The White Mask
A blight is forcing single bats to trail away from their tribe. It's a white mask that covers their scrawled and cusped faces—each I've seen lost by a new arrangement of this cankerous mold that drives them off their perennial course. And sometimes I have to ask, what is ours?
At my home, we have a bat cave—I like to call it that—a small black box affixed to the side of a blood-dry, saw-wood barn under a corrugated tin roof. The barn dries like a living thing after each rainstorm; the ryegrass pats its ankles; the evergreens brush its grainy brow; and by the time the wind hushes, it's blown dry to true earthen form. Seated on a distant hill of high pines in darkness, it is a childhood friend to us—a barn, named “Barney,” she says.
My daughter doesn't know yet that this is a name that I'd given him 35 years ago—a friend who chose to petrify rather than fall. He's pressed with time and looks hardly on his feet, but today we both approach him to honor the monument he will always be.
“It's too hot, Barney!” she hollers, each word escaping in angles among the loud rushes of thick, leavened air on the hill. “Where are the bats?”
We'd seen the bony brown creatures on the wing in the daylight, with the beating sun broiling them. Blinded without eyes we had watched as they swung and stung the air with their deafening cries, and we always thought they were beautiful from the kitchen window. We didn't know they were dying.
Today it is hot enough to fry a nickel.
On that hottest summer day, we both instinctively move closer. Two had only moments ago landed in a pile of their own molten dung—a castle of it, as they'd dropped from the cave. That slope of ordure had accumulated against the side of the barn since the evergreens were at its cheeks.
My mother used to sweep their crisp dead wings from outside the well when we had more owls, and more water. Pesky things, we all once thought. Who knew millions of them would die next year? The white mask would take nearly 7 million of them away in months to come.
One of the two sinks into the porridge, with no hope, squealing helplessly in the tarry mound. A pealing terror bites the air.
The other of the two climbs painfully against the light of day, claws upward, scaling the wall of the red barn with all its might, and returns to the darkness among its mouse-eared cohort of 500, embedded and asleep in the warmth of the tight, black cave.
“Maybe we'll remember them,” I say, my finger making tiny circles around the cave, so crammed.
“Or that one,” she says, pointing at the crusted wings and smoldering head of the errant bat in the mound.
Since, we always rejoice when the sky is dark and a flume of colonies will alight, flirt with the night's colors, and twirl into winds, into the endless, preying on black flies and diving at our heads, playfully.
Farid Nassif was born in Boston, studied Literature at Bennington College in Vermont and finished his MA in English at Brooklyn College.He recently finished recording a series of original short stories with best-selling novelist and New York's The Moth creator, George Dawes Green. His book, Civilized Man, is accessible on amazon.com and bn.com. Farid is now working on a second book while dedicating his days teaching at Fordham University, Brooklyn College and LaGuardia Community College.