Everything Nice by M J Spurr

I first saw the sculpture about a month ago, walking to the Cumberland Farms with Matt to get beer and some papers. It was shimmering under the late day’s sun in the back of a fenced-in yard. Even from a distance, I could see the long spindly legs of the black metal spider clinging to the delicate netting of its web, waiting for prey. I was mesmerized.

“Whadaya stopping for?” Matt said.

“See the spider web back there?” I said, pointing.

He grunted and pulled me along. I forgot about it.

The next few weeks were sunny, humid and hot. Perfect beach days. But I had to work, waiting tables at a seafood restaurant on the wharf. To scare away the rats, the manager, Dominic, had trained us all to stamp our feet real loud before we headed into the storage room. I only saw the one, its beady little eyes gazing at me for a very long second, before hightailing it out of there. But my co-worker Sara, who is a puny little thing, saw them all the time. She couldn’t seem to stamp her feet loud enough I guess. Every time she’d see one, she’d let out this crazy high-pitched scream that freaked out the customers, who would stop digging into their heaping plates of golden fried goodness to see what was up. They’d ask us, real concerned, and we all took to making up stories to explain the screaming.

I started telling my parties that the restaurant was haunted by a woman who threw herself into the stormy sea from this very wharf a hundred years earlier, having gone crazy waiting for her fisherman husband, who never came home. Not super original, I know, but they ate it up quicker than the clams. The more details I’d give, the more fascinated they’d become. And the bigger the tips. Soon the rest of the wait staff were telling similar stories to their parties. After all, everyone loves a good ghost story; a rat infestation, not so much.

Dominic said he fired Sara for the screaming. But she told me it was because she had refused to go out with him, which totally made sense, because our ghost-stories were doing something the food couldn’t-making the restaurant super popular. Two days after her firing, a city health inspector came in and shut it down. Which was okay with me, because all those tourists were getting on my nerves. Unemployment didn’t make up for all my lost tips, but it did pay my part of the rent. And I was pretty happy to get a little time off.

One night, a few days into my unexpected vacation, my roommate Kimmie and I decided to walk to Cumbie’s for some snacks. It was late, but since we were high, we were pretty motivated. That’s when I noticed someone had moved the sculpture closer to the street, to make room for a swing set in the back.

“See that spider sculpture?” I said.

She looked over, real hard. “Wow, that is way cool,” she said.

I know Kimmie. She’d say a cereal box was cool if she was high. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve heard her say just that.

I walked closer. The spider’s body was sturdy, about the size of a grapefruit, and its tall, skinny legs cast a long shadow on the delicate web. A fly was twisted up in its silky threads, eyes bulging, like it was suffocating to death. I could practically hear it gasping for air. But the spider took no notice of its prisoner. It was looking at me.

“I gotta get some snacks, dude,” Kimmie said, and we walked away.

Inside the brightly lit store, we pondered the salty and sugary offerings. We definitely wanted cookie dough ice cream, but couldn’t decide between Pringles and Doritos. I was about to suggest we get both when we heard the shouting. A man in black was waving a gun at the fuchsia-haired teenager at the register. She scrambled to put money into a bag on the counter. A huge wad of it fell from her hands.

“What the fuck!” the man yelled. “Are you some kind of retard?” He cocked the gun and pointed it at her. He was real tall and super skinny, with pale, sickly skin. He started waving his arms, twisting them away from his torso, jerkily, like an out of control marionette.

“No, no, no, please,” she said, bending down to scoop up the money.

Kimmie had ducked to the ground, squeezed into a tight little ball, and pressed herself into an impossibly tiny space between the chips and the bread. But I stayed standing, hiding my head behind a family size bag of Lays. I don’t know why I didn’t duck next to Kimmie. I wasn’t frozen in fear or anything. My impending death didn’t even occur to me until a police car slowly drove by. That’s when my heart raced. Because somehow, I knew, if that cop came in here, the man with the gun would kill us all.

“Get the fuckin’ money bitch!” the man screamed again.

The girl was bent over, crying, as she tried to pile the loose bills onto the counter.

“Hurry up!” he yelled, twitching as he swung his head around. That’s when he saw me watching from behind the chips.

“What the fuck you looking at?” he screamed, sounding exactly like every mob movie I’ve seen in my life. “I’ll take you both out, you stupid bitch!” he yelled, then grabbed the bag of money from the counter. He darted towards me, pointed the gun and yelled “Pow!” I hit the floor.

Then he was gone.

I stood up. My legs wobbled. I wanted to puke. Kimmie was still scrunched in a ball, eyes shut tight. I walked to the counter and the clerk looked up at me, black mascara smeared all over her pierced, blotchy face. “I’m calling the cops,” I said, but my hands were shaking so hard I could barely hit the right buttons.

Cops started arriving immediately. Asked us bunches of questions. But Kimmie didn’t see anything and the clerk could barely speak. Her mom showed up in a pink bathrobe, crying, hugging her and praising God, before taking her home. The police dropped me off at my place a little before dawn, having spent hours asking questions and showing me photos. When I finally crawled into bed, I couldn’t sleep. Every time I closed my eyes, I heard the click as he cocked his gun and pointed it at my head.

Around noon I called my mother. “Did I wake you up, Mom?”

“I been up,” she said. “Got to meet your brother’s teacher again. They think you’re a bad mother if you don’t go to their stupid meetings. God knows what he did this time. Little shit’s gonna be the death of me. Just like his derelict father.”

“Are you in a rush? Cause I wanted to tell you something,” I said.

“Go ahead, Mandy. Always got time for you.”

“Good, cause, I was . . . uh, something bad happened to me . . . last night . . . I was held up. In the Cumberland Farms, near my house,” I said, trying not to cry.

“No shit! That was you! It was on the TV this morning. I thought it looked like the one near your house. Whadaya know,” she said.

“It was actually pretty scary,” I said. “The guy pointed a gun at my head.”

“But you’re good, right? I mean, you must be, otherwise you wouldn’t be the one calling. I’m gonna have to steal my neighbor’s newspaper now, see if you’re in it. You know, same thing happened to me once. The gun pointed at my head I mean. Old boyfriend. Jimbo. Crazy psycho. Handsome as the devil, though. Bet you a million bucks he’s in prison now.                                                                                                                                                                                            Should’ve gotten twenty for what he did to me. But no, he sweet-talks me out of pressing charges. Story of my life. Did I ever tell you about him?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“God I miss him. Never had more fun in my life. Lucky to have lived through it. Just like you, last night, huh?”

“Yeah, real lucky.”

“Listen, I gotta get to that parent-teacher thing. Can’t have Dylan getting kicked out of summer school, cause I’d probably end up killing the little monster. But how about you come over for dinner soon. Whadaya say?”

“Sure, Mom. That sounds good,” I said. I don’t know why I expected more.

I didn’t leave my apartment for a week. I sat in my room, staring at the television, sweltering in front of a fan, and taking cold showers when the heat got unbearable. Then went back to staring at the TV. When Kimmie asked if I was having nightmares too, I felt jealous, because that meant she was at least able to sleep.

I finally left the house when I ran out of cereal and Ramen. I figured early morning, mid-week, the grocery store wouldn’t be a scene. But I saw Sara by the organic fruit almost immediately and blasted myself for going out. I thought about breezing by, pretending not to notice her, but in the end, decided to say hi.

She looked up, surprised. “Mandy. Oh my God. I heard what happened. Are you all right?” She actually sounded like she cared, which is probably why I burst into tears.

“Oh shit,” she said as she grabbed me by the arm and guided me into the back of the store, where they’d set up a poorly-lit, makeshift cafe, trying to compete with the Whole Foods down the street. Today, it was practically deserted. Sara sat me down and waited until I stopped crying.

“God. Can’t believe I started crying here,” I said, laughing in embarrassment as I wiped away my tears.

“It must have been really scary,” Sara said.

“Yeah. It was.” She didn’t say anything, just looked at me and nodded, so I continued. “I thought he was going to kill me.”

“I can’t even imagine how terrified you must have been.”

I nodded. “At first, I don’t even think I was, you know? It seemed almost like I was watching a movie. But then he pointed the gun at my head. My whole life, nothing has ever felt so real as that moment.” Then I started crying again with my face in my hands and felt Sara’s hand lightly touch my arm. I looked up through my tears and saw her handing me a napkin. I took it and wiped my eyes. “Thanks.”

“Maybe you should see someone,” she said.

“A therapist?”

“Maybe. Someone to talk to. Might be really good for you.”

“The cops gave me the names of some victims’ counselors. But honestly, sitting here, talking with you, I already feel better. I’m sure I don’t need a therapist,” I said, sniffing. “I’ll be fine.”

She sat quietly, looking like she didn’t believe me. I thought she might argue, and insist I see the shrink. But instead, she said, “So, now what?”

I wasn’t sure what she meant, so I shook my head.

“Did you get a new job?”

I shook my head.

“I felt pretty bad you all lost your jobs when I called the City about the rats. Dominic was the only one who deserved that. But, you know, a new start is sometimes a good thing,” she said.

“I guess.”

“I’m working at a bakery a couple of my friends own, called Everything Nice. Have you heard of it?”

I shook my head.

“They’ve been open a little more than a year and are starting to do well. They’re looking to hire an assistant baker. Interested?”

“I don’t know anything about baking.”

“That doesn’t matter. They’d train someone who’s hardworking and wants to learn.”

“I don’t know. I’m not even good at cooking.”

“Baking is completely different. Plus, they’d teach you. Cakes, cookies, pies, bread. Their specialty is bread. You’d learn how to do it all. It’d be a good distraction. And the people who work there are lots of fun.”

“I don’t know,” I said again.

I saw a brief, but obvious flash of disappointment in her eyes. I felt bad. She was trying so hard to be helpful, and here I was, wasting her time. She stood up. “I’m sorry. I’ve got to go. I have a class in half an hour.” She took a step away from the table, then abruptly turned back and faced me one last time. “Promise you’ll think about the job, okay? And text me if you want it.”

“I will,” I said. But I knew I wouldn’t.

I took a walk when I got home. It was kind of perfect out. Not too hot, not too humid. I saw the spider sculpture again in my neighbor’s yard, gleaming in the bright sunshine. This time, I swear I saw dread in the little fly’s eyes. But the spider didn’t notice. The fly didn’t matter.

When I asked Matt if he’d help me a couple nights later, he was in. He even brought his sister’s baby stroller. We waited until after midnight, then walked down the dark, deserted street to the house. Matt stowed the stroller under a bush. We opened the gate and crept up to the sculpture. I was surprised to see the spider and the fly were so close they were practically touching.

“Want me to grab it?” Matt whispered.

“I’ll do it,” I said. I touched the spider’s body, half-expecting it to flip around and attack me. The metal was solid but rough, and damp with condensation. The fly was mostly all wire, except with sheer, silky wings and hard little eyes that popped out of its head. I yanked, but it didn’t give. It was attached to a wooden stand by a clump of wires.

“Shit,” I said. We hadn’t brought wire cutters.

“No problem,” Matt said. He pulled a jackknife from his pocket and scraped at the thin wires of the web.

“Stop. You’ll ruin it,” I said. I ducked to the ground and felt for the ends of the wires under the stand and began to untwist them.

“That’s gonna take all night,” Matt said.

He nudged into me and started cutting at the wires I was trying to untwist. I sighed but didn’t say anything until I felt his blade jab at my wrist.
“Ow!” I shrieked.

“Oh, sorry,” he said.

“What the hell,” I whispered, reaching my hand up towards the street light. A small scrape, but no blood.

“You’re fine,” Matt said. “So long as no one heard you scream.”

I looked at the house. “Was that room lit when we got here?” I said. My legs shook, my breath quickened.

“Dunno. Don’t remember,” Matt said, without looking up.

“We better hurry,” I said.

“On it,” he said, pushing at the loosened sculpture, but not freeing it. He went back to work.

“Just be careful this time.” I scooched next to him and continued unravelling the tangle of wires. Matt’s knife scraped against the wires, but otherwise all was quiet, and no other rooms inside the house lit up. I untwisted faster, even though the ends of the wires poked and stabbed at my fingers as I untangled them. Finally, I stood and yanked again. It was free.

I struggled some to pick it up, until Matt grabbed an end. Then, staying low, we carried it awkwardly out of the yard. We plopped the sculpture into the stroller, covering it with a pink blanket.

“Let’s name her Charlotte,” Matt said, giggling as he started pushing. I smiled as I walked beside him, happy it was done. We heaved the stroller up the steps to my apartment, trying not to wake my roommates. In my room, we set it on an end table, and I plugged in the Christmas lights that lined my window. I sat next to Matt on my bed and stared at the now colorfully lit spider and fly.

“Wanna get high?” he said.

I nodded and opened the window as he lit the joint. I was surprised how beautiful the sculpture looked under the lights. Except for the fly. Stuck in that web, doomed forever. No wonder it looked so terrified. I jumped off the bed, untwisted the thin wires of the web and freed it. Then gently placed it on my bureau. It toppled over at first, not used to standing on its own six legs, I guess, so I leaned it against the wall. I could straighten it out tomorrow. I got back on the bed to look. The spider seemed at home in its web, waiting patiently for more prey to come. And even though the fly’s eyes still bulged out of its head, it looked almost calm. I tried to explain what I saw to Matt, but he just smiled stupidly, glassy-eyed and confused, right up until the moment he started snoring next to me.

When I woke the next morning, I saw the spider in its web and the fly on my bureau, and realized for the first time in weeks, I’d slept through the night. I left Matt asleep on my bed, went into the kitchen and grabbed a glass of juice. I opened a window and heard little kids laughing in a nearby yard. I smiled as I watched them splashing around in a kiddie pool with a big black dog, who was shaking its soaking wet body all over them as they screamed in delight.

I found my phone and texted Sara: Hey, I’m thinking I want that job. Then I went outside to sit on the steps and wait for her reply.

 

M J Spurr

Banner Image: Pixabay.com

 

4 thoughts on “Everything Nice by M J Spurr

  1. Really like this. Jittery criminal, oddly caring yet unsympathetic mom, whoa dude Kimmie. Strong details, clever observations.
    First sentence threw me. I elided the comma before “walking” and thought that the spider sculpture was walking with Matt to get 🍺.
    But, like I said, really like this.
    Leila Allison

    Like

  2. Hi MJ,
    This is beautifully put together.
    It is a simple slice of life story with a few revelations for the MC throughout.
    And maybe the first time I have read about a liberation of a fly!!
    Very enjoyable!!
    Hugh

    Like

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