She noticed the bat as they passed the twenty-two mile marker on Route 78. They were driving home from their recently purchased farmland in Western Pennsylvania. Her husband had wanted it for hunting mostly. She didn’t want it at all.
The bat flapped by her head, messing up her hair. She had the urge to scream but stifled it, afraid it would drive her husband off the road. She began lowering the window.
“What are you doing?” her husband asked. “It’s freezing outside. I’ve got the heat on.”
“Albert,” she said. “There’s a bat in the Tahoe.”
“What’d you mean a bat? In here, now?”
“Yes, here, now.”
The bat noises sounded like squeaking and scratching. It reminded her of when she came home to a mouse stuck in the trap they had set in the basement. She had called her husband, and he had said to kill it by snapping its neck. She had gone into the other room and left it to scream. The bat noises seemed to bounce off the interior walls, echoing with undeterminable origin.
“Roll them all down!” he said. “Get that damned thing out of here.”
“Stay calm,” she said. “It’s just a small bat.”
“A bat with rabies and god knows what other diseases in my Tahoe.”
The heater in the car hadn’t quite kicked in yet. They both sat with coats on. Albert wore tan workman’s gloves with his five-hundred-dollar overcoat. It smelled of burnt wood.
“Damn it,” he said and looked around, his eyes watery and frantic. He spun his head quickly back and forth. Panic rose red in his cheeks. “Bats can kill you, ya know?”
“It isn’t Dracula, Al. It’s a regular old fruit bat.” She had a slow way of speaking, a slight prairie flatness to her voice that seemed to have arisen from a childhood with space to say things. It was something about her that drew Albert in when they met.
The bat fluttered by her face; she felt the wing graze her shoulder. It went out into the blackness of the night.
“Roll it up! Roll it up, goddamn it! We don’t want it coming back in!”
She did begin cranking the handle, quite frantically, looking out at the night. She saw only black, the occasional glint of the winter moon. The cold air made her nose run a little. It blew the fur of her collar tightly against her neck.
“Quicker!” he said. “Roll the damned thing up quicker!” His voice had machismo, quick and guttural. She had heard his voice before she saw him, thirty years prior, stuck on a crosstown bus.
“It’s hot as hell in here.” he said from the seat next to her.
“Yeah,” she said. “It is hot.”
He wore a T-shirt, rolled-up sleeves, hair slicked back, freckles on his nose from days on Orchard Beach.
“You’re from somewhere else,” he said.
“Isn’t everyone here from somewhere else?” she said.
“Not me. The Bronx, I’ve been there my whole life. Same block and everything. You ever been to the Bronx, besides the zoo?”
“No,” she said. “But I’ve only been in New York for a couple months.”
“You coulda been here for twenty years and you’d have the same answer. But it’s nice up there, ya know, by Pelham Bay, but I’m leaving soon.”
“Do you ever feel like you’re not meant to be where you are?”
He sat leaning his elbows on his knees, arched forward. The heat from the summer blew the scent of melting asphalt into the bus, which was stopped at a light near Columbus Circle. She had been reading in Central Park.
“Yes.” she said, “That’s why I’m here.”
“I want to see other places,” he said. He looked out the window, pulled a cigarette form behind his ear. He offered it to her with a nod of his head.
“Sure,” she said.
The bus lurched forward, flew west on 58th street. He held his hands over the match as he lit it for her.
“I am,” she said, “rolling it as quickly as I can.” She turned to face her husband as she said this, then swung her face back toward the open window.
She looked into the night and gasped. Flying alongside the window, peering back at her was the bat. Not attempting to come in through the small crack still at the top but just coasting at 65 miles hour looking in at her.
The window clicked shut. She pulled her hand off the handle and grabbed the front of her coat.
The bat seemed almost to smile.
“What? It’s gone, isn’t it? Why are you looking like that?”
“Albert, the bat is,” she didn’t feel like explaining it to her husband. She hadn’t felt like explaining anything to him in years.
They had never gone anywhere except New Jersey where they bought a house and a dog. “You know it’s the country when the mailbox is on the road,” he used to say. She had pictured them in Southern France, on a farm in England, Barcelona. She didn’t know one’s drive could fade over the years, that life could siphon it from your veins.
“The bat is what? Did it get back inside? Did it bite you or something?”
The color drained from her face except for very small blotchy spots in the centers of her cheeks.
“It’s gone,” she said. “It’s just gone.” She placed her fingers on the glass, forming five circular smudge marks.
“Well, thank god for that. Let’s hope he didn’t shit all over everything in the back.”
She leaned close to the glass, seeing only her own reflection, broken every couple seconds by a neon mile marker.
“Yes,” she said. “Let’s hope for that.”