“As for the martyrdom I am undergoing from this reinforced flannel, my tongue fails me,” Mrs. Box said to Mr. Box one morning at breakfast.
Mr. Box studied her. He tensed and relaxed the skin around his eyes. Finally he said, “My flannel kisses my skin. What do you use to reinforce yours?”
“Silk isn’t punishing enough,” she said.
“Must flannel punish?”
“Father Ax told us the rudeness of flannel is worth three hail Marys and five glory be’s.”
Mr. Box set aside his toast. “The subtleties of religion are beyond me.”
“If you had gone to parochial school,” she said, “you would know the value of chafing.”
“We had athlete’s foot in public school.”
“There is not the same efficacy to athlete’s foot as there is to chafing. Chafing is a penance you take on willingly. Athlete’s foot is something you catch from other little boys, boys who don’t even know the value of their own souls. They are damned until they graduate and apply to Jesuit universities.”
“I don’t believe this is church doctrine.”
“By your own admission, the subtleties of religion are beyond you. If you don’t know what the subtleties of religion are, how can you know what they are not?”
“What will you do for fun today?” he said.
“That is easy. For fun today, I shall do something that contains the potential for real torment.”
“For yourself or others?”
“I see no difference. We are One People. Still, I would rather watch them run amok than for them to watch me run amok. Whatever it is I do that is on the tortured path to fun, it will involve my purse.”
“One day you are going to regret carrying that spider around in your purse,” he said, to which Mrs. Box responded, “How could I ever regret carrying a spider around in my purse when I can easily bring it out and scare children with it?”
“I just hope you are aware of the pitfalls.”
“As far as I can see, there are no pitfalls.”
“That is because you look at life through rose-colored glasses and are always upbeat.”
Mrs. Box tapped her chin. “Here is what I will do. I will take a train into the city. I will carry my big black purse that will have my big black spider in it. Then I will select a man. I won’t know him until I spot him. Then I will know he is the one. I will approach him, this man I have selected based on my criteria. I will engage him in discussion on some hot topic. Then, when he is absorbed in our discussion and carrying on like a nitwit, I will open my purse and see what happens.”
“I hope you get the results you are looking for and that something doesn’t go terribly wrong.”
“What could go wrong when I have a spider in my purse?”
Mrs. Box drove herself to the train station. The point was to do a lot of good in the world. But there was another tinier but just as important point, and that was to get the leap on people. In her own life she felt a lack of people leaping out at her. In the past forty days and forty nights, not one soul, nothing, had given her a good jolt. Mr. Box certainly had not. She was a do-unto-others woman. It was practically a religious calling with her, with the voice of God in it, to give others the kind of pleasantly goosey surprises she craved but lacked in her own life.
She dropped a cricket in the perforated black box inside her large black patent leather purse for Penelope the hairy tarantula to munch on during their excursion. She scratched Penelope’s hairy little head and coo-cooed at her. “My Penelope is a strange kind of hairy lady, oh, yes, she is.”