Throw Another Spider on the Barbie "At least they speak English there." These were the departing words of a friend of mine who had lived in Japan for three years. Refusing to even attempt Japanese, she spent her entire time there using the universal language of "point and nod." We were going to Australia. A country known for animals with pouches and Hugh Jackman. As far as speaking English, however, that turned out to be a myth. "You'll like this house," the real estate agent told Dave and I when we arrived for our week-long house hunting trip. "It's American style." From the outside, I couldn't guess what that meant. Was it the red bricks? The attached garage? The big, brick chimney-like structure placed in the middle of the front yard? "What is this?" I asked, walking up to it. If the chimney had fallen off the house, it had landed perfectly intact and right side up. The agent walked me around the back of it and pointed out a small, rectangular, metal flap with a circular hole next to it. "For the mail," she said, demonstrating how the metal flap lifted. "And the paper," she made a motion as if she was rolling up a newspaper into a tube and then pretended to place it in the hole. "The postie will deliver but won't pick anything up," she continued. "I was told that bit throws you yanks. This is a great location, though! Newsagent and milkbar nearby. I'm always at the Pines for a cuppa." Was it the jet lag? Were my ears still clogged? Thanks to her charades, I understood the idea of the mail going in the slot and the paper being rolled up, but postie? Milkbars? Cuppas? "A cuppa?" I repeated. "Oh, I know! I'm dying for one, too! We'll stop at the Pines for morning tea after we tour the house," and she forged ahead up the driveway. A month later, we were flying over the Pacific again to move into our new home. This time, however, I was prepared. I had picked up a tourist book on Australia that included a glossary in the back. "Cuppa" (cup of tea) and "postie" (mailman) had not been the only things that had thrown me on our visit. When we went into the local grocery store, familiar looking produce was labeled with very unfamiliar names. There were rock melons (cantaloupes), capsicum (green peppers), and aubergines (eggplants). Milk came in cartons marked, Physical (skim) and Rev (2%) and Vitamin D (whole). There was Tasty Cheese. Or, if you were feeling like giving your taste buds a real treat, there was Extra Tasty Cheese. Jam was jelly and jelly was Jell-O. Vegemite was a sandwich spread more popular than peanut butter, and if you ordered an iced coffee, you were getting ice cream in it if you didn't speak up. As we exited the plane, jet lagged and bleary eyed, Dave checked his email and sighed, "The house isn't ready yet." "It isn't? How is that possible? We told them we were coming a month ago. How can it not be ready yet?" "It will be ready in two weeks," he read on. "And where are we going to go until then?" I asked. "It's not a problem," he said assuredly. "Not a problem? Maybe not for you. You get to go to a nice office during the day, but what about us?" I pointed down to the stroller I was pushing with the now sleeping two year old who hadn't closed his eyes for the entire twenty-four hours of travel from Michigan to here. "They'll put us in a hotel room with a kitchenette," he said, still reading. A kitchenette? When you decide to take a foreign assignment, it is very possible that people who have never traveled to the country you are moving to--people who may have never traveled outside their suburb--are making lots of decisions on your behalf. That's how you get things like "kitchenettes." For two weeks, we stayed in a hotel room. It was your average hotel room that contained two double beds, a dresser with a television on it, and a bathroom. Then, add a crib and five large suitcases. Finally, where a closet might have been, there was a "kitchenette." The "kitchenette" included a sink, a mini-fridge, a singular stove top coil that could boil a modest pot of water if left on high for two hours, and an electric tea pot. If Australians aren't given accessories for tea preparation, they get whingy (cranky). While the baby napped, there wasn't much I could do in the hotel room. I don't know how it happened, but one day I got sucked into watching a show highlighting all the deadly creatures that live in Australia. I should have changed the channel. I should have shut the television off. But I couldn't. I was mesmerized. Each creature was enhanced graphically and blown up to fill a black background with a glowing green grid. I felt like I was watching the introduction to the original Six Million Dollar Man: "Gentlemen, we can rebuild it. We have the capability to make the world's first bionic spider. Faster, stronger, deadlier." After pointing out the fangs, the venom sacks, and how it can outrun a car and crush it like a tin can, they showed a computerized, animated mash-up battle between the spider and a full-grown ox. To defend itself, the ox tried to gore the all-but invisible spider. The spider, using its matador skills, side-stepped the bull, and then cleverly bit him on his retreating hind quarters. There followed a play-by-play of the agony the ox went through as it succumbed to the poison--organs failing, frothing at the mouth, tongue lolling. That was enough for me. I got up and walked three paces over to the kitchenette to set a pot of water onto the solitary burner. It was, after all, two in the afternoon and the water would need time to boil. Crikey (drat). As promised, the house was ready in two weeks. I met the movers at the house early in the morning and was pleased to find out that cable and internet were already installed. Neville, or Nevs, as he preferred, was the head mover and a giant of a man who ended every sentence with a chuckle. "So, you moved from the States. Oy, mate! How ya going, heh heh!" Nevs boomed at my son, who ran to my leg and squeezed it, cutting off all circulation. "Let me know if you need anything or have any questions," I said, retreating to the family room and dragging my anchored leg along. I set up a Winnie the Pooh video for the eight hundredth time for my son, and logged onto the internet. In the last two weeks, I had become obsessed with the number of poisonous creatures here in this country that I had agreed to live in for two years. Who knew there were so many things in Australia that could kill you? I pulled up a picture of a red back spider on Wikipedia. Nevs peered over my shoulder as I read. "Oy, redbacks," he commented. "Nasty little buggers, heh heh. They'll take you down! Where do you want this, love?” I looked at the box labeled, TOYS. "Just leave it in here. We'll go through it after he's done with his video." I continued to read: Eats small lizards and rodents and their bite has enough venom to kill a child or put an adult in the hospital. "No worries," he chuckled, as he headed back out for another box. "Like most species, only the females are deadly." Gotta love a mover with a sense of humor. So, what you're saying, Nevs, is that if the spider is sitting on my couch drinking a beer with its hand down its pants, I'm safe? "I doubt I'll get close enough to see if it's a boy or a girl," I called out. He returned with a box marked, KITCHEN. "I imagine you've been waiting for one of these." "Oh yes!" I said. "Bring that right in here!" He followed me into the kitchen and set the box down. He glanced again at the laptop that I had set down on the counter. I had moved on to the funnel web spider. As far as I could tell, it was no different than a tarantula: big, hairy, and deadly. I imagined it could win an imaginary mash-up against a bull elephant. “They’ll kill you right fast,” Nevs stated. Wiki didn't seem as concerned as Nevs. It claimed there hadn’t been a reported funnel web death since the anti-venom was developed in 1980. Despite that assurance, I decided to scrap Wiki and go with Nevs on this one. I shut the laptop and headed over to where the new box was placed. Ripping the tape off the top, I began to remove the protective packing. The movers in Michigan had used giant sheets of manilla paper. If I could smooth it out enough, they would make great drawing pages for my two year old. I pulled out some plastic bowls, two reusable ice packs, and some refrigerator magnets. It was not an exciting box after all. After getting halfway through, I noticed two or three of the pieces of packing paper I pulled out were dirty. They appeared to have grease stains on them. "That's odd," I mumbled. I poked through the box more gingerly wondering what could have caused it. When we moved, we were told unequivocally that no food could be brought with us. All my pantry and refrigerator items had to be either given away or thrown away. Maybe one of the movers had been eating a greasy sandwich when he had packed this box. I pulled out two more dirty sheets of paper and reached in for the next item: a piece of brown Tupperware. As soon as I grabbed it, I realized it was full. Full and sealed. I had an immediate flashback. Oh yes, I knew this Tupperware. I had personally filled it and then frozen it quite some time back. I even knew what I had put in it: sour cream pork chops. I stepped back from the box. What could be growing inside that? And who knew what all that jostling had done to it? Maybe it was about to burst! I grabbed a pair of oven mitts that I had just taken out of the box and put them on. I reached into the box to hoist out the container. As if it were a time bomb, I extended my arms and held it out in front of me, walking toward the patio door. "Coming through!" I yelled as Nevs almost ran into me with another box. He stopped to watch me expertly catch the door with my foot and propel it open. I walked to the center of the driveway and carefully set the Tupperware container down. I stood up slowly and backed away, never taking my eyes off the container. Nevs stood in the doorway scratching his head. "Can I help you, miss?" he asked me looking out toward the inert container. "No," I said softly, expecting it to erupt in a geyser of bacteria at any moment. Nevs accepted my answer and went back to the box he had left in the hallway. "What am I going to do with that?" I said to myself. I walked back into the garage to see if there was a bucket I could put over it or maybe a garbage can. Did this house come with garbage cans? "You don't got a dog then, do you?" Nevs was back. "No," I said. "Why?" "Well, you may want to consider it." He pointed at my feet. "You don't want to be out here without shoes. We got tiger snakes in this part of Melbourne. Me friend’s dog went out ahead of the kids into yard one day and was barking like the devil. Turned out to be a snake. The snake bit the dog and died. But the kids were alright, heh heh,” he smiled cheerily. Mental note: purchase a sacrificial family dog. Nevs retreated into the van for another box. I was still standing in the garage when something on the ceiling caught my eye. I looked up and saw a spider. Not just any spider, a BIG spider. BIG. Big enough to register to vote. Big enough to not need a booster seat in a car. BIG. Its legs were as long as my fingers, and it was doing some kind of spider push-ups on the ceiling, as if ready to jump. "Nevs!" I called as I ran. He emerged from the family room. "Is it the thing on the driveway, miss?" he asked politely. "No! It is the thing in the garage! It is the biggest spider I have ever seen!" I beckoned him toward the garage and we made our way. I slowed up within a few feet of the door. "It's out there on the ceiling!" I said, confirming the beast's location. The door from the house to the garage was still open and he walked into the garage while peering upward. "Right in the center," I said, waiting a safe distance away. There was a long pause and then, "Hmm, well, he must gone off," he said simply. Gone off? Where? How? I had just seen it twenty seconds ago. Did it have a car? "If it was as big as you say, it was probably just a huntsman, heh heh, no worries." "No worries?" I repeated. "Yes worries. I have worries. Lots, in fact. That thing was big!" "They don't really bother humans. They eat bugs, sometimes even birds." Birds? Like things that fly? That kind of a bird? I pictured the mash-up involving the ox but this time substituted the huntsman into the picture instead. First, it grabbed the ox by the tail, spun him over its head like a pizza chef. Then it threw him to the ground, placed him in a half nelson, did a pile driver, and then went in for the kill. No, it was not good enough to say he had "gone off." I wanted a forwarding address and preferably, a good lock for the door. At five o'clock, Nevs announced he and the blokes were knackered (he and the men were tired) and would return the next day to finish. I waved goodbye with the shoe I was now carrying around as my current weapon of choice. I walked back into the kitchen and started to try and figure out how I could cook dinner. None of the boxes had yielded any pots or pans, but the house came with a barbie (grill) out back. Perfect. Dave came home shortly after and was carrying the newspaper. It was rolled up into a tube so I guessed he had retrieved it from the lawn chimney. "How was today?" he asked, giving me a kiss. "It was okay. The movers are nice. Things got done. I thought we would use the grill tonight. I still don't have a lot of my kitchen stuff." "That's cool," he said, setting the paper on the kitchen table. "I'll wash up and then I'll get the grill going." "I'll get the chicken ready," I said. As I walked past the kitchen table, from the corner of my eye, something caught my attention. A brown blur leapt from the newspaper and parachuted down off the table. At first I thought it was a mouse, but then I saw it scurrying away on eight legs. “Daaaaaaave!” I screamed and the spider kept running. Dave ran in from the other room in a panic. “What’s wrong?” As he stood in the doorway, time slowed. He saw the spider. The spider saw him. The spider struck a Heisman Trophy pose and barreled toward him. Dave, a sufferer of extreme arachnophobia, turned tail and made a mad dash for the den. I grabbed my shoe. He was not getting away again (the spider, not Dave). I caught up to the spider and slammed down the shoe. Whack! One leg fell off. The spider continued to make a seven-legged bee-line for the door. Whack! Another leg. Slam! Dave was ahead of me and had reached the safety of his den and slammed the door. Click! He locked it? The spider jumped up in a Matrix-like move and, with his six good legs, grabbed the door knob, opened the door, and flew out. "It's gone!" I yelled to the closed door of the den. The door opened a sliver. "Do you want me to grill now?" his lips asked through the crack. "Yes, please." It would have been more appropriate if I had purchased shrimp for him to throw on the barbie. But there were a couple problems with that plan. First of all, Australians call them prawns, not shrimp. And secondly, prawns don't come all cleaned and cocktail ready. They come with all their pieces and parts that they left the sea with still attached. The market area where seafood was sold had heaps of them stacked on one another. Their cold, beady, black eyes gave me lifeless stares. Their long antennae stuck out from their heads and were intertwined with each other. And of course, there were so many legs. "What can I get you, love?" the fishmonger had asked me. "Oh, nothing. I'll probably get some chicken instead." "The chook is down that way," he said pointing out another counter. Right. A little chook (chicken) on the barbie. I'm sure that's just as good. I handed Dave the chicken I had prepared. Dave took it in one hand, and a spatula in the other. My son decided to join him outside. "Stay close to the grill," I told my son as he went out the door. We were yet without the sacrificial dog. "But not too close," I said, thinking of the dangers of the grill. "But close enough," I added. The child looked at me with the same expression Nevs had given me when I placed the container on the driveway. The container that was still there. Dave put the chicken on the grill and I started a salad. I stared ahead out the kitchen window at where he was grilling. I could just make out his shoulders and head. He disappeared from view momentarily and I guessed he was either helping our son with something or messing with the grill. Suddenly, he began flinging the spatula in the air. “What are you doing?” I cried through the closed window. I thought possibly a flame had leapt out and ignited his clothes or the child was on fire. He continued to jump up and down wielding the spatula like a sword at an invisible opponent. I could see our son beyond the grill, safely out of harm’s way but starting to venture out into the manicured lawn and flower beds that now represented the wild, untamed Outback. “Get the baby!” I called out. “Gaawwwwwwww!” came the articulated response. I watched him run from the grill, scoop up the child, and then run back into the house. “What are you doing?” I asked. “It was awful!” he said. “I lit the grill, let it warm up,put the chicken on it, and then a big spider—a BIG spider—jumped up from inside the grill and started dancing on the grate next to the chicken. But the grill was too hot, so it leapt onto the chicken! So I tried to hit it with the spatula!” He stopped to catch his breath. He was frantic and still swinging the spatula as he described his harrowing experience. “And?” I prompted. “And I must have scared it enough because it jumped off the chicken and down into the coals. It’s dead,” he added dramatically. It took two Vic Bitters (beer) to calm him down. I offered to retrieve the chicken, but he said he would be alright, grabbed his weapon and a third beer, and went back out to the battlefield. “Big spider!” said my son, who had not seen it personally, but had enjoyed hearing the tale. As we ate dinner, a thought came to me. The two year old didn’t eat chicken so I never bothered to make him any. I had only marinated two chicken breasts. One was on my plate, and one was on Dave's. He had served them after he brought them in. “Out of curiosity, which chicken breast did the spider do its little dance on?” I asked. “Oh,” he said not looking up and shoving in a preventative mouthful of food. “Mmm mmm…dunno.” Bugger (#@&!).