There’s No Such Thing as Fruit Bats
by James R. Gapinski
A zit-faced human dumps a bowl of dead bugs into the Nocturnal Creatures Exhibit every two days. Papa throws them into the air and we all try to catch them. Papa says it’s important to learn to hunt, even in captivity. It’s like a game; the winner gets a full belly and bragging rights.
“Seven bugs,” Morris says, rubbing his stomach. “How many did you get?”
“Three,” I say.
“Don’t sweat it. I only got five. You’ll get more next time,” Rusty says. He’s sincere, trying to avoid any patronizing undertones. He genuinely wants me to do better. Rusty is my best friend in the Nocturnal Creatures Exhibit.
“Did you hear about Isa?” Morris asks.
“Yeah,” Rusty says. “She was sucking on some fruit. She stole it from that big-eyed monkey.”
“Loris,” I say.
“The monkey. He’s a loris.”
“Whatever,” Morris says. “The point is that she was practically rolling around in the juices like some vegetarian. It was disgusting. She was all sticky and some fruit flies actually landed on her to lick off the juice. Can you imagine? Fruit flies completely unafraid of a bat. Like she was nothing. Useless. Hardly even a bat at all. No better than that owl douchebag or that weird-looking lizard who hangs out near the rocks.”
“I know what you mean,” Rusty says.
“Yeah, me too,” I lie. Once Rusty and Morris go home, I spit out the three bugs concealed in my cheek pocket. I creep near the loris, and I grab a discarded apple core. I hide behind some leaves and feed.
Months ago, before I started stealing the loris’s leftovers, I ate bits of food that passing tourists threw against our cage’s mesh screen. There were sugary wisps of cotton candy, discarded ice cream cones, and my favorite: caramel apples. I practically bathed in the caramel apple’s juice. After gorging on the apple, I finally asked Papa if I was a fruit bat. Papa said, “That’s impossible. I raised you right. And I’m pretty sure that fruit bats eat bugs. There’s no such thing as fruit bats. It’s probably just a dumb name that humans made up.”
Regardless, I think I’m a fruit bat. I must be. I’m sick of eating bugs. They are sour and brittle. They are nothing like the sweet nectar of fresh fruit, practically orgasmic as it splashes over my fangs and slides down my throat.
I know I cannot hide my secret forever, so I pace myself. I eat bugs whenever I can stomach them. Sometimes I hide an orange seed in my mouth and suck on it during the bug feast, hoping any latent juices or pulp clinging to the seed will drown out the flavor. This tactic works less and less.
I roll the loris’s discarded apple core around and harvest its seeds. I wonder if these seeds retain flavor better than orange seeds. I keep them safe, hidden underneath some of the owl’s fallen feathers.
Two days later, I try out the apple seeds before our bug hunt. They taste bitter, almost as bad as bugs, but I cannot spit them out or the others will know I have been eating fruit.
We all wait for Papa, but he never shows up. “Maybe one of us can throw the bugs into the air?” somebody offers.
“No, it’s Papa’s job. He always throws the bugs,” I say.
“Well, where is he?” Rusty asks.
We break into groups and look for him. He’s not anywhere near the cave or the nests or the mating grounds. We wander the Nocturnal Creatures Exhibit for what seems like an eternity, then Morris suggests “What about over there?” He points toward the tree.
“Near the loris and the owl? Why would he go there?” Rusty asks. “Nobody goes over there.”
I’m scared that they will discover my peach pits, apple cores, and orange peels. I breathe deep and rehearse excuses. I can say they belong to the loris, or I can blame Isa if they find guano near any fruit. I push the apple seeds further into my cheek pocket, but I can’t dampen the taste. We hop along the ground, saving our wing strength for the inevitable bug hunt.
The entire group stumbles upon Papa and a nectarine. He’s practically inside of the thing, plunging his head and flapping his wings, struggling to slurp up every drop of liquid.
“Holy shit!” Morris screams, looking away in disgust. Rusty has the opposite reaction, his eyes wide. Some of the others gag, some laugh, and some get angry.
Papa looks up and tries to wipe nectarine flesh from his face. He looks at me through the goo and mouths please. Rusty sees Papa’s the pantomime too. They are both expecting a response. I shake my head at Papa and swallow the apple seeds.
About James R. Gapinski
James R. Gapinski earned his MFA from Goddard College. He’s managing editor of The Conium Review, and his fiction has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Juked, Word Riot, Monkeybicycle, and other publications. James lives with his partner in Portland, Oregon. Find him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/jamesrgapinski