Berck had just started up an episode of Mad About You, sitting down on the couch with his plate, when he tried to shout something through a full mouth and over Paul Reiser. He was unsuccessful. He jumped up with his plate and backed away from the couch and attempted communicating again. I couldn’t tell what he was saying. He pointed to where he had been sitting. “My what?” I demanded, as Berck, now standing in the hallway, put another forkful of food into his mouth. He gesticulated with his fork even more forcefully at the couch and the remote, which was now out of his reach. I still couldn’t hear what he was saying over the TV volume. “Your department!” he managed to get out between bites. “What?” “There!” “What’s there!?”

Berck swallowed.


Now that I knew what I was looking for, I saw it, hanging from a silk from the ceiling, right where Berck’s plate had just been, its impossibly shiny black skin, save for a golden hourglass, wrapping a fat abdomen near to bursting with poison. It was casually letting itself down. I knew I had seconds before it hit the floor and then headed in who knows what direction.

I grabbed a map off my desk and turned to capture the beast. By now it has alighted on the table in front of the couch, next to the remote. Spiders are my department because I have a strict no-kill policy with spiders. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, and spiders capture and eat mosquitoes and flies and Miller moths. But dealing with this particular spider was going to have to take extra care because she was a black widow (did you know black widows can have yellow hour glasses or even two unconnected triangles?)

I carefully held one end of the folded map and edged the other end toward the widow. She tentatively stepped from the table onto the map. When a majority of her eight legs had made their way onto the map, I pulled the map away and started heading for the door. Perhaps she would find a place to hide outside in the near 0° temperature before she froze to death.

I had just rounded the couch toward the door, when the spider was suddenly yanked by an unseen force off of the folded map. She didn’t fall, and she didn’t jump. Simply, one moment she was on the paper I was holding and the next she wasn’t.

Now it was time to panic.

I ran upstairs. I tore off my flannel shirt. Then I glanced at the cuffs of my trousers and decided they had to go too. I grabbed the vacuum out of the broom closet and headed back downstairs in my undies.

“Where did it go?” asked Berck.

“I don’t know.”

“Is it on you?”

This was a non-zero possibility. I ripped off my T-shirt, socks, and panties. I examined my now naked skin, finally convinced I was spider-free. Then I took the vacuum’s plug and ducked around Berck, who was still eating in the hallway and also unhelpfully standing between me and the nearest available outlet. Then I removed the wand from the base and, without bothering with any attachments, turned the machine on.

Now brandishing my very loud weapon, entering battle as naked as a Pict, I approached my foe. The opportunity for amnesty was over. It was kill or take a trip to the emergency room. My scorched-earth plan was to vacuum every inch of the couch and work my way outwards, throughout the whole room, if necessary. Vacuuming, it turns out, is also my department.

But then I spotted her, right where I had previously found her, this time heading up her strand, apparently deciding to nope out of the area and head back to the ceiling. I struck hard and fast, lunging forward, stopping the tip of the vacuum’s stalk right next to her. Then, just as she had disappeared in a flash off of my map, she vanished into the bowels of the vacuum cleaner.

Our vacuum is one of those bag-less types with a canister you can empty into the trash. I imagined her patent-leather body exploring the maze of hoses and compartments inside the vacuum. I switched the machine off, opened the door, and walked outside, still wearing nothing, into the below-freezing weather.

In the morning, confident that an arachnid could not move in single digit temperatures, I opened the vacuum cleaner and emptied the canister into a trash bag. I didn’t see any spider parts, but I didn’t dig through the debris looking for any either. The trash bag was tied up air-tight and taken to the street for the garbage collector coming that day.

The vacuum cleaner is still standing outside on the porch, and now it’s snowing. But the vacuum can never come back inside.


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