Fiction by Thaddeus Rutkowski
My mother and daughter suggest that we eat dinner outside, on the lawn next to my mother’s house. We bring out a coffee table and folding chairs. My mother doesn’t eat with us; she stands apart, wearing an apron. She seems able to understand us when we speak, but she may be using her eyes more than her ears.
“Where are the insects?” I ask, spreading my arms.
“It’s the DDT,” my mother says.
My daughter and I are still outside when the light has faded.
“I used to see bats around this time,” I say.
I look up through the spaces between trees, but all I see are the silhouettes of branches, narrowing to leafy twigs against the sky.
“There’s a bat!” my daughter says.
Sure enough, a descendant of Dracula flits across an opening. Then another appears, and the two creatures circle, vanishing behind the foliage before returning to our field of vision. They make no sound; we can’t hear their ultra screams. They are looking for the few insects that might still exist.
I arrange for a prospective caregiver to visit my mother. When the woman arrives, my mother sets a timer for one hour.
“Seeing people makes me nervous,” my mother says.
She fetches her blood-pressure kit from a cluttered shelf to prove her point. She wraps the cuff around her arm and turns on the gauge. The needle reads 210 on the high end—a sign of hypertensive crisis.
“What happens if you need to go to the hospital?” I ask. “Who will take you?”
“I’ll mow the lawn,” my mother said. “Pushing the mower will relax me.”
When the timer rings, the prospective caregiver leaves. Later, I see my mother on the edge of her lawn. She is wearing a hat against the sun and guiding a power mower across the grass.
After my daughter and I have left, my mother calls to tell me the caregiver has not arrived for a scheduled visit. Later, the caregiver tells me she cannot make the next meeting. I ask if she can plan for a meeting after that, but I don’t hear from her again.
On the phone, my mother tells me “everything is fine.”
She goes on to say that she heard commotion in the vent over her stove. She didn’t want an animal to come through the duct into her kitchen. She was able to close the vent but didn’t know if the creature found its way out.
“Do you know what it was?” I ask.
“What?” she says.
“Was it a bat?”
“A cat? No, I don’t think it was a cat. I heard a chirping in my ceiling.”
“Was it a bird?”
“Yes, I heard it.”
“I have no quarrel with it.”
I don’t know if our miscommunication has to do with my mother’s hearing loss or the fact that English is not her native language.
“Maybe you should find your hearing aid and call me back.”
“I’m fine. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
There isn’t much I can do, except wait for her call. I will wonder about her, about her wellbeing, until we speak again.
Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of seven books, most recently Tricks of Light, a poetry collection. He teaches at Medgar Evers College and received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.