Click here to read the story as a PDF: Going Out With a Bang
– Of Spiders and Sex Education –
The sun crests the horizon, throwing its rays across the drops of dew lying heavy on Arthur Pod’s web. From his corner, with limbs tucked up around him, Arthur opens a few eyes blearily, then snaps them shut. The dew is dazzling and hurts his head.
He searches for the day. Saturday, please let it be Saturday. But last night comes back to him slowly. Last night was Sunday night. He had gone down The Black Widow for a few with James and Rich. From the animosity he feels towards the bright dew balls this morning, he surmises that ‘a few’ turned into a few more. He can recall some of the walk home with the boys – a couple of legs draped around each other’s shoulders, with those remaining employed at weaving them homewards.
And if last night was Sunday it means Arthur needed to get up right now because there is a class waiting to be taught. He draws a slow breath in, and opens all of his eyes at once.
Dragging himself along a strand of web to the nearest drop of dew, Arthur bends his head to it and drinks deeply. That’s better. He can do Mondays. It is more the thought of them. But there remains something else. Something more than just a Monday morning. Then the something else comes to him. Today he is teaching sex education.
The morning drop-off ritual is in full swing as Arthur reaches the school gates. He weaves through the mass that is blocking his path, skirting chatting parents, dodging spiderlings chasing each other. He hears his name called a few times but pretends not to.
‘Ooh Mr Pod! Do you have a second to talk about Jennifer’s behaviour?’
No he doesn’t. She wouldn’t like what he had to say anyway.
He reaches the hallway. Third door on the right – his classroom. Nearly there. Passing the classroom before his, Arthur glances in. His eyes meet those of Mrs Callum.
‘Arthur – Just the man I need. Which of these fonts looks better?’
Mrs Callum is sat at her desk, a stack of textbooks neatly in her ‘marked’ tray. She looks like she has been there for hours already. On her PowerPoint she flicks between two seemingly identical typefaces.
‘Morning Charlotte. Err the second one, definitely. Good weekend?’
‘It wasn’t bad thanks. You should have joined us at the Vine Leaf on Sunday you know. It was fun.’
‘I did want to, but I went down the Black Widow first, and you know…’ He trails off, suddenly conscious of his hair sticking up wildly where he slept on it. Which was pretty much all over. He tries to brush some down with a rear leg. It bristles back up.
‘Right I’d best just finish up prep for first period.’ He says. ‘The dreaded sex ed! Are you ready for it?’
‘Born ready.’ Mrs Callum winks, and returns to her fonts.
Arthur backs out the room, and enters the adjacent classroom. Sitting at his desk, he releases a breath that he doesn’t remember holding in. This is not going to be fun. Of course it was a very important lesson for all spiderlings to learn. Especially with such an absence of fathers. Studies across the country show that teen pregnancy rates dropped significantly after the class was introduced. But it was always awkward. No escaping that.
I should have a few minutes to prepare before I’m joined by the horde, he thinks.
In the playground, the morning bell begins its toll.
‘Sir, why have the girls gone out with Mrs Callum?’
‘If you were paying attention last week Owen, you would know why. Today I get the joy of taking the first of your sex education classes. The girls are learning separately because they will have different issues to discuss.’
‘I don’t need sex education sir – I’m already a master. I could teach this!’
‘I am sure you could. But as the school have unfathomably failed to recruit your expertise, I will be taking the lead. Let’s get on with it shall we boys?’
Arthur rises from the chair at his desk and moves round to perch on the front of the desk, facing the class. He feels this gives him a certain approachability that might make this go a bit easier. We’re all in this together lads. He props a couple of his legs up on the desk to add to the casual demeanour. The angle is awkward. He takes his legs off again.
‘Now when it comes to sex, there are a lot of myths out there. And when you are growing up and finding your feet in the world it can be difficult to know fact from fabrication. Hopefully over the next few weeks we can dispel any misleading beliefs you have taken on board. You should come out of this with a good understanding of sex and procreation, and be well placed to make informed decision for yourselves. And Owen you will have to bear with us, seeing as you know it all already.
‘Alright. Let’s begin by calling out some of the things you have heard about sex from your mates, or an older brother perhaps.’
Silence. Glances exchanged. A weighing of whether that which is thrown about so casually in the playground should be brought into the classroom, to a teacher.
‘Come on boys. The floor is open. Nothing is too stupid.’
‘Sir, I heard a girl only gets pregnant if she actually loves you. That’s how you know.’
‘Thanks for kicking us off Dean. We’ll cover that. Who else?’
‘I heard women can only have sex like 5 days a month. It’s closed off or something the other days.’
‘Mark told me you have to have sex for at least 20 minutes before the woman actually likes it’.
‘No I never.’
‘Is it true that when you have sex, the next day you can’t weave your web in a straight line? Coz your legs are knackered or something.’
Arthur smiles at that one. The boys are opening up. Good. He shifts his position slightly. Sitting on the front of the desk is working very well for him.
‘These are great, keep them coming. I say great – I am pleased to tell you that every one of these is what I would call a ‘sex myth’. Who’s next?’
‘My brother said that after you have sex, the woman eats you.’
The class erupts in laughter. Mark Apsley claps. Owen Burns mimics a post coital female. ‘Ooh thank you big boy… GET IN MY BELLY NOM NOM NOM!’
Arthur’s heart sinks. And so it begins.
The laughter settles and Owen regains his chair.
‘That does sound funny doesn’t it? Now…’ Arthur pauses, tries to pick the right words.
‘I want us to remain calm and sensible while I tell you something important about that last one. I was hoping to come to it a little later in the term, but let’s deal with it now.’
Around the room the smiles fade. He has the rare experience of all 17 boys in his class giving him their undivided attention. The collective force of their 136 eyes burns into him demanding truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help him God.
‘On some occasions… there is, ah, truth to the fact that following intercourse, the female spider will… consume the male.’
The eyes grow bigger. No one moves. Every tick of the class clock reaches Arthur with perfect clarity.
‘I understand you will need some time to process this information and that’s fine. The school has an excellent support system in place for any of you who feel particularly concerned. And yes boys. We certainly did pull the short straw on this one. I’m in the same boat here.’
Mark Apsley raised an arm. ‘So I get to have sex once. Then I die?’
‘No Mark, it is doesn’t happen in a lot of cases. You may live to have many…encounters. I know a lot of you are missing fathers, (and now you will understand why) but some of your Dads are still around and going strong aren’t they?’
A few heads nod. The majority stay unmoving.
‘It would be remiss of me not to explain that certain species have a higher rate of survival following the act than others. Some of you have an excellent chance of walking away unscathed. Others of you will need to take more care. The males of some species face up to a 60% chance of not…making it. Where are the redback twins? George, Ian – you need to be especially careful. I know it’s not what you want to hear, and life is hard enough with all the ginger jokes, but I would not be doing my duty without warning you.’
The twins exchange glances. Luke Weatherby reaches over and pats George on the back.
‘Now here’s the good news. There are things you can do to improve your chances. We don’t just have to sit there passively. While the jury is still out on whether some practices actually work, others have been proven and used for centuries. I have prepared a series of hand-outs…’
Arthur stands, and distributes the papers to the front row.
‘Pass these back please. On here you will find a number of recommendations, websites and books for further reading. There is a series of touches that can hypnotise your partner to take the hunger away for just long enough. Others swear by plucking the web a certain way before the act. Almost like a code.’
The boys receive the hand-outs reverently, as if handling ancient manuscripts.
‘Next week you have a session with Mrs Diovacci in the gym, where you will learn a number of dance routines that can be used to up your chances. And here’s an important one boys – the bigger you are, the greater your survival rate. Don’t let those gym passes go to waste. Look at page 4 for some basic lifts to help you bulk up. The greatest survival tip is, of course abstinence. But let’s be realistic – none of us would be here if that was adhered to universally. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. I don’t need to stress the importance of putting in some serious revision time. Now, we are almost out of time. Are there any further questions?’
Mark Apsley raises a leg. ‘Sir, you are obviously still here. What’s your trick?’
‘I have been…careful Mark. I don’t go jumping into anything without thought. A tactic I thoroughly recommend to you all.’
Through the small square window in the classroom door Arthur spots Mrs Callum peering in.
‘Ok I can see the girls have already finished. It is more straightforward for them. Less questions I imagine. You can come in girls.’
The door opens and the girls enter. They walk with a new sense of purpose, a swagger in their step that is barely perceptible yet definitely there. As they take their seats around the class there is a lack of the usual hair pulling or flirtatious antagonism from the boys.
‘Welcome back girls.’ Arthur glances across to the door, where Mrs Callum still lingers. She meets his gaze and smiles. Then she turns and walks back to her class, leaving his door open. He watches the sway of her abdomen, her slim legs carrying her rhythmically down the corridor.