Novel excerpt from John M. Brantingham

The Night, the Dark, and Bats, 1952

	Arthur who decides not to tell his children or grandchild about the heart condition that’s going to end him soon enough, comes over in the evening to find Henry staring up into the eaves outside his parents’ house. It’s a cool evening in mid-May, the whole world waking up with that spring smell of a million things blooming, and it would be hopeful if there were hope left for Arthur. “What’s up Henry?”

	Henry points up at the roof. “I think something just flew up into there.”
	The sun has just gone down. “This time of night,” Arthur says, “it’s probably a bat. Most of the birds would be nesting now, and wouldn’t go up there anyway.”

	“You mean, you think we have bats living in our house?” The idea lying in the boy’s voice sounds magical. This is a boy who begs to be taken to horror movies and reads comic books. Maybe he’s thinking about Dracula.
	Arthur goes into his son’s garage where he knows there is a flash light. Ever since the diagnosis last week, Arthur keeps imagining little pains in his chest. He hopes he’s imagining them anyway. Back under the eaves, Arthur shines a light up and sure enough, there’s one bat hanging there by itself. “That’s good,” he tells Arthur.
	“A bat by himself is probably just resting before he does more hunting or before he goes back to his colony. I was worried your parents were going to have to deal with a big group of them.”
	“They live in colonies?”
	“They hang together in gigantic clumps touching each other. I was in an old mineshaft one time and crawled right under hundreds of them.”
	“Why were you in a mineshaft?”
	“It was a gold mine out west that had closed down years before. My friends and I were just exploring it.”
	He’s flipped the light off, but he hears the little boy’s gasp, the wonder that fills it. “Could you take me?”

	“Ah,” Arthur says, his own kind of gasp because words cannot fill the reasons this will never be possible, and his unword is followed by a kind of infinity of regret and anger that’s focused on nothing really except maybe the universe.
	“Come on grandpa. If Mom and Dad say it’s okay, can we go?”
	The truth is that he has enough energy to take the boy. His only worry is that he’ll leave the boy stranded in the middle of the woods or down a cave. He has carbide lamps and rope and all the rest of his old equipment. The only thing holding him back is death.

	“I tell you what. If your father goes with us, then I’ll take you.” He can feel the unquiet of the boy’s silence as he looks over the field to see the fireflies winking on. “What’s wrong?”
	“Dad’s always working.”
	It’s true. He has the hardware store to manage and the concerns of an adult. He works too hard during the day and drinks too much at night. Still, Arthur says, “We’ll schedule a vacation. You and I will plan it, and he’ll get some time off.”
	The boy’s breathing turns hopeful, and Arthur sends him in to start talking to his father about it. Arthur stays outside for the sake of the fireflies.

	And so, Arthur probably won’t be around in the late summer, but he’ll fill some hours with Henry planning and mapping and explaining how and where to enter the earth gracefully, without fear or danger. He hopes there is a heaven, but he doesn’t think there is. He’d love to watch the two of them on their journeys. He’d love to watch Henry learn to understand the night, the dark, and bats.

1 thought on “Novel excerpt from John M. Brantingham

  1. Yes. We all hope so to see the earth with heavenly glory. Nice piece of writing and penned with powerful combination of thought.

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