Sunday, March 10th 1968
The boy takes his mother’s hand as she pulls him past the police who have gathered outside the open door. The boy looks into the flat, which is identical to the next one, just like all the others in the tower block. He looks past the policeman’s legs and sees the old man sitting in the worn armchair looking very much like he’s asleep. The boy instinctively knows he’s dead.
‘Come on Freddy,’ his mother says and pulls him to the next door in the block. He goes with her, then creeps back towards the door and looks into the darkened room, peering in at the dead man. The policeman has left his post to walk into the room and stands watching another man in white overalls gently prodding the dead man’s head.
The boy recognises the smell of the room as he steps past the piles of local newspapers and brown envelopes that have gathered on the doormat. The smell is so familiar because it smells like his grandfather’s home. The chair is so like his too. It’s sad, the boy thinks, and comes further into the room and stands behind the policeman and the man in overalls, keeping himself tucked back a little, out of sight.
The man in white overalls takes something from his pocket and prods it at the old man’s purple mouth. The boy sees the instrument glimmer against a beam of light that has pierced the drawn tobacco stained curtains. The man examines the grey face and turns it slowly with a gloved hand, prodding the neck, and concentrating again on the mouth. He is meticulous and delicate as he pries apart the yellowed teeth. The boy opens his own mouth as the dead man’s teeth are removed, leaving a gapping hole in the blue face. All of them, the policeman, the man in overalls and the boy, stare in wonder at the black mouth.
Something moves, some tiny movement in the deep hole in the sunken face. The boy watches as a black stick flicks itself up and across the lips. Another stick reaches up and grasps the crusty mouth and pulls its body up into the light. The boy now sees the creature, the hairy black creature tenderly feeling the mouth around it, maybe afraid it might close at any second. The spider flexes its joints, reaches further out and begins to scuttle the rest of the way onto the dead man’s chin. The spider’s movements are slow and deliberate until it sits perched on the right side of the old man’s corrugated neck. The spider falls, leaving the boy to wonder why it has made the suicidal leap, until the creature’s decent is slowed by a thin glistening web.
The boy walks backwards and feels for the door as his eyes are transfixed on the spider as it scuttles across the carpet and disappears under the skirting board.
I knew an old woman who swallowed a fly, the boy was thinking, remembering a rhyme from school as he ran to find his mother just outside the door.
When he tells his classmates, they laugh and call him names. His younger brother tells him to ignore them, and keeps asking him to tell the story again and again.
Spider Mouth is still available on Amazon.