Mark Putzi

My Sister and the Brown Recluse

She spent the day in the emergency room, then in surgery. Two ounces of her left leg were removed, and to this day the divot shows along her calf. It had appeared brown and streaked blue upward, the mark on her leg and then her leg went numb. The surgeon said had the blue reached her heart she would have died.

I began with the most proximal to my imaginary sleeping sister, the bedding. Each layer was carefully peeled away, shaken over white construction paper, removed from the bedroom and washed. The mattress was dislodged, wiped with a moist washcloth, my primary tool for determining the culprit’s location, if in the furniture. I deposited the mattress outside in a space carefully laid out in the dining room. I followed it shortly with the box spring, the bed frame, and a small wooden chair which had occupied a space behind the door, all methodically cleaned.

The surgeon said, “You have to find the spider. It will bite her again, and this will have to be done all over again if you don’t.” My mother asked what we were looking for, and he showed her an illustration he’d pulled from the hospital library. He said, “It’s about the size of a dime. It should be somewhere in her bedroom.”

“How can we?” my mother asked.

“I think I know how,” I said, “If it’s in the room, I’ll find it.”

A Venn diagram didn’t narrow down anything. The big circle (the bedroom) contained basically a dot. Then I looked outside the circle. I hoped the dot didn’t belong there. My simple plan was to meticulously confirm everything non-spider and remove it from the room until only spider remained. The walls and ceiling deemed webless, the objects on the dresser passed inspection, were boxed, removed. The contents of each drawer, the drawers themselves, and then the dresser’s frame sanitized in and out, pored over deeply into angles and crevices. The drapes and window shade, and the window itself shoved open, reviewed, washed, manipulated shut again after jamming halfway closed. Bit by bit the room emptied of spiderless paraphernalia like the last splash of curdled milk dripping from a tilted pitcher.

The closet remained. It contained perhaps one hundred to one hundred-fifty objects: clothing, hangers, boxes of various things stored and forgotten. I left the closet door open. Access to the room for a creature the size of a dime wasn’t restricted by an age warped door. I considered the door seal, realized I couldn’t simultaneously monitor its entire perimeter at once. I thought, “He knows I’m coming for him. But he’ll hide. He won’t run for it.” Like a single deadly fish in a small pond, I slowly deprived him of water, of escape: The Operation Game, The Game of Life, Monopoly, other board games we’d purchased but never played on the shelf above. Eliminating every object from spiderhouse contention, I burned through potential safehouses: Shoes, an old medicine kit, three umbrellas with a stand, my father’s hatbox lined with velvet and inside the beaver hat he’d never worn. I folded the brim in and out, ran my fingers through the band. On the floor, I found a box of Christmas ornaments wrapped in newspaper.  What seemed hours later, there remained only a small stack of textbooks in a single corner, and underneath…!

“I think it’s right, Mom” I said, “it was brown and only one of them. A recluse.”

I continued afterward until nothing at all remained, combing the walls themselves, finally the ceiling. I thought if the spider had a mate, I’d eliminate, but she did not exist. It was a week before Mom let my sister sleep in the bedroom again. My sister complained the couch wasn’t comfortable, gave her a stiff neck, until Mom acquiesced. We had three or four nervous nights waiting. No bruises, no blue lines tracing veins.  But at last my sister slept easy.

Mark Putzi received an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin — Milwaukee in 1990. He has published fiction and poetry in numerous small press online and print venues including most recently In Parentheses with the short story “It’s Rush Hour.” He lives in Milwaukee and works as a retail pharmacist.