Nigel was a medium-sized house spider who managed to spin a web between the four legs of my bedside table. He made a comfortable home for himself there, always lounging in the same spot when I peered down from my bed.
At first I was nervous about how little he moved. It felt like he was stalking me, waiting for the right moment to pounce. But as the days and weeks went by, his stillness started to feel less ominous and my nightly inspection became more of an affectionate checkup on his whereabouts.
I wanted to know that Nigel was alright, possibly ask him how his day had been and get an update on his mission to rid the room of those lazy Bluebottle flies that lumber around at the end of summer.
I even started telling Nigel about my own life. He was a good listener, always attentive and ready to soak up whatever sorrows I threw at him. I could tell Nigel anything and not fear judgement or ridicule. Even the most heinous confession would land silently on his web, caught there like an insect fighting for its life, before he sidled over to wrap it up and take it away forever.
Usually, when spiders enter my room, I remove them straight away with a glass and postcard, just to be on the safe side. But Nigel was granted asylum under my bedside table and was soon counted among my most reliable friends. He had, quite literally, become part of the furniture.
You can imagine my shock and dismay, then, when I looked down one night to see Nigel had doubled in size. He’d gone from a perfectly manageable diameter - about the size of a jaffa cake - to a monstrous arachnid with jutting legs and violent fur.
“Nigel?” I squeaked. “What’s happened to you?”
Of course, as the more alert reader will have surmised, this wasn’t Nigel at all but a dangerous intruder who had overthrown my friend’s web.
I fought the urge to flee and looked around for Nigel. I wanted to call out to him but gulped down any noise, scared that I would spark this new spider into potentially-lethal action.
And then I saw Nigel. He was cowering behind the nearest leg of my bed, mere inches from his home, and I watched with horror as he edged closer, one tiny leg at a time.
“Careful Nigel,” I whispered.
He reached the bedside table and ever-so-carefully clambered onto his web, eyes fixed on the seemingly-oblivious spider across from him. The other spider wasn’t oblivious though. Its stillness was a sign of imminent violence, just as Nigel’s never had been.
I waited. Nigel waited. Dust particles floated in the light of my bedside lamp and rain pattered against the window. Everything was stretched thin with expectation.
And then the giant spider lunged.
Nigel turned to run, for he was a kind but ultimately pathetic creature, and the two spiders sprinted across the open carpet as I watched from above. It didn’t look good. Nigel had nowhere to hide and couldn’t outrun his opponent.
But then, for no apparent reason, they suddenly froze. The chase was put on pause, perhaps because Nigel had called for a timeout and his aggressor, being an honourable bastard, had granted this small mercy.
They stared at each other for long seconds, at which point I decided I had to do something to help, so without another thought I leapt to my shoe rack, plucked a flip flop from the top shelf and brought it crashing down on the spider’s bulging head.
To clarify, I consider myself to be a staunchly non-violent person, especially towards animals, which I think stems from a harrowing experience in childhood when my father murdered a mouse with the sharp end of an umbrella. But in the case of this malicious spider, I was left with no choice. There was no time to fetch a glass and postcard. Death by squashing was the only option.
“It was to save Nigel,” is what I tell myself when I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat.
I lifted the flip flop slowly, as if scared the giant spider had survived and was now rather pissed off at being whacked with a shoe. But the spider lay flat and still against the carpet, apart from three or four legs that were still attached to the flip flop as I pulled it away.
Nigel, meanwhile, was huddled in the corner, visibly shaken and refusing to look at me.
“It’s okay Nigel,” I said soothingly. “It’s over.”
But Nigel didn’t reply. He stayed where he was, legs quivering.
That’s when I realised, he’s more scared of me - having seen me brain one of his own kind with a sandal - than he ever could be of another spider.
“Oh Nigel. What have I done?”
I dropped the flip flop and backed away, leaving the flattened remains of the other spider in my wake, which probably didn’t help matters. I retreated to the edge of my bed and sat down. Nigel still didn’t move. I took one last look at the harrowing scene before slithering into bed and turning off the light.
Sunlight was seeping through my window when I woke up. I rolled over to see if Nigel was still trembling in the corner, but he wasn’t. I looked down at his web, which was also empty. My friend was gone.
I drifted through the day in a daze, unable to concentrate on anything properly, and as soon as I got home, I climbed the stairs three at a time and stumbled into my room, checking all the usual spots in a frenzy. There was still no sign of Nigel so I trudged off to get some loo roll and carefully picked up the dead spider and put it in the bin.
That night I tried to ignore the empty feeling in my bedroom. Nigel’s absence was infinitely more noticeable than his presence ever had been. When he’d been nestled in his web I could call on him whenever I felt like it, but his disappearance was like a firm hand resting on my shoulder that I couldn’t shake off.
I undressed and folded my clothes. I brushed my teeth. I tried to read a book. All without checking the web I knew would be deserted.
When it was time for lights out - the moment when I would check on Nigel and perhaps have a chat about our respective days - I stretched across with my left arm and fumbled under the lampshade for the switch. In this position it was impossible not to catch a glimpse of the web below, the web that Nigel had constructed with such care.
And do you know what? There he was! My friend was sitting in the middle of his spindly home, exactly where he was supposed to be.
The time for apologies, for reconciliation - the rebuilding of trust - was yet to come. For now, I turned off the light, lay back against my pillow and smiled into the heavy darkness.