the half-open window

the half-open window

"i want you to untame me"

 

I want you to untame me, the bat said.

it was not a demand.  he seemed calm, matter-of-fact, even a little apologetic.

you know how I feel about you, I said. I’d do it if I could, even if it means no more late night popcorn and vincent price movies. even if it means I’d never be able to tell anyone our story, because of course no one would believe methey don’t believe me now- which is why I just tell everyone that you are a very antisocial cat that hides in the closet when they come over.

the bat had listened to this politely. a flea emerged briefly out of the thick fur on his face and scrambled across his nose, disappearing again beneath his eye.

I could get that for you, I offered. I’ve got the comb… or I could run water in the sink and you could wade in and drown them…

I’m supposed to have fleas, the bat said, scratching the place where the flea had been with one of his thumb claws. I’m also supposed to be antisocial, even rabid. I’m supposed to be…. of the night.

you’ve been watching the national geographic channel, haven’t you? already, I could feel myself turning into that person- the one who, instead of having a little dignity when it’s over, seals the rejection by becoming abject and snivelling.

it’s me, the bat said, not you.

we stared at each other.

I need a drink, I said.

the bat sidled toward me across the back of the couch, then climbed onto my sleeve.  I was wearing a baggy sweater and the bat’s weight made it sag. he hung awkwardly upside-down from beneath my arm, but of course he did not look awkward… he was a bat. I was the one who looked awkward, trying to hold my arm up in in uncomfortable position to keep everything from unraveling.

I never asked to be tamed, the bat said.

I know.  I hadn’t fully realized until then what I had done. it should have been enough that I was human and could not help ruining things by coming close to them. I had learned things from the nature shows too…

I can’t untame you.

you mean you won’t.

I mean I don’t know how. there’s no such word. it only goes one direction. it can’t be undone.

he stared at me upside down. this used to unnerve me but now I understood it was just his way of thinking.

like innocence, the bat said. the bat was so smart, smarter than me. maybe that was the problem.

just because you’re not like the bats on tv… but I knew this argument was useless. the bat was gazing toward the half-open window. it was getting dark outside. I guessed he could sense the other bats, the ultrasonic sounds I could not hear, but that he listened to with his bones. he had tried to describe it to me,  but gave up. he’d said it was like trying to explain water to someone who wasn’t a fish.

there’s no going back then, the bat said.

the gift of sleep

the gift of sleep

 

when the delivery man arrived, he stood in the mud room while I flattened a stack of crumpled ones and searched the refrigerator magnets for a coupon that hadn’t expired.

sorry about the weather! I called from the kitchen, cringing at my own inanity. as if it were my fault it was fifteen below outside. as if I possessed a giant thermostat in a trap door under my linoleum floor that I used to dial up a polar vortex when I felt moody. what I had meant was that I was sorry his job forced him out in this weather.  or maybe what I really meant was that I felt guilty because I wouldn’t have taken his place.

is nothing.  I am washing my balls in this weather he said matter-of-factly when I handed over the money and the coupon. then he flinched. he was looking at the shoulder of my sweater.

she doesn’t bite. I said.

he was counting the money by paging through the bills with his fingers, but his eyes were fixed on what was clinging to my right shoulder.

what is English word for this animal?  in my country we call him netopier.

myotis lucifigus, I said. that’s the Latin. the common name is little brown bat.

in my country, netopier… little brown bat… make you very sick. is very dangerous.

I nodded. yes, it’s true. but I’ve been vaccinated. also, she’s very tired…. almost ready for a nap.

he shoved the wad of ones into his back pocket.  the snow had melted off his boots and he was standing in a small puddle- we both noticed it at the same time. I felt bad about sending him back into the storm.

would you like to see something else unusual?

I shouldn’t have said it, but there it was. usually when visitors like this showed up I was careful not to disturb their  sense of continuity. but I had found it difficult lately, to be just a caretaker- just a stopover on people’s travels.  just then the wind howled painfully around the eaves. we could both hear the snow against the windows like a sandblaster.

would you like to see? I said.

for a second, he looked like he would say hey, I’m just delivery guy… I make delivery. you might think we all embrace the roles we’ve been assigned.  but instead of speaking, he closed his mouth again, his eyes darting to the swirling snow outside the window.  I wondered how many doors he’d had to knock on today, or if he’d known this one was different when he stepped through.

he shivered, then tried to cover it by clearing his throat.

I set the bag he had handed me on the floor. I had no idea what was in it,  but I hoped it was something good- maybe calzones, or pad thai.  I motioned for him to take off his shoes, then waved for him to follow me down the dim hallway.

at the very end, where it was almost too dark to see, there was a door.  I put a finger to my lips. in a whisper, I said

I’ve never showed this to anyone else.

he looked into my face and said, I believe you.

I opened the door, and we stood together at the threshold, looking in.

the gift of sleep

I tiptoed in and gently hung the little brown bat upside-down on the lampshade, and tiptoed slowly back to the doorway.

We stood like that for a little longer, listening to the slow, steady breathing. And then I quietly closed the door and we padded back down the hallway to the mud room. He used my shoulder to steady himself while he put his boots back on and laced them up. Then he took his gloves out of his jacket pockets and put them on.

this is dream, he said.

I said nothing.

as he reached for the doorknob he paused and looked at the floor. I couldn’t see his face because of he had put the hood of his jacket up.  please. do not show to anyone else?

I watched him out the window as he stepped carefully back along his own path of boot holes in the snow, hunched against the wind, using the vinyl insulator delivery bag like a kind of sail to speed his progress until he disappeared into the white.

the lost moustache

the lost moustache

June 1, 2014
San Francisco

I’ve been on a long blog hiatus after I finished my latest book, small, fierce things. Now I’m starting to make new stories and new drawings, and instead of saving them all up for a foggy day, I figured I’d post them as I write them for you here.

Of course, I’m not sure who “you” are. I’m never sure who I’m writing to, or who is listening (other than myself and the many creatures that tell me stories.) But that doesn’t mean I don’t dream of you, whoever you are.

And without further ado, I’d like to tell you this story:

 

the lost moustache

 

the lost moustache

this is a story about a moustache. it was a very full moustache- some would say generous, even extravagant. it slung low along the sides of the smile and even ventured well below the mouth, growing so lush as to cover the chin and chest. at its upper limit it divided into twin  luxuriant tufts that nested above the upper lip, and met in the hollow beneath the nose. some would say it was brash, perhaps overambitious as far as moustaches go… really more accurately described as a beard. but no, it was a moustache.

it was shorn off in the middle of a polar summer, and cast into a ritual fire on the longest day of a day that had already lasted four months. as it sizzled and twisted and gave off a pungent smoke, it began to materialize elsewhere, burning simultaneously out of one existence and into another, as things do.

it had been important, this moustache. it had had an important story that had grown, follicle by follicle, through itchy and awkward stages, carried by a man who had in turn carried its story into being. but that was all over now, and both the moustache in its new incarnation, and the memory of the moustache still carried by its former bearer, struggled not with the actual moment of parting, but with the process of letting go.

as the fire slowly burned down to embers, the man stirred the ashes that contained the moustache. little by little the light, whitish ash tumbled away in the wind, until deep into the early hours of the new polar day, there was nothing left but a few charred fragments of driftwood left where the moustache had been. the light had not changed. the sky had not changed. but things were very different.

the people who had known the man only as the man with the luxuriant and generous moustache did not recognize him when he returned. for them, he had become synonymous with the moustache, and it with him. he watched their faces as they realized. after the initial shock, it took them very little time to grow accustomed to his naked visage, so that very soon, sooner than he would have expected, they could not remember what he looked like with the moustache.

in the other world, where the moustache had burned into being, it had appeared simply as a pile of hair on a stretch of isolated forest floor. this was also a disconcerting experience for the moustache, which had become accustomed to a kind of symbiotic existence of both wearing and being worn. here was a kind of disparate desolation. for a few minutes, it had to sit with the experience of separateness: of being upon, rather than attached to. it thought it might be dreaming, or hallucinating.

it was not long before a raven, out looking for nesting materials, landed near the moustache, and after walking back and forth slowly with its wings folded behind its back and considering the possibilities, finally gathered it up with several swift stabs of its beak and flew over a lake and into a stand of trees, where its mate perched, shrewdly arranging an intricate tangle of sticks. together the birds poked and tucked tufts of the moustache carefully into the tangle, and soon all three nestled into a new identity.

for the man without the moustache, which is how he had begun to think of himself, the starkness of his action did not lessen with time but grew. the physical act that had taken him only the length of a few minutes to accomplish, had, for its immaterial backlash, left him with an unpleasant sensation of loss that seemed to endlessly unreel.

his mental image of himself, before it was reflected in a pane of glass or in a mirror, before he turned the light on, or when he encountered himself in dreams, was still moustachioed. he felt its phantom itch fade on waking. his lips were chapped from the unconscious action of trying to touch what was no longer there with his tongue.

he became angry when anyone inquired about the moustache. later, he became angry when people stopped inquiring. when he himself could no longer remember the sensation of it, he became forlorn.

in the other world, the moustache didn’t miss being part of the man because it no longer existed. through the thread of the fire and the needle of the wind it had been sewn into a new form. it was full of feathers and mites and leaves and mud and moss. it kept the ravens warm in the snow.