It was in the stairwell coming back from lunch that Bethany found the spider. Well, her head found an outlier strand of the web. The spider, incensed at the slight, vibrated like a plucked guitar string.
“Oh!” Bethany said from shock. Then, “sorry!” because she was startled again.
The spider gleamed in the middle of the web. As Bethany craned her head to look closer, she realized the spider’s abdomen was covered in mirror-bright patches. She’d never seen a spider like that, not ever.
She brushed against the web again. The spider scuttled into a corner.
Bethany walked in the office door. “There’s—”
“Thank God. Here.” Bob shoved a stack of proofs in her hand. Bethany instantly forgot the spider.
She remembered when she heard Aja shriek and topple over a stack of bygone magazines.
Devon beat her to the scene of the crime. Aja had her back pressed to the wall of the copy room, one hand extended in bony accusation. The subject of her ire reclined at a slight angle on the wall.
Bethany and Devon bent close.
The small fence lizard gave them an apathetic glare before closing its eyes and settling itself.
“This what you’re afraid of?” Devon asked. “This li’l guy?”
“It’s a freaking lizard!” Aja’s polychrome leggings flexed like the warning display of a cuttlefish as she scooted away. “It’s not supposed to be inside. Doesn’t it belong in a zoo?”
Devon and Bethany exchanged a look.
“I’ll get it,” he volunteered, trying to cup his hands around the little reptile. The lizard sensed his hands and scooted down the wall so rapidly it appeared not to move at all.
Bethany dumped her Starbucks cup out and handed it to Devon. Through some careful coordination, they got the lizard under the cup and a sheet of bristol board under the lizard.
Aja’s nose wrinkled. “Kill it.”
Devon rolled his eyes and left for the stairwell. Bethany followed, dragging her feet.
Devon did not kill the lizard. Rather, he shook the cup over the ornamental hedges at their building’s entrance. The lizard held on for one moment to its invisible prison and then disappeared into the bark covering the ground.
Devon straightened, shaking his head. “Belongs in a zoo.”
Bethany smiled faintly. She felt unmoored this afternoon, like something had been confided in her and she hadn’t fully understood at the time. She stood, just absorbing the minutiae of their surroundings. The ticking of the crosswalk indicator. The multilayered sound of people walking past. The bright glare of their building.
“I don’t like what living in the city does to people,” Devon said. He wasn’t looking up at the building. He was looking down where he had last seen the lizard.
Bethany felt she had to respond. “I don’t like what it does to animals.”
As if awaiting some comical cue, a bird thumped into the glass facade of their building. Both of them started, Devon shouting a hearty “fuck” and laughing. Bethany did not laugh.
“See? That bird probably never would have flown into anything. Then we stuck glass windows right in its way—”
Devon was shaking his head again. “No, see, I believe in survival of the fittest. Adapt or die. The bird that flew into it might not ever live to reproduce. But the bird smart enough to detect glass will live to mate another day.”
This seemed to her a gross oversimplification. But the nagging feeling came back and she looked up at the building again.
“I found a spider in the stairwell,” she said, grasping for what exactly she was trying to say, “it was shiny. Like a mirror.”
Devon looked at her oddly.
“You think I’m mistaken.”
Devon shook his head again. “No, I’ve seen spiders like that. They exist. But I thought they were only in the Amazon.” He absently flicked the rim of the empty cup. “They use it as some kind of invisibility cloak. Makes hunting easier.”
When Bethany went to show him the corner of the stairwell, some enterprising hand had swept the web away. The spider was nowhere to be found.
Devon gave her shoulder a squeeze and went back to proofing.
Bethany hovered on the edge of activity. The entire office was working on the next issue, pawing over glossy mock-ups, sorting through photographs. She couldn’t bring herself to join.
It was like a sound that hovered at a frequency no one else could hear. Like a faint smell. Like a touch that brushed almost-but-not-quite against her skin.
Bob sat at his desk. Mesoamerican art references littered the space as he drew chunky geometric swirls on the paper.
“I saw a spider today,” she said softly, not expecting him to respond.
To her shock, Bob looked up. His pen ceased. “In the stairs? Yeah, I got it. No need for another Aja alarm.”
Bethany felt a little excitement. “You saw it too?”
“Hmm?” Bob’s attention was buried again. He was looking at a smeared photocopy of a picture of a stirrup vessel. “No. I got the web.”
Bethany felt oddly disappointed. Why was it so important that someone else saw the spider? It had something to do with the feeling she couldn’t quite place.
Aja shrieked again when she found a dead bird. This was not the bird that had hit the building earlier. This one was a sparrow. However it had gotten into the building, the body was now swaddled with cobwebs.
Bob frowned down at it. He stooped and grabbed it barehanded, over Aja’s protesting squeak, and lobbed it out the window.
“Back to work, all of you,” he said, shaking his hand as if to dislodge bacteria that way.
Bethany disobeyed. She stayed behind as Bob washed his hands at the breakroom sink.
“Think I’ll get some exterminators in here,” Bob said offhandedly, “sorry if it seems cruel.”
The phrase that leapt to Bethany’s mind was not cruel. It was too little, too late.
“Sir,” she said, “the spiders—”
Bob was shaking his hand again, aiming it at her like a fleshy tamborine. “I’ll take care of it, Bethy. Can you get me Todd’s snaps from the fountain square shoot?”
Defeated, Bethany nodded.
She saw the spider again, this time in the hallway just before the stairs. It gleamed in its new web like a fallen star.
Bethany looked up at it, an odd sort of reverence filling her.
Aja clattered up, her wedge heels slapping the linoleum as if it had offended her. “Not again!”
In the space of a blink, Aja swept her designer bag up and obliterated the spider. Bethany felt a sense of steep loss coupled with annoyance.
“Thanks,” she said flatly.
Aja did not appear to detect the sarcasm.
The office diverged at the sidewalk. The photographers were going straight home after a long day of travel. The purely office drones were going to drink. Bethany, neither one nor the other, remained indecisive on the sidewalk.
Bob saw her waiting and brushed her shoulder with his hand. “It’s okay.”
She wasn’t sure if he was referring to the spider, or the deep feeling of unease that had permeated the air. She could see the restlessness spread to her fellow workers, saw them check watches, fuss with their hair, look around frequently. However unnerved they were, though, it did not stop them from congregating on the sidewalk while she lagged behind in the safety of the building’s entrance.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I just don’t know.”
Bob nodded as if he understood it. “You’ll survive.”
Bob left her standing in the entrance and joined the others on the sidewalk. Bethany stood with her wordless questions, her unease and her loss, apart from all the others.
So she was the only one who noticed when a massive section of the building broke away and crept with a silent eight-legged gait down to her coworkers.