UNDER THE RUG • by Kristen Moraine

It floats in front of me, close enough that I can almost grab the gossamer thread trailing behind as it lands on the floor, then makes its way under the accent rug. I call out to Mark, that low-to-high question, “maaARK?” that can only mean one thing: Spider. He calls back from the kitchen, tells me to leave it alone. But a spider under the rug is like that lie you told that you wish would stay put. You know it can’t.

Mark comes into the bedroom and stares down at my two feet anchoring the sides of the rug, keeping the creepy thing trapped. He has a bottle of Windex in one hand and a paper towel in the other — ready for battle — but he keeps his eyes on my feet and waits for me to step aside.

“Think you can catch it?” I ask.

Mark pulls back the rug. When the spider makes a move for the crack in the wall, he stomps at the ground with his foot, misses.

“Shit,” he says.

“Why’d you bother to get the Windex if you were just going to use your shoe?” I ask.

Mark finally looks at me, and I think he might shoot me with the Windex — make me clean, clear.

“You went to the hospital, didn’t you,” he says.

I know I have to respond, but I’m not ready. I stare ahead at the wall where the spider has escaped, free to throw more thread.

“You think it’s catching its breath back there?” I ask. “Saying, ‘Thank, God. That was close.’ Does it even realize?”

“So you did,” Mark says. “You went ahead with it.”

I can’t say it, but the silence does.

Mark lets the paper towel fall to the floor.

“Next time, get it yourself,” he says. “Seems like you don’t need me.”

I want to know how he found out, but it doesn’t really matter. He knows now that I wasn’t at my sister’s yesterday, knows that I couldn’t bear to wait another few nights, just to think it over a little while longer. But what he’ll never know, never understand, is how I’ve turned into something curled up and hiding, afraid of light.

The door doesn’t slam behind him, the way I think it might. I pick up the paper towel and decide it was way too big, too stiff to kill something so small in the first place.

In bed, I lie with my legs curled up to my chin, my arms doing their best to hug, nurture. I decide this is how it’s going to be, and I need to accept it. Isn’t that what the clipboard had said? No choice. No chance. Several white coats had come in and out of the hospital room to shake their heads at the numbers, and without saying anything they all said: No. Not this time. I couldn’t let Mark sit with me and hold my hand. He would have told me it’s okay, we’ll try again, it’s not your fault. And I would have hated him for that.

Mark knocks quietly before walking in. His lips are a thin line, his eyes dark, older.

“You alright?” he asks.

“No,” I say. “You?”

“No.” Mark seems unable to look at me.

We wait, both of us wondering who will yell first, who will cry first, who will break, then leave.

“Want some water?” he asks.

“Yes, please.”

Mark leaves again, and I listen to him shuffle in the kitchen some. I try to think of what I’ll say when he comes back and hands me the water. Maybe I can tell him about the tests again and try to explain why I went alone. Words like “guilt” and “grief” fill my head but none of them seem to mean anything. I close my eyes, tight, then open them again to see a tiny dot just above the window — a black smudge on white paint. Amazing that in only a few minutes, the spider moved from the floor to the ceiling, safely out of reach. I wonder if a spider has any concept of speed and time, or if time is really just a matter of realizing that at one point you were there, but now, you’re here.

“Here,” Mark says. He hands the glass to me and sits down on his side of the bed.

“I’m sorry,” is all I can say. Not enough. But maybe it’s a start. Maybe all we can do now is sip water and launch forth, hoping to land somewhere else. I think about saying this to Mark, but my legs won’t un-tuck, and I don’t want him to see how small I’ve become. Maybe tomorrow I’ll tell him that we’ll be okay.

Kristen Moraine is an English teacher and writer living in San Francisco.

Rate this story:
 average 5 stars • 2 reader(s) rated this