the erratic flight patterns of bats
BY MICHELE FINN JOHNSON
The weather is warm again, and the Mexican free-tailed bats have returned from their winter in Jalisco, Sinaloa, and Sonora. They fly overhead. I tilt back in my Adirondack chair, look to see if they etch any trace of you in the sky.
That first night. After the jump.
“Float,” you say.
A command. You presume I have control over my body after half a bottle of Zinfandel. I focus and quiet my flippery feet, stare at the bug-filled air. Moths and mites skip and hop nonsensically, as if they are playing Chinese checkers. I believe I am floating.
“Like this?” I ask.
When you don’t answer, I start to sink. But your hands swoop. You gather me.
Mexican free-tailed bats hunt their prey using echolocation. They are primarily insectivores, eating moths, beetles, dragonflies, flies, and wasps—things that they catch in flight.
That first night. Before the jump.
“So I’m a rebound?” you ask.
We sit on the edge of Crumb’s pool. It’s a pool party in theory, but in practice, no one’s in it. I don’t know why I’ve told you about Toby, that other girl, the breakup.
I splash the pool’s cool surface with my feet. “Who says you’re anything?” When you laugh, I can see the back of your mouth—a cave. You give the laugh everything that you have and then you jump into the water. You break the surface and smooth your hair with your hands. Water droplets umbrella-drip off of your eyelashes. Even before you hold out your arms, I know that I will jump.
Bat mating can occur in an aggressive or passive form. In the aggressive form, the male controls the female’s movements, keeping her away from the other bats in the roost. He also tends to vocalize when mating. During passive copulation, the male flies to a female in her roost and quietly mounts her with no resistance.
(Crumb warns me as I grab my coat. “He’s a douche but I love him like a brother.” I know Crumb is telling the truth but I decide to chalk his douche talk up to multiple Bacardi 151 Jell-O shots. My place. You are loud and I am loud and I wonder—have I been doing it wrong all this time?)
Mexican free-tailed bats begin feeding after dusk. This species of bats flies the highest of all species, at altitudes around 10,000 feet, and they’ve been measured at a ground speed of 99 miles per hour.
(You move so fast, you’re like a hockey puck that I can’t track. I want to track you. I want to fly south with you, then north, then south again—a never-ending zigzag. I haven’t lived yet, you say, after we hit the six-month mark. I can’t do this boyfriend/girlfriend thing. Your mouth is still moist with the stickiness of me. You haven’t really lived yet either. You think you are helping; you think you are breaking my pattern—jump, attach, stick. You are smug with all of your knowing better, and you move wildly, tripping over my Crate and Barrel throw rug, black underwear balled up in your fingers.)
According to Spanish lore, bats symbolize good health, good fortune, and family unity.
Midnight. The Adirondack chair. Bats fly overhead like crack babies from those anti-drug warning videos—spastic and inconsolable. It is a night like that first night at Crumb’s—warm, moonless. My hands are on my belly now, feeling its hardness. A protective shell. I look for patterns in the bats’ erratic flight; I know it is pointless, but I have to try.
Michele Finn Johnson’s stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Colorado Review, Mid-American Review, DIAGRAM, Puerto del Sol, SmokeLong Quarterly, Split Lip Magazine, and elsewhere. Her nonfiction won an AWP Intro Journals Project Award. Her work was twice nominated for the 2016 Best of the Net and was long-listed by Wigleaf’s Top 50 in 2015. Michele lives in Tucson and is working on a creative nonfiction collection. Learn more at michelefinnjohnson.com or on Twitter @m_finn_johnson.
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