A FAR DARK FIELD BY CLIFF SCHRAGE
It was the south fork of eastern Long Island, 1974.
The paved road rose and descended, turning and curving narrowly. Woods thick with brake and smattered with small clearings where the fox, the deer, the rabbit, and pheasant breathed and ran, curtained the last luster of the diminished sun on the west side. And fields with vines that had grown fat June strawberries; that were growing green pumpkins; that grew handsome white potatoes; and fields painted with variegated yellows of goldenrod, spread themselves on the other side of the road in smooth, pleasing swells and knolls.
They walked without haste around the mild bends, southward toward the shore where the bay perspired its salt fragrance and sometimes pushed it up as far as where they walked; the shore where gulls yelled, where the barrier island a mile across could be seen, where beyond one understood that the Atlantic moved and churned and embroiled- roaring- and sometimes pushed its roaring murmur as far as where they walked, into the unagitated chambers of their inner ears .
They walked slowly , passing houses: old, porched places; homes filled with youthful, verdant, noisy life; farmhouses, homes with the dying. They walked toward their own home, this father and son, hand in hand, best friends.
“Almost home, Daddy?”
“I like to walk Daddy!” The boy’s face looked up.
“Nope!” The little guy’s steps then became more steadfast, as determined as a march, determined to please and show Dad. “I’m not tired Daddy!”
The shadow of dusk gradually fully inundated the traces of the day. Venus above treetops and one bright star directly above their heads sparkled, and a crescent moon lay up like a cup on distant blackening cedars at a field’s edge to the east; it lay on its curved, stiff, rocking back, resting, looking into the blank, lavender, September heavens.
No air moved; no breeze touched, and all the day’s motion in the trees was now still. Yet everything breathed, pulsating and throbbing with late summer’s life, with September, which like a gentle father holding his trusting child, held the island that evening in dry and tender warmth. Crickets sang, meeting the evening with antiphonal choruses.
A car’s wheels hummed, its engine’s choking and throttling muffled. It too headed south down the road. Its headlights beamed open like widening eyes as it approached this father and son. As it passed with a gentle honk , the crickets were silenced. The father stopped, stepping several feet away from the road, tugging his son with him.
“That’s Mr. Phillips.”
“In that car.”
The boy looked. The tail lights moved away, smaller and smaller, with the huge sound disintegrating. The crickets returned, and the faint sound of a lawn mower drummed. They walked again.
Around a curve and beside a field the porch of their house could be seen ahead in its lucid whiteness, as the close of day had not yet written its period.
“There’s the house.”
“Goody!” The boy skipped, stumbled, falling and swinging in laughter as his father would not release his hand. And the father laughed with him.
“Mommy there! Is Mommy home?”
“Yes Mommy’s there.”
They stopped by the field, the father looking out, focusing on the far, dark perimeter where brush, locust, oak, maple, and sassafras trees and two yellow lights of windows fringed. He could see a bat in the semi-darkness moving over the field in casual, low, calm speed. It fluttered in its reserve, soundlessly dipping, suddenly lifting, increasing aerodynamic lift. It flew with slow, with mesmeric, with entrancing maneuverability, tenaciously sustaining its flight with an illusion of struggle. It wore its wing-thin, fleshy membrane which kept its support by forelimbs’ and fingers’ elongated bones; yet, like a specter it unassumingly showed its jerking, its exemption from attack, its freedom from the sun’s heat, its lack of competition, and foraged within its home range in the clotting, hardening red darkness.
From its hollowed tree of shadows; from head-hung, twisted, gregariously jumbled sleeping; from day; in this dusk the awkward dalliance sought and found and snatched and swallowed mosquitoes and other day-worn bugs. Alone, and as lonely as a dispossessed demon, searching with blindness; searching with echolocation; searching with shrewd instinctual sense; searching with what seems to the ignorant eye to be wicked divination’; searching with foreign sounds; searching with echoes and emissions too minuscule and deep in high frequency to be outmaneuvered by any other earthly entity; searching with blunt and nervy valor; it found its target continually. It searched and foraged, darting in lateral motion, and its wings brought it nearer and over this father and son.
“Look, a bat!” the father said, pointing, lowering to a knee to aim his son’s vision.
The small boy’s eyes widened, filling with the lavender of the sky. “A bird!” he said with wonder.
His father lifted him, bringing him higher, bringing his face closer to his own as the boy wrapped his little arms tightly around his father’s neck.
“No, it’s a bat!”
“A bat’s a bird Daddy.”
“No, it flies like a bird. A bat’s different.”
“It’s ugly- well not pretty like birds.”
His son’s eyes questioned.
“It looks like a mouse- with wings. It has hair- not feathers.”
“Oh.” Awe engaged the boy.
“Nocturnal. Only flies at night- in the darkness.”
“A bat don’t like the light, Daddy?”
“That’s right. It hates the light. It won’t come out in the daylight. It sleeps in the daytime, in holes in trees and barns and dark shelters.”
The bat fluttered farther into the field again, into the darkness, hunting, eating, out of their sight, and the father put his son down again.
“I can see a bat close?”
“have to see them sleeping?”
“Or dead. I’ll show you pictures in books when we get home.”
A light was now lustrously shining from the porch of their home, extinguishing the remnants of the day, and they walked toward it. The boy stopped and reached up. “Pick me up Daddy!” The father lifted his son again, and he carried him the rest of the way through the lavender dusk, the looming darkness, toward home.