by Roppotucha Greenberg
Love was a giant bat that hung outside her window and screeched. On good days, it munched bananas. On bad days it thrashed against the walls and chewed up the pegs. I wasn’t afraid of the bat, just annoyed at my mother for bringing it in at night. Do you remember that first time you stayed in our place? I thought you saw the bat and weren’t frightened when it sprawled on the ceiling above us. I was proud of you. But that wasn’t it. You didn’t mind it because you weren’t a person at all, just weather. I took you for a young man, but you were just wet trees and wind.
My mother phoned that day. She was worried she wouldn’t get the tickets. Flights got canceled all the time; companies were going out of business. What was the world coming to at all.
‘We’re fine’, I said, ‘Better. No stupid arguments every night.’
She said she was crying because she’d miss her son-in-law.
‘But he wasn’t human,’ I said. He was just sunny spells in the West and blustery winds North of the capital.
My fault really. Then she said she couldn’t understand me anymore. She was coming to see if the kids were all right.
You know, our kids could never understand what anyone was saying.
The day of the snowstorm my mother arrived cradling the bat in her arms, and I was out of bananas. That was three months later, most of the furniture disappeared and the books were packed. The bat’s wound-mouth gaped open and screeched, and I rushed to the shop for pineapples and dragon fruit. Why did she have to drag it to this cold place anyway.
All the shops were closing, and all the roads were jammed. I squeezed the gear stick and loop-thought: milk, and fruit, and bread, or something like bread, milk, and fruit, and your stupid furniture, good riddance to bad rubbish, and no, love is not a bat. Wet fur, choked shrieks, musty grief, long nights, old navigational charts left over from my father’s collection, none of them were love. Fishfingers, bread, and fruit.
Aldi was still open, but all the bread was gone. Bad snow they said, straight from Siberia. We had yet to see a snowflake, but the customers were beginning to zombify. The cashiers’ voices were dangerously high-pitched. No, they did not stock pineapples or dragon fruit. Would it eat tinned peaches?
I phoned my mother, but the reception was awful. Then she said you weren’t coming to see the kids. You’d phoned to say there was black ice on the roads and that your car wasn’t in top shape. Then she said I should watch my language, and I forgot to ask her about the peaches.
By the way, she still thinks I am being unkind, but I can’t even look at you: your face blurs like bad static, even on photographs. But if I remember the shape of you against mine, all the continents rush to greet you. Maybe I could’ve handled things differently. But I was taught that love was leathery membranes, tapered claws, twitching ears, and the mouth of a lost dog.
The car wouldn’t start, and my phone died. The last of the zombies were lugging shopping through the parking lot. Then the sky got dark, and the pigeons landed on the tarmac. Three supermarket trolleys rolled out on to the road, and flipped sideways, their wheels still rolling as life left them.
I was wrong of course: love is not a bat. Geography isn’t love either, or meteorology. Rain can’t understand you. The patterns in the clouds have no meaning beyond themselves. They were dark now, swollen with the cold. I got out of the car. If I walk fast enough, I told myself I’d beat the snow. Somewhere far away, my mother was struggling with fussy toddlers and soggy pasta, the bat was screeching, and huge gusts of wind were rushing from Siberia.