Back to Fiction - Ethel Rohan


Over Dinner by Ethel Rohan



She spotted the Daddy-longlegs in the bathtub and screamed, brought her husband humming. She’d screamed and he’d come humming? He cupped the spider in his small hands and regarded her with disdain. “They’re not exactly a threat.”


He’d just come back from filling the car and smelled of gasoline with splotches on his leather shoes. She returned his “really” look.


“Don’t kill it,” she said, and struggled to open the window. They watched the spider fall out of his hands, down, down, down into their back garden. She closed her eyes.


Later, as her husband entered the kitchen, she put an extra-strong mint onto her tongue. She’d promised she’d beat cigarettes this time, but had only managed to hold off for three days. He reached around her and grabbed a meatball straight from the pan.


She tensed, waiting for him to smell smoke, nicotine. He tossed the hot meatball into his mouth.


“That’ll hurt,” she said.


He fanned his mouth and sounded wounded, spat the mess of meatball into his hand. She turned away.


During dinner, he acted preoccupied again, stared at the wall behind her, his eyes vacant.

He started to hum “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” She searched his face for malice: He seemed unaware of his tune, of his humming. When she’d suggested marriage counseling before, he’d spouted paranoid arguments, “purring psychologists, mistaken inspections, tampering predators.”


She scanned the sun-yellow walls. Of late she felt as let down by this house as by him, their supposed dream home of almost a year in a marriage of almost five years. All had lost its glow.

She chewed the minced meat and tasted something earthy, imagined that Daddy-longlegs in her throat, clawing at her epiglottis, at anything to hold on to, and burning in her stomach acid.

Her husband pawed at more bread, marinara sauce smeared on his chin. His features loomed large, as though she were studying him through binoculars. A prickling fear set her trembling. She blinked, tried to steady her growing jitters.  He broke another meatball between his teeth. She pushed her plate away.


He pulled a handkerchief from his trouser pocket and blew his nose hard.

She jumped to her feet and thrust her face close to his, demanded to know just what he wanted, because it certainly wasn’t this house or marriage or her.

He said he “wouldn’t tolerate hysterics.” The fight was “unnecessary.”


“That’s exactly how you make me feel,” she said. She tasted spiders, felt them scrape her throat, rain in her stomach.


His face turned the color of bone.