Lilianna Meldrum Serbicki
Wearing a Human Face
For something is amiss or out of place
When mice with wings can wear a human face.
It’s the only interesting animal I’ve touched. When I was a teenager a small brown bat bit down on my eyelid like some blessing for surviving adolescence. It found me several floors down from the attic in which it lived, sleeping, and left a gift, small and tender. The rabies shots were inevitable as a precaution. I don’t mind the intimate bunt of a needle if I can watch it, but a needle going for your eye is the biggest surprise of all; you can’t watch the final moment of the thrust, like a sanitized version of Le Chien Andalou’s violent cut.
There were bathhouses for our little tenants, narrow white ones on the side of our house. They appreciated these, but they were weekend cottages, the dark and unpleasant attic the real deal, the castle they were ready to remodel with noise and clotted excrement. There was another colony of bats, the male colony, in our neighbor’s barn. They swooped together when it was Their Time, as graceful in the sky as if they were courtesans negotiating sex in a Regency pleasure garden. Our attic was then a spring maternity ward; in the winter they’d escape to a cave, but all spring and summer they rejoiced in the attic.
After one summer party, sleepy with heat and cake, my friends lingered into the evening in the starry grass of the yard. When the shapes plummeted from the attic, like witch and familiar both, my friend’s mother startled. “We have to leave,” she told her children, panic tamped down in her voice. “My mother always told me, they can make nests in your hair, you know. Nests!” But a hair-nest, logic tells us, would not allow you to hang upside down.
No, bats certainly preferred attics to scalps. An attic as protection is a sweet, dusty fantasy; if I were an attic, I’d hold someone’s hidden wife and keep her safe. If I were a hidden wife, an attic is better than a basement, anyway. I’d give Jane Eyre a run for her money if I could hide in an attic to recoup before I burnt the house down. I wonder, sometimes, if hanging upside down helps you think. If you were the wife in the attic, would you want a window or not? What if you looked out to find yourself replaced? If the woman who replaced you was identical, would you know who was the woman and who was the bat?
Now I am a mother and bats look like children to me. I myself am an unexpected mammal with delicate membranes, a big reach, and a moderate amount of fur. It seems counterintuitive that I give birth to live young and only rarely drink blood, but it’s true. I haven’t made a nest in someone’s hair for years.