink of re-inventing itself. The fan did it’s best to re-arrange the heat.  The quiet was thick with possibility. At dusk the world would break into birdcalls and a jigsaw cacophony of cicada song. But in the middle of the day it was a big, silent heat. The air felt like a balloon about to burst.

She stroked the boy’s back, wrote invisible words on his skin. Outside, a blue-tongue lizard broke the silence with a song of rustling dead leaves, played under its tiny hands. And it was then, when the world was small and safe and wrapped up in the sweaty  comfort of their bed, that the bad thing happened. As if announced by the lizard song, the huntsman revealed itself.

It appeared like nightmare magic only a few feet from the boy. It was easily as big as the girl’s hands and the girl had big, piano playing hands that she inherited from her father. She imagined the spider stretched out over her fingers as they rested on piano keys, its limbs hitting those notes that were just out of her reach.

The intruder clung to the side of the dresser at the foot of the bed. If the boy stretched out his legs he might just be able to graze the creature’s angular thorax with the tip of his toe.

If the boy woke up, all the pregnant possibility of the afternoon would come bursting into fruition, in an explosion of sound and movement. He hated spiders so much he raved about them in his sleep. If he  saw the spider he would scream, and the spider would scurry down the side of the cabinet, behind it, into the space between the furniture and the wall, or even worse, might run straight at the boy. She had to get rid of it, but she couldn’t move, she couldn’t risk waking him.

The boy stirred. The girl held her breath.

He rolled over onto his back. He faced the girl, but kept his eyes closed.

“What time is it,” he asked, “did I sleep all day?”

“Lunch time-ish,” she said, without properly exhaling.

“I’ll be foggy all day now,” he said.

She didn’t look at the spider. She didn’t acknowledge its presence.

“Why don’t you have a shower,” she said, “it’ll help you wake up.”

“I smell,” he said.

“It’s true,” she said, “you smell.”

The boy sat up and faced the girl. The girl looked at the boy. In her peripheral vision she could see it. It was a dark stain. It moved from the tall boy to the wall next to the bed. It was even closer now. If the boy turned to stretch, or reach for his glass in the windowsill, he would see it. He would scream. The spider would escape. The girl would have to move and work, searching for the runaway in the muggy heat. She dreamt of air conditioning.

The boy turned away from the girl and away from the spider. He walked into the bathroom. The girl exhaled.

She played loud music on the computer to disguise the sound of her attempting to kill the thing. She found the bug spray. By the time she got back to where the spider had been, moments before, it was gone. It didn’t take her long to find it, hiding down the side of the bookcase. She aimed the nozzle of the spray can, closed one eye, looked away as she squeezed, rigid with adrenaline.

The boy walked out of the bathroom wearing a towel. The girl dropped the spray and spun around, just as he grabbed her and pulled her onto the bed, pulled her on top of him.  She looked down at his face as he looked up at hers.

“I like your nose hair,” he said.

“I don’t have any nose hair,” she said.

“Yes you do,” he said, and he reached up and touched her left nostril, “just here, one long hair.”

She willed the spider to be dead. She willed the boy to keep looking at her and not at the ceiling above her, not at the walls, or the cupboards, or the cracks behind or between things.

The boy closed his eyes and smiled. When he opened them he wasn’t looking at her anymore. He was gazing dumbly into space. And then he was looking behind her. He was looking at something and he wasn’t smiling anymore. She knew what was about to happen before it happened. It was like watching a toddler fall off a swing set. Time was frozen.

“Fuck!” the boy yelled,”shit shit shit shit no no no no no.”

He wasn’t lying underneath the girl anymore. He was kicking his way up the bed. He curled himself into a ball and began rocking.

The huntsman sat shamelessly, upside down, defying gravity and good manners, on the ceiling above the couch. The girl looked around the room. There were plenty of books within reach, but if she tried to hit the spider with one and missed it would almost certainly drop behind the couch or run under the bed, and then she’d have to start moving furniture to find it again. Even worse it might get lost in the jungle of their shack and she might never find it. They’d have to go stay somewhere else, rent a hotel room, move house.

Her thinking was happening at superhuman speed. She was in slow-motion movie time. She considered and rejected the book as a viable alternative in a fraction of a second. The bug spray sat where she’d dropped it near the bookcase. But the spray presented the same difficulty as the book. Huntsmen were tough bastards. It might not die, and if it did the boy would need to see the body, need to see the evidence, and a stunned huntsman still had plenty of time to dart away into the darkness of the pantry or the back of the wardrobe.

“Kill it!” the boy sobbed.

The girl’s eyes fell on the rectangular plastic bucket they used to store all of their important papers. It was sitting near the spider, on the miscellaneous items shelf, full of important papers.

The girl tipped the papers out onto the couch. She counted to three, held her breath, and slammed the bucket upwards. She pressed it up into the ceiling like the roof was breaking, like she was putting pressure on a wound. Spiders could fit through impossibly small spaces.

Pushing up with all her concentration she was only vaguely aware of her thin arms shaking in the afternoon light and her flabby belly hanging out of her shirt.

The plastic was too thick for her to see all of the spider. Only the parts of its body that touched the bottom became visible. She strained her neck upwards and watched eight disembodied feet walk from one side of the bucket to the other.

“Pass me the spray,” the girl grunted.

The boy shook his head.

“I can’t let go, I need you to pass it to me, I promise I won’t let go, I know it’s hard,” she said, more gently.

The boy waited a moment. Together they listened in the silence. They heard the faint tapping of spider against plastic. The way those legs moved above her head, the dark shapes scattering angrily across her fingers, the girl was almost holding it, it was only a hands reach away from her hair, her face.

The boy unfurled himself from the bed. He slid down to the floor. His eyes didn’t leave the ceiling. He walked carefully towards the girl. He reached for the spray, held it like a shield in front of him.

The girl took it from him, reached up with the spray in one hand and the bucket still pressed to the roof in the other. She let one side down, only a crack, just enough to fit in the nozzle. She squeezed the spray head hard and a thick stream of liquid cut through the bucket. She kept pushing down until the foamy white spray was running down her fingers, dripping onto the carpet and her knuckles were stinging and wet. She kept spraying until the bottle was empty and there were inches of liquid splashing back and forth above her, a toxic ocean. The spider was still moving, swimming through the foam.

The boy sat in front of the girl on the wet carpet. He leant forward and kissed her on the belly button. The girl winced. She hated her stomach. She hated how pale it was and she hated the black hairs that grew out of it. She hated that it was big enough, that even as she stretched upwards, as tall as her reach allowed, the white mass of it pushed and strained against the waistline of her jeans.

“Don’t look at it,” the girl said, “it’s ugly.”

The boy smiled.

“How can you be ugly when you’re saving me from a spider” he said.

He kissed her stomach again, “you’re brave and strong.”

The girl shimmered in the sweaty haze of the afternoon. She was no longer Atlas, buckling under the weight of the sky. She held the spider bucket aloft proudly, like a trophy. Sweat poured down her forehead, into her eyes, over her hands, all the way down to her elbows. Her whole body was sticky with sweat and insecticide. The boy and the girl stayed in the same position. They waited. Eventually, the spider stopped moving. The boy leant his head against the girl. Outside, a kookaburra laughed at the sun.


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