A Hallucination of Spiders

I am terrible at dialogue. Just awful. So I thought I’d tried to write a short story using nothing but.

——–

“Have you tried not being insane?”
“That might be funnier if you weren’t my goddamn shrink.”
“I never said I wasn’t terrible.”
“One presumes, though.”
“One supposes. Tell me.”

“It started out with this giant bag of organic onions. Home-grown and tended by my step-mother’s brother. Lovingly and carefully raised. And she’s giving me approximately 17 pounds of them.”

“Seventeen is a very specific number.”

“Whatever, it’s a guess. She’s giving me an inordinately large poundage of onions.”

“Alright.”

“There is no possible way for me to eat all of these amazing onions before they go bad, right? But I try. I put onions in everything, regardless of whether they’re called for or even complimentary. Every savory dish – onions. Most sweet ones, too. Apple sauce is surprisingly tasty with caramelized onions, by the way. Fucking onions. Onions. I eat them raw, roasted, sauteed.”

“Do you even like onions?”

“They’re ok. They’re ‘fine.’. I like them most of the time.”

“Interesting.”

“Sure. One of the things about onions is if you’re sauteeing them and let your attention wander at the wrong time for just the merest moment, they will turn on you and burn.”

“‘Turn on you?’ That’s a very interesting thing for a vegetable to do.”

“You have no appreciation for words. For a turn of phrase.”

“Oh, to the contrary; words are everything to a person in my profession. What you may think is a casual turn of phrase is actually a bay window into your psyche. For someone with the proper training.”

“So not for you, is what you’re saying.”

“So the onions burn.”

“So they do.”

“And then what happens?”

“Unmitigated chaos. I catch that first, sharp tang of onions starting to burn and reach for the pan handle to take them off the heat, only there isn’t any handle. It’s a frying pan with no handle, so I can’t simply pick it up – I either have to let them burn, or burn myself.”

“Fascinating! Those were the two options you thought of, nothing else, like ‘bump the pan off the burner?’”

“Nope. Burn or let them burn.”

“So very interesting.”

“My God, you are so bad at this. Undeterred by your grotesque lack of training, I plow onward.”

“Amused by your self-narration, I listen.”

“I roll my eyes dramatically. There are no potholders within reach, and the bloody onions are burning, starting to show black around the edges. As gingerly as I can, using my fingernails as much as possible, I lift the pan, searing my tender fingertips as I carefully drop the pan onto a cold burner.”

“Do you normally have pot-holders by the stove?”

“Yes.”

“Go on.”

“They’re ruined. They have passed the point of ‘caramelized’ and moved on to ‘bitter and burned.’ I have to start everything over.”

“Why was burning your own fingers your choice over letting the onions burn?”

“They’re organic. Home-grown. Beautiful, sweet, and enormous. They were a gift.”

“Aha.”

“It’s a waste to burn them. A waste of food, a waste of Harold’s labors. A waste of Marcia’s time and effort bringing them to me. I’ll heal – the onions are just… gone. Ruined.”

“Keep going, I’m taking notes.”

“I run my fingers under cold water to soothe the burns. They’re not too bad, more nuisance than anything.’

“Especially for someone who types for a living?”

“Yes.”

“Good, good. Go on.”

“Burns tended to, I turn back to the pan, which now of course has a handle, now that it’s cooled and not needed. I reach for the handle, and the burned onions turn into millions of tiny black spiders, swarming up out of the butter, over the pan’s edge, along the handle.”

“Oh my, really.”

“They’re so small, I can’t see individual creatures – just one massive, undulating flow, one united organism.”

“‘United….’”

“They’re of one mind, they’re all up to the same thing.”

“Which is…”

“Getting on me.”

“Afraid of spiders?”

“Extremely. Like a schoolgirl.”

“What is the schoolgirl wearing?”

“Oh, ugh. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Wrong line of questioning – would you at least please try.”

“Fine. Sum it up for me.”

“The spiders flow up my arm, inside and outside of my sleeve, up my neck, over my chin, and up my face. Then they… scurry… inside my mouth, my nose, my eyes. My ears. They’re inside me and everywhere. All I can see, hear, smell, is spiders. Unified spiders. Have you ever smelled spiders?”

“That sounds horrific. Also like a 1980’s horror movie.”

“It was. I have goosebumps just thinking about it.”

“What happened after they got inside your head?”

“Interesting phrase for a shrink.”

“Work with me.”

“Nothing. There was a moment of abject panic, and then everything was suddenly calm. Time passed over me like a gentle current, leaving me completely grounded inside it – time passed over me. I wasn’t a part of time.”

“And?”

“A few minutes later, the current became more insistent, tugging at me, and finally lifting me back up into the normal chronological paradigm. I looked at the stove, and the ruined onions in the pan were gone. Poof. Their unsliced brethren were in the colander on the counter, but they were sprouting extremely vigorous, lush plants from the bulbs.”

“Really! Onion plants?”

“I have no idea. Plants. Big leafy plants, so probably not onions. They looked tropical. I looked at my hands – no burns. And then I woke up.”

“How did you feel when you woke up?”

“I still had the surge of adrenaline from the spiders in the pit of my stomach, but other than that… fine?”

“But you brought it up here today.”

“Evidently.”

“Do you want me to tell you what I think?”

“A good shrink would let me figure it out myself, but I like shortcuts.”

“Your step-mother brought you entirely too many onions for a person living alone to consume before they went bad. She’d probably gotten even more from her brother, and realized she couldn’t possibly eat them herself, so she passed some along to you. It was a gift, but also an out for her, to mitigate some guilt. She knew you’d eat them, or ‘die trying.’”

“Interesting.”

“Ha, that’s my line. Now listen, seriously. You did your best to eat all the onions before they went bad, even to the extent of putting them into weird things like applesauce.”

“That was tasty, though. Well, at least in the dream. It was like… vanilla mint. Things you normally wouldn’t put together, that turn out to be good, or at least interesting.”

“Fine, my point is, you were terrified of the onions going to waste. When you went to rescue them after your attention wandered, a safe means of taking them off the heat was not present – no handle, no pot holders. You had to either hurt yourself or save the onions. You chose to save the precious onions.”

“Like I said, my fingers would heal – the onions wouldn’t.”

“But you had more onions – you still had Way Too Many onions. You could have easily done it over, and with unburned fingers.”

“I reckon so.”

“In my professional opinion, you feel like people hand you their burdens and expect you to deal with them, even when that process puts you at risk. They know you’re going to do everything in your power to help. And so you do. Even though it is inconvenient or painful.”

“And the spiders? The time thing?”

“Oh, I have no idea about that. It took everything I had to sum up just the onion part.”

“Which actually isn’t a bad theory, by the way.”

“Why, thank you. High praise from someone so averse to this process.”

“Listen. You try State-mandated therapy for a few months and see how you like it. Compounded by the fact that the facility’s only shrink is an alcoholic with a degree from an online college.”

“Fully-accredited online college.”

“It doesn’t matter. You’re a lousy therapist, I’m a lousy patient, and we’re pretty inextricably enmeshed for the next 8 months. With some luck, we’ll both make it out alive.”

“You want to talk about that?”

“No.”

“Fair enough. She can wait until Thursday.”

“I don’t want to talk about my wife.”

“I know. But you will.”

“I very much doubt that is the case.”

“You’re not going to have much choice, once everything sinks in. Those emotions are going to need a place to go, and I’m that place.”

“You don’t want these emotions. Trust me.”

“And I believe you. But you, as a human being, cannot walk away from that and simply carry on as if it didn’t happen. You’re going to need me sometime.”

“Be that as it may, our time is up.”

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