Cabbage for Tea by Janis Lane

Fiction

Most spiders have four pairs of eyes. That’s eight eyes. And 56 knees. That’s seven knee joints per leg. I’m really good at my times tables.

Mum’s cooking tea. She clatters the pans around making more noise than she needs to. She does it on purpose. It smells like something with cabbage again. It smells like mould. Sometimes I pretend I’m Charlie Bucket.

I’m not scared of spiders. Other people are. Mum calls it a primal fear. I don’t know what that means but she says they are fundamentally different to humans. Fundamentally: F-U-N-D-A-M-E-N-T-A-L-L-Y, fundamentally. I’m really good at spelling, too.

Our house is like the others on our street. It’s covered in tiny pebbles. They look a bit like hundreds and thousands except grey and light brown instead of ice cream colours. The house feels grey and brown inside too. It has two rooms upstairs and two rooms downstairs.

A greasy smell mixes with boiled cabbage and potatoes. We eat it all the time. I stopped moaning about it when I realised I hated the look on mum’s face more than I hated the taste of cabbage and fatty meat.

The spider came into my room on one of the first nights after dad was gone. It was late but I was still awake. The house makes more noises since he left.

My room is quite nice. I have a small chest of drawers; a bedside table with a drawer for private stuff; a wooden bed; a duvet and a blanket Nanny knitted for me when I was born. The wool makes my skin itch, but I love it. It still smells of Nanny, even though it’s ten years old and she’s been gone for five of them. I know that because it’s written on the calendar. The floorboards leave dirt marks on my knees when I play and I’ve had lots of splinters, which really hurt when I dig them out with tweezers.

Anyway, the spider speared a jointed leg through a crack in the floorboards and started to scurry. Then it stopped.

‘Hello’.

I felt the burn on my face as I spoke. I can feel it now just thinking about it. I wondered if the spider could hear me. That’s when I had a thought. My dad didn’t speak to me much when he was here, but I remembered one thing he’d told me. I’d never ever thought about it until that moment.

“Keep your friends close but your enemies closer.”

I needed a matchbox. I could have asked mum but she’d probably say no. I think she said ‘no’ more than any other word. Apart from shit. So I took the one from the kitchen drawer and emptied the matches into a teacup.

My tummy was bubbling and I moved slowly towards the spider. I knew I had to be clever about it. So I sat on the floor, on Nanny’s blanket. I stared at the threads, a fading patchwork of green, turquoise and orange. While I waited I picked at a loose thread of wool and worked a small hole. I’d have to remember to stitch that up later. I’m good at sewing.

I sensed movement and glanced sideways. The spider was moving towards me. Then it stopped, close enough to reach. I wondered which one of its eight eyes had seen me. I stayed still and tried to breathe normally but my heart was beating out of my chest. Without taking my eyes off it I got the matchbox ready: base in one had and lid in the other.

The next few seconds were a blur; my right hand swooped down super fast and set the matchbox base over the spider. I got it almost perfectly. Just one leg sticking out. That was too bad. I quickly brought the base down and slid the matchbox closed, taking care to hold the base firm the whole time. My breath was shaky then, like my hands. I thought about it, the spider, captured and crammed into that little matchbox, 56 knees scrunched up as it tried to move. I shivered.

I can feel my tummy bubbling now as I sit on my bed and take the matchbox out of my drawer. I turn the box over and over in my hands, opening and closing it. I count aloud. One, two, three, four, five, six. Six legs. 42 knees. I gently grasp another leg with my tweezers. It’s not easy, because the spider has balled itself up. But I’m patient. I’m calm. And I get it. I give a short sharp tug and the leg comes free in the grip of the tweezers. I’m not sure what I’ll do when I get down to the last one. I slide the lid closed and carefully place it back in the drawer. It’s the only thing in there. The smell of cabbage is really strong now. Tea’s ready.

 

Biography
Janis Lane has a MA in Creative Writing. Her fiction has appeared on Flash Flood Journal and Pygmy Giant, and her essays on Thresholds. She was longlisted for the 2016 Bath Short Story Award. She lives in Lyme Regis and can be found procrastinating in her stationery shop, The Writing Room, which has wonky walls. Website: writingroomlyme.com Twitter: @WritingRoomLyme Instagram: @the_writing_room

Image: pixabay.com