The bat in the garage was hanging from Jason’s bike rack, its body longer and thicker than Margaret’s dusty motorcycle, which, under its tarp, had fooled her some nights into thinking that it was a monster, lying in wait. If you hung the motorcycle from the ceiling, dangling the way that the bat was dangling, the bat’s ears would still outstrip the headlights, the handlebars, even the round front tire.
When she opened the garage door, to get a piece of mail that she’d left in the car, she stood in the doorway, watching those ears graze the floor, watching the bat’s huge head twitch in annoyance as it tried to sleep. She shut the door quietly.
Jason, she said, stepping back into the house.
What, he said. He was eating cereal and reading Breakfast of Champions, and she knew that they didn’t have any clean spoons, so where had he gotten that one, had he washed it off in the sink, or had he just pulled it from the dishwasher, caked with last night’s curry, and stuck it into his mini-wheats and into his mouth, or had he
What, Jason said again.
There’s a bat in the garage, she said.
Another one? he said. They’d had one a couple of months ago.
Jason said, Open up the garage door, see if it’ll fly out.
I don’t think it can get out with the car in there. I don’t know how it got in there in the first place, said Margaret.
Cat probably scared it in there, said Jason and Margaret giggled shrilly.
I don’t think so, she said.
I’ll take care of it later, Jason said, going back to his book. He’d been trying to read it for months with little success. Jason wasn’t much of a reader. He said that he had a hard time visualizing what the writers were talking about. But he hated movies, too. Margaret suspected that he hated stories, just generally. He liked cooking shows and workout videos and the news.
Jason, Margaret said. Jason, I think you should come look at it.
Margaret wasn’t sure why she was being so coy about the whole thing, except that she knew that if she said, Jason this bat is goddamn huge, he would blow her off, say something like, don’t exaggerate, Maggie. And she could say, Jason that bat is six feet tall if it’s an inch, and he would say, I guess you need to go back to school and learn how to count, Maggie. And she could say, Jason, that bat’s face looks like mine, it isn’t batlike or foxlike or rodentlike. It’s got a squat nose and a thick lips and when it yawned and rested its thick, leathery head under its wing, I swear to God, I saw molars.
And Jason would say, don’t tell stories, Maggie. It’s not pretty.
So Maggie just said, Jason, really, I really think you should come look at it.
Jason sighed and put his book down.
I’m going to take a shower, he said. Open the garage door. If it’s still out there when I’m done, then I’ll take care of it. Or you could call animal control. Sound reasonable?
Jason never disappeared from a room—he always left a room with the swagger that misbehaving children have in the grocery store, when they walk through the aisle with both arms outstretched, so that they can touch every package of bread and every jar of peanut butter at the same time, like he was making trying to make a mark on the house, like a snail oozing its way from one side of a leaf to another– but Margaret never felt like they were in the same room in the first place. She always felt like she was watching a movie where a man with close-cropped black hair sat at her grandmother’s kitchen table eating the cereal that she bought at the store while a woman with her voice spoke to him off-screen.
The sound of the shower made the pipes in the house hiss and moan. There was a loud noise in the garage and Margaret thought absently about the hot water heater. She opened the door and peered inside.
The bat had woken up and was perched on top of the car. It had knocked down a box labelled M—9TH-12TH GRADE, and a sea of grade reports and photos taken in front of a marbled backdrop and a graduation cap and a notebook with a sarcastic cartoon cat was spilling onto the dirty concrete of the garage floor. Margaret watched it, waiting for it to stop. But it didn’t. It just kept pouring onto the concrete. Feeling panicky, feeling like if those love notes and tassels and knick-knacks didn’t stop spilling out onto the floor soon, the garage would, in an hour or two, be full to the brim of pimpled memories, Margaret glanced up, thinking about grabbing a rake or a shovel and trying to upright the box. Without thinking about it too much, she took a step into the garage and then her eyes met the bat’s.
The bats that Margaret had seen in her visits to the zoo, had been sleepy and fox faced. In movies, they were usually a smidge scarier, like rabbits with flattened noses. This one had a short, round nose, something like a human nose, but lacking the septal cartilage, closer to a gorilla’s open-nostriled setup. Its eyes, though, were the most unsettling part of its face, its eyes that, instead of the glossy black that seemed natural in a bat’s small, nocturnal face, were round, with pupils and a blue iris and white surrounding that. Human eyes.
And it was watching her.
Jason had particularly never cared for stories like this. Preferably, Jason would read stories or watch movies based on real events. Or, if they weren’t based on real events, it was best if they mimicked the motions and gestures of real life as closely as possible. War movies were okay, unless it was one of those Tom Cruise war movies, in which people sometimes used sci-fi technology to get the upper hand on their enemies. Hospital shows were okay, unless they delved into the metaphysical.
When they had met, this had seemed okay with Margaret, because she wasn’t a huge fan of fantasy herself. Unicorns and elves were too far removed from real life, she thought. It wasn’t sensible to become invested in characters who you would never be able to understand, characters who ate more breakfasts than she could afford, characters whose lifespans were multiples of hers, characters whose tempers were vast and unfathomable, while hers was small and measured.
But while this wasn’t fantasy, while this was a real bat, an enormous bat, who was blinking at her slowly, with a nictitating membrane, Jason would still hate it, because this wasn’t the sort of thing that was supposed to happen to people like them, people with mortgages and fiber deficiencies and a garden that needed weeding.
The bat opened its mouth and began chittering at her. Margaret closed her eyes and let it wash over her, the chittering, the squeaking that drove through her in waves that felt tangible, that felt like walls of meaning and communication. The papers were up to Margaret’s ankles now. She closed the door.
In the kitchen, Jason had left out his bowl for Margaret to put in the dishwasher. When she was a kid, Margaret had a cat that would drink cereal milk, sugary and turned purple by artificial dyes. Her parents had instilled in her an urgency to put the bowl in the sink and run it under the tap before the cat could lap it all down. Jason just liked Margaret to make sure that the bowl was in the sink before the cereal could turn into a hard cement on the sides. They’d never had a pet or kids or anything like that. She ran the bowl under the sink and stared through the sheer white curtain at the kids playing on the street, their semi-obscured, white-tinted bodies pedaling furiously on unsteady tricycles, the wheels furiously turning and turning and turning and turning.
It occurred to Margaret to scan the skies, but she already knew that she wouldn’t see demon bats swooping low to snatch up the children, snatch them up and leave the wheels tilted sideways on the concrete and still turning and turning and turning and turning.
The bowl was gushing water like a fountain, under the steady pulse of the faucet. She stuck her hand under the water and felt it warm her finger where her wedding rings made her feel perpetually cold. She took off the rings and stared at them against the white curtains; the metalwork looked to her like the spokes of wheels, like on the tricycles, like on the motorcycle, like on the bike on the bicycle rack, like on the car that the bat was perched upon. She thought of her marriage and imagined it spinning and spinning under the furious weight of her pedaling. She thought of her marriage and imagined it still with potential movement or turning weakly under the brush of a bat’s wings.
Honey, Jason called. The shower had turned off. She slipped her rings back on and walked down the hall, past a wall of wedding photos in which she looked pinched and hungry. Jason was naked in the bathroom, standing in the shower and dripping down the drain. His dark skin looked slippery.
I need a towel, said Jason. Can you get me a clean one from the laundry?
She wanted to touch his skin, feel its smooth, slipperiness against her hand. Her hand stretched out and Jason knocked it gently away.
Honey, he said. Come on, I need a towel. Please?
So, Margaret turned and walked away. The laundry room was adjacent to the garage, so she poked her head in. The bat was perched precariously on top of a stack of boxes, shrieking and flapping its wings at their full twelve-foot length. She had to duck to keep one of its fat fingers from grazing her face. At her feet, an avalanche of memorabilia swept into the house.
The bat had knocked over several other boxes, and seemed alarmed about this, but had made the most of the whole thing, creating a nest of sorts from the papers and debris of her life. But the other boxes, of stuffed animals and book reports and Hot Wheels and baby shoes were, like the first box, still spilling and spilling. Already it was covering the bat’s knees, and the creature was mincing back and forth, flapping its arms and then stopping to nuzzle around in the papers and using its hands and feet to paper the walls and floor into a habitat. In its way, it was beautiful, like being inside a robin’s nest and realizing how sturdy and safe the whole thing could be, whatever rubbish it had been before, in its fragments of memories and string and twigs and leaves. She looked at the button next to the door that would open the garage and considered opening it; the bat didn’t seem violent enough to worry about the children. It hardly gave her a second glance since she had opened the door. She waded her way into the room and closed the door behind her. The bat kept on in its chittering.
All along the wall were pieces of her life, covered in bat saliva like wallpaper glue. Margaret reached out and folded up the corner of a picture she’d drawn as a child, of a lizard-like creature the size of an antelope, with a green collar around its neck. A smaller Margaret held a leash and smiled in a curve of crayon-drawn simplicity. The older Margaret, three-dimensional and standing in a dark room with a giant bat, smiled back and sat down to watch the bat work.
It was making something of her life, something beautiful and raw that she couldn’t make out of it, something with purpose and a story to it, but eventually she would have to open the garage door, she realized. If she didn’t, she realized, the bat would eventually drown in the detritus of her life. If she didn’t, she realized, they both would.
She could hear Jason shouting inside, looking for her. He would be storming through the house, naked and wet and angry. This was just the sort of conflict that he liked in a story; the reasonable and realistic drama of a husband and wife whose lives and habits were mundanely incompatible. It was the kind of drama that was covered in bagel crumbs and aching knees and unspoken regrets and guilty nights with his secretary and unwashed cereal bowls. The bat looked around at Margaret with its impenetrable human gaze and chittered quietly.
Margaret stood up fast, so fast that she unbalanced in a slide over the papers at her feet, a dozen copies of certificates from her piano recitals, it all just kept building and repeating, a thousand lifetimes that child Margaret had lived in vain. The button that would open the garage door blinked a warm green, wires running from the button up to the ceiling where the whole thing was rigged up to open those turning wheels onto the streets with ease. She grabbed the wires and yanked.
I’m in the garage, said Margaret. Come here. You have to see what this bat is doing.
Maggie, did you forget that I was waiting for you to bring me a towel? Jason asked her, rounding the corner in a flat-footed walk that she had always found endearing.
You have to see what this bat is doing, Margaret said again.
Maggie, did you hear me?
Just look, Jason. It’s made a huge mess.
Jason opened the garage door and cursed as the litter of her life rushed past his waist.
Goddamn it, Margaret, I told you that we should get rid of all this stuff. It’s a fire hazard.
Look, Jason, though. Look at the bat.
I don’t see a bat, he said, stepping into the garage.
She peered around his corner. Indeed, there was no bat in sight, no great, monstrous thing, with human eyes and molars. Her heart skipped, and Margaret wondered if she had, like Jason’s aunt and her sister, been telling fantastic stories with her mind. Then she saw the pile of papers crash and surge in a little wave, and before she could point, Jason said, What the hell is that? and stepped into the garage to get a better look.
And Margaret, on instinct and with a kinship for that bat, with his blue, thinking eyes, and his impulse to create something lasting and stunning out of her lost potential, stepped away and locked the door behind him. She walked back to the kitchen sink and stared at the window as the bat screeched and Jason pounded on the door. Eventually, he would gather his wits enough to realize that he could open the garage door manually, and then he would make an escape. Hopefully, he would think of that before he was crushed under the weight of her life. But first, she would listen to the bats wings pound and listen as Jason’s story changed into something strange and unexpected. She drew the curtains of the window back and blinked in the sun as the little boys hopped on their tricycles and the wheels spun and spun and spun, taking them past the corner and out of sight.
Kristen Figgins is a writer of fabulism, whose work has appeared in such places as Dunes Review, The Gateway Review, Puerto del Sol, Sleet Magazine, Hermeneutic Chaos, Sakura Review, and is forthcoming from The Whale Road Review and Zoetic Press. Her story “Track Me With Your Words, Speak Me With Your Feet” was winner of the 2015 Fiction Award from Puerto del Sol and her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Micro Award, and Write Well Award. Her first chapbook, A Narrow Line of Light, is available for purchase from Boneset Books and her novella, Nesting, is forthcoming from ELJ Publications in the Summer of 2017.
Artwork: Abigail Larson