Remembering the Life of
Dr T.J. Arachnid.
One of Maxim Gorki‘s stranger short stories
was a seemingly pointless tale of taking a trip
on a river steamer down the Don
where he meets an apparently unremarkable,
though somewhat agitated little man.
After some conversation, the stranger confides
to Gorki that he has been haunted for precisely 23 years
by the spectre of an enormous Spider
that had constantly been by his side,
both by day and by night.
The Spider was about four feet tall and though
no-one else could see it,
the strange little man didn’t doubt
for a second that it was real.
Why he could clearly see his many reflections
in the arachnid’s dark, multi-faceted eyes.
Yes, the Spider had been
with him every waking moment
of those 23 years, he insisted to Gorki,
that others could not see it
merely proved that its appearance was
of a supernatural origin..
Was It some sort of Guardian Angel
or worse some malevolent demon escaped from Hell?
The strange little man himself had been uncertain
as to the silent Spider’s true nature and purpose at first.
He became obsessed by the need to know
whether he was cursed by the Devil or blessed by God.
The silent Spider itself gave no clue.
It merely observed and accompanied him.
Finally, after puzzling over the question
for many years (and blithely telling the young
Gorki how he, “nearly went mad” in the process),
he at last decided it must be an Angel,
despite its appearance to the contrary.
After all, why would God allow a good,
humble man like himself
to be tormented by a demon for so long.
(Clearly he’d never read the book of Job)
No. It must be an Angel.
It was upon that Rock
that the little man’s Faith rested.
And it was not the Spider
causing the little stranger’s anxiety.
It was the Spider’s absence.
For on this night, after 23 years of silent companionship,
the Spider had suddenly disappeared.
Why, the little man worried, had the Spider left?
Had he done something wrong, some unknown sin?
Had God abandoned him?
Despite its grotesque appearance, he had grown accustomed to its presence
and felt lost without his companion by his side.
The story ends somewhat abruptly
with the stranger jumping over the side
of the river boat to drown,
unable to contemplate existence without his Spider.
Yes a strange little story, with no moral, explanation
or indeed, any apparent meaning.
It just is, an enigmatic piece of almost journalism.
Gorki himself relates the tale without making any conclusions,
beyond off-handedly remarking that you get a lot
of this sort of thing in the backwoods of Russia.
Possibly something was lost in translation.
Be that as it may, the only reason I mention that little story
is that, by an odd coincidence, Gorki sets the story’s location
as being near the small, otherwise obscure village
the birthplace of the subject of todays essay,
the esteemed Doctor Theophrastus Jamal Arachnid.
Indeed, this tribute to Dr Arachnid is itself the result
of yet another coincidence,
when revered local Poet, David (Ghostboy) Stavanger,
and myself discovered by chance that we were
both delivered into this world by the same Obstetrician,
yes, none other than the world renowned physician,
Docktor Theophrastus Jamal Arachnid.
David had recognised our old Medical Specialist
from a photo I had posted on Facebook,
and we whimsically wondered
if this was more than merely an amusing
co-incidence, and whether some unsuspected causal relationship
might exist between the circumstances of our Births
our subsequent development into Poets.
Could the formidable presence of Dr Arachnid
at such a crucial point in our lives
have had some unsuspected formative influence
on our Artistic Abilities?
But perhaps it was no more than a co-incidence.
After all, the good Doctor had worked in
the Maternity Wards of the Brisbane Mater Hospital
for decades, delivering thousands of babies
during that time, yet there was no indication
that as a result Brisbane had become afflicted
with Plagues of Poets in Biblical proportions.
The Good Docktor had fled his homeland, than part of the
USSR, as a political refugee at the end of World War 2 .
Back in his own country he was a highly respected
Professor and leading Medical Researcher.
But alas his qualifications in this country were not recognised
and the Authorities only allowed him to practise
as a lowly, poorly paid Obstetrician.
Nevertheless, he seemed happy in his work.
and to be allowed to live in peace in a country
where it was safe to raise a family.
All his children (nearly 800 at last count) went
to good private Catholic schools.
Even though the Dr himself was not a Catholic,
he approved of their Social Conservatism in general
and in particular their stand against contraception.
Docktor Arachnid never married back in Russia.
When asked he would merely quip with a jovial chuckle,
“Married? Ho ho ho! No, I couldn’t afford to marry a local girl.
Why a Gŭlgrash-na-gradii wife would eat me
out of house and home!”
It was not till he came to Australia that Dr Arachnid
found true love and married local Tarragindi girl,
Emma Bloat. Together they overcame the many obstacles
that confront mixed marriages, to pursue their dream
to raise a family-in-the-suburbs.
But what should have been a heart-warming example
of the Australian Multi-Cultural Dream turned sour
in the new Century after the 9/11 bombing
of the Twin Towers.
Alas, all his years of service counted for nothing
when the Docktor became caught up
in the Great Terrorist Scares of the early 21st century.
Suspected of terrorist contacts on the flimsiest of evidence,
he was detained for months without legal advice
or outside communications while Authorities “investigated”
his alleged links. Rather than support a team member
who had laboured tirelessly for years in their service
the craven Hospital Administrators sacked him
without notice or explanation.
Eventually Dr Arachnid was of course released without charge.
After a lengthy legal battle
the Hospital was made to apologise and offer
the Docktor his job back but it was too late.
The doctor’s heart was broken by what he saw
as a betrayal from his Employers and Community.
Taking an out-of-court cash settlement for an undisclosed sum,
he retired and moved to New Zealand, there to run
a small dairy farm.
Now he seems content to mainly lurk
in the rafters of the old milking sheds by day,
or doze in the hayloft, from whence
he can supervise the sheds milking activities below.
Despite being a gentleman farmer he doesn’t
keep country hours. He rises late, generally around sunset,
and when the moon is up, is often to be seen
walking the perimeter of his property checking the fencing.
His children made the move with him,
no longer comfortable in Australia,
the land they once thought of as their home.
His loyal wife Emma spoke for the family;
“These charges were a Great Injustice
They stem from prejudice, just because he’s a foreigner.
If he were a local Trapdoor or Wolf-Spider
no-one would even notice him,
but Nooo, because he came from Russia
and his ways are a little different,
he is automatically treated with suspicion”.
Dr Arachnid’s eldest son, Mustapha Mounbatten Arachnid,
a bachelor of engineering at Gatton, shared
with Sunday Sermons what it was like growing up
in a mixed Anglo/Spiderese household…
“There was much prejudice in the old neighbourhood
when Dad first moved to Australia and we were growing up”,
“Everytime a bloody child went missing in the area
the locals would start going on about how;”
“It must be the giant Spiders what done it”
“Yeah right! It’s always the Spiders isn’t it?
And if you’re a young Spider going out with a white girl!.
there’s always some dickhead wanting to pick a fight.
And let me tell you..just ripping their heads off
doesn’t win you any friends either!
Then its all,”See! See! He ripped his head off!
I told you they were dangerous!” and their
prejudices are confirmed once again.
We’re set up to fail.. for Australians of
Spiderese extraction its a no win situation.
Your damned if you eat them
and damned if you don’t!”
“And if its not the Yobs
wanting to pick a fight
then there’s always some old lady running
after you with a rolled-up newspaper.
I mean..we didn’t even have newspapers
back in rural Russia.
Mainly we just had to deal with old sandals.
As a result, like many other Migrant communities,
Spiders don’t have the life-skills
to be able to deal with the complexities
of the First World’s Modern Media Landscape.
I mean, Dad’s a genius dealing with
pregnant women and extracting babies and
all that stuff, but he’s still trying to decide whether
to get VHS or go with Beta!
What’s going to happen if some kid comes after him
with an Ipad ?
He’s better off here in New Zealand,
where the only technology permitted
is video-editing equipment and
Special Effects for the Film and Television Industry”.
Indeed, many of the Docktor’s brood have found a place in NZ film industry. Some do well as stage hands working the lights up in the rigging. Some have found acting-work in minor character roles or appearing as extras in the crowd scenes of movies such as, “The Hobbit“..
The younger ones just like hanging around the set.
Meanwhile Leggy Anastazia Arachnid has done well in her modeling career and today is engaged by a High End Fashion House to represent and model their name-brand collection of designer fishnet-stockings.
And so a richly deserved happy ending is at last attained
for one who has given so much to the world
and suffered so many trials.
In the evenings, with his family gathered around him,
the good Docktor likes to spin the old yarns once again.
Australia’s loss is New Zealand’s gain.
Perhaps our Authorities should stop and reflect
on the story of the esteemed Docktor T.J. Arachnid,
when next they seek to set loose
the Dogs of Hysteria and Prejudice
for some shoddy, short-term political gain.
The Reverend Hellfire is a practising Performance Poet,
President of the Kurilpa Institute of Creativity,
and an ordained Minister of the Church of Spiritual Humanism
AND the Church of the Universe.
The only Survivor/ of the National People’s Gang