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Sexual Cannibalism in the Black Widow Spider



You’ve heard of the Black Widow—that bulbous

red-flecked arachnid who cannibalizes her lovers?
No one knows why she kills. The male—of course—

needs sex, would die for it. Once he’s forced his sex organ

into her opening, the female—that femme fatale—

seizes his body with long grasping legs, cocoons
him in a coffin of silk, liquifies his flesh with poison,

and slurps him up like a spider smoothie.

Males try all sorts of tricks to copulate without dying.

Tenodera waits until the wind is loud in her ears,

then takes advantage of her confusion to pounce.

Agelenopsis drugs her with pheromones that induce

a comatose state; Nephila binds her legs in silk

to keep her still. Half escape, leaving behind their genitals,

severed from their bodies, lodged in her opening
so she cannot mate again. To the male, sexual
ownership is worth the ultimate sacrifice.

In laboratories the scientists peep through magnifying

glasses. They salivate and wipe their mouths
with the ends of their ties, then turn to each other
to analyze. Why can’t she let nature take its course?

Why is she such a bitch?

Hypothesis #1: aggressive spillover. Some females—

feminazis--are too feisty and don’t know when to call

it quits. Scientists note that such antagonistic behavior

may drive away potential mates. (A dreadful loss.)

Hypothesis #2: mistaken identity. The female—stupid

cow, dumb blonde—mistakes the male for an attacker

rather than a lover. (To be fair, coercive techniques

create such confusion in many species.)

There is no evidence for either theory.

She is unknowable—an enigma. But to me she speaks:

“Behold my genius: artist, architect, engineer;
my palace shifts in the breeze but never breaks,
woven of silk from my own dark body.
One day this ravenous male, half my size
and a tenth as smart, his only function to want,
performs his awkward mating dance across the floor
of my house. He imagines himself Odysseus and I Penelope.

He comes with his big needs and low expectations,
and when I object he thinks me hysterical.

“He doesn’t even know my name—Lactrodectis,
a strong name, fit for a god. You come to my door at night,

without an invite, slight man? Expect retribution.
The red hourglass on my body predicts your fate.
I am The Destroyer. Behold my strength and tremble.”

Victoria Mack is a disabled writer, actor, director, and teacher. She spends half her year teaching performing arts at the Savannah College of Art and Design, and the other half making art in New York City. Her MFA is from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and her BA is from Barnard College. She has been published in Oyedrum, Kitchen Table Quarterly, The Field Guide, The Jewish Literary Journal, Oddball, Literary Vegan, and Flash Fiction Magazine, and has upcoming pieces in Minerva Rising and Papeachu. Her short play “Three Women” was produced in Philadelphia in May. As an actor she has performed in film and television, on and off-Broadway, and all over the country.

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