It was all just a trick on Missy.
She was standing there in her little girl, 70s-striped multi-colored sundress, fingering her lower lip as the wood burned between her ears. The three of us were hunkered down in the tall grass, ignoring the thick humidity and the dew-dampened stalks near the ground at the base of the tall, dense grass. The sky was never really blue in Georgia; it was usually a cadet blue or grayish hue from the water vapor hanging around in the summer. It would probably be too hot and stifling for me to do anything now, but then, at 12 years old, I was lying in the grass watching Missy wonder where we were.
The idea was Chubs’. He was sick of his little sister; she was a pest, and he didn’t want her around anymore. I could relate; my little brother Ryan was a pain too, and I half considered doing the same thing to him more than once over the summer. Problem was, most times he was all I had for company. Being outcasts and newcomers anywhere didn’t make for easy friends and welcome company; doing it in a small, tight-knit community of private school kids that all knew each other from years ago made it even harder. Add in that we were from California, land of fruits and nuts, and it made us even weirder. So we weren’t exactly beating them off with sticks. Ryan was better than being alone. Most of the time.
So when Chubs wanted to ditch Missy, I figured I could empathize. But Ryan and Chubs were kind of buddies too, so Ryan was there when I spouted off that I thought we could do it.
Chubs’ real name was Ryan too. He was portly and jolly, with a quick laugh and a slow brain and was a cousin of ours. His drunk of a father and my drunk of a mother used to hang around and drink sometimes while my dad just laughed along with them and dealt with her belligerence later, when everyone else left. He was always a pussy like that; no matter how bad my mom got, no matter how abusive – with him OR with us – he just found a way to excuse it and wimp out. He never could stand up to her. So the “adults” were in the house sucking down beer, and the heat of the afternoon was ours to play in, out in the large yards butting against the black-top of Ross Avenue. The lot was deep, and the patch of grass between our backyard and the neighbors’ was no-man’s-land. While Missy went to the bathroom we scrabbled over the wire and stick shoulder-high fence and shuffled down in the high grass behind the lot, just beyond the compost pile and the huge apple tree between the two houses that shared our lot.
The three of us slithered onto our bellies, with Ryan and Chubs on either side of me. The fact that they were both named Ryan made using Chubs’ nickname more convenient. That was how we found out what it was. That, and the fact that his old man called him that more than anyone. We were staring through the seed-topped grass watching Missy swivel her head back and forth in the heat looking for us. The confusion on her face was enough to set us all giggling and shushing each other while trying not to give away our hiding spot.
Every time Missy took a step in the right direction, we’d shut up fast, holding our breath to try and quell the laughs. Ryan wasn’t exactly a quiet kid, either; he had one of the loudest mouths I’ve ever heard, and was keen to use it whenever he could. It wasn’t easy to get him to be still, but knowing something was being pulled over on someone besides him helped. We just lied still in the grass and she’d move off in another direction, calling out asking where “y’all” went, and then standing still and listening for the answer that didn’t come.
I saw movement out of the corner of my soda-bottle glasses, and glanced over to my left at the bent and flattened grass around us. My breath caught in my throat when I saw it.
It was a spider.
This wasn’t any ordinary, spindly-legged, wisp of a spider. It was a Georgia spider; it was robust and threatening. You could hear them click with clattering exoskeletons when they walked, I swear. They had faces you could see because they grew to B-movie monster proportions. Georgia spiders had a long, warm, bug-infested spring and summer season to grow, and they got nice and fat preying on small birds and kids lying in the grass. It was fast as heat lightning as it scrabbled out of the dense undergrowth and moved over Chubs’ hindquarters.
I couldn’t believe he didn’t feel it – the thing was the size of a beagle and stomping its way across the ass-crack-exposing jeans of the husky kid. I threw myself backwards onto my hands and backed away as fast as I could, leaving an open space between Chubs and Ryan, both still staring and giggling at Missy.
That Volkswagen sized arachnid skittered through that tall grass and over Ryan’s outstretched legs before I could find my voice, but when I did – too late – I didn’t think through my panic about what I was saying.
I screamed “Ryan, there’s a spider on you!” at the top of my lungs.
See, the problem is, they were both named Ryan.
So, country-boy, Georgia-born Chubs hops up onto his feet, laughing his insane, contagious, easily-imitated laugh like a drunken hyena lilting and twisting, wiggling his big body in the heat and tall grass, hands working over his back and shoulders to swat the spider away. My brother Ryan, city-born and sissy-raised, screamed like a girl on a county-fair ride and jumped up onto HIS feet, HIS hands swatting wildly over his shoulders and back, squealing like a stuck pig for me to get it off, get it off, get it off!
It took me a second to process the sight of the two of them writhing and shouting, one laughing, the other near tears, both seeming to move differently but somehow as one fat, hypnotic body, undulating like ocean waves of blubber, denim and stripes.
I burst out laughing. Missy, of course, was standing there watching them dance, too, laughing with me as the two Ryans bounced and jiggled to loose themselves from the long-gone spider. I couldn’t speak to tell them it was gone. All I could do was wipe my watering eyes and hold my aching ribs as wave after wave of laughter tore through me. I couldn’t stand, but was careful to make sure that when I collapsed in peals of uncontrollable mirth, I did it away from that tall grass where clicking beagle-sized spiders lay.
To this day, I smile when I think of that story. There weren’t a lot of happy times for me in Georgia for a lot of reasons, but that was one of them. I probably laughed for half an hour before I could tell them it was gone. I promised myself before I died I’d write the story down.
Now I have. But that was just the beginning.