In the Garden of the Bats
I wanted to prove to the neighbors that I had pizzazz, so I went ahead and built a garden of night-blooming flowers. With the help of God and several nursery employees, it wasn’t long before I’d ringed the house with dewy gardenia bushes, amassed enormous drifts of nicotiana, and sent carrion-breathed yucca spears shooting into the sky.
This caused comment, but not enough of it. So I reseeded the lawn with tuberose bulbs, buried the windows in honeysuckle vines, and reimagined the backyard as a Madonna lily forest. By 8 p.m., the fragrance could choke you.
Moths and bats came to know my address; they distinguished my grounds with their swoops and shrieks. I dubbed them my “Pollinatin’ Pals.” I even envisioned a children’s television program about them, centered on an introverted moth who found her chiropteran bestie’s blasé personality challenging. Lest you think this was a “Bert and Ernie” rip-off, be advised that the moth and bat had something in common: a love of licking out the depths of white, redolent, tube-shaped flowers. As Bert and Ernie have never had anything in common, I considered my show to be emotionally innovative.
To promote the “Pollinatin’ Pals,” I ordered some bumper stickers, which featured the anthropomorphized faces of a moth and a bat fluttering witlessly above our logo. Note: I didn’t design the bumper stickers myself; I paid an Upwork digital nomad to do it. As my resume said, I was “familiar with” Adobe InDesign but not a graphic designer. Just a database administrator trying to build enthusiasm for a good-to-great TV show concept.
Disappointingly, none of my neighbors bought a “Pollinatin’ Pals” bumper sticker. Instead, they asked me “why I was so committed to such an extreme landscaping aesthetic” and “whether I had considered the impact of my actions on their property values and general well-being.” I assured them that I had.
“Over five hundred plant species are pollinated by bats, including mangos, bananas, and agaves,” I elaborated. “Unless we want to live in a tropical fruit-less, tequila-less world, we must keep the bats sated. What are you doing to protect my culinary needs?”
The neighbors loudly indicated their bee-sustaining lavender and butterfly-attracting milkweed, but I shook my head.
“We need all the pollinators,” I said. “Not just the family-friendly ones.”
They went away after that, balked and Oregonian. To chagrin them, I put in a picket fence and heaped it with poet’s jasmine. I lined my front walk with barrels of witch hazel, winter-blooming daphne, and wintersweet, allowing me to overwhelm my cul-de-sac with aromas year-round.
The neighborhood association was plagued by complaints, but what could they do? Not a city ordinance existed against the growing of musky flowers. A sheriff hadn’t been born yet who could arrest me for my noisy scents.
Now, I had started this colorless, bat-attracting garden to become popular, yet I was currently more unpopular than ever before. This should have provided my neighbors with a firewall against my horticultural activities, but it did not. Because I was beloved by the earth’s most elusive workers, I forgot to be ashamed of my rejection from the world of the sunlit, the beautiful and the accepted. Still, I was not beyond its influence. That was how they got me.
They sent a neighborhood man. A homeowner with flaxen hair, with ivory skin and veins of jade green. He wore jogger pants with a winsome taper and asked flattering questions about my daily routine. Yes, I worked from home. No, I rarely visited friends. Yes, I had a home security system. No, my family had stopped talking to me after I accused my grandfather of yada yada.
After my last answer, he sat quietly for a few minutes, stroking his jaw and staring. Finally, he said, “I think you’re very brave.”
“Okay,” I said. “But do you think I’m stylish?”
He frowned. “What? I mean, sure. You’ve got … a style.”
“Would you say that I have pizzazz?”
He shrugged. “I can see a reality where a person might say that,” he said. My knees trembled; I felt as gallant as a hot-air balloon.
The homeowner then asked me on a date to see a Marvel movie. I said I didn’t care for Marvel movies. He asked me to a Disney movie, but I didn’t care to see one of those either. Losing patience, he suggested a documentary, but I said I didn’t like docs because I thought there was a parallel universe in which I was an underpaid, overzealous documentarian. At last, he suggested dinner, to which I agreed.
We had Mexican food, at Chipotle. I ordered a Lifestyle Bowl and pointed out that the guava in it could not have been obtained without the help of the tube-lipped nectar bat, whose tongue is almost twice as long as its body. The homeowner asked me if “big tongues” turned my weird ass on. I told him to go to hell. He’d driven, so I had to walk home.
While I’d been gone, they’d spread weed-killer on the nicotiana. They’d uprooted the gardenia bushes and tuberose bulbs and torn down the jasmine and honeysuckle vines. Someone had walked through the Madonna lily forest with a scythe; someone else had burned down the yucca plants. The barrels were simply gone.
When I took my home security camera footage to the police, they hadn’t much to say.
“Seems like vandalism,” they said. “A nonviolent crime.”
“It’s a slightly violent crime,” I said.
But they ignored me, making it clear that I had to live outside the law. That was okay; I had lived there before. I had within me a person who could do certain things.
For instance, I could kiss pizzazz goodbye and embrace the thin arms of stealth. Encroaching upon the gardens of my enemies, I could furtively enflame them, into beacons for new Pollinatin’ Pals. Midges are a type of pollinator. So are mosquitos. And ants.
The neighborhood association might be two hundred members strong, but my collaborators were legion.
Image Credit: Pyke Koch, Florentijnse Tuin (Florentine Garden) (1938)
Marie Biondolillo is a Portland-based writer from Northwest Washington. Her work has been published by The Jellyfish Review, The Forge (upcoming), The Toast, The Wild Word, The Belladonna, Points in Case, and others. She’s currently a reader for Fractured Lit.
Biondolillo’s TV pilot “Guess It Just Goes to Show” was a 2018 CineStory Original Comedy Finalist. Other scripts have been recognized by the Austin Film Festival and the Los Angeles International Screenplay Awards. Follow her on Twitter @chestnutclub.