Every night my friend Mordy and I would study together. We talked mostly, but it was valuable time. Sometimes we’d go for walks in the college right next to Yeshiva. One night, on one such walk, we found a small little nook on the campus that had escaped our attention throughout the whole year. There was a small archway with ivy draped over it like an oppressive shawl. Beyond the archway was a small clock tower, obnoxiously ordinary and completely out of place. About thirty feet high, square in diameter, made of red bricks with a plaque attached announcing its (in)significance. The face of the clock itself was bronze and ugly. I don’t even think it worked. Mordy and I sat by a stone bench that was attached at the base of the tower.
The sunlight faded its last and the only light we had came from a dim yellow bulb in a lantern-like fixture that flickered gently when insects flew around it. And then I noticed a spider’s web in the lantern’s shape, illuminated by the bulb just above. It was a symmetrical web, perfectly set, but sections were torn.
The web’s maker was busy repairing the patches, and Mordy and I stood on the bench and watched it work. It looked to be a solid spider, with medium length legs and a strong body. We noticed how it deftly drew silk from its body and handled the fiber with its many legs. Flies and small bugs flew around the light, unaware that they would meet their death here.
And then one got caught! It struggled briefly in the web, and the spider suddenly moved with a speed I hadn’t thought possible. It held down the fly with its two front legs, and attacked it with its mouth, then wrapped it in silk like a to-go order. Mordy and I watched, fascinated, making all the right ooh and ahh noises such a spectacle deserved. And then the spider ate the fly. The spider’s jaw expanded to fit the meal, and when it closed the fly was gone. It was amazing. Afterwards, the spider repaired the web where the fly had been stuck. Now the patches were explained. Another fly got caught, and soon another.
“Prime real estate,” Mordy murmured.
“He’s probably really lonely up here though,” I said. “Nobody to talk to.”
“We don’t even know it’s a he.”
Soon the spider grew quiet and unmoving. I was bored, and cruel. I blew at the spider, gently in the beginning, then with a little more gusto. For the first few drafts the spider clung upside down with resilience. Then it fell. I was instantly remorseful. I didn’t think any actual harm had come to the spider, but how could I put it back? How could I carry it to its web above and restore the magic to the scene I had witnessed?
“Uh, Ari, it’s dying.”
And to my horror, it was. The spider had landed on the stone bench four feet below its home. Its body was clearly broken. A few legs were twitching, the others weren’t moving. I felt terrible. The spider had been raking in flies. It had a beautiful web and a bright future under the lantern. And here it lay dying.
“I have to… put it out of its misery.” Mordy nodded.
I didn’t want to step on it. I felt some sort of respect for this spider whose life I had ruined, and death by a shoe seemed grossly disrespectful. There was a long and sturdy length of vine on the ground and I grabbed it. It was bare of leaves, thin and strong and twisted.
“That’s not really going to do it,” said Mordy.
But I swung it like a whip anyway, aiming at the spider on the bench. My aim was true. The spider was dead, chopped clean in half. I deemed the manner of death appropriately cool, and bid the spider to rest in peace. I spent a moment reflecting on how I came as an outsider to this beautiful unknown world of the spider, and destroyed it. It was humbling.
Then Mordy heard something and asked if I heard it too. I hadn’t. But it did distract me from the spider.
“It’s coming from that tree.” And then I heard it. A strange warble, maybe from a wounded bird, or a bat.
“Do bats make noises like that?”
“I don’t know. Could be.” Mordy was moving around the tower, investigating the source of the sound. I saw a dark shape take flight and Mordy pointed, “There!” We followed where we thought it had flown until the strange sound confirmed it.
We spent five more minutes searching the tree, listening for the strange sound until we realized that it was late. We headed back to school, back to fluorescent hallways and loud conversations and normal life.