Continuing my series on discussing the stories in The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After, today I talk about the story behind “The Garden Shed Pact” – and specifically, why there is a Funnel-web Spider on my writing desk.
Who doesn’t hate spiders? Okay, don’t answer that … maybe I’m the freak, but spiders are frequent guest stars in my night terrors. I was born and raised in Sydney, and because of my concerns over that aggressive suburb-loving bastard, the Sydney Funnel-web spider (Atrax Robustus), to this day, I still thoroughly check my shoes before I put them on. I don’t even think it’s the fear of being bitten that has rattled me. It’s the alienness of spiders and their ability to wedge themselves into places they have no right to enter. It’s the jerky gait of a saucer-sized Huntsman scrambling down a wall towards you, with the intent of running across your face—or if you’re not looking, the back of your neck and down your shirt. I may be exaggerating, but you get the point. Spiders possess too many aspects of the ‘other’ for me to ever accept them. I can admire them for that, but I’ll never accept them, let alone allow them to scamper across my skin (but ask my wife, and she’ll heartily disagree; she loves the critters!).
To confront my issues with spiders—and insects in general—I spent two terms at high school involved in extra-curricular entomology (bug collecting). I cultivated two impressive collections of mostly beetles and butterflies. So much so, my science teacher, Mr Martyn, awarded me with a prize: a prime specimen of Atrax Robustus, fangs bared, encased in clear resin. I keep it as a prized paperweight on my writing desk. Trapped in a defiant pose, it is alien, fearsome, and other.
So what better metaphor for evil than a monstrous arachnid?
One of the reasons I keep the Sydney Funnel-web spider on my desk is that it reminds me I will never again end a creature’s life without the absolute best reasons, even if that life appears insignificant, such as an insect. One of the regrets I will carry into my old age is that I murdered butterflies for the wrong reasons. My collections were thrown out in my early adult years, and as much as the butterflies, beetles, and bugs looked aesthetically pleasing pinned up, arranged with wings and legs splayed, they looked even more beautiful flying free. Fearsome, bittersweet Atrax Robustus-in-resin reminds me of that every day. Guilt, it’s a potent brew.
PS. Several times over the past few weeks (Sydney summer time), a large spider has invaded my ‘man-cave’ (where I do my writing), scuttling in under the door at night. I shooed it away every time, except last night, when it came barrelling in under the door and was near my foot (I sat on the other side of the room!) within a couple of seconds! It’s been getting bigger, and I finally took note of its markings last night. After looking at Funnel-web pics today, I realise with dawning horror that my nocturnal visitor is, in fact, a deadly male Funnel-web. My problem: I lost him under a suitcase last night, so he’ll be in there … somewhere … *shudder*
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