The little spider crawled up to the bar and asked for sweet vermouth on the rocks. “No one drinks vermouth in these here parts, stranger.” The bartender’s world-weary look belied his mere 22 years on this earth. He eyed the spider suspiciously.
“Well, what do they drink in this town, mister?” The spider tried to get at an itch that was driving him crazy, but his legs got all tangled up.
“Seems you’ve had enough to drink already, stranger.”
“Call me Ishmael.”
“Like in the book?”
“What book?” The spider had never been much of a reader.
“Moby Dick, stranger. Don’t tell me you don’t know it?” The bartender searched the spider’s face for some sign of recognituon. “It’s a book about a man unable to let go of an obsession.”
“Sounds a lot like me, mister. I got something bugging me I just can’t let go.”
“Wait!” Charlie, the one-eyed rat sitting at the other end of the bar, ambled over to join the other two. “Ishmael doesn’t have the obsession. The captain does. Captain Ahab. He wants revenge from the whale. Ishmael is just a guy on the boat who’s looking for something.”
The bartender laughed out loud. “You sure know your books, Charlie!”
“Only takes one good eye to read,” Charlie lit a half-smoked cigarette as he winked elfishly at his friend.”
“Hey…that’s me too. I’m looking for something just like that Ishmael guy in the book!” The spider was starting to get excited now. Perhaps it was no accident he walked into this bar.
“Where do you come from, stranger?” Charlie had been longing for someone to walk in and break the monotony of what was pretty much their daily routine.
“Oh…I had a home once, but that was long ago. As far as I’m concerned, I come from nowhere.” His eyes welled up with tears that he fought to hold on to. He really wanted to tell the bartender and kindly rat more, but he hesitated. The memories still stung as if fresh.
“A nowhere man with an obsession, huh?” Charlie’s long whiskers were twitching now. He smelled a story. Or perhaps it was just the cheese at the end of the bar.
“I’ll take a beer, bartender.” Ishmael tried using a back leg this time to get at that itch.
“You can call me by my Christian name. Laurence.” The bartender poured the beer, never taking his eyes off Ishmael.
“Like the guy from Arabia?” Ishmael smiled to think of something that meant so much to him.
“Nah. I never been to Arabia. Never even been to Carson Corners, and that’s just 30 miles away.”
Ishmael sipped his beer slowly. Somehow the combination of the beer and remembering one of his favorite films, helped loosen his tongue. “Laurence of Arabia is the name of a film that I love. In fact I love all films. They’re what I live for. Or once did.” His face got sad. He paused and took another sip for courage. “I used to live in a beautiful old art deco movie theater – until one horrible day when the wrecking crew came and tore down everything I knew and loved. It was awful.”
Charlie put his left front leg around Ishmael’s shoulders, or what he assumed was his shoulders. “Must have been rough for you, son.”
The little spider wiped a tear from his eye. “Yeah. Even as a young spider, I knew I was destined for more one day. I dreamed of being the star of my own films, with my name up in lights. But my family just laughed at me. They said no spider – especially not a little runt like me – would ever make it big in Hollywood. Sure, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but the hardest thing of all was that they made fun of me and my dreams. That’s why I ran away.”
The tears and words were flowing now. “Finally I found an old revival theater, and I spent my days watching and learning everything about all kinds of old films, including Laurence of Arabia. Such a majestic film. I used to walk on the screen during my favorite parts and speak the words along with the actors. There I was. Me, little Ishmael. And for those few minutes of my life, I was one of the big, big stars. The audience couldn’t hear me, but I was saying every line with all my heart. And I was good, too!”
“Wow!” Laurence looked impressed. “That took real guts. You could have been killed by the manager. Or an exterminator.”
“A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.”
“But you’re a spider,” Charlie reminded him gently.
“If you cut me, do I not bleed?” Ishmael looked hurt. As hurt as he could look while still going after that itch, this time with a front right leg.
“Honestly, I don’t know. I never knew a spider before. There’s a lot to learn.”
“I think I read somewhere that spiders do bleed,” Charlie was scouring his memory. “Or something close to it. Maybe I could look it up online for you, if that would help.”
Ishmael gazed at the kind stranger with softness in his eyes. He knew the old rat was just trying to help. “Uh…that wasn’t really the gist of what I was saying. But thank you, Charlie.”
Laurence smiled warmly. “Look, Ishmael. You seem like stand-up guy…”
“Especially with those eight legs to stand on!” You could always count on Charlie to try to lighten the moment.
Laurence continued in earnest, looking Ishmael in the eyes and refreshing his beer as he spoke. “If you need a place to stay, you’re more than welcome to hang around here with us.”
Ishmael was deeply touched. “This is a nice place, Laurence. And you’re a great guy. You, too, Charlie. But I realize now that if I don’t at least try to give my dream another shot, I’ll never be able to live with myself.”
And with just a slight nod to his new friends, and one more attempt to get at that relentless itch, Ishmael walked out the door, but this time with his head held high.
“That’s one helluva spider!” Charlie said in awe. The bartender nodded.
And as Ishmael headed to find his future, buoyed by the newfound respect of these caring strangers, Laurence cleared the beer glass from the counter. “I’m thinking about a trip to Carson Corners, Charlie. Wanna go with me?”