The spider arrived a week after Daniel left.
Small, with tiny barb-like hairs peppering its body. Light brown, speckled black.
Kristiana knew. It resonated deep, like a new bone implanted between her ribs, or maybe one taken and molded into something else. Undeniable. The spider was Daniel’s, somehow came from him. Came from her.
The first time she saw it, she was frightened. Kris never liked spiders, thought nothing should have so many legs. But this one seemed gentle. Curious.
It scuttled back and forth beside her sink, eight beady eyes trained on her, glinting in the dim yellow light of her apartment.
She approached. Her fingers trembled. The spider lifted a single leg to rest against the supple flesh of her pointer finger. A whisper of touch.
Kris would normally locate something sturdy and crush the bug. But this night, she thought of Daniel, of his reaction if he found out she killed it. This was her ticket back to him. She trapped it beneath a glass and slid an unopened credit card offer beneath, lifting the spider to the window. It skittered into the cool, turned back to her, and went on its way.
Nearly a week elapsed before Kristiana encountered another spider. She thought it must be a different spider altogether; it was larger than the one she’d released.
But much like before, it teetered back and forth on the worn countertop, eyes volcanic black and locked on her. Longing. Kris laughed and felt an odd wave of affection. She mimicked the spider’s innocent zig zag. A novel instinct purred through her, the desire to nurture. But she had no idea how to care for a spider.
Again, she carefully captured the creature. It seemed to allow this, remembered her care in its previous release. Kris sighed as it parachuted down through the air, at first hanging by a gossamer thread, and then melting away into darkness.
She began thinking about her spider at work. Mindlessly scanning groceries, eyes glazed over. She wondered what it would be like to have eight of them, eyes and legs, how fast she could bag for the customers, how much of the world she would see.
Kristiana was not an observant person. It was Daniel’s perpetual criticism, how she seemed to ignore their sign for the exit on the highway, how she missed even the most blatant social cues. How she could never understand what he truly wanted from her, and by the time she figured it out, it was too late.
Not her fault, but too late all the same.
She’d only seen the spider twice and already she felt a warmth that had been missing from Daniel, from his touch, for a very long time.
One night she returned to her dusty apartment and was met by an even larger spider. It had returned, and it had doubled in size, big as her palm.
She was overcome by the urge to call Daniel.
“Has it visited you, too?” she’d ask. “It’s half yours, after all. Don’t you see? It’s the eyes. The hair is the same color as yours, the curls on your head, the tuft over your sternum. It has my legs: spindly, never quite smooth. You see it, don’t you?”
Its eyes were large enough for Kristiana to see herself distorted in the gleaming darkness. It came back. She’d wanted it to.
She reached for the phone. This spider was what Daniel wanted, everything she could never give him. Something to call theirs. Something she finally noticed.
She dialed his cell, hands twitching, the spider studying her. It rang twice and went to voicemail. Daniel might never be ready to talk.
Kris found a clear bowl and set it down over the spider. It complied when she slid a Thai takeout menu beneath wiry legs.
And then it was gone again and she wished nothing more for the spider to turn and leap back through the window. But she couldn’t protect it. She would only end up hurting it—her, she decided—and she couldn’t accept something so precious into her life only to see it ruined.
She woke the next morning to an unusual weight on her chest. Kristiana cracked open her eyes and came face to face with an enormous tarantula. She lay still, the spider rising and falling with her breath.
Kris looked into the spider’s eyes and saw Daniel so obviously reflected. Though the shape of her made Kris shiver, there was also beauty. She carried both of them in her body. Proof they had once been in love. All the parts of them combined and multiplied, limbs and eyes and love to the second power.
The spider crawled into her palm, legs hanging off the sides of her hand. A blessing against her flesh.
Kris swung her legs out of bed and brought her to the window. She clung to Kris’ hand and shivered with the cool breeze. Kris prodded her back and coaxed her onto the ledge, then closed the window with a remorseful sweep. For a moment the spider rested her front legs against the glass, then turned and was gone.
Kristiana crawled into bed and pulled her legs to her chest, her two legs, and she cried.
“I’m not coming back.” Daniel’s voice was a bone saw on her fragile eardrums.
“Please,” she begged, “I can’t do this without you.”
“Kris, we both saw those tests results. Whatever this is, it isn’t mine, and it definitely isn’t yours. You’re losing it.”
When Kris saw the spider once more she had grown again, a glorious, furry arachnid with a body the size of a kitten. She sat in the middle of Kris’ living room, bathed in dusk gloom.
Kristiana sniffled and set down her keys. She withdrew the sharpest knife from her drawer and made an incision, a lurid smile across her abdomen. She lay down in a pool of her own blood. Her spider crawled near.
Nathan King is a recent graduate of Sarah Lawrence College’s MFA program. Their short fiction has appeared in LEVEE. Find them on Twitter @nathan___king (3 underscores!).