It must have been around Wednesday or Thursday afternoon of this week, as I was wallowing in the silence of an empty flat, when out of the corner of my eye I became aware of the presence of a relatively small house spider – at least, it was small relative to the size of the picture frames which share the wall space. There have been occasions where I have been in the company of people who shriek or cry “ick!” at the mere sighting of a spider, but I found myself welcoming this eight-legged intruder into my abode, as I haven’t had many guests since I moved in, and certainly no wildlife visitors. Besides, this creepy crawly had clambered all the way into the corner of my ceiling, which is so high that it seemed easier to befriend the creature than convince it to leave with the handle of a mop.
At infrequent intervals I would glance up over my left shoulder, looking to see if my new arachnid acquaintance was still there. I wondered what it found so fascinating about that particular corner, although it is positioned directly above the Sonos speaker and is probably also my favourite corner in the entire flat. It showed no interest in moving from its location, not even to spin a web or stretch any of its legs, and it was as though the spider knew that I was in need of company.
I had been off work for the week – not through having any particular plans, rather as a means of using time – and after a couple of days I was finding myself at a loss. I hadn’t experienced any kind of interaction with another person since Monday afternoon, when the formerly red-haired barmaid commented on the rolled up sleeves of my checked shirt and how the tattoos on my arms made me appear more normal than when I walk into the bar wearing a three-piece suit.
By my second or third morning without social interaction I had taken to attempting conversation with my houseplants. I would ask the roses on the mantelpiece if they thought it likely to rain in the afternoon, while the succulent was invited to comment on my intention to make a peppercorn sauce to accompany that night’s dinner. Of course, the houseplants did not respond to my efforts to initiate conversation because they can’t talk and, in any case, I suspect they may be dead.
On an afternoon I thought that I might try to relax and unwind by burning some incense and listening to a collection of Miles Davis tracks. For a time it was working, and in my mind I had been transported into a tastefully decorated cocktail bar where a four-piece jazz band were playing unobtrusively in the corner and I was surrounded by suave and sophisticated drinkers, many of whom were elegant ladies. My foot tapped along to the music in concert and some of the troubles were beginning to ease from my mind. I held my drink to my mouth and took a sip. It tasted like dirt, and I remembered that I was in my living room drinking the Java Sumatra coffee I had bought earlier from Lidl.
Typically music is the one medium that is almost certain to act like a forklift in a whisky distillery and raise my spirits. I recall from my youth spent listening to the radio that the sounds of R.E.M. always seemed upbeat and jaunty with songs like Shiny Happy People, Imitation of Life and The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight sticking in my mind, and it was this memory which led me to seek out the band’s 1991 album Out of Time, which I had never played. By the time I reached track eight – Half a World Away – I was feeling overwhelmed by the unrelenting misery of the record. My internal monologue began to debate whether the songs were making me feel sad or if they only had the sound of despair because that was the emotion I was approaching them with. I never found the answer to that question, although the line “This lonely world is wasted/Pathetic eyes high alive/Blind to the tide that turns the sea/This storm it came up strong” seemed telling. I still haven’t heard the last three tracks from Out of Time.
I visited Aulay’s Bar on Thursday night for a contemplative pint or four of beer when the Atletico Madrid versus Arsenal Europa League game happened to be on in the background. A couple of Londoners arrived at the bar on the half-time whistle, moments after Madrid had scored what turned out to be the only goal of the game, and they seemed convinced that this had happened as a consequence of them appearing, as though to suggest that Arsenal would perform better if these two particular men never saw a minute of their games. Upon ordering their drinks I overheard them discuss past European disappointments and they would reel off dates and the names of places in the way people remember when and where they were when a relationship ended: Valencia, 1980, a caravan in Pontefract.
Often rumination is abetted by the sensation provided by whisky, and I was in a pensive predicament. I ordered a Jameson and upon taking my first mouthful exhaled in the manner of a sigh, though deliberate on this occasion. The feeling created by performing this act is comparable to how I imagine a hug on the inside of the body would feel. For those few moments it is a beautiful warm and lingering embrace. This is in contrast, I found myself thinking around nine hours later, to the way many measures of whisky can leave the body feeling as though it has been through a sustained physical assault.
The following evening I returned wearing my favourite suit, mostly out of a sense of duty to maintain my image as the man who wears a suit to the pub on a Friday night, but also because I was feeling the need for the ego boost which is usually given by the sound of a young woman squealing at the sight of a matching navy pocket square, tie and socks. Later in the night an older woman wearing an Oban Lorne RFC sweatshirt asked if she could sniff my neck, though this act didn’t offer the same massaging of my masculinity when the woman in question emitted an odour which suggested that she had been wearing the sweatshirt for a fortnight and had undertaken every physical exertion imaginable whilst doing so.
When I was accompanied back to my flat by two female friends I had learned from my previous mistake and ensured that the fridge was stocked with a selection of mixers. My ability to enjoy a Jack Daniels and coke was hindered, however, by my decision as a considerate host to offer to open a tube of original Pringles and the subsequent scattering of crumbs across the oak flooring. I was becoming increasingly restless as I watched the potato chips fall and I came to terms with the realisation that bachelorhood has turned me into a neat freak. When I eventually made it to bed at around 5.57am it was only after a quick crawl around the living room with a dustpan and brush.
By the end of the week the spider was no longer sitting in its corner. I glanced around the edges of the ceiling and it was nowhere to be seen. Gradually I decided that it must have left my flat, and it seemed to me that this kind of slow realisation is similar to when you are caught behind an elderly couple as you try to navigate a narrow pathway; sometimes you just have to wait for it to happen. Although the spider had not been in my life for terribly long and we didn’t often talk it felt as though we had formed a bond, perhaps even became best friends. I wasn’t sure I was ready for it to leave just yet.