White Whale Review: An Online Literary Magazine Untitled Document
WHITE WHALE REVIEW
Nick Ripatrazone
Nick Ripatrazone's recent work has appeared in Esquire, The Kenyon Review, West Branch, The Mississippi Review, Caketrain, and Beloit Fiction Journal, and a book of prose poems titled Oblations is forthcoming from Gold Wake Press in 2011. He is pursuing an MFA from Rutgers-Newark. His website is here.

Featured Work
Loading...
Subscribe to RSS     Share

Bat

Nick Ripatrazone

 

The kid couldn’t sleep, so Cheryl went outside to take him for a walk. She screamed when she heard something flapping behind one of the shutters. Craig came outside, naked except for a sleeveless shirt, and from the guest room window Abe watched him rattle a stick behind the wooden slats until a bat flew out, swarmed and swooped in every direction before bucking inside the house. The kid started screaming and Cheryl held her hand over his mouth but not too close; she kept it cupped as if everything she did that hinted at violence was tempered and careful.

Craig sprinted inside after the bat and told Abe to cover his face. He was covering his own eyes. The bat rose toward the ceiling as if pulled by string and smashed against light bulbs while Craig chased the bat with a broom, swinging it on his toes. He looked like he was having fun; maybe to Cheryl, but Abe knew the awkward smile hid a good deal of fear. The bat had curled around one of the chains that

supported the ceiling fan. Craig kept swinging, peeking between his closed fingers. Cheryl stood in front of the window, kid hiked over her breasts, and she and Abe watched Craig poking about. He was talking the entire time. He said he was going to get the son of a bitch. Abe looked at Cheryl and he moved as if to take the broom from Craig but she shook her head. Finally the bat flew away, slapping along the ceiling before shuddering out the open door. Craig dropped the broom in the kitchen and swigged orange juice. He grabbed the carton to refill the glass but put it back down and took the kid from Cheryl, who was heaving, not crying, just breathing enough breaths for everybody else in the room. He held up the kid under the armpits. They didn’t look like each other at all.

“That was fun, right? That bat didn’t know where to go. It’s because he’s blind.”

He handed the kid back to Cheryl and went to bed.

~

Cheryl told Abe to sit at the table. “Daniel is sleeping,” she said, as if to say now we can actually


talk. It would be nice--he hadn’t had a moment of real conversation with either of them since he got there.

Craig filled his glass with orange juice and smoked a Black Hawk. His hands seemed to have gotten bigger. A jagged scar, light as bacon fat, tattooed across his right knuckles.

“Still on the same?” Abe asked.

Craig tipped the cigarette. “You’ve got to stay loyal.” He folded his forearms on the table. “So what brings you out here?”

“I had a few days off and wanted to swing around.” Abe didn’t want to talk about this in front of Cheryl. She stared at him constantly, like she couldn’t comprehend that the two were related. Craig was still in shape, his shoulders wider than ever, but his face was worn and sunburned. Abe wanted to talk to Craig alone, and got his chance when Cheryl suggested they hunt quail.

“I’ve got the taste for it,” she said. She slid Craig’s glass of orange juice away. “He’s addicted to the stuff. Better this than something else.” She winked at Abe.

Craig moved his finger in the water left on the table from the bottom of the glass. He looked at Abe. “My brother knows how to shoot bottles, right? Not much different than quail.” He poked Abe’s elbow and told him to follow. Cheryl patted his hand.

“It was nice to meet you.”

It seemed a strange time for her to say that.

~

Craig had screwed an ashtray into the dashboard of his pickup, and he left a burning Black Hawk there while he finished the one in his mouth. The window was only open a crack and the hot air collected in the cab. Abe pressed his cheek against the glass of his window and looked at the trees they drove past. Everything looked familiar, he thought; once before they’d gone to Pennsylvania for a long weekend, all packed in the Chevy, rods and oars strapped to the sides of the bed.

Craig had swerved off the road a mile back but claimed he knew his way. Tan trail-marks indented the ground so he wasn’t lying. Abe stayed quiet and thought about what to tell Craig about their father.


They stopped at a clearing and Craig changed behind the truck. He gave Abe similar camouflaged shirt and pants. He said there was no need for orange because nobody came back there. The clothes were too big and they felt starched and they certainly hadn’t been cleaned in a dog’s year. Clay-colored mud caked at the elbows and knees. They walked through the high grass and Craig hiked his rifle to his chest and Abe did the same and Craig said you don’t have to do everything I do, but if you choose to, then so be it. Abe kept on doing it.

“You must be wondering why I’m not asking you any questions.” Craig held out a finger for Abe to stop. He knelt down and hiked the rifle to his shoulder. “It’s not because I’m uninterested. It’s just that Mom is the way she is, and she spilled the beans. So I’d be asking you things I already knew.”

“So come home and talk some sense into him. That new girlfriend is around for the money.”

The tip of Craig’s rifle bounced up and down, gently. “Dad’s an old dog. The oldest. You won’t convince him of anything.”

Craig dropped a quail on the first shot. The bird

landed in brush and Craig fished it out, laid it on its back and spread its wings with the end of a buck knife. “I used to have a setter who fetched them, but I sold her.” He closed the quail’s wings, curled it in his palm, and stuck it in the basket hanging low from his neck. Feathers from previous hunts jutted between the pale fibers. “I make do.”

Abe didn’t shoot any quail. Craig seemed to swallow them up before he could even notice their blue spread hidden amongst the green and brown. He did carry half of the catch in his own basket, and while they walked back to the truck the sweet smell of them nearly turned his stomach. Abe set the basket behind the seat and started to change but Craig raised his eyebrows.

“What are you doing?”

“These clothes smell like shit.”

“That’s the birds.”

“And the clothes.”

Craig shook his head and started the ignition. “It’s bad luck.”


“But you already shot the birds.”

Craig said he didn’t understand. Back at the trailer he made a big deal about the hunt--“a fucking killing,” he said--and Cheryl scoffed at the sight of the rifle. She pushed her son inside and Craig said it was hypocritical to hate that which brought them a meal. She told the men to eat outside and gave them an armful of beers. Said that Daniel was being temperamental, but Abe guessed that his presence wasn’t doing the kid any good.

“I should leave.”

“You should sit.” He set a lawn chair pointed toward the treeline and gave Abe a beer and told him to take a nap while the quail cooked. Abe drifted asleep halfway through the beer and when he woke it was on its side, the contents spilled in the grass, and he set it right side up while Craig walked out with two plates and what looked like dark ale in a honey jar. He brought a lantern from the shed and that was their only light beneath the overcast sky. Cheryl had made burritos with the quail. She diced onions and peppers and scallops and enough sprinkled enough black pepper to make them both choke, and they did their share of coughing, Craig

slurping down the ale that looked even darker when contrasted with the shine of the lantern, Abe asking for sips between bites. The burritos were good and Abe dragged his fingers along the paper plate to catch all of the meat. Yellow onion stuck beneath his fingertips.

“How’s Melanie,” Craig asked, crumpling the paper plate and stuffing it into his pant pocket.

“I thought you said Mom told you everything.”

“She told me about the will and Dad’s girlfriend. But I don’t trust her about Melanie.” He crossed his arms and waited.

Abe said she was still hooked on having a baby.

“Give her what she wants. What the fuck, man. You’re not in high school anymore. Back then it would be a sin. Now it wouldn’t be so bad.”

“I’m not ready.” Abe looked back at the trailer. It was dark. She didn’t leave the light on for them to come back inside. It was still afternoon but it looked like a storm was brewing. One wide cloud that stretched over the entire horizon. “I’m afraid it will make things permanent.”


“You’ve been with her for a goddamn lifetime. Why put the time in for nothing?”

“I don’t know. What about you?”

“A fucking rolling stone, man. You know.”

“Do you love her?”

Craig shook his head. “No time for that.”

“What about the kid?”

“What about him.”

“Do you love the kid?”

Craig smirked. “What the fuck kind of question is that?”

“I was thinking that maybe you stuck around for the kid.”

“Who isn’t mine anyway. Though she’ll make me guilty for just about anything.”

“She mad at you now?”

“When aren’t they? Understand me when I say nothing lasts. Not a fucking thing lasts for more

than a second.” He patted his stomach. “Those damn quails were good as shit. I could taste every last bit of them. But you’ll shit them out by morning.” He wiped his hands. “Nothing lasts.”

~

Craig burned down the road. The storm hadn’t arrived yet, but all the clouds looked low, as if Abe could reach his hand out and feel their mist. Craig pushed a cassette with a chipped face into the deck and blasted the acid rock, his croons interrupted by deep yawns, twining the veins along his neck. Abe settled into his seat and stared: a trailer close to the roadside, the doors open to a dark inside; a worn fence butt against a rock wall, both leaning forward in rot; a cross of roofing nails affixed to the front of a house; heavy-gutted men bent over and fixing a trailer--one leaned over so far he actually lay down, spreading on the asphalt as if he was dead--Brookie’s Pub, the dusk crowd out in the front, one hand looped around a belt, the other milking a longneck; the Blue Spruce Motel, Texas Red Hats; Mace Chasm Road, Coonrod Road. A Dodge pickup, red and white, with an arrow painted on aluminum pointing toward firewood: three dollars an armful.


Craig parked at McLean’s. “You coming?”

Abe followed him inside. The store was a converted Gulf station. Rolled towels were shoved beneath a loud fridge full of meat. A college girl smiled at Craig and he smiled back. She turned around and moved pastries along an aisle. The back of her shirt read “you can’t beat our meat.”

Craig slid a case of Michelob from the back fridge, hiked it on his shoulder, and walked past Abe, as if he wasn’t there. He stopped next to the girl and leaned against the aisle shelves. She knew him by name and asked when he was coming around again.

“My phone hasn’t ringed.”

“You change your addresses every other week.”

It didn’t seem like he appreciated that comment. He got in line and Abe followed; the girl looked at him but he didn’t know what to say. He barely had words for his brother, and certainly none left for her. He had words for Melanie. Looking at the sky, the way the clouds doubled-over themselves, he had something to say to her. She’d

told him not to bother with Craig. But a brother’s not a bother.

A young kid was behind the counter, and the owner was on his case about a lost pack of Marlboros. The owner said he smelled smoke on the kid’s breath. The kid said all that proved was that he’d had a cigarette. The man in front of Craig looked entertained by all of this: his grey sweatshirt was inside out, and his stomach was wide but his legs thin as pins. Craig shifted the case on his shoulder and the beer swirled. He tapped the man’s shoulder; the man called him Carl but Craig didn’t correct him. The man said he was there to get some firewood: the boiler busted and the house was cold at night. “We’re so close to the river we get the wind from the current. It’s like the coldest whistle you can imagine.”

They were finished behind the counter. The kid stood with his hands behind his back, waiting. The man looked at him, nodded, and turned back to Craig. “Be good.”

“I’ll try like hell.” He tossed a ten on the counter and slipped past the man. He didn’t say goodbye to


the girl. When Craig turned his mind against something, that was it. There was no convincing him.

~

“She’s older than you think,” Craig said, spread out on the grass. He had no intentions of fishing and Abe knew it. The rods lay in the truck bed, hooks crusted with pale-colored guts from nightcrawlers. The pond was surrounded by leafless trees, the bark shorn to a bleached wood.

“Was there a fire here?” Abe asked, chewing on jerky he’d snagged on their way out of the store. All that food before and he was still starving.

Craig kept going. “And we didn’t do much. Still got my Catholic morals.” He crossed himself, the final stroke drifting away from his chest.

“Who are you talking about?”

“The girl in the store. Sister of a friend.” He took a swig. The case was open like an unfolded box. “Friend of a friend.”

“Was that before Cheryl?”

Craig lifted his left hand. “Do you see a fucking ring? Stop busting my ass.”

Abe reached for a beer. They were warm. He thought about setting it back but such an action was frowned upon. You start what you finish.

~

They slept outside. Abe on the chair, his back curved and sore. Craig stretched on the grass, face down on a rag. Abe’s snores came in bunches, and one loud group woke Craig up. He rolled on his back and stared at the overcast sky. The only visible stars were yellowed and grayed. He kicked the leg of Abe’s chair until his brother woke. He lit the lantern again and Abe turned his face away but the light was everywhere. It could have been coming from the sky or the ground, as if they were surrounded by glass.

Craig scratched his beard. The sound was loud enough to wake Abe for good, and he sat up on the lawn chair and rubbed his eyes until he could focus on the flickering light at their feet. He asked for the gallon of water that slouched on the grass: Cheryl had brought it around midnight. She said it got


hotter at night. That didn’t make any sense but she was right. The air was thicker and lower and there was no getting away from it. It was more obtrusive than the light, so the two things together, light and heat, made Abe sick. He wondered why Craig didn’t notice it. Maybe he was used to being uncomfortable.

~

Cheryl stuffed the omelets with peppers, onions, leftover ham and steak, and cheddar cheese. She stuck toothpicks through the center to keep the flaps from flopping back down. She made one for everybody at the table, including Daniel, who stared at the mass before biting the edge of his plate. Abe could barely keep his eyes open. He hadn’t showered in days and lounged in his seat, covering each forkful of egg with ketchup and mustard.

“I saw the bat again,” Cheryl said, twirling the filling around her fork like spaghetti. “It was the same one.”

Craig leaned over his plate, arm curled around. “How could you know it was the same?”

“I just know.”

“Where’d you see it?”

“I was outside.” She looked at Daniel, whose eyes were in the other direction. She lifted her fingers to her mouth and blew out air.

“What did I tell you about that?”

“Never mind it. I don’t want a lecture. I’m trying to tell you a story.”

“Then tell it.” She said at the end of her smoke she leaned against the siding and wished it was morning. She didn’t know why. She had always liked the night because the dark hid most things people didn’t want to see anyway. But she couldn’t wait for the morning to come. “It was like knowing you had a long way to drive before you got home. Sometimes you wish you could blink and just be in that other place, no harm done.”

Craig trailed his fork along the plate. “What about the bat?”

“I was getting to it. I leaned my head against the siding and looked up and there it was, spread along


the overhang of the roof. You know how we had some carpenter bees up there last month? We’ll, they must have scorched a few holes into the overhang because the moonlight shone right down on the bat and it shone through its wings, like they were glowing. Glowing wings longer than I’d remembered from the other night. It looked huge, and I wanted to scream but I thought that would make it attack me. I closed my hands around the lighter and the pack and I prayed it would go away. I prayed that you and him would come home but you wouldn’t for another few hours.” Her hands were shaking. She took a sip from Craig’s orange juice. “I watched you come home out of that trail, the lantern turning in front of you. I thought about coming outside again to tell you about that thing but I was too scared. I’m scared to go outside again.”

Craig scraped at some dried cheese, a goldenrod bump on the plate. “It was all in your mind.”

She dropped her fork. Abe opened his eyes wide and looked at Daniel. He continued to bite on the ceramic. Abe pulled the plate from the boy’s mouth and replaced it with a purple pacifier. Cheryl didn’t acknowledge his actions.

“How can you say something’s in my mind that I know isn’t?” She looked up at Craig’s face. His eyes were spaced-out, small. He kept on eating. “I could close my eyes and see it again.” She did. She shut her eyes tight and leaned forward. “It looks like a hawk. I’m scared for Daniel. It could be here for him.”

“It’s not here for anything. It’s here because this is a place to piss away the time. Next week it’ll be somewhere else. There’s nothing special about this place.”

She opened her eyes. “I thought you were scared of them.”

“I’m enjoying this omelet. Let me enjoy it.”

She crossed herself, then crossed her arms.

Abe dragged more egg along the plate. “I like this.”

She nodded, but kept staring at Craig, who finished his omelet, refilled his glass of orange juice, and sat back. A silent burp spun from his lips, and he stretched his arms overhead. “Cheryl, I’m going to Jersey with Abe.”


Abe looked at his plate. He couldn’t believe Craig would do this with him there. But he kept on going.

“We’re leaving today. There’s some shit I’ve got to take care of back there.” He put his knife and fork on the plate. “I’m taking the truck.”

She looked like she wanted to close her eyes again, to be back in the night. But she strained them open. “Well it’s yours.” She bit her lip. “I don’t understand you.”

He pulled the money from his pocket. “Give this to the bank. There’s an extra bit for yourself.” He held the wad over the table but she didn’t take it. He put it on his plate and pushed it toward her. “Take it for the omelet. It was a good omelet.”

If that was meant to make her smile, it didn’t. “What about Daniel?” she asked. Craig stood.

“You need to find his father anyway.” He looked at Abe. “What’re you waiting for, man? We’ve got a long trip.”

Craig’s stuff was still in luggage and garbage bags. He hadn’t intended on staying for long. He

dumped them all in the bed of his truck, and told Abe he had to go to the shed. Abe sat in the idling truck while Craig unlocked the shed, opened the doors, and stood there, as if certain he needed something but not sure exactly what.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright© Nick Ripatrazone. White Whale Review, issue 2.2


Previous Author Prev Next Author