Creative Nonfiction by staff writer Melissa Nunez
I moved back into my childhood home after starting a family of my own. I don’t remember the bats back then, but they are here now. One of the last houses to be built in our subdivision added palm trees to their landscape. Not the decorative palm trees you see in front of houses in most neighborhoods—short and squat, or thin with tassel fringe. They went with the tall sabal palms that tower over power lines, taller than most buildings in the Rio Grande Valley. It is here, I suspect, the bats roost.
Bats are a popular animal to study during the month of October, due to the associations we make with nocturnal and sinister things. I attended a story time at the public library with my son and mentioned in passing we had some bats in our neighborhood.
“Bats? Where do you live?” A mom next to me asked and then shuddered.
Almost no bats suck blood, but of course the ones that do are the ones that are famous. The fun of transformative fiction over fact. I had heard comments of condemning vein since I was in high school. Rumors of bats in the rafters when the usual ghost stories grew stale. I can understand the surprise, but I didn’t find it so strange.
Our house is not so rural. I remember the first time I heard the RGV likened to San Antonio, a hub of cities all connected by an expanse of highway like veins. And I find it to be true, on a smaller scale. Consider us Cibolo. Sugar Land, if you are more familiar with the Houston area.
The bats swoop close to us on evening walks. The children are sometimes frightened by the proximity, the oddly familiar forms in the hazy dusk. Flight pattern fast and frantic and repeating. An amalgamation of insect and bird: dragonfly meets sparrow. The frenetic flapping with the spontaneous hover, erratic and yet deliberate. More zigzag than wave. And then the free fall. But I tell them they are helping us. Eating mosquitos that would siphon the blood from our veins if given the chance.
We can’t hear all the sounds that they make. The ones they use for hunting and general conversing. There is often sound in the silence above us that we don’t even register.
Through research I discover it is most likely the Southern yellow bat that inhabits our neighborhood. There is not a lot of information about them to find. They are believed to be a threatened species. With people constantly trimming the palm trees they like to call home, razing areas of foliage to make way for new buildings and neighborhoods, it only makes sense.
They do not see us, not the way we do. And we don’t fully hear them. We can only understand many of their calls with recorded translation. A change in speed, frequency, pitch. Visible with a spectogram. We will never know the true sound of their language. The image in their mind when they receive the rebounding sound waves. Something of beauty must be lost in the translation. Absent in the twittering, trilling squeaks and chirps, a combination of what we identify as the dialect of the bird and mouse in the transmogrification we play back. Is that a clicking? A tapping? Where in these lines and waves, these half parabolas, is the information they seek? The texture, species, speed of the insect they pursue.
I play and replay the recordings I find online and see not the creatures in the night sky, but my high school gym. We were lined up along the wall during basketball practice, the section under the hoop and thus padded for our protection. It was nearing the end of practice and a few of my teammates and I leaned against this padding to catch our breath. The padding responded to our sustained weight with a resounding squeak.
“What is that?” my friend asked. Squeak.
“I’m not sure,” I said. Squeak.
In our investigation we must have bounced against the padding ten or so times each, to the same result. Until a teammate came up and told us, “You guys are sick. That’s probably one of the bats.”
I remember assuring myself of the fact that bats prefer high places, they hang upside down, not burrow. But I also know they get confused in bright light and the ones in the gym were blazing.
I steered clear from the padding after that, never found the source of the squeaking. And yet, after listening to the recordings of bats I can’t help but imagine the sound that might be made when air is forcefully expelled from their bodies. Compelling the emission of a sound we don’t need help to hear.
Melissa Nunez is an avid reader, writer and homeschooling mother of three. She lives in the Rio Grande Valley region of South Texas—a predominantly Latin@ community. She writes both essays and poetry inspired by observation of the natural world, the dynamics of relationships, and the question of belonging. Her work has been featured in FOLIO, Yellow Arrow Journal, and others.
Image by Clément Falize