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.
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.