For the longest time Martin had thought that he was simply an arsehole. Of course he maybe was an arsehole, but at least some of that arseholy behavior, the doctor had helped him realise, was attributable to the condition. Which is not to say that he was unaccepting of responsibility for his actions, just that it was a kind of relief to be able to understand himself a little. So that like when his ex, one of many exes, had cried down the phone at him that time, and he had felt absolutely nothing, no kind of sympathy or warmth whatsoever, even though she was terribly upset, it didn’t necessarily mean that he was a horrible person. The truth of the matter is that he often felt nothing at all towards people in general, not just ex-girlfriends. When his grandfather had suffered from liver failure and had refused treatment and died in pretty horrific circumstances he had understood what was expected of him, vis-à-vis an emotional response, and he had done his best to say the right things and adopt a sorrowful mien, but internally he had been unaffected.
All of his exes had left him for the same reason, for being quote-unquote emotionally distant. Ironically the emotional distance thing was probably what attracted them in the first place, some had even admitted as much to him. They said his couldn’t-give-a-shit attitude was alluring, was stimulating. These girls wanted to be the one to make him give a shit, and that was enough to buy him a few sex-heavy months as their boyfriend. But the problem is that if a girl has made it her mission, and kind of therefore a condition upon which the relationship is entered into, to make you give a shit, well then eventually you’ll have to y’know give some kind of shit, and he couldn’t do that. So they always left him. And they were usually super-nice about it and didn’t blame him or anything, it’s just that they felt unliked or not good enough. Some admitted to feeling like a failure, having not been able to make a breakthrough with him. On an emotional level.
Which is not to say that he didn’t feel anything ever. He did, but just didn’t feel what he was meant to feel when he was meant to feel it. He tended to feel upset when tears didn’t really seem called for. Like he had been known to find a genuine lump in his throat when looking at a picture of a cat with no legs, or when reading about the plight of soldiers during the Russian Civil War. And maybe his worst emotional freak-out/breakdown type thing was over a spider in his bedroom the previous summer. Martin lived in a flat over-looking a river, and every summer he was subjected to an insect invasion, including a seemingly endless number of black and yellow bulb-arsed spiders.
Martin had full-on hated spiders since childhood, since his mother had gone total-bats when a skinny but very big spider had flopped down her bedroom curtain and he had been called in to dispose of it. He tried various methods to keep them out of his apartment, like numerous different insect-repellant sprays, and one whole summer even kept all the windows in the flat closed. Not opening a window all summer did keep them out, but Martin ended up shedding almost two stone in weight sweating his arse off in his greenhouse-like apartment, and, well, also felt near-suffocated by the end of September due to the lack of fresh air. So the following summer he just had to open the windows and hope for the best. The spiders, who had spent that previous summer hanging out, like literally, across the full expanse of his closed windows, strolled right on inside at the earliest opportunity. In exasperation Martin quickly killed the first settlers with his trusty murdering-shoe and then took some bleach, opened the windows wide, and tossed it liberally over the webs and window-glass and window-frames, without once worrying about who or what might be standing below the windows of his fourth-floor flat.
Unfortunately, far from dying horribly or fucking off in search of a less hostile environment, the spiders appeared to adopt a kind of is-that-all-you-got? type attitude to the bleaching and were back hanging out in their webs and holidaying in his flat in less than an hour. At this point Martin became all sort of militant about it, all action-film vengeful, and came to almost enjoy exterminating the eight-legged invaders. Whenever he saw a spider, after the failed bleaching, he would run for his murdering-shoe and like charge at the thing, letting out a kind of war-cry, and pummel the spider until there was nothing left of it other than a brown wet smear. Within a couple of weeks the walls and ceilings of the rooms in his flat were covered in those tell-tale brown smears.
Then the spider happened. Martin spied it crawling across the wall in his bedroom one afternoon. It was smaller than his compadres, but still had that grotesque bulb-arse that, when he had offed the others, seemed to like explode under the weight of his murdering-shoe. Martin immediately ran for his shoe, which was really kind of gross by this point, what with their being the dried remains of about a hundred arachnids caked to the sole. But Martin paid that no mind, he couldn’t afford to. Who can afford to worry about the carcasses of dead spiders when there is a real live one crawling, happy as Larry, across your wall? So like Martin clutched the shoe and pulled over a chair, for the thing was pretty high up and he didn’t want to overstretch and miss it and have it fall on his face or even the floor, because falling spiders were really his biggest fear, were like what you would call the ultimate nightmare. He positioned the chair close to the wall, a little to the left of the spider, in case it should fall, and climbed up, his hand resting on the wall for support. And it was at this point, he would swear it hand-on-bible, that the spider cowered. Like it pulled in its legs. It tried to make itself as small as possible. And that was it; the jig was up. No way could he kill it. In fact he started to feel all tender towards it; he named it, watched out for it every day.
Yet spiders can be pretty flighty. And you can’t keep an eye on them twenty-four seven. Not if you want to retain a shred of sanity. And Martin did want to at least give the appearance of sanity, like some of the time. So he would look out for his spider in the morning, and once or twice throughout the day, like he would sort of monitor where in the apartment the beast was, from time to time. One day, however, Martin was on his bed, reading, his back propped up on pillows, and his head resting against the wall. And like out of the corner of his eye something crawled across the wall towards his face. Instinctively Martin shot out a fist, like his bare fist, and flattened the thing – which he still had not identified, but which of course turned out to be his friend – in a way reminiscent of The Fonz starting a jukebox. Well, Martin was distraught. He never loved a spider again.