The Sex Lives of the Spiders
by Nick Mancuso
The first time I realized people my age were having sex, you know, not like just pretending or talking about it or whatever, reciting what they’d seen online, was at the end of eleventh grade. Tyler, my friend, said he’d done it. He told me, twisted around in plastic chair in junior year Spanish, the classroom dark but for the flickering projector, a window open and a June breeze, cutting in.
“You didn’t,” I said.
“Swear to God I did,” he says. I didn’t believe it. Even with Tyler being the closest friend I had then, he was full of shit; he was scrawny, little, like I’d been all but a few months before.
“There’s no way.”
“We were making out and then I asked if she wanted to go further and she actually said yeah, which is the part I don’t still believe.” Somehow then, I believed it. I know he could have just been saying it, pretending, being cool and whatnot, but that frank admission, that sad honesty, the disbelief, made me buy it. Maybe I was really behind the times.
When it would finally happen for me, it would be August of that summer, hot, dry. The kind where the grass is all sunburned, crinkly and brown. My parents were out of town, and I stayed to manage (and enjoy) our pool. That afternoon, bored, I scrolled through my phone, looking for someone around to hang. My thumb stopped on her name, Mackenzie. I pressed her contact and the phone dialed.
An hour later her green Honda turned slowly in the empty driveway. She waited a while before she got out, shutting off her headlights, applying the parking brake; driving was still new for us then. The crickets and frogs in the woods around my house clicked and crackled in the heat.
We were both seventeen then, I know because our birthdays were only a day apart. We’d been friends a long time, she was the valedictorian, always helped me study, proofread my papers. While I had senior year left, she was heading off to Yale; graduated a year early. I’d always thought she liked me, but I never knew if her thoughts went to the same places about me as mine did hers.
Seeing her then, her hair was longer than it had been, dark layers around her face, parted in the middle, and she was deeply tan. She wore a black one-piece bathing suit, something no longer popular, not a bikini, not what I’d have picked, but it clung to her curves and dipped low in the front between her breasts regardless. I caught myself peeking and looked away.
“You got tall,” she admired, and I saw it for the first time in her eyes.
Up at the pool, I borrowed her Scientific American. Flipping, I stopped on a full-page photo of a spider’s maw, sharp fangs, eight eyes, and hairy face. I shuddered slightly. “The Sex Lives of Spiders,” the header bore, and I, intrigued and significantly grossed out curled the cover behind the article and began to read.
Mackenzie floated; her arms and legs spread-eagle in the tube, her toes brushing the surface of the water delicately. Spread like she was, she almost looked arachnid in her black bathing suit, her tan arms and legs draped over the inflated rubber, her movement so staid eventually only the low current of the water pushed her rubber vessel.
“Give me a push?” she asked, leisurely from a few feet away a while later. I put my hand on her foot, her little foot with her toenails painted purple, and thought of the article.
“Some male spiders can hypnotize the females by touching different parts of their anatomy.” I squeezed slightly on her warm appendage and cast her away. “Female spiders usually eat the males once they’ve finished mating, unless the males are too small to be nourishing.”
I wasn’t too small anymore. I stretched out in the water, swam, my legs extended completely, my arms in front of me like superman. Ahead of me, in the deep end, over my head, Mackenzie swirled in her tube and called out.
“Question for you.”
She swam to me and stood beside me in the deep end. Our chins skimmed the surface, our faces mere centimeters apart.
From this angle, her eyelashes dripped, her eyes scanned mine. We were so opposite, I thought. We were so different. She was short and nimble, delicate, fast on her feet, I was tall, lanky, and clumsy.
“Can I try something,” she said softly. “Like, an experiment.” Part of me knew what was coming, part of me knew what she was about to do. I’d seen her looking too.
She put her hand on my cheek, lifted her heels in the water and slowly kissed me.
Eyes closed, I couldn’t feel the difference between the pool and the sky, the water and the sun. I could hear the bugs clicking in the trees around us.
“You sure this is a good idea?” I whispered. She shrugged and took my hand. I followed her up out of the pool.
After mating, some male spiders attempt to impale themselves on the fangs of the female. But what happens if he fails to die? What happens if he’s too scrawny for the female to eat? What happens to his relationship with the female?
In the stagnant air of my bedroom, hot and dusty in the afternoon heat, the little two bladed window fan hummed a white noise into the space. I suddenly realized I wasn’t the one who’d been battling this all day in the heat. She’d given off pheromones, drawn me in, trapped me, and now we were there, standing in my childhood bedroom. Keeping eye contact with me, she reached behind her neck and untied the straps of her black bathing suit and let them fall to her waist.
Nick Mancuso is a writer and essayist from New England. His work has appeared in Gravel Magazine, the Anthropoid Collective, Quail Bell, Spry and the Huffington Post among others. His debut novel, FEVER is under contract to be published in late 2019. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Fairfield University, and presently lives in southern Maine with his wife, and their dog. You can read more of his work by visiting www.nickmancuso.net or follow along on social media at @mancusonr