The terrors of that day under the house will never be erased.
Frank must have planned that day for some time and waited for an opportunity, or maybe he knew my mother would be at the hospital all that day and planned it accordingly.
I sometimes played under the house, bouncing a ball on the crossbeams. (Older houses in Queensland were built on stumps and many of them, like ours, were “high blocked” being about seven feet off the ground and allowing standing room under the house. The space was often used for a garage and laundry. Ours had palings round the outside and a dirt floor.) It was rainy that day.
I wonder how long it took Frank to collect the four Huntsman (Tarantula) spiders? And how did he manage to get them into the four big Bushells coffee jars? I’m sure he would never have touched them!Frank quietly came up behind me as I was bouncing the ball on the cross beams and grabbed me. He had some rope and tied me round the waist to one of the posts. My arms were free and I could move a little, but I couldn’t untie the rope because it was long and he tied the ends round the next post. I didn’t know what to expect but at that stage I wasn’t really frightened. I thought he was just going to leave me tied there, much as Agnes had left me in the coal shed a few years previously. Maybe he merely wanted me as a captive while he reinforced his opinion that I was totally evil, a complete failure, unwanted, useless and had no right to live. Well, I could take that. I thought he probably expected me to cry or get angry or be frightened, so I tried to make out that his behaviour didn’t bother me. I wouldn’t get upset and give him that satisfaction.
He went over to the trunk where he kept his tools. Then he brought back two big Bushells coffee jars with holes punched in the lids. Each jar contained a very big, very hairy Huntsman spider. He put them down on the dirt floor and went back for two more. What was he going to do? I began to get frightened. He taunted me with them, holding one jar against my face. Sure, it was in the jar, but that didn’t make it less frightening. I tried to push him away, but I couldn’t. I screamed. He grabbed a length of rag and gagged me with it.
He had such an evil grin. Then, with a really horrible laugh he removed the lid on the first jar. He pulled at the neck of my dress and dropped the spider inside. I tore at my clothes and eventually pulled my dress off. It was buttoned down the front and it came off easily. The spider was clinging to the dress so I pulled the dress through the rope and threw it as far as I could. Gone was my determination not to show fear! I was terrified! What was he going to do?
I had on a vest and he repeated the procedure with the second jar. It was crawling on my skin! It was scratching around. I had to get it off me! I stripped off my vest. I was only 11 years old. I had no shape yet but he was jumping around, scratching himself and laughing. He jeered at me, asking why I had two little pimples. Surely I didn’t think any man would ever want me if that was all I had? Would I like him to pull them and make them bigger? His voice was horrible. He kept taunting me and poking at me and I tried to fight him off, but I was terrified.
He taunted me that maybe I wasn’t a girl after all – maybe I was really a boy – and he reached for the next jar. He pulled my pants out at the waist and in went the next Huntsman. It was a really big, black one. I thought I would go crazy. I couldn’t stand it! I think the spider might have been as scared as I was. It scampered about, scratching me. I had no alternative. I tore my pants getting them off. He continued his jeering, his dark brown eyes gleaming, his wicked laughter echoing through my head.
Well, so I wasn’t a boy after all! If I wasn’t a girl or a boy, I must be a freak. Yes, that’s it – a freak! Maybe he could sell me to a circus or maybe side-show alley. Lots of people would pay to see a freak like me! Freak, yes – but no one else would ever want me!
He hardly touched me except to poke me while hurling insults. He looked so evil. His eyes were flashing. I can still see those evil eyes and for many years I couldn’t force myself to look at anyone with brown eyes.
I was terrified. By this time I was crouching down, quivering, whimpering, trying to cover myself, hating myself, and trying to look around to make sure those spiders weren’t near me. I have since wondered why I didn’t hate him but I was only conscious of hating MYSELF for being so freakish and so evil. I felt sick. Then he picked up the last jar and I was petrified. What could he do now?
As he came nearer I clawed at him and tried to dodge him. I hit out at him but he only laughed more – that horrible, evil cackle! He moved away a little to open the jar and came back at me. I tried to scream. Then the jar came down hard on my head, upside down. I wriggled. I squirmed. I tried to move out, but it was useless. He held it there. I could feel the spider scratching around in my hair. My head felt like it was spinning. His beady brown eyes showed he was enjoying the torment I suffered. I felt woozy.
He said I was so ugly that wearing a spider would be a big improvement to my looks and he moved the jar forward, towards my face. He yelled “Ugly freak! Ugly freak! Ugly freak!” As the jar came further forward, he raised it slightly. I could see a big hairy leg poking out, coming down over my eyes, onto my face, and then another leg and the body . . . . .
His laughter seemed to be a long way away. Mercifully, I must have fainted. (That was the first time I had ever fainted, but later during my teenage years and young adult life I fainted quite often, mostly when emotionally upset. I think fainting became my way of escape; my way of running away from emotional problems.)
When I came to, I was lying by the post with my clothes draped over me. He was gone. The empty jars were there, but nothing else. I threw the clothes off me, thinking the spiders might still be there, but there was no sign of them. I could hardly bear it, but I put the dress round me to sneak upstairs to my room. He wasn’t in the house. He came home with my mother, telling her he had been worried about her so went to meet her.
I made sure I was never alone with him again and he never touched me again, but every day, at every opportunity, for the next 11 years, he would hiss at me that I was an ugly freak; I was totally evil; no one would ever want me, so I might as well do the world a favour and kill myself.