Annie had dug a perfectly round hole in the scorched earth of the Australian North Bungulla Reserve. Her mother had kicked her out six months prior to this. No one would call the mother a deadbeat; Annie wouldn’t dare. But the thought would cross her mind over the next forty years, as she waited, for food and for lovers, waiting and imagining the Australian desert shrinking between roads, homes, and farmland, because she couldn’t see it—she couldn’t technically see anything.
Maybe her mother was at fault for what was to come, but Annie suspected that was too easy of an answer and too dismissive of her own freewill as an individual. Annie wanted to be different in the way that kangaroos who didn’t jump were: disappointing to zoo visitors but silently bursting with joy at their defiance, enough so they might as well have been jumping.
After her mother left, Annie and her siblings had no other choice but to leave the hole where they were born too. Annie scurried and scuttled atop other furry brown legs, claiming her own patch of dirt—finders keepers. Piercing her eight legs, one after the other, into the firm ground, like fanblades, like a compact half-inch drill, she made it look easy, this hole-making business. But easy was rubbish and Annie knew she had to get her guns about her and shoot a hole in the earth fast if she were to survive. It was a matter of life and death, not art, though it may have appeared like art to an outsider’s eye.
Just as her mother had done, she gathered twigs beneath the acai tree that shaded her home and placed them into a pattern that radiated around her hole, with the same care and attention one would give to organizing and shelving books or hanging pictures on a wall. Silk so fine, so delicate, joined together into its antithesis, and it was this luxurious material that sealed her hole. She waited inside, a sleeping princess, out of fire’s way, out of rain’s way, out of corpse-kissing princes’ ways.
It’s no wonder she barely noticed her few dozen siblings, who left their mother’s bungalow alongside her. And she surely didn’t see the birds that plucked them off the dirt, the bodies baked in the sun to a crisp of organic nutrients, the desperate tangles between brother and sister—the kind that ended in sister eating brother. They were mere ripples in the ground, to her senses. She was still getting a feel for the language of her sticks, of the dirt, of the vibrations the earth used to whisper secrets to those who would listen. She liked listening to things no one else could hear.
Each year, Annie would grow a bit bigger, and she’d expand the burrow on her own, no contractor necessary. Annie was resourceful like that. She needed but her eight legs and a meal every week or two. The food came to her, a special delivery service free of fees. She didn’t know who sent it, but periodically, just when her thorax clenched with pain, there would be something entangled in her snare to nibble at. Annie thought she’d have to leave for food once in a while, but she never did and she was glad for it: Big things lived out there in the Australian wild. And there were those other things, the even bigger things that killed the normally big things. They made no noise, no vibrations on the earth above her, but they were massive. Annie knew she was small.
Annie spent some time considering if she really wanted children or if it was an instinct thing, the kind that made her prefer to eat centipedes over kangaroo paws.
Annie didn’t want to do things because of instinct, despite instinct leading her to this bare patch of dirt, despite instinct making her an expert crafts-spider, despite instinct giving her the ability to use her spinnerets to weave silk into an impenetrable door without even one minor mistake.
Children would keep me company, Annie decided. That was why she wanted them. Not instinct. Not circle of life crap. She was alone in this hole, because she knew no male spider would ever settle down. They were too hormone-driven for that, wandering about to spread their fertilizer and dying because of it.
So here she was, at the tender age of six, creeping out of her hole to spend an entire afternoon knitting a blanket of pheromones. The welcome mat adhered to the sticks and didn’t entirely resemble a doily but it did not not resemble one either; Annie just never saw a doily before with which to compare it to because when she thought back to it, her mother really was a rubbish homemaker. Once finished, Annie scrambled back into her hole, this time not with fear in her heart but giddiness. She knitted a second blanket of pheromones to put on the wall for décor.
Two days passed, and in those two days Annie had even more time to contemplate her motherhood experience. How she’d be different from her mother. How she would nurture her children. How she would name them: Billie, Suzie, Heather, Peanut, Tonya... She thought about the blankets she’d spin and the baby carrier that would need the capacity for fifty, nay sixty little…
Movement twittered above her. But twittered was a bad way to put it because there was no bird. No, birds felt different: heavy as they landed from the exhaustion of mimicking the air when they were no such thing. This movement was a flicker, a tap, another tap.
A male caller knocked at her door. Annie waited. She thought about her mother now, though she didn’t want to.
You mustn’t leave the men waiting. It’s dangerous enough for them.
But Annie thought she was worth waiting for, so she made him wait.
After a few more knocks, she pulled back the silk. The male was reddish brown with stripes decorating his face. His hair was too coarse and his legs were too thin. None others stood at his side, so he would have to do.
Annie pressed against the side of her wall as the mating began. This thing in here repulsed her, but alas, she needed him for children. Ghastly predicament. A joke of nature. He concluded the mating dance and a quiver sounded in her stomach. Mating famished her, she found.
The male brushed against her, and Annie couldn’t control her hunger. She injected him with venom. She bit into his leg, just one, and ate without enjoyment but pure need. And weren’t women needy; isn’t that what her mother said the men thought of them anyway? She started in on the other seven legs. She wouldn’t tell her children about this, she thought as she finished the last bits of their father. He gave his life for them, she decided, that’s what she would say when they asked. No, he insisted, she convinced herself. And besides, he would have been killed by something else if it hadn’t been for her. She had done him a favor.
Annie tried not to think about the fact that her mother had eaten her father and how her mother had told her that it was part of her instinct to do so.
Besides, there wasn’t enough time to think about the male. She had eggs to lay, which she did, one by one, until there were nearly one hundred lining her hole.
Time passed, but to Annie this was rest and a reprieve. She touched each of the eggs, all hundred or so. She wondered who was inside, who they would become, where they would go, what they would remember about her years from now.
The intangible was a blessing, but Annie wouldn’t realize this until later. Now she was eager for the hatching. And when, altogether, the spiderlings emerged into her hole from their eggs, Annie reveled in the sensation of their constant scuttling about: as if the earth itself had fallen in love with her and couldn’t keep its hands off her.
She read them the poems the earth had taught her and taught them their vibrations so they could learn their own poems. She spoke about the art and craft of hole digging and smiled as each tried and failed to make a prick in the dirt. At first she fed them one by one, helping them pinch the meat between their fangs.
But time pressed on and the spiderlings grew into something entirely different. Monsters was a terrible thing to think of them as, yet Annie woke every evening and thought the word. She would have muttered it if she could have truly spoke and she almost remembered her mother uttering it a long time ago. But surely, she convinced herself, her mother could never understand any of what she was going through.
Annie felt herself disappearing into the mass of black and brown fur that always surrounded her. She ached for a centimeter of space, where she could be just her body, not her body touching a hundred bodies. Her differences were being mocked by her children, her uniqueness mirrored. This was her earth she listened to. These were her poems they clicked on about. This food they ate beside her wasn’t for any other trapdoor spider.
Time passed slower than it had ever before, and Annie had become a professional at passing time. Now, though, she had to get out, to move time along by dragging it behind each of her legs. This wasn’t like her mother, though. She was taking a break, hiding in her pantry and eating every piece of sugar she could find. She would be back soon, reeking of sweets and screaming at her children that they mustn’t eat the sweets.
Annie sliced open the silk door once the littles stood still in sleep and she scurried away in search of this proverbial pantry.
She listened behind her and sensed the eruption of her seed. They poured out her hole as if gravity reversed. There were nearly seventy, weren’t there? How had she lived in that hole for six months with seventy things? Needy things at that. It was a situation where her blindness had been a kindness and the failure of the other thirty eggs to ever amount to anything had been a blessing.
They followed her. She felt the vibrations of five hundred and sixty legs pattering against the thirsty dirt. She knew they felt her. She remembered feeling her mother’s pounding steps six years before, when she was just a little thing.
“Mommy, come back,” she had thought then. “What about me?”
And though Annie had forgotten these sorts of thoughts by now, she had once wondered where the woman had gone off to. Where did mothers run, Annie pondered, especially when no such pantry existed for an arachnid mother?
She didn’t go far before she stumbled on a familiar hole, too easily, as if by instinct. It gaped, open and empty. The silk door, so very similar to the silk door Annie had weaved, frayed and fluttered in the wind. She heard the caws overhead, felt the sun baking her black body, sensed the lizards’ eyes watching her every twitch.
Annie dashed into the hole and closed the door. Only once she was safe, once she was under the ground, preserved, did she think about her children and those caws, her children and that sun, her children and the lizards’ eyes.
And in the hole where she was born, Annie thought about her mother.
What her mother must have listened to, when she fled the hole half a decade ago. The steady thrum of life pattering against the dirt, so sure of itself, so anxious for their own holes, so eager to please her, to earn her back.
And then, silence. Mostly.
Did she visit the remaining bits and pieces the birds and lizards had saved for later? Say a small prayer and kiss the thorax or pincher?
Or did her mother sense a small movement just a few feet away? Did she listen for the clumsy scuttle of a daughter as she spread out the sticks? Could she feel in her cold-blooded heart that one had dug a hole? Had that been enough, knowing Annie alone had survived? That Annie was special and different from the other spiders? That Annie was better.
Annie forgot to listen for any of her children who may have survived. She hurried back to her own home that night, with her mind at ease, convinced she was different than instinct, than her own disappointing mother. She was going back after all, as she thought she would.
She tripped over one or two teeny tiny black legs and failed to notice the half-inch hole dug just two feet away from her own. She was in a hurry to occupy her own burrow again, but it wasn’t because of instinct, she told herself. Annie was just a homebody. And she was eager to try motherhood out again because she would do it differently this next time. She knew what to expect. Maybe she’d lay fewer eggs, so she’d have an easier time telling the things apart. She wouldn’t run away this time but see the children off when they were good and ready.
She would be different. Annie wanted to be different.