Commando Bats
Commando Bats
    When I was young, aging women were interchangeable. Ugly,
slow, annoying with their unwanted opinions. It seemed impossible that I’d ever
be one. The first proof that the universe has a sense of humor? I’m half of
one.
    Since the stroke that wiped out my livelihood, I’d taken to
tooling my electric scooter along the Venice boardwalk, or out to the Santa
Monica pier. I was on the pier that day when the second proof happened.
    My goal was to work at training my left hand to mix colors,
but when too exasperated by juggling paints, paper, and water in the fitful
ocean breeze, I sat back and watched the fishers, patient and still, the
flirting young couples, and a man with his little boy tossing bits of bread up
in the air to the seagulls swooping and diving over the choppy green waters.
    Then this compelling, melodic female voice spoke intimately,
as if right beside my ear.
    “Excellent. You are what I want.”
    That couldn’t possibly be me. I turned. Nearby stood two
other sixty-plus women. The tall, thin silver-haired one in the elegant
clothes, with the wedding ring the size of a Volkswagen, looked quickly away
from the sensibly dressed, solid black woman with the salt-and-pepper hair;
she, in turn, glanced from Lady Gotrocks to me in my motorized wheelchair, and
then away with an air of this has nothing to do with me.
    “Yes. You.” The speaker sounded like an opera singer I'd
once worked with, back in my waitress days, when she was putting herself
through music school and I was studying art. The unmusical cadences of everyday
speech could not hide the melody intrinsic in her tones. It was just this way
with this woman: she did not shout, or even speak very loud, but her voice
rang.
    I turned my scooter. The speaker was tall, with high piled
curly dark hair, and large dark eyes. She wore a kind of caftan thing with
stylized peacocks embroidered around the hem, and she carried a bag with
cleverly made overlapping fabric that looked like lotus leaves. I wondered how
much she had paid for it.
    She stared straight at me. People usually don't. They see
the scooter and my lifeless right arm and the droopy right side of my face, and
look away quickly.
    Peacock Lady gestured imperiously to the three of us. “Reach
into my bag.” That resonant, musical voice was so commanding I grabbed the
stick to move my scooter forward and then I thought, Wait a minute.
    “Who are you?” the black woman asked, not quite hostile, but
definitely a challenge. “I don't touch anyone's handbag.”
    “Excuse me,” Lady Gotrocks said in a Malibu drawl, as she
wiped her eyes on a linen handkerchief of the type I hadn’t seen since my
grandmother was alive. “I was just leaving.”
    Peacock Lady held up a hand, palm out. She loomed, dark eyes
compelling under her cloud of curly hair, her complexion a warm bronze: she was
the archetype of beauty and majesty. "I have chosen you three to receive
my gift. Now, reach into my bag, or suffer my ire!”
    I swear there was an echo from the Hollywood Hills.
    “I know you all, for you come within my governance. I am
Hera. Now I order you for the third and last time: Reach into my bag.” She
fixed on me, as I was now closest.
    The woman's ringing tones shivered through my nerves. I
reached up from my scooter to slip my fingers over the lotus leaves — which were
not fabric, after all, but cool and alive. “Your name?” she commanded.
    “Nancy Litvak Fiala.” My voice came out a croak as my
fingers found what felt like a jumble of costume jewelry, some of which had to
have been kept in her freezer, for it was icy cold.
    “Ahhhh,” Hera murmured. “That one. It is just.”
    My forefinger touched a warm circle of metal, which slipped
on of its own accord. I yanked my hand out, staring. Was that a ruby on my
finger, or just sun-dazzle? I blinked, and the image was gone.
    Hera held out the bag to the black woman next. Moving
slowly, bristling with suspicion, she stretched out her

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