A Thousand Spiders by Richard Gwyn is the next instalment of Wales Arts Reviews’ Flash Fiction Month series, celebrating the genre with some of Wales’ best literary talents.
It was not that I knew her particularly well, but she knew my wife, and found it opportune to tell me, or wanted to tell someone, which is more or less the same thing, but maybe not. In any case, we were sitting at adjacent tables in the university coffee shop, and it would have been awkward to ignore each other, so she brought her cup and herself over to my table, and told me, almost without introduction, following some fatuous remark of mine concerning recent meteorological developments, that in the warm weather spiders congregate on the balcony of her flat, which was in Cardiff Bay, one of those converted warehouses on the old quays. Every morning, when she went out on this balcony of hers, there would be more spiders, she said, covering all the available surfaces, creeping down the wall, across the white table that she used to sit at for her morning coffee (here she taps her coffee cup with the teaspoon, as though reminding me what coffee is). And why, she wonders, do they pick her flat, her balcony? She speaks with the neighbours on both sides, and neither of them has any trouble with spiders, let alone mass invasions over the summer months. She leans closer: I can sense a revelation coming. My husband, she confides, is arachnophobic. Terrified of them, he is. Bring him out in a cold sweat. Spiders, she repeats, in case I’ve missed something. He’s phobic, like. And they know. The little bastards know. That’s why they come; word gets round, it’s like with cats, she says, you must have noticed how they pay more attention to someone who doesn’t like them; any sign of aversion to cats and they’re all over you. Well, she says, it’s the same thing with spiders and my husband. They can sense his fear. It brings them running from all over. They want to get in. They want to show him a thing or two about fear. A thousand spiders, crawling everywhere. What wouldn’t I do, she says, leaning close again, her voice raspy, fingers clenching the teaspoon, what wouldn’t I do to let them in?