There’s a spider in the corner of the window above my desk. He’s one of those spindly, gangly types, and he set up home there about three weeks ago. I call him Maurice.
Maurice the spider.
I’d say he wasn’t too sure what sort of welcome I’d give him, because he waited about a week before making a web. He used to watch the little flies darting around near him and you could see him getting tense if one of them came within range, with his little spider ears pricked up and his little spider lungs pumping. Back in those days before webs, getting a meal meant serious sprinting, but my little spider was up for it because he was young then. One quick lunge at just the right moment and the unfortunate fly was tonight’s dinner.
That was back in the days before Maurice realised I wasn’t going to bash him with a newspaper, but why would I do a thing like that?
He has his job to do and I have mine. He isn’t doing anything to me. People routinely whack much higher animals to provide me with a dinner. Fish. Sheep. Cattle. Not yet ostriches though, or reindeer.
Tristram Shandy’s uncle Toby “scarce had heart to retaliate upon a fly”, though I have to admit that Toby is a better man than I when it comes to bluebottles. This world surely is wide enough to hold both thee and me, he told the housefly as he ushered it out the window, but Uncle Toby was one in a million.
I read that book on trains all over Europe many thousand years ago when, as a twenty-something, I wandered from this country to that, and it has never left my mind, for some strange reason. I’ll never forget Uncle Toby, whose groin was dismally crushed by a stone from the parapet at the siege of Namur, even though the author, Laurence Stern, lost the run of himself about half way through his book and descended into turgid unreadability. I don’t blame him; after all, he was writing the very first English-language novel, and for that alone he’s entitled to a little slack.
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman will forever evoke memories of short-tempered border guards at nameless frontiers demanding Papers Papers in the middle of the night. If I had Maurice with me, I’d have set my spider on them.
Curiously, the first time I read Ulysses was on one of those trains, and I bought the book in Italy, which I suppose had a happy Joycean symmetry about it, but this is straying far from spiders.
After about a week, Maurice became confident enough to build a web which saves him a lot of running. At his age it isn’t so easy any more, but in fairness to the poor devil, he keeps it spotlessly clean, flinging out the carapaces and exoskeletons of his dinners every single day.
He’s much tidier than I am, though not as good as Uncle Toby, since he’d be more than happy to devour a bluebottle if he could get his legs on one. I’d say he’s stronger than he looks. Wiry.
I wonder if he has tattoos.
Sometimes of an evening, I stare at Maurice and Maurice regards me with a sort of wary contempt.
I’d eat you, you bastard.
Luckily, I’m about a million times bigger than Maurice, which is just as well, for I fear his glitttering eye.
A good friend of mine — Wrinkly Paddy — had a dog much like my own dog, Satan, and sometimes of an evening, as we tossed away the cap from a newly-opened whisky bottle, Paddy would point at his pet.
See him? he’d demand. What do you reckon he’s thinking?
I’d shrug. Maybe he’s wondering what we’re doing.
Nothing! Paddy would shout. Nothing at all. Not a thing. Not one single thing is going on inside that little skull. Nothing!!
When I see the behaviour of many humans, I incline more and more to agree with Paddy. Everywhere I look, there are dimwits with absolutely nothing going on inside their heads, and these are people with human-sized craniums. What then of a dog? And how much less a spider?
Inside poor Maurice’s head, there is nothing at all going on except Housefly! Jump! Eat!
Here’s the curious one-sided relationship between me and this arachnid. I wouldn’t dream of bashing him with a newspaper because I don’t see any need to do so and I recognise his right to exist. Maurice, on the other hand, has absolutely nothing at all going on in his little spider skull, would happily devour me, given half a chance.
It isn’t a great basis for a friendship really. Is it?
I’m sorry to tell you that Maurice passed away overnight. He didn’t suffer.