The late summer air was still simmering. It was after seven. I put the charcoal in a pile in the grate and put a match to it in three places and left it to consume itself and turn white hot. That would take forty minutes and in those forty minutes I would make a salad of roasted pumpkin cubes, avocado, rocket, toasted macadamias, chick peas and shards of feta cheese dressed with olive oil and lemon juice; set the outside table; walk inside several times and out again forgetting what I had gone in for; and pour a large balloon glass full of red wine that was almost black and seductive with the fragrance of something you read about in wine columns. Blackberries? American oak? French barriques? I don’t know, but it was nice.
Forty-five minutes later I placed the first item on the grill: a piece of ling swimming in a marinade of soy, ginger, a clove of garlic and a chopped spring onion and wrapped in foil.
We sat and watched the show. It started on time as usual. Two legs stepped out onto the wire that crosses from the house to the pergola. The pergola is covered with a grapevine and the body belonging to the two legs lives in the coolness of the green leaves during the day.
More legs came out and then the body. The legs were dark red and shiny and pointed, like small lacquered Japanese chopsticks, or an old lady’s tortoiseshell knitting needles. The body was large and fat and red. The abdomen was so big it dwarfed the head. You couldn’t see the eyes, but they were there, small and beady and evil. And the fangs.
I don’t know what species it was. There are 35,000 types of spider. I wonder how they know, and why it is such a nice round number. What if they missed one? This was all pointless speculation, of course, but I am merely reporting what I was thinking about while aromas of garlic and ginger drifted from the barbecue and the sky turned the colour of salmon flesh. Speaking of fish, the ling was light and delicious and flaked away beautifully into unctuous soy-infused chunks. Is there a better fish? Just don’t overcook it.
Then she dropped. Suddenly, like a confident abseiler. You wouldn’t think such a stout body could be possessed of such agility. She hang-glided to the ground, anchored her line and picked her way up again. Then she inched along the line and dropped off again. Another anchor point. Then she met the lines halfway and started circling outwards and at last, inwards. Next day I counted 27 radii and 68 spirals. That’s a lot of work but I let her get on with it. The ling was entrée or first course or starter or whatever it’s called these days. Now I was cooking the steaks. It was almost dark. I turned on the light. It hangs underneath the pergola amidst straying vines and has one of those 1950s post-bakelite green open shades. We ate steaks in a pale green glow just as the spider finished her work and settled, upside down, in the middle of her web to wait for business. And pleasure.
I woke early next morning. She was still there at half past six, just before the sun came up. She must have been asleep. She looked even fatter. She was gone an hour later, and the web was a scatter of broken wings and the remains of maybe a hundred bugs and flies and mosquitoes. I went inside and washed up last night’s dishes.