I sat on the backstairs, on the top step near the screened kitchen door, waiting. I did a lot of waiting. For Maud Ellen to come talk, or my grandmother, Mamoo, or Daddy whenever he’d appear, or for our dogs, Wanda and Beebee. Pinning down the dogs was easy; I could pretend to be a dog if I had to. I did waiting so well I’d turned it into art. But sometimes I got buggy. Buggy made me feel like I’d burst. And around here bursting spelled trouble in a bottle full of little white tabs.
Maud Ellen materialized from the front yard and dropped into Uncle Walter’s chair made of plumbing pipes, the same chair my father hanged himself on. She had a Don Q and her Lark 100s.
“Let’s talk about bats, Mama,” I said, using the intimate to snag her attention. I was happy she’d come. I had to talk quick. Everybody in my family, except the dogs, liked flight.
“I like bats.”
“I know nothing about bats.”
“Bats are not something I am interested in.”
“I don’t think about them.”
“I do. Bats eat bugs. I don’t like bugs.”
“Yes, I suppose they do,” she said, puffing on her Lark.
“I bet they eat those catfish-sized cockroaches like the one flying around the chandelier in the front hall last night. Mamoo was so funny, shrieking and flapping her arms like she might fly, too, and you batting at the roach like a slugger. Would Uncle John really throw us out for breaking Mummy’s antiques?
Maybe we could trap a bat, bring it inside. Get it a bat house and a swing. Whenever those roaches come along, we’ll let it loose and watch as it sucks their necks. Or maybe it swallows them whole, feet first—the way the French do when they eat those little birds.”
Maud Ellen stirred the air, and almost blew me off the step. She stamped out her cigarette. “I’m going inside to eat a banana.”
“Don’t you think a bat would eat those bugs?”
“I have no earthly idea,” she said.
She practically flew up the steps. I jumped up to let her pass. The screen door slapped its frame. I wanted to tell her we wouldn’t have to be afraid anymore about bugs and Mamoo popping Phenobarb to calm down. As usual, I’d said too much.
In her hurry, Maud Ellen left her Larks. I sat back down, tucked my arms around my knees and practiced waiting again. This time I’d wait for a sign. The sky was fast disappearing around the arm of the oak. That’s when I saw it, a queer dark bird with a plaster-white face and eyes-as-blue-as-my-blond-headed dolls, flying in the yard. The closer it came the bigger it got until it got right up in my face. I opened my mouth. It glided inside. As high as a kite on white tabs, I unfurled.
An M.F.A graduate of Stony Brook University, Lucinda Kempe’s work has been published or is forthcoming in Midway Journal, Bending Genres, The Southampton Review, Elm Leaves Journal, and the Summerset Review. Wigleaf longlisted her micro fiction (2018 and 2019). Her fiction “I Became a Girl” was nominated for the 2020 Pushcart Prize.