He had a large swell on his inner right thigh and didn’t know what from. It for sure was not an allergic reaction to lactose. No. Those were more immediate, more sudden: by now he’d probably have had trouble breathing due to neck inflammation and vomit, not to mention hives. Plus, it’d been a while since last he ate out. Perhaps it was an ingrown hair, but then he’d had ingrown hairs before and none had ever been this annoying, none this painful. The swelling, the redness, it was awful. Near unbearable. It hurt to sit, hurt to walk and when it didn’t hurt it itched. He sat in his boxers at the edge of the bed and thought and inspected the bump. Pulled a magnifying glass out from a box beneath his bed and held it up against his thigh.
It was a bite; had to be. He could see the epicenter of pain, a black and blue and purple boil. Not a blackhead, a boil, and surrounded it a red ocean of irritation and venom. Also, and just below the surface, at the center of the bulge of flesh, the magnifying glass reflected two pockmarks left behind undoubtedly by fangs, or pinchers. In fact, perhaps he remembered now. Two days ago. Yes. It was Wednesday. Wednesday must have been the day it happened. The day he was bitten.
He remembered Great Aunt Dorothy had been bitten. Her husband, Hank, and the taxidermy collection: she and Hank, together they collected critters. Captured them with nets and specialized tweezers – sometimes Hank even used his bare hands. They sedated the bugs in jars padded with alcohol drenched cotton balls – kill jars Hank called them - then pinned the carcasses to canvas board, the kind used in jewelry stores. Mother said sometimes when they pushed the pin through the thorax the specimen would kick and squirm.
He remembered also, and in some detail, Great Uncle Hank and Dorothy’s collection. Strange. Strange, but impressive; whole boards of praying mantis, hundred different species of moth, stinkbugs and beetles, katydids, dragonflies, and of course butterflies. Also, and here in lays the irony, below each specimen was documented genus, class, species, location found and the date, boring information. But then mother pointed him towards the arachnid board, and in between several species of tarantula and wolf spider he saw them, two L. Hesperus, two black widows, one male and one female. The larger of the two, the female, had been pinned with its abdomen facing out and written in the ‘location found’ space below was the phrase, “traipsing around the cellar entrance.”
He examined his thigh; poked at the boil, felt boulders steady tumbling down, end over end inside his chest. His breathing increased. Panic. This was not due to lactose intolerance. His Great Aunt Dorothy had been bitten, and by a widow. That same night she returned from the cellar, climbed into bed, fell asleep and never woke up. That’s the night she died, the night she was bitten. And what did the doctors say: they said Dorothy died of complications, of heart failure. That’s all; nothing about a spider bite. Traces of venom were found, but nothing lethal.
What day was it? Friday? Maybe he should see a doctor. He didn’t want to. In fact, he dreaded the thought. It’d been a long time since he’d seen a doctor and two days since Wednesday. What if they found something else, another ingredient he was allergic to? Maybe the hive was cancerous. It hurt to walk. Whatever it was it got him good. He was limping. He remembered it like yesterday, not the actual feeling of the bite, but just before. He was on-site downtown, on his hands and knees, crawling through a dusty warehouse, warehouse hadn’t been used in twenty years, taking measurements of various sized rooms; some larger than a car dealership, others as cramped and dingy as an abandoned outhouse. It was while measuring one of the smaller rooms he felt the cobweb brush against his face. It tickled his cheek and then fell down off his chin. And though he quickly wiped the web clear with both hands, it had to have been then that the creature, the widow, whatever it was had landed, clung to his shirt and crept along, calmly, carefully finding its way beneath his shorts to the patch of skin where it bit him, where it sunk its fangs and injected the venom.
He reached for the phone, picked it up and dialed the doctor’s office. “I think I have a spider bite,” he told the receptionist as he carefully massaged and inspected the inflamed red area on his thigh.
The appointment was scheduled for the next day. It would be a full physical examination. Not what he’d hoped for at all; he’d wanted it to be an in-out visit, a yes-no visit. Had pictured the doctor saying yes, it was a spider bite or no, it was not, then issuing a prescription and wishing him a good day, but no; such was not the case. He was due for a check up. There would be constriction; questions asked, stethoscopes and heartbeats recorded, undressing, turning and coughing, squeezing, urination and pinpricks, and none of that in any particular order. The horror of it all, his thinking about the boil and ensuing check up, he took with him to bed. It was not a restful sleep.
Heat. Heat and flames gathered around the bed, tall flames of heat and all of them dancing wickedly like so many witches, flickering, the walls of his apartment engulfed. He glanced left towards the door and moved to escape, but just as, fire burst through the bed sheets and wrapped around his leg, shriveling the skin, every inch of skin from his waste down seared. He tried to scream, but couldn’t. Then there was a F*L*A*S*H and next he found himself lying horizontal in a doctor’s office of some sort, an ER. A tunnel of bright fluorescent light and the heads of doctors huddled around, all wearing respiration masks, all mumbling something. He could barely make out what.
"Pigskin." It’s the only way, the only way,” A voice said. “As close as he’ll get,” he knew they meant the skin on his legs. “Same pigment, similar feel.”
The doctors cut and arranged pieces of pigskin on his lower torso, then stitched them together. He couldn’t see, but felt them dipping into his torso with needle and thread and then suddenly his vision grew blear and he found himself crawling around on dusty cement inside some garage, looking for something. What was he looking for? There were cobwebs draped across the corners of a long wooden bench. There was movement on the cobwebs. He peered closely at the cobwebs and saw what it was was moving: spiders, minute brown spiders, hundreds of them, and then a light shined down from what was the ceiling and a mention of nerves or lack-there-of sounded and suddenly he lost feeling in both legs. It was a horrible sensation, the loss of feeling in both legs, like suffocating. He couldn’t breathe. Help! He screamed. Help!
He woke in a gasp of air. Pools of sweat covered his fore head. A nightmare. The boil ached beneath the covers; so much it pulsated to the beat of his heart. Set on top an adjacent nightstand, the alarm clock’s orange digits read 8:00. His appointment was set for 8:30 so he’d need to hurry. Leaving be his beige pajama bottoms he pulled on a tee shirt and gulped down a glass of soymilk, then grabbed his heavy wool over coat and left. The door slammed shut behind him.
It was a small, empty waiting room, torturously neat and clean, as if nothing ever went wrong, no patients ever admitted. Suspicious. The smell of medical practice lingered; reminded him of injury, disease, kill jars, cotton balls, alcohol, Great Aunt Dorothy, and Uncle Hank. Nervous, he remained standing and picked from an immaculate tabletop spread of magazines the first rag he saw, Glamour, and leafed through it. Everyone cast was smiling. Had they any clue what he was going through? Fed up he tossed the magazine down onto the waiting room table and took to pacing. Back and forth, back and forth,
“Dr. Litz will be with you in a moment sir.” Said the receptionist, “Sir?”
He heard her, but paid no attention.
“Sir? Sir you’re bleeding.”
A reddish-brown, strawberry shaped blotch showed through the side of his pajama bottoms near around where the boil was located.
“I need to see a doctor.”
“Calm down sir, the doctor will be with you shortly.” From her seat behind the counter the receptionist offered him a band-aid and gauze sanitizer. “Put this on,” She said.
He accepted the band-aid and gauze, sat down on the edge of the red leather sofa, and rolled up the right pant leg of his PJ’s. What he saw did not look good, a squirt of blood and puss bubbling forth from the infection, and so but surprisingly, instead of using the first aide products the receptionist had given him to clean the sore he pinched the ruptured boil together with both thumbs. The pinching increased the flow of the tawny blood and puss mixture, a release of pressure which he found relieving, a little scary, but relieving. Never had he seen this much puss before and forcing the snot colored liquid from the wound was fun somehow, like popping a king-hell zit. He pushed harder. The stream of pus oozed, never ending, he, the only patient in the waiting room, except for the smiling faces of the people on the cover of Glamour. Somewhere down the hall an infant cried and then there came a light wrap on the door and the doctor entered. Disrupted, he glanced forward but kept his hands lodged in between his thighs.
“Well,” said Doctor Litz. They were in a back room now. He had his pants off and was sitting on top the examination bed; his legs lay across the butcher paper. Doctor Litz was inspecting his thigh. “It’s not an allergic reaction. No vomiting or neck inflammation, correct? Nothing abnormal or noticeably different about your breathing?”
He shook his head. The doctor dabbed a cotton ball across the open face of the sore, a burning sensation, then tossed the swab into the wastebasket and picked up a clipboard, jotting down notes as he spoke.
“It looks as if what we have here is a congealment of ingrown hairs, puss indicating infection.” The doctor was still writing as he stated this. “I’m going to issue you a prescription of penicillin, sixteen capsules, seven point five milligrams each. How are you dealing with the pain?”
An ingrown hair: that’s it, but he’d had ingrown hairs before. They weren’t this painful. “Mean you aren’t gonna run a blood test?” He asked.
“No. Not necessary. The swelling should subside in a couple days and then, once the penicillin kicks in, everything’ll heal up right quick, bout a week. How are you dealing with the pain?” The doctor repeated.
“It kills actually, sure it’s not something else? A spider bite maybe?”
“I’ll write you a prescription of Vicodin. I don’t think it’s a bite, and even if it is the penicillin should take care of the infection, Ok?”
“Alright, now please if you could remove your shirt so I can record your heart rate and blood pressure.”
The room fell silent. He removed his shirt, crinkling the butcher paper. The smell of death continued. Next, Doctor Litz positioned the stethoscope's feelers on his chest.
Just then a movement at the edge of his peripheral vision, something scurried along the wall towards the corner of the room. He spun his head without warning.
“What?” Asked the doctor.
He didn’t respond, whatever it was hid behind the wastebasket, or maybe, no. He turned back to face the doctor, said it was nothing, thought he’d heard something. Doctor Litz gave a blank stare then repositioned the feelers. The rest of the examination continued without interruption. Afterwards he went home and sat at the end of his bed with his right pant leg rolled up. He removed the bandage the doctor had given him, tossed it on the floor and took out the magnifying glass. Puss nestled down in amongst the pockmarks and dried to a crust. There was nothing more he could do.