“I normally don’t kill spiders. They’re so...big. Substantial. Plus, Charlotte’s Web. But this morning I lifted up a paper towel that I'd left on the kitchen floor overnight to try to melt some dried-on royal icing that I finally decided had been there a few weeks too long, and there was this spider wrapped up in it. It was brown and dime-sized with a thick, round abdomen. Only, when I shook it free from the wrinkled paper towel, it just shriveled up, pulling its legs in tight to its body. Then I noticed one of its legs on the floor nearby, like a long eyelash. I have no idea how this all happened. But the spider’s shriveling and writhing made my arms curl. It seemed like agony. I just mercy stomped it. I’m still recovering.”
“Wow. Are you okay? Also, who is this?”
“It’s Kestrel. New phone. I’m fine. I guess I just felt like that spider needed a witness. Sorry.”
“No worries. But I don’t know you. Did you mean to send this to me?”
“Is this Gena?”
“Oh, shit. Sorry.”
“No worries. I kind of enjoyed it. You’re really descriptive. I could see the spider.”
“Plus I have a soft spot for spiders, too. Once when I was a kid, one spun a web in the corner of my room, right above my bed. I didn’t tell anyone, just fed it--I’d swat flies, but not hard enough to splatter their bodies, and then stand on my bed and stick them up in the web. The spider would come wrap them up with its two front legs. Now I let them live in my windows. Helps control flies.”
“I get it. I’m crazy. I’ll shut up now.”
“I’m serious, Kestrel! That’s an interesting name. I would remember if I’d met you.”
“Who are you, then?”
“You can call me Bob.”
“Is that your name?”
“I don’t know you. You can call me Bob.”
“Sure. This is weird. Why are we even still talking?”
“I don’t know. You texted me. Something about a spider. How did you get my number?”
“Haha. I typed it from memory. New phone.”
“Did you try the auto port thing?”
“You are obviously over 30. You actually memorized a phone number?”
“Apparently not very well. But what about you? You type in full sentences. LOL.”
“You’ve got me.”
“I’m sorry. This is weird. I can shut up and never bug you again.”
“Bug.🕷. Haha. This has been the highlight of my day. What else do you like, besides spiders and icing and adjectives?”
“Are we doing this?”
“I’m in. I don't meet a lot of new people, pandemic and all...It’s worth a shot. I never get wrong numbers. Everyone I know has their own little button. No more happy accidents.”
“Well, it’s a lucky window of opportunity, I guess, being lazy about my contacts.”
“A window full of spider webs. I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone about that.”
“Sometimes it’s easier to talk to strangers.”
“But you told Gena about your mercy killing.”
“Haha. Gena is almost a stranger these days. One of those people you love because of what they were to you. Lots of left-over good will. And she loves me back enough to put up with an occasional rant and respond back with a few lines and emojis.”
“That’s really sweet. I wish I’d kept in touch with my Gena. Unfortunately she has a really common name. Not like Kestrel.”
“Are you really a man, Bob?”
“No, I think it’s very relevant. I don't want to embarrass myself (haha, any more than I have already). I mean, you know my real name. Your powers of deduction are sharp--you listen. I need to know how to talk to you.”
“Like, can I talk to you about my period?”
“You just did, so...now that we’ve gotten past that I’d say anything is on the table.”
“No need. This keeps getting better.”
“Do you enjoy making me uncomfortable?”
“I think I do. Is that what you're trying to do?"
"I think I'm testing your limits, if I had to name it, Bob. Maybe I'm trying to scare you away."
"I'm not squeamish. Just talk to me like I’m a person.”
“Do people still do that?”
“We’ll see. You know what's intrigued me so far--why I keep hitting reply?”
"My adjectives? I'm sorry--I'll try to pepper some more in."
"It's that somehow we've quickly established this convention of telling the truth. It's kind of rare."
"Well, there's nothing to lose. I don't care if you like me. And I've already told you something pretty personal."
"Was it really the spider? What did you need someone to witness this morning?"
"Damn, Bob. You really listen."
"It's quiet around here."
"Not here. I'm really not ready to process it yet. What about you? You really latched onto that phrase. Is there something you need a witness for?"
"I take it you're surrounded by lots of life, not just dead arachnids?"
"Haha. Sometimes. In the time I've been talking to you, I've cleaned up spilled cat water, unloaded a dishwasher and immediately filled it back up, put a load of laundry in, listened to Let It Go about five times, refereed two wrestling matches, and there's the constant chatter of a Zoom meeting in the background."
"I witness your endurance 😄."
"I still say you're lucky. Since we've been talking, I've eaten homemade sourdough toast with jam I made from my fig tree, sipped on a coffee that's gone from hot to lukewarm, and I was reading the news, but I've gotten a little distracted."
"That sounds amazing."
"Sometimes it is. It was, for the first few months."
"So I suppose what I'd like a witness for is myself. Sometimes I start to question whether I exist. How do I know who I am without other bodies to bump into? To let me know where I end and they begin?"
"OK, Bob. I witness your existence 🙂. And your sourdough."
"It's not as hard as it sounds, especially if you have time."
"Do you like to cook?"
"Yes. I have a popular Instagram feed on cooking for one. I like to make people drool: eggplant Parmigiano, personal chicken pot pies with homemade stock and putff pastry dough, creamy red cabbage gratine with mushrooms, shallots, and bacon…"
"OK, yes, you're making me drool 🤤."
"Sharing pictures almost turns a solo meal into a banquet. But talking to one particular person--telling the truth, that is, is a different kind of feast."
"I think we're having frozen corn dogs for lunch here."
"I still appreciate a good corn dog. Pro tip: the difference between cooking for one and cooking a banquet is just the amount of Tupperware you store in the freezer. Or the size of your pot."
"True. It's not anyways frozen corndogs for me. I'm in a temporary rut. I'll probably look you up tonight."
"Don't be limited by any ideas of who you think I am."
"Haha. I'll try to keep an open mind, Robert/Barbara whatever your name is."
"You're probably doing fine. I witness your competence 😁."
"Thanks. It shouldn't make a difference, but I think it does. I'm five minutes late logging in for work."
"I'm sorry. I'll leave you to your life for now! Till next time, Kestrel!"
"Till next time, Bob 😅."
"You can call me Avery."