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Man on the Bus with a Spider on His Back

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“But I am the king of all spiders,” he says.

https://www.guernicamag.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/spiderking-final_Top.jpg
Illustration by Jason Arias.

There’s a man on the bus sitting directly in front of you. He has a small brown spider crawling across his red shirt, near his left shoulder blade.

You say nothing, but watch it with fascination until he rings the bell and exits at his stop.

After he leaves, the woman sitting next to you says, “Did you see that?”

“What?” you say.

*                      *                     *

“There’s a spider on your shirt,” you say. “Could I brush it off?”

The man with the spider on his back turns around because you’ve tapped him on the arm.

“There’s a spider on your back,” you say.

“Que?” he says, looking pissed off.

“A spider,” you say. “Como se dice ‘spider’…uh, mira, puedo que…que...could I just brush it off your shirt?”

He shakes his head disgustedly and turns away.

*                      *                     *

“There’s a spider on your shirt,” you say. “Could I brush it off?”

“Please don’t,” the man says. “My cousin’s soul has been trapped inside that spider for eleven years. One more year to go!”

*                      *                     *

“Could I brush the spider off your shirt?” you ask.

“Spider? Where? I’m terrified of spiders. Just the sight of one will make me start screaming. Don’t bring any spiders near me.”

*                      *                     *

He turns around and spits on you.

Instead of asking, you just decide to brush the spider off the man’s shirt. He turns around and spits on you.

*                      *                     *

You ask if the man wants you to brush the spider off his shirt.

“Why would I want you to do that?”

“It’s a spider.”

“But I am the king of all spiders,” he says.

*                      *                     *

You don’t have the courage to say anything about the spider on the man’s shirt. But when he exits the bus, you rush off, too, in order to tell him. As you walk swiftly after him in the muggy night, he turns to you and asks what you want.

“There’s a spider on your shirt,” you say.

But upon closer inspection, there is no spider.

*                      *                     *

You tell the man on the bus that he’s got a spider on his shirt.

“It’s been there for years,” he says. “Got anything else to say to me?”

*                      *                     *

You tell the man on the bus that he’s got a spider on his shirt. The man is silent but words start to come out of the spider, somehow. The spider says, “Damn these meddling fuckers.”

*                      *                     *

You don’t tell the man he’s got a spider on his shirt. A hidden camera crew confronts you.

“We’re here studying why people don’t tell people that they have a spider on their shirt.”

*                      *                     *

You tell the man. He starts screaming.

*                      *                     *

You don’t tell the man. The spider crawls on to the bare skin of his neck. He starts screaming.

*                      *                     *

Your seatmate turns to you and tells you that you are the worst person in the world.

You don’t tell him. Your seatmate turns to you and tells you that you are the worst person in the world.

*                      *                     *

You tell him. He says, “Fuck, yeah!”

*                      *                     *

You tell him. He says, “I ruin the life of the first person who mentions the spider. You’re finished.”

*                      *                     *

You tell him. He apologizes, explaining that he’s only just left his coffin for the evening.

*                      *                     *

You don’t tell him. Your seatmate says, “Thank you for not saying anything about the spider.”

“Why?” you ask.

“Because that was a brown recluse, very poisonous.”

“So why didn’t you want me to say anything?”

“I didn’t like the look of that man. He’s better off dead.”

You exit at the very next stop in order to warn the man, but you cannot find him anywhere.

*                      *                     *

You brush the spider off the man’s shirt. Two dozen take its place. They are coming out of the man’s skin beneath his shirt. He turns around. The spiders are coming out of his mouth, his nose, and his eyes.

*                      *                     *

“Thank you,” he says.

You brush the spider off the man’s shirt.

“Thank you,” he says.

“It was a spider,” you say. “It was on your shirt.”

“Nobody has touched me in eleven years.”

*                      *                     *

“You have a spider on your shirt.”

“Where?”

“It’s on your back, near the left shoulder blade. Would you like me to brush it off?”

“Yes, please.”

You try to do it but you miss. The spider disappears underneath the man’s shirt.

“Did you get it?” he asks, looking fearful.

“Yes,” you say.

*                      *                     *

The spider on the man’s shirt, it smiles somehow. You didn’t think such things were possible but now that you’ve seen it happen you are afraid. You don’t breathe a word.

G

Author Image

J. M. Tyree is the coauthor (with Michael McGriff) of the short story collection Our Secret Life in the Movies, an NPR Best Book of 2014.

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