Bug Man, Bug Man, who came to save me from the spiders.
It didn’t seem fair that there should be so many spiders in one house. Wolf spiders, jumping spiders, daddy and granddaddy longlegs, cave cricket spiders (sure they’re a kind of cricket, but just take a look at one and tell me you don’t think, that’s the ugliest spider I’ve ever seen), orb spiders, brown recluse spiders. If I turned a lamp on in a dark room, I didn’t have to wait long to notice one fleeing for the threshold, or crouching motionless in the light, playing dead.
Oh, yes, I saw them. I heard them, too, as I lay in bed at night beside my husband, Robert. Robert pretended not to hear, but I’m not ashamed to say I heard them knocking softly, messaging each other.
“Are you there?”
“Yes, I am here.”
Fact: you are never any farther than three feet from a spider. Fact: Wolf spiders–the females are the ones you’ll see–look furry, but that’s not fur on their backs. It’s their young. Hundreds of them. Mama carries them around with her as she explores her territory. Fact: You’ll rarely see a female brown recluse unless you rip into walls and crevices. They hide like reluctant royalty, hatching their young away from the light. Fact: Those are males crawling out of the guest bedroom pillow or the electric socket. There’s something about cardboard boxes that attracts them too, like perfect camouflage, their compact, angular bodies and bent legs gliding across the boxes’ bone-dry walls as though the walls were made of ice. Fact: Spiders have no capacity for vocal sound. Thus, the knocking. Not many spiders can communicate this way, but some do.
I know these are Facts because the Bug Man whispers them to me when I’m in his embrace. The Bug Man has no reason to lie.
I am in love with the Bug Man. I cannot leave him.
I fled my cheerful, shiny family for the Bug Man. Fit, grinning children with summer tans, good teeth, and stunning green eyes the color of new grass. Relentlessly healthy children. Blonde, enviable children. They greet each day with terrifying vigor: water guns and war games, barefoot races and soccer tournaments. Robert and I have raised them in the light. They attack the world, ready to rule it.
They are a product of me, but mostly of Robert. He will be an excellent father and mother to them. He will miss me, and he will miss the sex. Will I miss it? Or him? That remains to be seen.
You might think I was dissatisfied with Robert. No. Robert was more than satisfactory. Maybe even too satisfactory. Too good.
Even our sex was aggressively superior, like an Olympic relay event. Brisk foreplay in the kitchen because he liked the way I leaned, naked, against the counter as he told me about his day. A sprint down the hall past our children’s bedrooms, his dignified button-down shirt sliding from his body as he approached our room, with me close behind, trying to keep up. It was his energy–yes–his enthusiasm that first attracted me. What woman doesn’t want her man to be ready to go when he gets home? In the darkened bedroom, he would hand off the shirt to me, and take a quick detour to the bathroom, pinching my breast playfully as he passed. He returned, newly erect, efficient in his desire. Never stumbling, he settled me at the foot of the bed so he could test my readiness. And I was, and am, easily ready. Sometimes I needed only the sound of his key in the front door lock, leading him to wonder, Naughty girl, what were you doing before I got home? But I never told him. I only smiled. It was all the encouragement he needed, and we were down to business, the part where our breath was short and my mind never wandered, and we could see our common goal, like a glittering trophy.
Where were the shining, remarkable children whose rooms we passed in such haste? Does it really matter? You’re worried about them, I know, thinking that no child should have to witness their parents in mutual bestial pursuit. Their mother naked in the kitchen where there are so many concerns about sanitation, not to mention that their MOTHER was NAKED in the daylight, IN THE KITCHEN. Their father in slavering worship of that fertile, naked body. Feel free to think of them as being at Scouts, or at a neighbor’s house, or even behind their bedroom doors, stupefied with a few drops of shhhh! rum in their afternoon juice. No, it doesn’t really matter. You will be relieved to know that they weren’t anywhere near the first time I made love to the Bug Man.
. . .
When Robert saw the Bug Man’s estimate for the treatment of the house, he called me into the study. “Where’d you find these people?” he said. He handled all the bills. There wasn’t a penny I spent that he didn’t see, first.
“Someone recommended them,” I said, keeping it casual. “I don’t remember who it was.” In fact, I did remember, but I didn’t say. Leeza had left her husband without explanation weeks earlier, and Robert didn’t like to be reminded. When he first heard, he shook his head and said, “She had it so good. I just don’t understand.” Robert has never thought deeply about other peoples’ lives. Robert has an endless capacity for optimism, but is not a deep thinker.
“Damned expensive,” Robert said. “But I bet we don’t see any more spiders. They have a money-back guarantee.”
He was right. There would be no more spiders, but it didn’t matter by then because I already knew the Bug Man was my hero.
. . .
You wouldn’t call the Bug Man handsome. Hair steely gray, push broom-mustache, mature belly straining confidently against the fifth button of his tidy uniform shirt. He’s the barber, the shoe salesman, the produce guy at the grocery store. Polite. Not a professional man, but someone who knows a day’s work. His eyes are clear and dark and steady. Infinitely calm. I never act rashly, or ask for more than I need, they say. His uniform agrees: Above his neatly pressed black pants, his starched white shirt (nobody uses starch anymore) bears a logo with a spider emerging from a cave. Below it is his name in machine-perfect script: Darrin. (No one is named Darrin anymore either.) My daddy wore a uniform when he was in the U.S. Army, and ended up a sergeant. He never earned any serious medals. The Bug Man has a single medal: a bright, gold-plated rectangle that he wears on the pocket opposite the logo side of his shirt. 25 Years. Pest Control Excellence. The Bug Man takes everything seriously.
I was fully dressed the day he showed up at the house, in case you’re wondering. I didn’t wander around the house naked as a regular thing. But I confess that when I saw him, I sucked in my stomach as much as I could without holding my breath, and quickly checked my front teeth for lipstick or errant food. They were gestures I was barely conscious of making. (Watch a woman and her reflection walk by a store window sometime. See the way she smooths her hand over her abdomen, as thought it will make her look more slender. See her nervous smile of approval, or moue of disapproval, depending on how she’s feeling that day.) I wanted the Bug Man to approve of me even before I met him.
As he inspected the house, I boldly followed him–barefoot–from room to room.
“Has anyone been bitten?” he asked, shining his flashlight up the narrow attic stairway. The beam exposed an empty web strung between a stud and unfinished wallboard about halfway to the top.
I was momentarily embarrassed about my poor housekeeping. It was probably what had led to the infestation in the first place.
“Steatoda,” he said.
My hand wandered to the small lump of a bite that had appeared overnight on my upper right thigh. It itched like hell.
“No worries,” he said, turning back to give me a reassuring smile. “They stay in their webs. No threat to humans.”
The Bug Man had an herbal smell, like sage. The sage was in bloom everywhere in the neighborhood, including my garden, its purple shafts smothered with pollen-drunk honey bees. If I hadn’t been so nervous, I might have gotten close to him to better take in his scent. I couldn’t see him well in the shadows behind the flashlight, but how he looked didn’t matter.
In the basement, the Bug Man told me about the wolf spider living in his laundry room.
“Two years old,” he said. “My wife tried to kill her with a shoe.”
I hadn’t thought to look for a wedding ring on the Bug Man’s hand. I glanced at his ring finger. Nothing. But so many men go without their rings. His job entailed a certain amount of physical danger, didn’t it? Poking blindly into dark corners and attic eaves. If he were bitten, his hand might swell and the ring would strangle the finger of blood before it could be saved. Not wearing a ring seemed like the sensible thing to do.
As if sensing my curiosity he said, “That’s not a problem anymore, though.”
Uncertain about his meaning, I felt myself blush.
“You’ve got a lot of damp down here. I would recommend a dehumidifier, and more caulk around those windows. That’s where your cave crickets are coming from. They love the damp.”
. . .
The kids swam all afternoon at the hotel. Robert and I took turns sitting in one of the rubbery white sling chairs pushed up against the walls, watching them splash one another and kick water onto the soaked tile floor. When they were showered and dry, Robert suggested pizza at a restaurant in an adjacent shopping mall, and miniature golf. He was in a holiday mood. If it hadn’t been for the kids, I’m sure he would’ve suggested some vigorous hotel sex to pass the time. He had that look in his eye.
“How about it?” he said. “We’ll do the tough eighteen holes, with the spinning waterfall. The kids will sleep like puppies.” Hopeful.
The hotel was our home for twenty-four hours while the Bug Man and his people got rid of the creatures in our house. I had left a key under a flower pot at the back door. The Bug Man had told me not to worry, that they–along with every bug–would be gone in the morning.
Ever since the Bug Man had first visited my house, I’d been gripped by a kind of madness. I had wanted to follow his dented white truck to his workplace, his house–anywhere he was going. Madness, yes! I felt it then, and I know it, now.
“I’ll catch up with you at the golf place, okay? I’m running by the house for just a few minutes,” I said. “Someone should check.”
Robert shook his head. “They won’t even be done with the spraying and dusting. You don’t need to be around that crap.”
“Daddy said, â€˜crap!'” The youngest child, my only girl, threw herself to the floor in a melodramatic fit of laughter. “Crap! Crap! Crap!”
“What the hell are you teaching these kids?” Robert said, pointing at her. “Who lets their kids talk like that?” He could barely hide his smile.
It was all I could do not to give him a playful kick, but I settled for kissing him on the cheek and squeezing the tiny amount of flesh at his waist. “You’re such a smart ass,” I said. I swept everything that the youngest had pulled out of my purse back into its place, and headed for the door.
“Mommy doesn’t love us any more, kids,” Robert said, after me. “You’re a bad mommy, Mommy!”
Down at his feet, our daughter was still laughing. It had turned forced and more than a little creepy, but she is often silly that way.
. . .
It wasn’t quite seven o’clock, and wouldn’t be dark for a couple of hours. Most of our neighbors would be eating dinner. No one saw me park a few doors down from the house–and if they did, so what? It was my neighborhood. My house. I was the one other women called for news. I couldn’t be the news.
I had expected to see several trucks in my driveway, but there was only one. The way the Bug Man had explained it, the bombing of the house was like a complicated military exercise. I was confused. Maybe they weren’t starting until morning. No, that didn’t make sense. He had said we could come home at ten the following morning.
“It’s better if you leave for the night,” he had said. “You don’t want to take any kind of chances with your little ones. The government says it’s safe to go inside four hours after treatment, but don’t you believe it.”
Where were the other trucks? Where was the Bug Man?
I watched and waited for almost an hour, concerned that he was inside, hurt and alone. Maybe even injured by his own poison. Or was he going through our things? We didn’t have much in the way of silver, only a pair of candlesticks and a carving set left to us by Robert’s great aunt. No guns or impressive electronics. Robert had his laptop with him, and I shared a five year-old PC with the kids. The two televisions together with my pathetic stash of jewelry were probably only worth a few hundred bucks. Still, the thought of him touching our things, my things, filled me with a desire that melted between my thighs.
Finally, I couldn’t bear the torture of waiting, and I got out of the car.
. . .
I felt like a drugged-up criminal, sneaking into my own house.
Once inside the basement door, I listened. Footsteps passed back and forth above me with quiet, irregular speed, as though someone were slowly wandering from room to room. When something tickled my bare leg, I startled and almost cried out, certain that it was a cave cricket. “They can’t see worth a darn,” the Bug Man had told me. “When they’re afraid, they jump. If you’re in the way, it’s too bad.” But when I brushed at my leg and looked around, I saw no sign of the spidery cricket bastards. Not even around the water heater, where I knew they liked to hang out. My heart was beating so that it was hard to breathe.
I found the Bug Man, alone, in the living room. He didn’t hear me come in, and this is why:
He stood facing the wall behind the couch, his left arm outstretched, the palm of his hand flat against the wall, a small black box at his feet. The lights were off, but in the waning sunlight I could tell his eyes were closed. He wore such an air of peace and calm that I was tempted to walk across the room and touch him. He was so masculine, so interesting. Not arrogant. Not intimidating. I could never be afraid of him.
The sound began so quietly, it might have been going on for several minutes before I noticed it. It was a sort of music, a humming with a range of only a couple of notes. It filled my comfortable living room like incoming waves of the warmest, purest water.
I floated on those waves, letting them carry me to him. He didn’t move, even when my cheek was close enough to feel the warmth of his back through his starched white shirt.
I worry that you will sneer at our first lovemaking, it was so strange. At least it was strange to me. I don’t even know that I would call it making love in the traditional sense. I was naked, yes, there on my living room carpet. The curtains had been drawn, but I don’t remember how.
The Bug Man stood over me and removed his own clothes with slow deliberation. He laid the shirt over the back of Robert’s favorite armchair, the medal facing up, but dull in the darkened room. The belly that had pushed so firmly against the Bug Man’s buttoned shirt was now free and surprisingly taut. After loosing his pants, he sat down on the chair to take them off.
The music, the humming had stopped, but I still couldn’t look away from him. No, he wasn’t handsome. God, he was certainly not even half as good-looking as Robert. The scent of him was stronger, and I could feel it working inside me. As I watched him he touched himself, while watching me.
“Are you there?” he said.
“I am here,” I told him.
He laid himself down on top of me. Drowsy with the scent of him as I was, I recoiled from the prickliness of the hair on his legs and abdomen. In response, he held me closer. His kiss was harsh and thirsty, as though he would suck my body dry. I found myself responding, not minding that he was consuming me.
I tried to guide him inside of me, but he gently pushed my hand away and put his hand on himself once again. Another woman, another time, might have been insecure about what was happening. I’ve always been one to leave myself open to possibilities. Or maybe I just wasn’t thinking straight.
Yes, I wanted him in the worst way. But I sensed that this affair–if that’s what it was–was going to have different rules.
When he came, he buried his rough face in my neck, silent.
I won’t tell you what he did, next. Not yet.
. . .
Sometimes I think about my three children, and Robert. But I am more needed here. I am truly wanted here.
. . .
Robert was watching television and the children were sprawled over the second bed, their limbs tangled in the crisp white hotel sheets and around one another. Tow-headed angels.
I had left my phone in the car while I was in the house, but Robert hadn’t called. He never imagined that he couldn’t trust me.
I took a shower, marveling at the tingling abrasion of my abdomen and between my legs.
Please don’t judge me. This situation with the Bug Man…It’s not like me. It’s not like me at all. I’m the mom who teaches Sunday School and never complains. I’m the mom who remembers teachers’ birthdays and Grandparents Day and tips the waitress at Chili’s a minimum of twenty percent. I know which of my kids doesn’t like fabric softener on his clothes, and what kind of dental floss Robert prefers. At least, I was that kind of person. I can’t help it that I’ve lost those feelings. I’ve lost my compassion for everyone but the Bug Man.
Some nights I hear Leeza and the Bug Man together, the way that Leeza must hear me with him. I hear her scolding the Little Ones when they’re too insistent and greedy. Sometimes I hear her weeping when she is back in her room, gestating or just resting. Waiting.
I saw Leeza’s husband in the grocery before I, too, came to the Bug Man. Their twelve year-old daughter was pushing the grocery cart while her father chose cans of soup from the shelf. Of course, I didn’t know then where Leeza was, but after making love with the Bug Man, I had come to suspect. Her husband didn’t look so unhappy. Truth be told, Leeza had never been a very good wife. She took a lot of getaway weekends with girlfriends, leaving her family to fend for themselves. Plus, she drank a lot of wine.
After a few days, the abrasions went away, and I stopped putting Robert off when he wanted to have sex.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the Bug Man. I called the pest control company for his address, pretending that I wanted to send him a thank-you note for the excellent job he’d done. They insisted that they would get it to him if I sent it to their post office box. I wondered how many other women had called with the same request. They wouldn’t even tell me his last name.
If he wanted to be with me, if he wanted me at all, wouldn’t he have given me his number?
“What’s up with you?” Robert asked. “You seem so angry all the time. Do you want to tell me? You’re scaring the kids.”
After two weeks, my clothes were loose on my body. I couldn’t eat. The kids were sullen around me, preferring to cling to Robert when he was home. When Robert and I had sex, it hurt deep inside. I tried to hide it, but he could see the pain on my face, I know.
I cried with relief when I found the Bug Man’s note on my windshield.
Did I know that when I kissed my children goodbye before leaving them at my mother’s house that it would be for the last time? No. I swear.
The Bug Man met me in the lot of a playground I’d never been to before. I parked the minivan beside his white work truck. He smiled and touched the bill of his white, logoed baseball cap in greeting. I felt suddenly shy.
The playground was abandoned, but there was the scent of honeysuckle in the air.
Did I know it would be the last time I might smell something so pure, so lovely? Definitely not.
When I started out of the car with my purse, the Bug Man said, simply, “Leave it.”
The Bug Man’s house isn’t hidden away, as you might think. It’s in a cul-de-sac, on the edge of a large development, and isn’t any different from the tidy, traditional houses on either side of it. The yard is always trimmed, and at night it’s generously lighted with blazing flood lamps.
You might wonder why the Bug Man doesn’t hide in the darkness, but it makes perfect sense if you think about it. Bugs are drawn to the light. A thousand moths beat themselves against the broad faces of the floods, June bugs scatter like marbles on the slats of the porch. They are there for the collecting.
Inside, the Bug Man asked me if I was hungry, but I was too nervous to eat. “A drink?” he said.
I took the amber glass he offered and we toasted. He looked at me with hesitation in his eyes, or maybe regret? He had loosened the top button of his shirt, which was not so vivid inside the house. There were fleshy circles beneath his eyes, and a skin tag at the corner of his right eyelid that I hadn’t noticed before. I reached out and touched the patch of stiff hairs in the V of his shirt. Painful as they were, they were a part of coupling with him–and coupling was why I was there. In that place I had no other purpose or desire.
The Bug Man’s bedroom was as luxurious a room as I had ever seen. Does this surprise you? Like me, maybe you thought that an exterminator would sleep in a tidy, plain room, a reflection of the neat efficiency of his uniform. I wasn’t prepared for the plush nest of snowy-white comforters and pillows on the bed, or the silken net surrounding it, hung from the ceiling by a delicate brass hoop. The shades at the window filtered the sunlight, casting a warm glow throughout the room. The other furniture was simple: a tall armoire of Art Deco design, and a pair of beige leather chairs with a long table in between. In the middle of the table sat the box he had had with him at my house.
Was it a music box? As I approached it, I could hear the same humming that had filled my living room. When I reached out to open the lid, the Bug Man stayed my hand. Smiling, he gently steered me over to the bed, and secured the netting around us.
I have made you wait, I know. Now I will tell you, and yet I’m afraid it won’t be the most shocking thing I’m going to share with you.
I hinted that the Bug Man did not penetrate me that first time–but that isn’t quite the truth.
He did. He penetrated me with the his hand, which held a soft white ball of his gism. Afterward, he gave me the kind of pleasure–orgasm after orgasm–that a subject might give a queen. Even Robert could learn from him.
. . .
I woke, startled from a dream in which I was training dogs for a shabby carnival. Opening my eyes, I saw the Bug Man, outlined by the harsh light from the outdoor floods, standing between the chairs at the other side of the room. I had slept until evening.
“What are you doing? What time is it?” I said. My jaw was stiff, my mouth clouded with the effect of all the honey mead I’d drunk.
“Come and see,” the Bug Man said.
I tiptoed naked and unashamed across the inches-deep carpet.
Another woman might have been terrified to see what my lover had in that box. But I was filled with whatever strange fruit that had come from my lover’s loins. I was filled with happiness, and the kind of curiosity that comes with new love.
The music from the box was nothing more than the sound of a thousand insects and spiders thrumming. They moved, but none were escaping over the edges of the box. Even the cave crickets seemed hobbled, stumbling blindly over the slow-moving caterpillars and fat beetles. Feeling my lover’s delight, I shoved the revulsion I felt down into my gut, telling myself that they weren’t so bad. People had worse hobbies. How strange, though, that he spent his days exterminating the same creatures that he now smiled over.
I remembered the transcendent look on his face that evening at my house, the way the box had hummed. There had been no chemicals, no cloud of poison that had rid my house of the creatures that I was so afraid of. It had been the Bug Man himself who had called them out. He had called them out and carried them away. How strange and wonderful!
I was about to put my arms around his waist in silent affection when I saw the things that he had really meant me to see. They were crawling across the table in a disorganized group, the tiniest lagging a couple of feet behind.
“Little Ones,” he said.
Calling them anything but an abomination–a word that implies I’m judging them, yes! I am judging them, and thus my lover–sent my mind into a frenzy. They were tiny monsters!
Of the dozen, the largest was as big as my lover’s fist, its eight leathery legs the size of a toddler’s slender fingers. But the legs were curved and bent like a crab’s, each ending in a point much like a fingernail, so that they made a busy clicking sound as they hurried across the table. The furry brown body those legs carried was shaped into three parts, the rear large and bulbous, the center more oval, and the third…I am used to the Little Ones, now, but that first time I saw them, I felt like the end of the world had come, and I was the only sane witness left.
You’ve guessed, I’m sure. You understand that each Little One bears a perfect human head at its front, a head that is as human as yours or mine.
Beside me, the Bug Man stood over his brood, beaming with love. It was a look I’d never seen on his face before, and I knew I was nothing to him.
These things that were deftly climbing the sides the box, kicking back at their siblings to be the first to attack the feast inside, were his only love. They were his–God help me–children.
Yet I couldn’t look away. The first, the largest, dove into the box and used its hand-like pedipalps to quickly grind the body of a cave cricket to a pulp before latching onto it with his pale pink lips.
I ran from the room wanting out! Out! Out! I could only think of getting beyond the front door, naked or not. It didn’t matter what or who was waiting for me. Nothing could come close to the horror in that room.
And there was Leeza–or the woman who had once been Leeza–blocking my way to the front door. Leeza, looking tall and immovable. Her shining blonde hair had faded to a parched silver and her skin had turned the color of newsprint. Leeza of the expensive spray tan and the many bracelets. Leeza who drank wine spritzers and flirted with Robert thinking he would never dare to tell me. Leeza with the impish blue eyes. Leeza who had laid a hand on my arm in the grocery store as I reached for the organic bug spray. “Let me give you the name of my bug man,” she said. “He’s like magic.” Had she been with him even before she saw me? I don’t think so, but I might be wrong. She might have been lying in wait there in the cleaning chemicals aisle for me, or just someone like me. I haven’t asked her because we don’t often speak. We are too busy. Too worn. I don’t think Leeza will live much longer.
The Bug Man was too occupied with his Little Ones to come after me. What did he care? Even if I had run away, who would have believed me?
“It’s too late,” Leeza said. She didn’t sneer at me, or look angry. Her face was composed, and her eyes, bright and febrile, offered me pity. If she had glanced down at my belly or touched me, I might have screamed. Even in my panic, I knew she was right.
I had a friend who used to say that you can’t rape the willing. I made the choice to follow my lover and sacrifice my old life. I try to be philosophical about it.
After Leeza gave me honeyed tea and calmed me down that night, she helped me into a comfortable set of clothes she brought from her own large collection in her room. Our lover isn’t stingy. He tells me often how much he appreciates me, how he appreciates my sacrifice. He is anxious for the children we will have together. I’ve learned not to snap at him when he calls the Little Ones children.
My belly hasn’t swelled, but I can feel my own Little Ones growing inside me. Leeza has told me how it will be: the tiny eggs sacs fighting their way out of my body as though it were a battle for life and death, how a few are born with minuscule fangs and try to bite their way out. I think of my children by Robert, who were expelled from my womb without a fight and straight into the capable hands of a clinic-trained midwife. My children who are not helpless. They have Robert.
I watch Leeza when we are together during the day, the Little Ones clinging to her chest and neck. They make pleasing noises when they aren’t fighting to be the one who is allowed to rest in the hollow of her collarbone.
“What would they do without me?” she says.
At night the Bug Man separates us, giving us each a chaste kiss before closing us in our well-furnished rooms. He takes the Little Ones downstairs, alone, unless he wants one of us along to watch the Little Ones feed.
If one of us is not wanted, we lie in our separate beds in our separate rooms, waiting.
If we’re lonesome, we tap on the wall to each another.
“Are you there?”
“Yes, I am here.”