Ms. Muffet from Issue 85
When I was a little girl, maybe six or seven, I found a dead spider in my underpants. I don’t know how it got there or how it died. I was changing into my bathing suit and there it was, dead, shriveled, with its eight legs folded inward.
I never told a soul but recognized it, immediately, as a bad omen.
I was absolutely sure that it made me different from all the other girls. How should I know? I had a brother and all boy cousins. Maybe I was numb. I had heard that spider bites could paralyze. Maybe I was sealed up tight with webbing, dry and dusty, hollow like a mummy. Or maybe millions of tiny spiders were living inside of me. I had seen Charlotte’s Web twenty times by then.
Around the same time, and confirming my suspicions, the man who lived across the street, Mr. Cezzano, said about me and my brother, “Looks like these kids got tapeworms.” My mother assured us that we didn’t have tapeworms and explained that Mr. Cezzano said that on account of us being so skinny. A tapeworm was something that lived in your stomach and ate all your food—which kept the worm fat and the person skinny.
Then my mom said, “What I wouldn’t give for a tapeworm.” My mother, who is not even a little chubby, has no real idea what she weighs because she refuses to own a scale. She’s scared of numbers, math of any kind—all because of the way my grandfather, in a harsh German accent, made her learn her multiplication tables while milking the cows before school every morning.
I figured if worms could live in people, for sure so could spiders.
I got my period when I was eleven years old, during a softball game. I thought the spiders were starving and had resorted to eating my intestines. Silently hysterical in the outfield, I eventually passed out and was driven home by the school nurse. I considered telling the nurse about the spiders, but she was a large woman who seemed to try to compensate for her enormity by speaking very, very softly. I figured I would never hear her advice anyway.
After that I tried to relax. But still, I wouldn’t shower after gym like the other girls. I wouldn’t change in front of them. I tried to sneak looks, so I could compare, which got me a reputation as a lesbian—which really was fine by me.
Because I had nightmares about boys getting stuck. I pictured them pulling out with long silvery threads of webbing stuck and twisted around them, penises cocooned or, worse, gone—and them running away, screaming, belt buckles jangling, frantically lumbering and pulling up their pants.
I had sex for the first time at twenty-two with a boy I hated, just in case.
Nothing happened. But that doesn’t mean anything.