Twice, Three Times, Four
When Edie took the wash off the clothesline in the fall, she had to shake each garment in the wind, to be sure that no spiders remained in the folds. She shook each twice, three times, four. They were little, the shy white spiders with spectral faces; a soft flurry of tiny legs as they scurried down sleeves and under collars. She imagined that her voice, when she spoke to her children, was just as soft. She took care to always speak to them kindly, always measured the tone of her words so that she would not slip up and scrape against their doll-baby skin with her anger. So she would not bruise or draw blood. Yes, her voice was like the white spiders hidden in their clothes.
Edie shook the Sunday dresses with vigor. The layers of tulle, sea foam green and palest pink, flapped in the waning light as the sun slumped toward the hills. Somebody was grilling barbecued chicken. The scent of meat was in the air, hanging heavy, smoky and sweet, and dogs were barking. Edie gazed across the lawn at the empty dog house.
Dodger had lain down and not gotten up a few months past. He’d been old, tired, his belly hilled with tumors. He’d stopped chasing the possums that hustled over the chain link of the garden fence to snatch tomatoes. He’d limped along, his eyes gone cloudy green. The girls would be asking for a new puppy soon enough, although Edie had already told Billy there was no way they could afford it. Aw Edie, every kid needs a dog though. They’re so sad without Dodge. It was true that they still cried over him. Edie dabbed their tears from pinked cheeks and murmured Yes, love, I miss Dodger too. We all miss him very much.
Edie had hated that dog. Her blood burned just thinking about it. She’d hated that he was one more mouth to feed. She’d hated scooping dog shit, and Billy never kept up with it. If she didn’t pick it up herself every day, Billy just tracked it right into the house on his boots. She’d hated sweeping the floors three times a day to rid the house of Dodger’s long black hair. She’d hated his fleas, the smell of him on her bed sheets, the sound of his toenails scraping the hardwood at night and giving her a fright. She’d thought countless times of poisoning the wretch. The morning she found him dead in the kitchen she thought Hallelujah. This has got to be one of the best days of my life. But she’d never let that show. When the girls cried, she cooed for him.
She shook the blouses with little red roses at the cuffs. She shook the faded play clothes, the worn t-shirts and jeans with frayed hems. Twice, three times, four. She dropped each piece into the plastic laundry basket with the duct-taped handle. She didn’t know if those little white spiders were venomous. She’d never looked them up, she didn’t know what they were called. They seemed too tiny to do any real harm, really. She smiled at her silliness.
But sometimes, once the children were in bed for the night and she was curled in her own quilts, watching the fan above her throw shadows to the seams where the walls met the ceiling, she would think of those spiders. She would just picture one of them hidden in the toe of a little striped sock, or under the folded pleat of a plaid school-skirt. She would see one of those spiders stealing softly into Wendy’s armpit as she slept, or creeping like a secret up Delia’s calf. Crossing the sloping terrain of smooth baby bellies, edging into the valley of an infant ear. A spider, just aching to bite.
And Edie would check beneath Elaine’s bunny pajamas. She’d slide Reba’s blankets aside and lift the hem of her flannel nightgown, just to be sure. She’d peer into Wendy and Delia’s beds with a flashlight. Then she would start opening the dresser drawers, piling the clothes onto the floors. And she would start over, with each piece, shaking it out. Twice, three times, four. Billy might be working the night shift at the factory, or if he wasn’t he’d be more often than not late coming home, running to the bars with his no-good buddies Pike and Hen. She’d work quietly, quickly, snapping the clothes hard in the dark. If one of the girls would wake, she’d grit her teeth but shush her sweetly, gently, soft as a little white spider. Hush now, hush. Sleep. She’d say it twice. Then three times. Then four.