Writer NIALL GRIFFITHS continues his occasional series of adventures across the continent, with a tale of a tormenting tarantula and landscapes made for lager
Spain is hot. Southern Spain is really hot. And southern Spain in a heatwave is infernal, like living in a deep-fat fryer. The heat squats on the head like a white-hot hat. It saps and shreds. Everything crackles. The sweat pours. All is pant, scorch and sear. Nothing can move. Twenty hours of sleep in a week and the slow throb of your syrup-seeping heart is soundtracked by the pulse of the cicadas. The thirst is mountainous.
The villa had a little pool, surrounded by shadeless, blasted trees. Its water was blood-hot but icy in comparison to the burnt air. And the villa also harboured an insanity of insectile life, a pandemonium of things which skipped on stilted legs, multi-winged things that whispered your name in the nights, living eyebrows that rippled up the blistering walls to be lazily slurped up by the geckoes. And it had tarantulas, too, beasts of rodential dimensions that squatted in corners and stood up if you approached and spread their forelegs like boxers. So big you could see their fangs. So big you could see their eyes. And the villa also had an alcoholic Antipodean, a skinny feller with knees like knots in cotton, given to wearing shorts a size too small and stained with ichors the origins of which you really didn’t want to guess at.
The usual routine was this: up, exhausted, from a sweat-drenched bed. Eat an orange. Slither the 10 seething metres to the pool and flop in. Loll until able to crawl the quarter mile to the bar at the end of the dust track, there to wetly while away the afternoon until coolish dusk. I wasn’t alone in the pool this morning, however; a tarantula lay bundled on the bottom. Bit of an undignified end for him, I thought, so I scooped him up (the weight, like a grapefruit) and surfaced and placed him at the pool’s edge. Submerged myself again. Rose, and there was the Antipodean in his upsetting shorts stumbling across the yard, bottle in hand, being chased by the tarantula which had evidently Lazarused itself with a hunger for Kiwi. ‘Git thes blahdy thing awie from mi,’ he muttered as he ran, and every time he stopped and turned to check on his pursuer the spider would raise its legs and dash at him like that, and off he’d scamper again, muttering, arse-bones tenting the back of his shorts. Whenever he reached the fence he’d kind of spring up with his feet scissoring and the spider would do the same as if in piss-take imitation and then they’d both land and veer off until they reached the other fence, whence the skippity-kick and the renewed pursuit. It was one of the funniest things I’d ever seen. It was Laurel and Hardy; it was somehow Beckettian. It was a wondrous, hysterical summation of human life. I watched the two bizarre beings in their eternal circle and the Benny Hill theme tune was in my head. It would’ve been in yours, too.
Eventually the spider got bored and hid in a hole. The Kiwi chunnered back into the villa. I took myself along the talcum track under the thudding sun to the bar where the landlord kept his glasses in the freezer and the thirst on me was vast. I could’ve drunk the entire Mediterranean, had it been cerveza. I fancied I could smell that sea; I fancied I could hear it, and feel its cool washes on my skin, but in reality I was a cinder, a crisply peeling clinker of a man, skin coming off my forearms in white scrolls. Above the red roof of the bar rose a mountain, huge and grey and ridged like an elephant’s head in repose. Hemingway’s hill? Had he this specific one in mind when he wrote his eponymous story? Maybe he did. Maybe he did.
The more I drank, the more the memory of the Antipodean/arachnid vaudeville took on an odd beauty; as if choreographed, it began to seem, carefully orchestrated, human and spider in physical euphony, aesthetically terpsichorean. The intent of the chase, the little kicking leaps, the turns and spins and the face-to-face confrontations punctuating the circular pursuit. A strange and hilarious beauty. Perhaps if I stayed in this part of Spain long enough I’d be desiccated by the sun down to the size of a mouse and then the tarantula and I could become pals and spend the rest of our days chasing after pissed Kiwis around parched yards. Just for the entertainment. The laughs.
At sundown the bar was invaded by a group on their way to Alicante. The chanting and the flags, the usual dull stuff. I went back to my new eight-legged buddy.