The pipistrelle circled the darkening square and, with an ease unseen, made a wheel of it; a welcome for the rising shadow tide. The bell, the harbour bell, sang once across Penn Beacon, reaching the garden some time after. The thin brass coloured peal echoed across the three walls of the back garden and faded
faded faded faded.
The bat flickered like celluloid across the lit windows of the buildings, the brief glimpses holding the couple entranced. Their breathing steadied and slowed. It flew in silence. There were no aural clues to its whereabouts anyway. Every so often a car hushed by on the street or else a voice or a cough or a laugh or something not so obvious rose up through the air out front of the block and, beneath the evening, the yacht rigging rattled and, further out in the blue, unseen, thrummed, he assumed, ship turbines.
They sat, smoking, at the evening slatted garden table beyond the fading backdoor. This had become their habit since moving into the small attic flat some time earlier. Their comfort and the tiny fires that they drew, enabled this couple the luxury to melt (just a little) and for the unsorted hearsays and overheard snippets and netted thoughts of the day to be brought up to the surface and be aired.
They spoke of the nuances, the nothings of their day and the cigarette smoke and the night air and the quiet and the words and the waiting for the tiny bat to reappear allowed them to return to another time and be easy (easier) again in each other’s company – like the lovers they were of some yesterdays ago.
She placed four fingers between two slats in the table. It had been raining all afternoon and now, with the sun rising somewhere, and the dishes on the draining rack upstairs, she allowed the damp and painted wood to cool her blood. In her other hand she toyed a lighter. She heard his voice (too near her ear; too loud) and held the table tighter.
“Not so loud.”
So he spoke to her quietly and she started to see that he was saying something about their blind neighbour.
“I could see him. The street was empty but for us. It was obvious that we would meet at the door. Meet or good as. It was close anyway.”
“He looks younger than his clothes suggest.”
He said something trivial.
She said, “did you think of just standing still? Quietly. Letting him pass?”
He had, but the moment passed and instead, he said, “I got to the front door and sort of rattled my keys. I should’ve got them out earlier.”
She shook her head for some reason at this and took a drag on her cigarette, but it was dead, so she laid it sadly on the table alongside the lighter. She had never learned to roll her own, relying on him to do so for her on the rare occasions that she smoked.
“We both reached the threshold at the same moment. ‘Morning,’ I said. And he said, ‘Morning Peter.’ He thought I was Peter!”
This made her giggle a little. “What did you say?”
“I didn’t say anything. I just went through the door ahead of him. I was on the stairs before I heard him close the door.”
A smile passed across her face, but she didn’t giggle any further.
Three sides of the garden were walled, opening to the sky. The bat read the boundaries, the shape of the buildings, the cold ground, the unseen insects filling the air.
In the fading light her flight was hard to follow, except briefly as it passed across the pale brickwork of The Quadrant, strobing the blonde trellis that girdled Unity Hall or sometimes there was just the sense that it had flittered over the tops of their heads.
The silence for awhile was heavy, muted. But despite everything, time and companionship has made them quite attuned to each other, so sometimes it was as if they needn’t speak. On occasion it was almost as if they could read each other’s minds. Sometimes they could finish each other’s sentences. He likened it to magic and wondered if he should make a sound – say something. Perhaps he could string a line together? If he did, if he dared break radio silence, then, perhaps, she’d take up that string and pass it back to him, to and fro, and between the two of them they could construct some kind of unseen cats’ cradle.
And sometimes they didn’t get each other at all.
But their silence is well mapped already. They are part of the bat’s geography, dim witness to tiny creature’s hunt. Before he can decide whether to speak out or not, she says, “It’s gone.”
He peered into the darkness before them, nothing.
She sees Venus slide behind a cloud. A minute passes and, it’s true, the bat has perhaps left the garden.
“It’s a misconception,” he says into the dark.
“Venus? About bats. Bats and blindness.”
They sit in silence awhile. Quite happy actually. She spends some time struggling with the lighter. He thinks about saying something about white sticks but there isn’t much for him to share on that matter. She gives up with the lighter.
“Venus?” he says again.
She touches his wrist with the back of her hand, en route to pointing to the sky, but the cloud has become blanket and the planet has disappeared.
“It’s gone,” she says.
“Here, let me light that for you.”
“I hate these things. They hurt my thumb.”
She hands him the lighter, picks up the cigarette and leans into the offered flame.
“I got to give these up,” she says.
She looks beautiful within the brief cupped glow and he feels as if he has seen her for the first time again.