“you’re too pretty for me”
he says this without a hint of irony. I don’t understand what he means. I raise an eyebrow.
“it’s true. you’re too pretty for me.”
pretty hits my skin but stays outside. it does not permeate through my layers so my mind draws a blank.
he puts on that dismissive smirk, but I still pick up on a hint of resentment in his voice. pretty does that to people. I flick my eyes up to his momentarily, shake my head then focus back on my tea.
beauty is something worn, an adornment. this I understand. pretty is more oblique, more insidious, seen as an inherent quality. I believe he takes this to mean I will be confident (i.e. vicious), operate from a position of privilege. He thinks by calling me out he will somehow weaken that capacity.
“did you hear? they think they’ve found a cure for the bats. no more dying in the trees. hopefully at least,” I say softly.
he nods but has nothing to add. I think about bringing up painleve’s le vampire, but I feel that’s just another dead end, not enough to fill the space. esoteric references got us to spitting distance but will take us no further.
instead I sit quietly and think of my friend’s father, three years ago, his eyes unfocused and bloodshot standing on his overgrown farm. he says the bats have been gone all summer and the mosquitoes have gotten bad. he misses them and he worries.
“baaaaaaats!” he rasps, his voice worn and strained. “baaaaats!” we stand there, waiting, purple.
as if awaiting the signal, a dark blip shoots across the dusky expanse. this excites the man and his face changes shape. “baaaaaats!” he calls again, “baaaaats!” no more appear and eventually the man’s hope wanes. his countenance resumes its weariness and he ambles inside.
“what are you thinking?” pretty boy asks.
I shrug and glance at him sideways. I see that his eyes are too close together but disregard this as forgivable since they are also the color of a lake I remember fondly. in others we seek these souvenirs of cherished memories, reminders of things external and unchanging. this is called attraction.
I notice he fidgets with the same apprehension that I do. we’re mirrors of inaction. my throat has closed up. I notice a run in my stockings, a nick in my shoe.
mating between bats plays out like a game of marco polo. the male shoots out his voice, flying back and forth across a central route. the female then seeks him out, following his vocalizations.
for this purpose, the anatomy of the male hammer head fruit bat has twisted over time to increase its ability to produce sound. its elongated head filled with air and its larynx distended to almost half the length of its backbone. this now fills so much of its chest cavity that the heart and lungs are pushed to the periphery, deemed of secondary importance by evolution.
I realize we have been sitting in silence for some time. I am unable to speak, my larynx is shrunken, my lungs and heart unencumbered, so I just look down and let out a breath.
with some sudden, awkwardly enacted aggression he grabs at my hand across the table.
“I like you,” he says, though his voice wavers. “I don’t normally like pretty girls, but these things happen sometimes. sometimes we have no control.”
his words make no sense. sound here is unnecessary and distasteful. but my desperation, my desire to play out this game is clear despite my silence.
he lunges across the table and kisses me hard, as if overwhelmed by some insuppressible need to subdue. I respond mechanically in an attempt to reassure him. he does not stop. this is performance.
he touches me and I think of the bat fungus, of the dying bats, of my ex, of the cold. I think of bodies, but only as abstractions. with so few bats left, how will they survive?
as he pushes through, permeates, I think about how far away I am from pretty.