Fiction 2018 / Spring 2018 / Volume 48

Morgan—Susan Bryant

Morgan arrived in my bathtub early in January. I worried about him, at first. Was he
starving? Dehydrated? Bored to tears, just clinging to the side of the tub like that, always in the
same spot, day after day? Then I said to myself, “You’re just a silly old woman. There’s nothing
you can do about it. At least he’s warm.” And maybe happy there. Who could tell? Not me. I
didn’t know anything about spiders.
What I did know was this: the other apartments probably had bathtubs, but the tub that he
wanted was mine. And I had the feeling that he was an important spider, as spiders go. So I was
glad he chose my tub. And I named him “Morgan.”
I became used to seeing Morgan in that tub, almost always in the same spot: about four
inches from the side and six inches from the drain. Maybe once or twice an hour, I’d take a peek
into the tub. Just checking on him, you know?
“Just want to see how things are going in here, Morgan,” I’d say. “See if you need
I’m pretty sure he appreciated it, even though he rarely moved. He’s beautiful, by the
way: lovely long legs, like a ballet dancer’s.
I’d get up a lot during the night, too, and just pad over to the bathroom to see how he
was. “Hi, Morgan,” I’d say, softly. “Just me again. Are you okay? How about a little exercise—
like moving up or down a little? No? Oh, well…Maybe another time.”
Things like that.
I admired him so much for just hanging in. Hanging on.
The important thing was not to scare him. I wasn’t taking many showers any more, so of
course I just stopped them entirely. They were a waste of time, anyway.
I did make one terrible mistake. Here’s what happened: I finally made myself go to the
supermarket, because I was clean out of groceries. I mean, nada.
I went really early in the morning, when there are just a few people around. And bought
bags and bags of groceries, enough to last for months. When I got back home, I was so tired, I
just dumped the bags in the bathtub, drew the shower curtain so I didn’t have to look at them,
and went to lie down on the sofa bed. I must have slept most of the day, because it was pretty
dark when I woke up.
Morgan! I thought. Alone all day, with nobody checking on him!
I went to the bathroom, turned on the light, and opened the shower curtain.
Morgan was gone!
I heard myself saying…well, moaning, really: “Oh, no, oh, no, oh no,” and “Don’t leave
me!” Silly things like that. I pulled the bags out of the tub as fast as I could and dumped them
into the kitchen area. And then I saw Morgan, clinging to the other end of the tub. Those bags
must have scared him to death, poor thing.
And you know what? I was so relieved, I began to cry! Can you imagine?
“Morgan!” I said. “Good for you! You got your exercise!.” But I swore to myself that I’d
never scare him like that again. By way of penance, I made myself put all the groceries away,
fold the plastic bags neatly, and pile them in the corner with all the others, next to the
As I’ve said, Morgan’s spot was near the drain, so I’d pour a little water there, to collect
around the rim. The first time I did this, I watched Morgan actually crawl down and move pretty
briskly toward the drain. This made me so happy! He was alive, he was drinking, I was taking
care of him!
But what about food? I found some old broccoli leaves, or maybe spinach, and left them
near the drain. But he showed no interest. Well, they were old (I don’t do much fancy cooking
any more), and maybe he didn’t like that. Or maybe he just has a small appetite.
“That’s okay, Morgan,” I’d tell him. “I understand. I’m not much interested in food
myself. Maybe you’ll try it another day.”
So I’d say we got along just fine. It was very quiet, our life, but I think Morgan liked that
just as much as I did. I unplugged the phone, so as not to startle him when it rang. Besides, I
didn’t really like it myself. It was just a nuisance.
Well, sometime in February, we had a real snow storm. It was beautiful! I was telling
Morgan all about it—how the flakes were big as goose feathers, and how I could hardly see the
ugly apartment buildings, and how the street was really quiet, for once—when the doorbell rang.
The doorbell!
It rang and rang, over and over, and then it just became one continuous ring, as if
someone had a finger stuck on it. This irritated me, so I finally opened the door.
There stood a chubby middle-aged man in need of a shave, with snow melting all over his jacket.
“Wayne,” I said. “What are you doing here?”
“What am I doing here? I’ve come to see if you’re still alive, for God’s sake! Let me in,
Mom. It’s freezing in this hallway.” And he pushed his way into the apartment.
“Just put your coat right here,” I told him, pointing to the floor. “Do you want to sit
Wayne gave me one of his long, exasperated looks.
“Yeah, I do. Where?”
I cleared the newspapers off the armchair and added them to the pile.
I sat on the unmade sofa bed. We sat in silence for a moment, trying to outstare each
other. Wayne won.
“Well, how are you?” I said. “How’s Mrs. Wayne?”
“Her name’s Helena, as you know damned well, Mom. She’s fine.”
Mrs. Wayne is his second wife. I liked the first one a whole lot better.
“That’s good. How are the kids?”
“There are no kids.”
“I know that! I was just testing you.”
Actually, I had forgotten. Things like that slip my mind from time to time.
Wayne sighed. “Mom, you can’t go on living like this.”
“Like what?”
Wayne waved his hand around the apartment. “Like this. It’s a mess. It smells in here. And, Mom…when’s the last time you had a shower?”
“Shower? How can I have a shower! What about Morgan?”
And that’s how Wayne got to meet Morgan. I warned him to lower his voice—Wayne has
a booming voice—and led him to the bathtub. I told him all about Morgan’s occasional
exercising, his hanging by one arm from time to time, and how he enjoys warmth and a quiet
Wayne seemed very interested.
“What’s that green stuff in there?” he asked.
“Broccoli leaves. Or maybe spinach. I’m not sure he eats any of it.”
“And those little black spots?”
“Oh, those…well, you know.”
He was sure, he said, that Mrs. Wayne would also like to meet Morgan.
“I don’t think they’d like each other.”
But wouldn’t you know, a few days later Wayne came back with Mrs. Wayne and a good
friend of hers, a Mrs. Spice or Ice, I couldn’t tell. (Why did they keep calling her Mrs. if she was
such a good friend?) They wanted to know all about Morgan, even though I told them that
Morgan doesn’t like a lot of company.
“Just for a couple of minutes, Mom,” Wayne said. “Just to say ‘hello.’”
So I brought them to the tub and went through the whole spiel again, faster this time. They also seemed very interested, and Mrs. Spice or Ice also had a lot of questions about my
apartment, and what I did during the day and what I ate. I considered this none of her business,
and said as much.
“My understanding,” I said, “Is that you were interested in Morgan’s lifestyle. Not mine.” They no doubt had other things to do, I added, and so did I. Then I opened the door and waited
for them to leave.
As soon as they left, I went to chat with Morgan. He was doing his hanging-by-one-long-
arm thing, which I always admire, and I told him so.
I saw a lot of Wayne after that, which is really unusual. He kept dropping in and telling
me about a wonderful little apartment in a place that had Room Service, where I wouldn’t have
to worry about things like groceries or cleaning or taking a shower.
“I don’t worry about them right now.”
Wayne would give one of his sighs.
“The thing is, Mom—you probably should worry about them. Besides, this place would
be better for Morgan.”
“Well, it’s nice and quiet, for one thing. I mean, listen to all that traffic out there. I’ll bet
that really bothers him. And also…” He seemed to stop and think for a moment. “There’s a lot of
dust here, what with the traffic and all. Dust is terrible for spiders.”
“Oh, yes. It can make them awfully sick.”
I have to admit that this caught me short, as they say, but of course I didn’t let Wayne
know that.
“I’ll think about it. Isn’t it time you for you to go somewhere? Home or work, or
something like that?”
Of course I discussed this with Morgan as soon as Wayne left. He was in his usual spot,
not paying any attention to the broccoli (or spinach)—which by now had turned very dark. Well,
I was used to that. But it looked like he hadn’t drunk any water for a few days, and I wasn’t used
to that. He hadn’t moved, it seemed, for some time.
“What do you think, Morgan?” I asked him. “Do you think the dust is making you tired?
Are you feeling okay? Or not?”
I began to worry about him, much more than usual. It was hard for me to sleep, and I
visited his tub just about all the time, it seemed, day or night.
Meanwhile, Wayne kept up his visits, and each time, he’d say something like, “How’s
Morgan? Is he managing okay, with all this dust around?”
Once, he said, “You know, Mom, I appreciate how much Morgan means to you. I really
do. I just don’t want to think how awful you’d feel if he got sick because of all the dust around
That did it. I told Wayne that Morgan and I were ready to move into the little apartment,
if Wayne promised there would be no dust.
“I swear it,” he said.
So a few days later he returned to pick up Morgan while Mrs. Wayne drove me to the
little apartment. Wayne brought a bunch of cardboard boxes and said one was for Morgan, and
that he’d take him home until I got “settled in.”
“I have no intention of getting settled in. I want him with me. Now.”
“Oh, I think there might be a lot of excitement at first, Mom. It might upset him.”
There would be lots of nice residents in the building, he said, all with their own little
apartments, “and you’ll be busy meeting all those nice people there. Besides…” Here Wayne
stopped, as if he’d run out of information.
But Mrs. Wayne chimed in. “Oh, my heavens! Having singalongs with everyone, and
playing bingo and—well, just having loads of fun.”
“It sounds godawful.”
Wayne promised that Morgan and I would be together again in just a few days.
“Keep him in your bathtub,” I reminded him. “And make sure he has water.”
“I will, I will. Don’t worry so much.”
“And talk to him! He gets lonely.”
“Yeah, sure.”
Mrs. Wayne drove me and my suitcase to the apartment building (which is bigger than I
expected, by the way). And who should greet us there but Mrs. Spice or Ice! She acted as if she
owned the place, and kept showing me this and that and chattering on about how everyone in the
building just loved living there.
“I can’t imagine why,” I told her, but she ignored this.
Well, it actually isn’t godawful, but certainly not what I expected, though I’ve gotten used
to it. The “little apartment” is really just a room, with a bathroom (shower stall, no tub). “Room
Service” is someone in a horrible-looking pink smock bringing a tray. And the building is loaded
with people, banging their doors open and shut all the time. Sometimes I can hear them shouting
while they play some kind of game, or singing something off-key. I just keep my door closed and
try to ignore what’s going on.
Oddly enough, Mrs. Spice or Ice popped in pretty often at first. She usually had one or
two people with her, and she carried a kind of board with paper on it that she wrote on while she
asked things like “So, how are you getting on?”and stuff like that. But since I didn’t consider it
any of her business, I didn’t bother answering. She also kept talking about “joining in” and
“becoming part of the community,” but I think she knew that hell would freeze over before I did
any such thing.
The only thing I’d say was, “I want Morgan.”
All I could think of was Morgan, and how awfully I missed him. And I worried so much:
was Morgan alright? Was Wayne taking good care of him? And how much longer was Wayne
going to keep him, anyway?
To be honest, I was also a little concerned that Wayne was getting fond of Morgan, and
maybe wanted to keep him for himself. This gave me some sleepless nights, I can tell you!
As for Wayne, for some time he didn’t visit much, but whenever he did, he’d promise to
bring Morgan the next time.
“I’m as settled in as I’m going to get, Wayne,” I finally told him. “I want him back, right
this minute.”
“Now, Mom…
“Don’t ‘now, Mom’ me. Bring him back tomorrow, or I’ll find a way to walk out of here
and look for him myself.”
“Okay, okay!”
“Yeah, yeah.”
Well, he didn’t come back the next day or the day after, but the day after that, there was
Wayne, with a little cardboard box and a big smile.
“Morgan!” he said, proudly, and opened the box.
I looked inside, and my heart stopped.
“Oh, what’s happened?” I moaned. “What have you done, what have you done? Ohhhh,
shame on you, Wayne!”
For there lay a much smaller version of Morgan.
Yes, much smaller—and I knew perfectly well why. Nobody had been talking to him,
worrying about him, keeping him company, making sure he had water, complimenting him when
he did his ballet stretches.
I wanted to cry, I was so upset.
“You should have taken better care of him, Wayne! You promised you would!”And I said
it again: “Shame on you, shame on you!”
Wayne gave a huge sigh, but with a foolish smile. “Sorry, Mom. I’ve just been so busy.”
To tell the truth, I really knew that under my care, Morgan would perk up right away—
and he did. We’re together again, that’s the important thing, and happy again. I promised one of
the pink-smock people I’d sponge every day instead of shower if they let Morgan live in the
shower stall, so everything has worked out just fine.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s