Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language and mature content.
She caught it scuttling over the wooden plank that separated the upstairs corridor from the rest of our cabin. Its legs made quick work over the freshly-painted banister, like a pianist’s fingers working in rapid succession. Small nicks appeared in the paint where it had crossed.
“It’s a wolf spider,” She said, an invigorated glimmer in her eyes. “I can tell because it's all brown with fat legs. We should flatten it,” She turned her nose towards me and the rest of her body followed.
Marin was two years my senior, and noticeably neater. She wore long pleated skirts that kissed her ankles when she walked or sat down. Her skin was clear all the way across, warm and soft as the underside of a peach. Her hair was dirty brown but it swung over her shoulders in long cascades. Her mother would say differently; when Marin came home with her hair all twisted out of nervous boredom, Ms. Wendell would ask her whether she’d prefer to slum it up with the public-school city kids. That could be very easily arranged, was Ms. Wendell’s simple, malicious turn of phrase.
Marin’s eyes sloped towards mine with mincing anticipation. I delayed my reply by following the spider’s trajectory as it launched itself up the adjacent wall. “I know you’re not dumb,” She continued, pouting her lips. “You don’t care if it lives. Everything about spiders makes me nauseous: their spiny legs, their pointless crawling all over the place.” She slipped off one of her oxfords and chucked it up the wall. I watched in amazed horror as the shoe thwacked against the wall, leaving a scuff mark but just missing the spider as it hurried along, unaware of the flesh-colored, sock-footed predator that hovered beneath it— eyes wide as a caught fish fighting for thirty more seconds of oxygen.
“I don’t want to kill the damn thing,” I said simply, stiffening my shoulders. “It might be a stupid creature, but it doesn’t deserve having your shoe thrown at it.” Marin looked at me stoically, eyebrows knit together. I got the overall impression that perhaps she had judged the spider unfairly and I was the stupid one.
“Whatever,” She said, and used her ruler-thin forearms to hoist herself over the banister. She shook off the other shoe on her foot, armed herself with it, and stuck her leg out, which wavered like a surrendering flag as she took aim. I followed her movements listlessly, as a prisoner would watching a lumbering, shadowy guard.
Once Marin set her mind to something, there was nothing I could do. She may have been skinny as a coat-hanger wire, with recklessly bad teeth and and a glow to her normally stark cheeks, but her vindictive stubbornness overpowered these other traits. “Marin,” I said in a trickling half-plea as she used the left heel of her oxford to bury the spider. Seeing no creature emerge from the surface area around her palm, she removed the shoe from her grip like a stamp, slick with spider guts instead of wax.
“There, it’s dead.” She flung her shoe down onto the carpet and mounted the side of the banister facing me. “And it doesn’t bother me one bit.” Then, without so much as a glance at the squelched spider, she padded down the carpeted corridor in her socks and into the kid’s bedroom, where she began to strip off her clothes.
Marin wasn’t shy, and she proved it by letting me follow her inside. She cupped her breasts while straightening the straps of a fresh bra and spoke behind herself: “Pick something from my drawer to wear tonight. Your mom said she’d like to see us both in nice dresses.”
It’s funny— I don’t remember much of anything from the rest of that summer. Reminiscing back on the early 2000’s, I saw myself standing in a chiffon dress that Marin made me wear, scratching vigorously at the collar as my mother took a swallow of her lemonade with cayenne pepper, eyeing my stepfather as if to say, “I’m glad Bells chose a dress, though she looks horribly out of place. At least Marin’s well-suited to it.”
An entire decade, it seems, eluded me as I went about my own distinct life as an amateur reporter. My parents were dreadfully discouraging at first, since they saw me as the wallflower type— not that they were wrong, necessarily, but there were things about me that even my parents didn’t know….
In Spring of 2016, I began working on my first-ever profile on a man named Francis Yurt, a local jazz musician at a club called the bayou. I had to acknowledge that I’d never been to Salt Lake City before, not even on special assignment; consequently, I found bar-crawls in the cultural hub of Salt Lake to be much tamer than what I was accustomed to back home in Portland. In all the years stretching from the age of fourteen to twenty-four, I had never once left home, nor had I picked up any sport other than wiffle-ball on rainy days.
Upon my return from the interview, my mother presented me with a bit of mail that apparently had gotten wet at its edges, forcing the letters of its return address into a tangle. I opened it and discovered an invitation to Marin’s wedding. The letter was printed in neat calligraphy, as to be expected from Marin, and upon further inspection, it was not just an invitation to attend but to be a bridesmaid.
Marin was to be wed in New York City, in a bustling plaza zigzagged with red carpets, red balloons, and red tape. Buzzing billboards and screeching advertisements in Times Square would remind the bridesmaids of their light sensitivity and surprising proclivity for quiet afternoons. Afterwards, reception was scheduled to take place at the Laugh Gagzz comedy joint, where colorful, experimental, and fizzing mixed-drinks were sure to flow all night from canisters and bar taps. But before that, before any of the vows could be exchanged or dresses fitted, the bachelorette party took place: one that I never could have dreamed would so drastically alter my life course, or the lives of those around me.
Marin organized her extravaganza around the landmark of Coney Island. She and four other slender-bodied women who I did not know tramped over soggy wooden boards in their cheap plastic heels, ones with loose gems and straps that could be discarded at the end of the night. I followed along closely but refrained from bumping shoulders. Something about my training as a reporter inclined me to be the sober one, though my own marriage had its share of bumps and I certainly could have used a round.
It was towards the end of the night, after a man with a waxy mustache and strangely feminine hips tried to seduce her and I simultaneously, sloshing his drink on us in the process. Her hair was pulled back unusually close to the scalp, and her face had a strange sallowness to it to which bar light did no favors. She hiccuped next to my ear and grabbed my shoulder tersely, eyes flitting back and forth. Her stare lingered at an adjacent 4-seater booth containing a cluster of her far-gone friends.
“Bella, izzy, isabelle,” She said, her breath floating into my hair. I got the faint scent of a fruity bar drink from her slurred speech. “Boy do I love you, honey.” She leaned in so close to me that I could feel strands from her ponytail tickling my chin in long brush strokes. “I’m going to cap you for the night,” I said, forcing a laugh that stuck to my throat, rattling in its aimless impression.
“No”, she said, jabbing a finger into my forearm. “No no no no, not a chance…” She hiccuped again— low and somber, like a long-haul truck trundling over an empty road, and drew lackadaisical circles over my skin. I looked around at all the abandoned purses swung over the backs of chairs, their open mouths flooding with muted yellow light. It was here at this bar with Marin’s arm stooped over mine that I became acutely aware of my desire to fizz away as easily as a roofie tab placed in someone’s drink. If only one could be so inconspicuous.
After scoping out the bar scene I swung my glance back over to Marin, who was reeling on the edge of her seat with huge, unblinking eyes. “I know I’m getting married tomorrow, and that’s really fucking exciting.” She flung her arms around me. “I never thought I’d get married. I’m fucking ecstatic that he proposed; I thought I would die waiting. But as far as the wedding, I can’t convince myself to get up and go— that everything will be fine, because it’s not fine. Not really. Honestly, it feels like I got affected by a poison. I feel physically sick just being near him. This life of mine—the choices I’ve made—are telling me I’m not allowed to be happy. That maybe it’s not in my life plan.”
She buried herself into my chest and began to weep. Her bachelorette tiara stabbed me in the ribs as I held the back of her neck, tried in vain to soothe her. And out of the corner of my eye, while she was blubbering about being unhappy, while her friends were laughing from miles away, I saw a spider scuttle across the floor.