Bats

We have lived in this house—our first—for only three months. We are strangers to it, and it to us. Never in my life has everything been so new, all at once: the small town in Alabama; the updated ranch-style home sunk into a yard of camellias and azaleas; the job at the university populated by students who call me ma’am; and most of all, my tiny son, who seems more animal than human, more a collection of sounds and smells than a child.

I am waiting for the strangeness to wear off; sometimes I imagine smoothing it away, like one of my son’s hangnails. Where is my tiny file, made for hands so small you can fit one in your mouth? It is nowhere to be found, and in the meantime there are bats roosting in the vent that leads to the attic over our garage. The vent is small, by my standards—not big enough for an adult to enter or exit, but big enough, surely, for a baby. The vent is a white triangle, slatted, put there so that a breeze can cool a space that no one ever enters. A screen separates the small world of the vent, where the bats reside, from the attic.

One hot day in September—it is summer for three seasons here—my husband calls me over to see what he has found, and I climb into the attic on the rickety ladder and in the dim light I see the silhouette of a mass of creatures, pressed against the screen.

I do not enter the attic completely. My husband stands below me, murmuring to Peter, who watches me passively, whose gaze at five months old suggests he is half in this world, half in another.

“Careful,” my husband says, but he need not warn me. The ladder—I do not trust it. I stop when I am just high enough to see them, the bats my husband discovered because their guano killed a neat section of grass below where they roost.

The warm, viscous air in the attic turns breathing unpleasant. I follow the beam of the flashlight, but I can’t see anything until I hit the ladder with my wrist and make a sound and then the bats move, en masse.

“I see them!” I shout. I am not afraid of bats. I am afraid of most things in the natural world—snakes, spiders, bees, wasps. A tornado, a drought. A thicket of ivy. But not bats. They excite me, in some primal way I don’t entirely understand.

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