Fiction by Sam Slovick
My knees are not what they used to be. I climb carefully down the loft’s steep stairs and a drop of sweat trickles down my back. It’s just a few hours after sunup and the heat is already oppressive. In my palm, I cradle the spider I found on my pillowcase as I elbow the screen door open and set her down in the dirt.
Bertram, whose knocking woke me before I was ready to face the day, steps back to give the spider room and then launches into one of his rants. “Ah, the symbolic meaning of spiders. … Female, cunning … the cyclical nature of things—death and rebirth, protection and fate. You can guess where this is all going …”
I can’t, and I’m afraid about how long it’ll take to get there. Bertram’s fat spills over the waistband of his khaki shorts, which pull too tightly against his crotch. The festival of gin blossoms on his nose and unruly hairs sprouting from his nostrils make me angry. It’s too early for this. I just want him to leave the mail and go away.
“Eight legs, eight eyes … some of them, but not all. The number eight, a symbol of infinity or lemniscate,” he continues with a practiced authority, as if that would make anyone listen to him. “An eight turned on its side. Eight symbolizes cycles, the passage of time, evolution.”
I take in a breath and nearly gag. Bertram smells like decaying self-esteem covered in sports body spray. I want to be back in my bed, dreaming.
Bertram makes a great show of handing me a package, a special, two-day delivery, before retreating into his little truck. He disappears down a canyon road so near but still a million miles away from Los Angeles proper.
The package, meticulously bound in plain, brown paper, each corner tightly creased, seems unlikely to contain a welcome surprise. A single, long, coarse, black hair is pressed under the clear packing tape. I’ve seen hair like this before. Touched it and smelled it. Trapped on this package, it feels more like a warning than an accident.
I shake the box for clues, but nothing shifts. I sniff it. It smells like earth. God only knows what’s inside. I can’t bring myself to open it. Not today, anyway. This is a private party. The guest of honor, a strand of memories stalking me for three decades all converging here on this day. Tommy Crow’s birthday.
Graphic by Dan Peterka