I’m not sure what Dani did next – I was busy trying to claw my eyes out or something like that – but I don’t think her actions were important. I don’t think she did anything exciting.
When I calmed down, I noticed that she was sitting prettily on the sofa next to me. Her mother, who’d also come out of the little bedroom, sat in a recliner. “Now Dani, what did we say about meetin’ new people?”
“Not to be so excited, Mommy.”
“Now ’pologize to this nice lady.” This ‘Mommy’ person reached to the third glass of tea and took a swig.
My heart was pounding. My head was still spinning from hyperventilation, and I assume I was shaking.
The spider, however, rubbed a couple of its creepy-crawly legs together and tilted its many eyes to the floor. “I’m sorry I ran up on you so fast, Mrs. Rogers. I’m just really excited to go to school. Want to see me do the ABC? I can count everything. I can draw you a horse!”
I stammered, unable to respond. This thing was…speaking? At the time, I hadn’t heard of the chimeras. I didn’t know if she were a monster, an alien, or something else. I just knew that I was scared.
Janie put her sweet tea back down. “That was very good, Dani. Now, Mrs. Rogers – we’re very pleased you’ve come ’round to visit us ’n make sure our Dani’s gonna do good at school. I reckon you know our main worry, by now.”
Janie looked pretty clean cut. She was well-built, and her blonde hair was put up in a neat braid. “How…what is she? How did you get her a social security number?!”
“I’m a spider girl!” Dani said excitedly. “A B C D E F G-”
“Gettin’ the card was easy,” Brett spoke up, drowning out the alphabet song that was ongoing in the background. “I asked my Mexican boss how he got all those illegals in, and he gave me the name of his immigration lawyer. Paid that man and got ’er a social security card in no time.”
I shook off the casual racism in Brett’s statement. “I can’t do this. I can’t allow a giant spider into my classroom. Is she safe? Even if she won’t hurt another student, what are my other kids going to think?” I stood and grabbed my bag. “The other parents aren’t going to stand for this, and I guarantee they’re able to pay to fight your…your pet getting into a classroom with their children!”
The little spider suddenly stopped singing her alphabet, stopping somewhere around Q or R. Her legs skittered around on the sofa. “I’ll be good at making friends. I already got it planned.” Her voice quivered, as if uncertain. “My best friend is going to be nice. We’ll play baseball and soccer together, and we’ll eat lunch at the same table at school. Don’t worry! I have it all planned.”
I sobbed, scared of the creature sitting on the sofa near me. I stumbled to my feet and tried to leave, but my legs were about as stable as jelly. I fell. “This isn’t happening – this isn’t real. It’s a dream, a nightmare!”
While I cried, the spider curled up tight on her sofa and bawled as well. Janie moved over to sit with the scary thing, and she cooed parentally and hugged it tight.
“Why is teacher being mean to me, Mommy?”
“’Cause she don’t know you, sweetie,” Janie answered.
“And she’s a damn Yank,” Brett added. He picked up my tea and swished the glass, showing off how little I’d consumed.
Janie turned Dani’s face back to her. “We told you time and time again that you’re very, very different. We love you, and a lot of people will love you, Dani, but people just don’t like different. ’Member how long it took Mamaw and Papaw to learn to like you? To play hide and go seek?”
The spider nodded.
“When you go to school, it’s going to be like that. Teacher’s prob’ly right – the other kids’ll be real scared of you. And you know why?”
“Because…because I’m special. I’m a spider girl.”
Janie nodded. “But Mommy and Daddy will always love you, no matter what, no matter if teacher never understands.” She turned her gaze to look at me. “You’re gonna let ’er into your class, Mrs. Rogers. We got ’er registered, she’s had every vaccine you could think of and then some, I’m headin’ off to college myself this fall, and she wants to go to school too. I’ll do ever’thin in my power to help make it easier, but you’re gonna do what you’re supposed to. That clear?”
“M-monster!” I waggled my finger at Dani. “That’s not a child!”
“My God, woman, are you blind? Deaf?” Brett asked. He offered me a hand and picked me up from the ground. “If it wasn’t for the fact that we need yeh, I’d kick yer sorry ass out of here. Poor Dani’s been excited ’bout yeh comin’ to visit for near ’bout three weeks, and yeh just roll ’round on our floor, discriminatin’ ’gainst her.”
I breathed heavily, thinking about the confederate flag in their window. I thought about the racist comments I’d already heard Brett say. He thought I was the one being disciminatory? That blatantly racist asshole thought I was the one in the wrong?
Something clicked in my brain. I didn’t know exactly how to handle it at the time, so I handed over the welcome packet and goodie bag to Brett. “Here. I can’t handle this right now. I’ll call you back and reschedule a time to meet. Give me some time to process all this, that’s all.”
Before they had opportunity to protest or say another word, I hugged my purse tight to my chest and ran out of there.