The Spider and the Fly

by Scott Bradfield

Nobody in the garden understood why a spider would be friends with a fly (let alone vice-versa) but such unexamined prejudices mattered little to either Sam Raimi or his roommate, Oliver Wendell Holmes. Like most good partnerships (marital, financial, or even athletic), Sam and Oliver had met as exuberant children playing in a bulb of dew after a rain-storm, and they maintained that joyful familiarity well into adulthood. They learned to anticipate one another’s needs before they needed them. They shared the same tastes in snack foods, and complementary visions of life in the Garden (bountiful, for the most part, but replete with secret ironies). And while they mutually believed in getting up early, working hard, and giving the Garden the best they had, they also enjoyed coming home to the idle pleasures of their shared duplex apartment in Bougainvillea Gardens, located at the busy, popular intersection of Rosewood and Vine. There, in their modestly furnished home, they drank the latest micro-brews featured at Stop & Shop, laughed about old times, and made plans for lazy, indulgent holidays–which they took together on the first Monday of each month. They watched live sporting events on their wall-screen television, played cards, and streamed the latest popular shows on Netflix–mostly romantic-comedies (on nights when Sam chose) or bonehead action-flicks (on nights when Oliver did). And most of their time together was enlivened by a friendly, half-aggressive banter about their various incompatibilities–a form of verbal roughhousing which was probably the greatest of the many pleasures they took from each other’s company.

“Ye gods, not another Steel Beetle blow-em up flick! Is this the part where he swings off the rooftop while shooting baddies in every direction with a howitzer? It is, it is! I thought it was stupid the first time I saw it and it looks twice as stupid now!”

Or, from the other side of the sofa: “Oh Hermione, my love! My name is Dirk Appendix and I live next door but you hate me because I urinated on your follicles! But you will learn to love me, Hermione! Especially after we get thrown into uncomfortable work-related situations at the aphid-milking plant, and your best friend gets engaged to my sister!”

And like most randy young dudes enjoying their first months away from home, they especially enjoyed teasing one another about their love lives (or lack thereof). Usually after a few cold brewskies, or after toking some Wild Banana Space Dust from Sam’s green plastic bong.

“You fall in love too easily, you big fat bulbous pushover!”

“You’ll procreate with anything that buzzes!”

“I saw the way you looked at Mildred during the Garden Fest. Why don’t you go build her a web, you big dripping green monstrosity of love!”

“Shaddup, Mister! Or I’ll rip off your legs, wrap you in silk, and bite off your head!”

And so on. Until they got drunk and fell asleep at opposite ends of the sofa. They were young, happy and unprepared for anything more responsible than bachelor days in bachelor digs. They just wanted to enjoy these carefree days as long as possible.


But as often happens in such relationships, everything changed as soon as an unattached female entered the picture. Her name was Conchita Rivera Constantia Chernobyl, and she came from one of the Garden’s roughest neighborhoods–a wild patch of weeds and forgotten blackberry vines behind the toolshed, thickly populated by lustfully intermarrying bluebottles, fruit flies and mosquitos. She was vivacious, voluptuous, beautiful, lusty, and imbued with a shameless intelligence that questioned the veracity of every authority–domestic, political, cultural, and religious. “You learn things the hard way growing up behind the toolshed, boys,” she told them over pints of pale ale and plates of complimentary tostadas at the Screen Door Lounge, where they often met during the establishment’s popular Happy Hour. “And the first thing you learn is that all our problems were dumped on us by the same society that blames us for creating them. For example, the boss-man treats us like crap, and then accuses us of being surly. They give us exhausting jobs without benefits or decent hours–such as cleaning up petro-chemical spills, or scrubbing toilets–and then condemn our failure to succeed at them, or pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. They hoodwink us into taking out gimmicky mortgages and predatory loans, and imprison us when we can’t pay the vig. As a result, we learn to distrust the institutional forces that run our Garden even while those same forces learn to fear our growing numbers. They try to tame us into submission with stupid television programs filled with bullshit and false promises, and when we look for alternative forms of information, they call it ‘fake news.’ It’s what you call a lose-lose situation. Which is why I’m organizing the Girls March for Conveniences this Sunday, and hope you’ll both be there. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find a decent girl’s bathroom in this Garden? Well, that’s the first thing we’re hoping to remedy pretty darn quick. You guys can pee in any open space, but if one of us girls does it, everybody looks at us weird.”

Sam and Oliver each developed affections for Conchita appropriate to their species. For Sam, it was a desire to purchase monogrammed towels and matching dinette furniture, not to mention taking a long passionate honeymoon at the Rooftop Lunar Hideaway. Oliver, on the other hand, wanted to surprise Conchita with a mind-paralyzing jab to the thorax, dismember her limb from limb, and feast on each fragrant morsel while the pulse of life drained down his throat and, for the pièce de résistance, bite off her head.

For the first time in their friendship, Sam and Oliver each harbored a secret fantasy that had to be withheld from the other. And that secret was their relative hungers to possess the lovely Conchita Rivera Constantia Chernobyl.


“I’ve always been partial to bad boys,” Conchita confessed to her girl-friends around the water-cooler at Shit Box, Ltd., corporate headquarters for a series of fast-food restaurants that had successfully expanded into the Garden’s furthest regions. “And whenever he thinks I’m not watching, Oliver gets that bad-boy glint in his eye. I might be bending over to pick up my keys, or to sink the 8-ball on a carom off the far corner, and I know how tasty I look in my hip-hugger jeans and low-cut silk blouse. He wears that tight little leather jacket that gives me thoughts I can’t explain, like I want to serve myself up to him on a smorgasbord and sharpen all the carving knives myself. But while my naughtiest fantasies are about Oliver, every night I go home and dream about Sam. I dream about us buying a cute little fixer-upper out behind the Back Screen Door, or lying in bed on lazy Sunday afternoons with a bottle of chill Chardonnay. With Oliver, it’s the gleam of malice in his eyes when he looks at me; with Sam, it’s the gentle quality of his attention. We’ve only been hanging out for a few days, but I find it difficult choosing one boy over the other; and now I realize I’ve got to. If I don’t choose either I might lose both. I’m afraid the whole Jules et Jim thing just doesn’t work out here in the real world–and that’s coming from a girl who loves New Wave French cinema as much as anybody.”

The girls around the water cooler (being as they were the girls around the water cooler) responded every-which-way when it came to giving advice: Don’t be too eager. Don’t be too shy.  Don’t be afraid of having it all. Don’t wish for too much. The only thing that matters is producing a multitude of babies. The only thing that matters is selecting the right career or vocation. Yak yak yak and then some, Conchita thought. It’s what flies do. They yak.

Later, in the bathroom, when Conchita was evacuating all the Red Berry Pizzazz she had just imbibed, Elaine whispered from the neighboring stall between grunts of either relief or congestion: “You’ll know what to do when the moment’s right. Dear god. I just meant. Oh oh oh. Our brains make us think. Ahhhh. What we should do. But in the end our bodies. Blap-blap-blap. Tell our minds what we must. Ohh, that’s better. My stomach’s been churning like a garbage disposal all night. It musta been that week-old pizza in the gutter. I’m telling you, girl. This is my last Happy Hour at the Screen Door. Next time let’s cook at home.”


When Oliver answered the front door, he was in the midst of spinning his Nightly Structure on the back veranda, and a long silky thread hung from his bulbous bottom like a neglected strip of toilet paper. With a quick snip of gnarly teeth, he tore himself free and shook composure back into his numerous loose shoulders.

Then he opened the door wide and did what any self-respecting spider would do to any self-respecting fly.

He invited her in.

“Oh, hi. Conchita. It’s you. Sam got called for the late shift and was planning to drop by the Catbox later to tell you personally since we don’t have your number. I mean, here–” he adroitly cleared paper plates and pizza boxes from the table, several empty beer cans from the floor, and adjusted a solitary crooked painting on the wall. (When it came to tidying a bachelor pad, eight hands came in, well, handy.) “But don’t be shy. Why don’t you come inside and wait? I’ve still got a little work to do, and there’s some unopened Christmas brandy in the larder. When Sam gets home, we can order Mexican.”

Perhaps it was just Conchita’s imagination, but Oliver was giving her the sort of smoldering look that spiders gave flies in the dark romantic paperback novels that Conchita had grown up reading as a young, effervescent larvae underneath the bed covers. Rage of Thunders. Hidden Realms of Desire. The Road to Passion’s Porch. Esmeralda, Gypsy Moth of the Night.

It was the “come hither” look that could only mean one thing to a girl fly: surrender.

“Oh, Oliver, that’s so sweet. But I don’t know… I mean, maybe I should come back later…,” she said, even though she already knew what she had to do. Her heart just hadn’t finished telling her mouth.

In fact, she had known it since the moment Oliver opened the door.


When Sam came home woozy from two pints of Ol’ Sourdale with the boys and saw what Oliver had done to Conchita, he felt his heart lift and dive, as if he were soaring and plummeting through all seven stages of death simultaneously–bargaining, shock, denial, acceptance, shock, and what were the other ones? Repulsion? Rage? Nausea? Then, after hyperventilating himself into a state of numbness, he sat down on the living room sofa, opened the bottle of Christmas brandy waiting on the coffee table, and didn’t say anything for a long time.

“We should talk,” Oliver said, appearing outside the veranda’s picture window, his face spattered with green blood. He was breathing heavily–a reaction to either some recent physical exertion, or the emotional pressure coming at him from Sam.

Sam just looked at the baleful flat black screen of the wall-mounted television. He found the TV remote clasped loosely in his right forepaw, as if it had been miraculously inserted between his fingers by invisible spiritual forces.

“Let’s not,” Sam replied.


Unlike her more popular older sister, Conchita, Elena Verdugo Jasmine Chernobyl had never done anything her parents told her to do, or lived inside any of their proscribed boundaries (“Don’t eat siblings; stay away from screen doors; wash your hands after eating,” etc.) As a result, she turned out to be a lot happier and more decisive than anybody else in her family; she was certainly the only one who graduated Elementary School and gone on to complete a two-week graduate course in Flyswatter Avoidance. From an early age, she was more intrigued by the females of her species than by the males, and alienated her entire family by moving into a rooftop apartment with her tango instructor from Garden Community College, Sophie Winesap.

And from the moment she unpacked her boxes at Rover-Drover Singles Apartments, she knew she had found a messy, uncomplicated existence that didn’t remotely resemble her former life. None of the drapes matched the carpets; the carpets didn’t match the furniture; and the individual pieces of furniture didn’t match each other. Instead, everything seemed to have been hastily gathered together from the world’s largest end-of-term garage sale. Everywhere she turned she found clumsy bookshelves packed with broken-spined books, unframed seascapes and still-lifes thumbtacked to the sun-stained, bubbly wallpaper, and various musical instruments lying around that nobody could identify let alone play. “I just like the idea of music, dig?” Sophie explained over a candle-lit supper and too many bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau. “Learning how to play the damn things requires more attention than I can manage. Now come over here and lie on the couch with your Sophie-doll and let’s keep each other warm. We’ll power up the radio and see what’s playing on the BBC.”

They didn’t do the “nine-to-five thang”–though every Sunday they sold hot banana frittatas and fridge magnets of Sophie’s abstract art at the Bird Bath Market–which always, surprisingly, earned just enough to slide them through to the next week, especially since they didn’t have to pay for things like public transport, health insurance, and utilities. (Sophie’s apartment was an all-expenses-paid public-housing unit inherited from her parents, who had acquired it back when there was such a thing as public housing.) This meant that six days a week they just lay around the house reading cheap paperbacks purchased from thrift stores–paperbacks that filled Elena’s brain with humming concepts and philosophies that seemed to come winging their way into her brain from another Garden entirely.

“Like just today I found this old book of dipteral philosophy called Fly Me to the Moon–or NOT! by this really interesting and probably long-deceased intellectual named Professor Jojo Walters Peabody, who used to teach at Garden University until they threw him out on account of he couldn’t attract enough grant money. The point of the book is that we are all masters of our own genetic identity, which is a pretty radical philosophy–at least compared to what my parents always said. (‘Born a fly, give birth to flies, die a fly!’) According to Prof. Peabody, we are not directed by the whims of our bodies. Instead, we are directed by the whims of the Garden and, beyond that, the universe of other Gardens, which are involved in a vast, unfathomable network of confluences and alliances–so vast and unfathomable, in fact, that we shouldn’t bother trying to figure them out. So what if Dad and Mom tell us to procreate or die trying? Who’s gonna make us? Or the boss tells us to kiss his black furry butt? Let’s quit that job and find another, or live boisterously in the sun until we burn and extinguish. Life is about immediate pleasure, Sophie, and nothing else, and we must make the most of it while we can. Like the pleasure I get holding your hand, or lying with you on the sofa watching Netflix. Or the pleasure I get reading this worn out old paperback by Prof. Jojo Walters Peabody.”

Elena had found a perfectly unorthodox alternative to the endlessly orthodox admonitions of her parents (“Eat shit or die!” “Procreate or die!” “Be afraid or die!”) And yet she had never cut the last familial heart-strings to her younger (by a few milliseconds) sister, the lovely and lusciously orthodox Conchita, whom she met two or three times each day for coffee and a sweet roll.

Until, of course, the day that Conchita–without even sending a message–didn’t show up.

And not sending a message when she was going to be late or absent to a date wasn’t like Conchita at all.


“I haven’t seen her in days,” the Catbox bartender told her when she dropped by on her way home from a brisk, aimless buzz around the sunny rhododendron with Sophie. “And if I had seen her, boy–I’d remember. Your sister has this what? This je ne sais quoi. An, oh, insouciance that I don’t pick up from the usual clientele. Most of whom drink too much, vomit all over the vinyl, and pass out on their barstools.” The bartender’s name was Alex Trebek, and ever since he began using a new vocabulary app on his smart-phone, he had grown increasingly hard to follow.

Even Conchita’s roommates at the All-Girl Transient-Living Co-Op on Raven Wing Boulevard hadn’t seen Conchita since Ladies’ Night at the Samba Club–which, to their way of thinking, wasn’t much of a surprise. “Our girls are constantly going missing,” explained the House Mother, Anatolia Fonseca, a lumbrous whale of a fly in a padded blue house-coat and ersatz-fur slippers, her hair in pink curlers, her expression twisted into perversions of beauty by the faintly-scarring surgical alterations of Dr. Gilhoolie, Credit Cosmetic Surgeon. (“Give us a five buck down-payment and we’ll give you a world of romance!”) “They get married, pregnant, eaten by frogs. They come and go with the wind, boy, and I don’t mind, since I get to keep their deposits. Life is a very uncertain proposition for a fly–especially an attractive female fly like your sister. Wasn’t it your daddy who got caught behind the screen door when you were little and then, just when he escaped and started singing his cocky songs of freedom, flew straight into that fly strip, where he could be heard yowling for mercy until he died a few days later? Death is inevitable, hon, and inevitably painful. I just hope that, before she succumbed, your high-living sister found herself a fat barrel of succulent garbage before she was devoured by something bigger and hungrier than she was. That’s the only way I want to die, hon. After eating my fill just before someone eats their fill of me. Now, sorry, I’ve got to go clean the upstairs studio. I’ve got an open house at ten.”

Eventually, one rumor led to another, and Elena found herself at the dusty, bound-and-yellowing newspaper-strewn doorstep of Sam and Oliver, gazing up at their ceramic wind-chimes and enjoying the pleasant synesthesia of climate-stroked melodies. What kind of boys hang wind-chimes on their porch? Elena wondered. Nice boys or naughty boys? Or perhaps a little of both?

Whichever–she was here to find out.


Needless to say, after the sudden demise of Conchita, an atmosphere of cool reproach infiltrated the friendship of Sam and Oliver, like the friend of a friend taking up residence on the living room sofa. They rarely hung out together anymore, or shared six packs. Instead, they remained isolate in their separate bedrooms, drinking and dreaming alone. Often, when Oliver woke late and clambered in through the veranda window from his Nightly Structure, Sam had already left for work; and in the evenings, when Sam returned, he found the living room cluttered with half-devoured, silk-entangled paper plates of deep-fried fly-wings, breaking one of their long established agreements–that all socially-questionable meals be quietly consumed in the privacy of their rooms. Most disconcerting of all, they never went out to local sports bars together, or played poker with the old gang down at the Wheelhouse Inn, or kept up with one another’s families. It was like throwing away a lot of great karma, both Sam and Oliver privately reflected. There had once been so much history between them. And now it was like there had never been any history at all.

“The Garden never meant for spiders to be friends with flies,” Oliver’s mom told him over dinner at her house one night, high in her wind-rippled retirement web in Attic Rafters, the priciest senior living facility in the entire Quadrant. “And I don’t mean that to be as specist as it sounds. It’s just that there will always be those who eat and those who are eaten. And flies, honey–and I’m not trying to be nasty about Sam, who’s a lovely boy–flies fall heavily into the be-eaten category. It’s just the way the Garden grows.”

When Oliver returned home that evening, he was surprised to find Sam sitting on the living room sofa with a female fly who looked remarkably like Conchita, only she had done something brutal to her hair. Sam had flung one furry fore-arm over her shoulder in a loosely asexual manner. Her multi-faceted eyes were red and bloodshot, as if she had been crying. Sam’s eyes were bleary as well.

“Oh,” Sam said, when Oliver entered. The word sounded steadfast, like a doorstopper. “It’s you.”

Then, after a long moment, Sam added: “This is Conchita’s sister, Elena. And if you don’t mind, we have some private things to discuss.”


After Oliver went outside, he lay in a cold emotionless hump near the veranda window, trying to disregard the concordant voices of Sam and Elena in the living room.

“Where’d he go?”

“Don’t worry. He hangs out there all night. He won’t be back until tomorrow.”

“How can you live with someone like that? Just look at this floor. Is that an eyeball?”

“Yeah, well… It’s complicated.”

“Can I get a glass of water? Just one sight of a spider and my heart’s beating like a hammer.”

“Here. Try a little gin…”

And as Sam foretold, Oliver hung outside alone all night, bathed in the humming moonlight.


Elena never stayed long and usually left early with Sam, while Oliver spent more and more time alone on his Nightly Structure. He and Sam rarely spoke–unless it was to negotiate the month’s rent and utility bills, or who owed whom what in the communal pantry. “Let’s see, like, I bought the vermicelli last month,” Sam might say. “So maybe it’s your turn–what do you say?” Or Oliver might ask Sam to sign a birthday card to his mom, which Sam did perfunctorily–and without the lavish curlicues and winsome, brisk cartoons that had once emblazoned his notes to her. “Have a special day,” he printed mechanically. “Come visit soon.” But whenever Oliver’s mom was scheduled to drop by for coffee, or to deliver some of her home-made banana-bread (which Sam once professed to “loooove”), Sam always managed to be absent. And when Elena wasn’t spending time at his house, Sam was spending time at Elena’s.

“It’s not romantic,” Sam replied stiffly one evening as he was passing by Oliver’s Nightly Structure on the way to his room. “She’s gay. She’s even got a girl-friend. We just get along is all. And her partner, Sophie–we get along, too. We call ourselves ‘The Three Musketeers’ and without any of the irony, you know, most people use when they call themselves ‘The Three Musketeers.’ We just enjoy each other’s company and can’t imagine spending time with anybody but each other.”

It was the longest, most cordial conversation the roommates had enjoyed in weeks.

The next morning, Sam told Oliver he was moving out.

“The girls–” which was how he referred to them now–“have this attic they don’t use, with a big open skylight, so I can come and go as I please. If you don’t mind, I’ll take the hotplate and leave everything else. I know your mom gave it to us, but you never use it, and this way I can prepare meals in my room and not have to order out so much.”

Oliver threw in the electric kettle and a six-pack from the fridge as a “housewarming” present. Then, just as Sam was exiting through the front door with his last pillow-case of possessions, they stood awkwardly in the hall, shrugging their shoulders against the sense of obligation to hug one another, or shake hands, or something.

Finally, awkwardly, Oliver slapped gently at Sam’s thorax with one of his long, angular forearms.

“Don’t let the ol’ meat loaf, buddy!” Oliver said, and was already turning back to his lonely apartment before Sam replied:

“You neither, buddy.”

And that was that.


Afterwards, they only spoke twice. Once, Oliver called to tell Sam he had a check for the return of his rent deposit– (“Thanks,” Sam said briskly, as if he was in the middle of a fire drill– “just slip it under my door sometime or, you know what? Keep it. I’m doing good these days, what with the new promotion and all–”) And a few weeks later, Oliver found a brief message on the answering machine about his mail (“If you see my Stamp Collector’s Digest, could you please forward?”)

But by then Oliver had stopped paying attention to the dregs of Sam’s correspondence. He just dumped the daily influx of slick brochures and coupons into the recycle bin.

One sunny morning at the beginning of spring, Oliver briefly glimpsed Sam with some of his dipteral buddies buzzing through the overhead leaves, splashing puddles of dew at one another. As they bounded off again, one of the unfamiliar flies glanced Oliver’s way, performed a stage-worthy double-take and shouted:

“Nice web you got, spider! And by the way–fuck you!”

Then went hurtling off deeper into the vast and perilous garden.

A few weeks later, Oliver’s mother died. She had grown tired of living alone with failing eyesight, and after a series of sad conversations with a self-dignity specialist at the university, she medicated herself with a bottle of red wine, tied a plastic bag around her head, and suffocated painlessly before dawn. Oliver half expected to see Sam at the funeral, but by the time Gladys’s body was hoisted into the high branches as a ceremonial gift to the omnipresent bluebirds, there was only Oliver and his half-brother, Angelo Dundee, left to share a pitcher of ale and sing the traditional Hymn of Relinquishment–

Spin spin spin away

Spin away to the rain and the wind

which had often brought a tear to Sam’s eye when he heard it sung on television melodramas.

The painful part was that Sam didn’t even send a card. But by that point, Oliver didn’t expect one.


Spring blossomed and faded. More seasons passed.

And Spring, as it usually does, came again.


Late one night, Oliver awoke to the faint squeak and struggle of a young fly down by the southern perimeter, and when he ambled over in his bathrobe and slippers, he thought he might be dreaming–for the struggling fly looked and smelled exactly like his old roommate, Sam Raimi.

At which point the morning’s breakfast stopped struggling and said: “Wow. Like, I know you. You’re my dad’s ex-roommate. You’re Oliver, right?”

It felt like slipping through a fault in reality, Oliver thought. Like he had dropped through the aging fabric of the now into the sturdier fabric of the never-quite-had-been.

“You look just like him,” Oliver said slowly, as if the realization was an organic material emerging from his body. “Wow, Sam the fly. I haven’t thought about that guy in ages. How’s he doing, anyway?”

Sam Jr. tried to shrug, but as he was bound tightly by silken chords, it resembled more of a flinch.

“You know dad, he’s, well, dad. He suffered a serious lawnmower attack back in February and lost most of his limbs. Now he sleeps under a scrap of old newspaper down by the koi pond. But what do I know? He never calls or writes. It’s not because he doesn’t love me or anything. It’s probably just ‘cause he’s so ashamed of how he looks.”

The smell of Sam Jr. aroused conflicting sensations in Oliver’s brain and mouth. On the one hand, he felt the standard burst of saliva from all of his orifices, as if he was turning inside out. And then something sweet and furtive teased the edges of his perceptual fold, as if he was watching himself from far away. The light in Sam Jr.’s wide, multiple-eyeballs sparked and faded, like a candle flame taken by a snuffer.

The ball was in Oliver’s court, as the old saying went. But then, just as he opened his mouth to reply, Sam Jr. looked up and said: “Don’t mind me, Oliver. I get it, I really do. You’re a spider and I’m a fly and that’s the way we’re made. There’s no point in trying to change things. We live our lives the way our bodies make us live them and not the other way around. There’s no ‘me’ in here. There’s no ‘you’ out there. There’s just the illusion of ourselves we foster in order to ignore the miserable awareness that we’ll never be more than the bodies that shape us. So go ahead, Oliver. Do what spiders do: eat me. And I’ll do what flies do: get eaten. But before you start, let me say that I already forgive you. All I ask is make it quick. Look, I’m closing my eyes. I’m closing my eyes and I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. I only hope that you’re ready, too.”

It was a sweetness that arrived in the back of Oliver’s mind and his mouth at the same time, and he didn’t know which he should respond to–the taste of the mouth in his mind or the taste of the mind in his mouth. He reached out slowly, with one long angular furry forearm, and plucked the circumflex of silk and furry thorax as if it were the string of a cosmic lute. The note it produced was tiny, crystalline, eternal and prescient, like light striking a wind chime on the icy moon.

“Hmmm,” Oliver said slowly in a voice that felt both eerie and familiar, as if he were speaking to himself from a long time ago. “You being you and me being me… Let’s think about that for a moment… and let’s see what we shall see…”