The spiders died that night.
I saw them in my dreams – a tangle of black spreading across the hills, punctuated by jointed legs, flexing slowly in the heat. I found them in the bath tub, legs given way under the weight of their bodies. I moved to turn the tap on, rid myself of this nightmare, but as my hand touched the metal a spasm of pain shot through my arm. They seemed to disintegrate in front of me, a child’s scribble done in reverse as layer after layer of the messy black lines were removed.
My eyes flickered open to the alarm clock shining 04:48 in angular red numerals. I moved quietly across the hallway and touched open the door to Robbie’s room. Emily – my sister, younger by five years – was asleep on the sofa under an old duvet with the door half open and I stepped lightly to avoid disturbing her.
I sat on his bed. It was stripped, bare, the mattress stained in one corner. I remembered how, as the illness had taken hold, he would wake up terrified of the spiders that, he said, streamed into the house through every gap; under the doors, through the vent in the bathroom. I would check, gently sooth him. Sometimes there was one there, a single creature looking – at least I imagined – rather bewildered by all the commotion. Robbie would scream and cry as I would coax it gently onto an electricity bill and shake it onto the path below.
As things got worse, he spent more and more nights at the hospital. Most times I stayed, getting what little sleep I could in a fold up bed beside him. Others – like tonight – I let his father stay with him while I headed home for the sleep I knew would never eventuate.
I sat there in Robbie’s room for more than half an hour before the loud ringing of the phone destroyed the silence. My son died that autumn night, with the branches brushing against the windows and the creaking call of a tui sounding in the background. But so did the spiders.