What Heinz had been told about the movie was, and this was the extent of it, “It’s great, it’s got a vampire that takes a bite out of a garlic clove like an apple, you’ll love it.”
One thing about Charlene and him—although they didn’t have very similar taste in anything else, they usually liked the same movies. Heinz was about thirty at the time, which doesn’t have much bearing on the night in question except to demonstrate that he was old enough to have seen plenty of movies and young enough that he still believed him and Charlene could hit their stride one of these days, and on that day everything would become instantly easy and fun again. And considering just two nights before she had accused him of being a “kind of a negative nancy, to be honest, Heinz,” he was eager to prove that he could have just as much of a good time as the next guy.
And he was doing a good job of it right until the bats came on screen.
It was something about the way they swooped. The formation. The way you could see more of them through the gaps between the ones at the front, like a school of fish, the urgent flap of their wings—he always knew a bat from a night bird because birds coast and bats don’t. The crawling started on the back of his neck, and then it slithered down his arms, and although his eyes were probably still fixed on the tv he’d lost comprehension of anything that was happening. The forests in Drusselstein were so dense with underbrush. He’d gotten his leg wrapped in a briar and when it finally, finally pulled free—snap snap snap go the leather wings, the claws and the teeth and the frosting smeared between his fingers gritty with twigs and dirt—blood scrawled down his legs from the few pinprick holes that hadn’t torn the thorns off with them.
“Sweetie,” he said, with his voice weirdly dim in his own ears, “I’m not sure if I’m… up for this.”
“What?” Charlene said. She belatedly hit pause, just as one of the bats was swooping at the camera. Its poorly CGI’d face froze in a dead eyed, pig snouted squeak.
He swallowed a couple of times and tries to pull the right words together. “You remember how I,” he said, “how I have that fear of bats?”
“But they’re just special effects,” Charlene said. She gestured with the remote. “Look, you can see the photoshop edges on this one.”
“Yeah, I know, it’s just,” he said. I’m not having fun anymore, was what he was trying to say, but even as the words shuffled up into formation in his mouth, Charlene gave him that look. The “you’re being difficult” look. The “why is it so hard to get you to just do this thing," look, the "Heinz, it’s not that complicated” look. Resentment wrestled with embarrassment in the pit of his stomach—why doesn’t she listen when he says he doesn’t like something? Why doesn’t he ever like anything?
“It’s fine,” he finished. “It’s fine. It’s just a little bat, right? Who even worries about that?”
So Charlene takes him at his word and turns the movie back on, and settles back against his side, and he doesn’t see or hear anything for the rest of the two hours because all he can think about is frosting, and crying, and the sound of his own tiny fist against the door of his house growing more and more desperate until his knuckles start to split.
And later, Charlene asks him why he’s being so spacey tonight, Heinz, are you paying attention? Hon, I asked you what time you have to go to work.
When he talks about his backstories, he cuts the unpleasantness down into bite sized portions. It doesn’t make the memory go away and it doesn’t fix him, but it takes away some of its power. You mutilate it. Make it manageable.
He never talks about how it felt, about the fear and the hunger or the pain that comes with each of them. Raised by ocelots, okay, that’s manageable. If you leave it there, it’s funny. You don’t talk about the early days before you figured out how to start a camp fire and you had to eat raw kills, or what that does to a human body, and you don’t talk about the cold in the winter, and you don’t talk about how fear still comes on you like an illness and refuses to leave. His fear is chronic. It's an affliction.
Those parts you keep to yourself, and you could say that it’s because these things are not something you want to relive, or because if you went under now you might never come back up for air. That’s true. But the other thing, the truest thing, is that if he started talking about terror, about pain—if he let that part of him go out into the world—then he doesn’t really know what would be left behind.
Technically speaking, what Heinz had been told about this movie was nothing. Perry just pulled the DVD out of his hat and passed it over so Heinz could read the back summary. It seemed fun. Something about talking animals and cartoonish revenge. Monday night was movie night and it was Perry’s turn to pick, so Heinz just passed it back to him with a general ramble of encouragement and went to make popcorn.
Heinz was forty-eight at the time, which doesn’t have much to do with the events of the night except that it put him at just old enough to have seen a lot of movies and just young enough to still be testing the waters in a very unorthodox but exciting relationship. And the night goes well, right up until the flip-dipping bats show up.
The swoop is just as he remembers it. He sits very still and stares at a spot one foot above the tv screen, and it’s like picking at a wound, he can’t stop thinking about it, he wants to and he doesn’t want to, he needs to and he can’t.
There’s the smallest pressure on his thigh. It takes a second, but he finally manages to get his head turned down, to make out the adorable platypus hand that’s trying to get his attention. He blinks.
Perry slides the remote out of Heinz’s hand and hits the pause button. He makes one of his vibrating little noises, and Heinz knows him well enough to tell that it’s a sound of concern.
“I’m,” he says, “fine, Perry the Platypus. You can play the movie.”
Perry gives him an unconvinced look, and pointedly sets the remote down on the other side of the couch. He crosses his little arms.
Heinz sinks down in his seat. “It’s just the bats,” he mutters, “I’m fine, I can wait it out.”
Perry looks at him for a second, as silent as always, and then hops up from his seat.
“Perryyyy,” Heinz whines, “don’t be like that, come on, I said I could wait it out, don’t get mad.”
Perry stops in front of the DVD player and, pointedly, ejects the disc.
“I don’t think you’re supposed to eject them while they’re paused,” Heinz says, before his brain can catch up with his mouth.
Perry pops the disc back into its case and carefully sets it down on the shelf, and then he pulls a different movie from the stack. He sets it in Heinz’s lap. It’s one they’ve seen before, a dramedy with a case of mistaken identity that Heinz had found uproariously funny. Perry taps it and steps back.
“You want to watch this instead?” Heinz says, nonplussed.
Heinz picks up the DVD and turns it over in his hands. “Is this…” he says, “because of me and the bats?”
Perry nods again.
It’s a losing battle anyways so Heinz doesn’t even try to pretend like he’s not tearing up. He rubs his eye and hands the case back to Perry. “That sounds great,” he says.
Perry cues it up and then hops back up into his seat beside Heinz. He doesn’t seem bothered by the abrupt change in entertainment. Actually, he’s reaching out, like he wants Heinz to hold his hand.
Perry firmly tucks their fingers together and then sits back, fixing his attention on the screen. Just like that, the whole episode is over. No argument, no disappointment; just popcorn and small, certain fingers. It's probably not that much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s more than Heinz has ever thought he deserved.
He’s so lucky to be where he is, now, after all this time. He’s not just lucky, either. He’s happy.
“Although I still don’t understand how she doesn’t recognize him,” he adds, as the FBI warning screen boots up in front of them. “He’s just wearing glasses, it should be obvious.”