"We have a bat," my husband said.
John carries on little conversations in his sleep sometimes. "Come on, man," he'll say, as if the person on the other end is trying to con him out of money and he's insulted to be thought so gullible. It's cute, but doesn't call for my participation. So I just patted him on the shoulder and rolled over.
"Kristi," he said. "We have a bat. There's a bat in the house."
"But how could we?" I said, fighting my way out of sleep and back in at the same time.
"There's a little gap by the window unit. He probably got in there."
I sat up and squinted. Sure enough, a small dark thing was flying in circles around the room. "Maybe it's a bird," I said. Somehow it would bother me much less if it were a bird. But I looked again and saw the scalloped wings, whereupon I did something I haven't done since I was five, if ever: I scrunched into a fetal position and pulled the covers all the way over my head. "Oh my God," I said. "I am scared to death of bats."
This was news to me. I have a near-psychiatric-level fear of frogs (they just look so evil), but I am calm around snakes, mice, flying roaches and other creatures people love to hate. I've seen the bats at Carlsbad Caverns, and when we lived in the country John and I often sat on our back porch — screened back porch, come to think of it — at dusk and watched the bats come out of the trees. I know, or at least my brain knows, that most bats aren't rabid, that they don't really get tangled in women's hair, and that this one was at least as scared of us as we were of him. But that weird place that really knows stuff, somewhere between my ribs and my stomach, knew that this bat was a sociopath and was just waiting for a chance to dive-bomb us.
John spoke a little louder, as if the sheet might have muffled my hearing or he thought I might be crazy. "Honey, there's nothing to worry about. I'm just going to go downstairs and open the door so he can leave, okay?"
"Please be careful," I said. I didn't offer to come with him.
We live in a funny little house with a two-story, vaulted-ceiling living room. We sleep in a loft at the top, which means that the bat was flying about three feet over our heads. From my foxhole I heard John shut the French doors which lead to the rest of the house and open the front one. "If I turn the porch light on," he called, "he should head right toward it."
"How do you know that?"
"I'm a guy," he said. It's a joke between us, this guy-knowledge, but it is true that for such an art-history-major, cooing-at-babies kind of man, John knows an awful lot about reptiles, car guts, and duct tape. As a child he used to devise elaborate plans for escaping from a windowless bathroom while a bad guy hacked through the door; one of them involved making a firebomb out of a can of Lysol and a Q-Tip. ("Why not just spray the Lysol in the guy's face?" I asked. "Too simple," he said.) Sometimes while we're watching The X-Files I overestimate the annals of guy-knowledge and ask him to explain exactly how the freak of the hour managed to change form enough to fit through an air vent. "You think I'm supposed to know that because I have a penis, don't you?" he says incredulously, obviously trying to keep the facts to himself.
In a little while I got brave, for me, and decided to join John downstairs. The bat was nowhere near the front door; he was still flying in circles fifteen feet above us. "You'd think he'd get splattered by the ceiling fan," I mused.
"They have amazing sonar," John said. It seemed to me that the bat's sonar sucked, but I kept that to myself.
We sat on the living room floor for a couple of hours, one of us watching the door at all times, since the bat moved so quickly that if we looked away he might leave and we'd never know it. He'd begun to disappear for periods of time, hiding out in nooks and crannies we never knew we had. Bats are small, or at least this one was. I'd always imagined them having squirrel-sized bodies, but ours, wing span excepted, wasn't any larger than a mouse. "What if we only think he's hiding, but he actually slipped out while we weren't looking?" I said.
"Well, that would be great," John said.
"Except we'd never know for sure that he was gone. There'd always be the possibility that he might show himself again."
"What do you mean, show himself? He's not Zorro."
"What if we had a dog?" I said. "Oh my God, what if we had a baby? I will not have my child living in a bat house!"
We had a little glass of scotch then, which gave me an inspiration. "You watch the door," I said to John. "I'm going to get on the Net."
I learned a few things on the Net. One was that every third-grade class in the United States has a web page devoted to bats. Another is that people are crazed with love for the things; you would think they were golden retrievers, or Hanson. I wondered briefly if I were just a bad, mean person who should never be allowed to touch dogs and children, much less give birth to them. The last bit of wisdom I gleaned is that it's easy to rid your home of a bat; if you open the front door and turn on the porch light, its exquisitely honed sonar will lead it outside in a matter of minutes.
"This bat's defective," I reported back to John, who had shut the front door and was in the den watching Fame. "I think we're going to have to move."
"Not to worry," he said. "He's in there somewhere. When it gets light and he goes to sleep, we'll find him and put him outside." I thought he sounded a little giddy. "Hey," he said, nodding at the TV, "whatever happened to that guy who played Leroy? Does he dance on floats and stuff now?"
"I have no idea what happened to Leroy," I said. We watched Fame until the sun came up.
That day we put on heavy gloves and took apart every inch of the living room. We looked under sofa cushions, in the wood stove, behind the armoire. We went up to the loft and, in a truly hair-raising moment, shook out the bed linens. With an expandable yardstick John examined the ceiling and the beams that stretch across it and found that our house is riddled with tiny holes that were nonetheless big enough for a bat to squeeze through. We bought some caulk and spent the rest of the day sealing the gaps. By five o'clock we felt like marvelously proactive, take-charge people and took ourselves out to dinner as a reward. "It's really such a tiny, helpless animal," I said. "I can't believe I was scared of it."
"Our home is now baby-safe," John said. When we got home it was dark, but the living room, still closed off from the rest of the house, was cool and still and felt safer than it ever had before.
Around midnight John went up to bed. Three minutes later he was back. "Bat," he said.
This time we tried waving our arms in the air to guide the bat to the door, sort of like those people who park airplanes. It was an excellent toning exercise, but didn't solve the problem at hand. By two a.m. we were lying on our backs on the living room floor. "There must be someone we can give hundreds of dollars to who'll come and get rid of him," I said.
John shook his head. "Critter Control will only come if we have a whole colony." A comforting thought.
I started to wonder why we were so bothered about our bat. Since he clearly wasn't going anywhere, maybe we should think of him as a parakeet. "It's funny," I said. "For some reason the fact that he's a mammal makes this creepier."
"Are we going to go through the mammal thing again?" John sighed. It had become clear on a vacation several years back that I thought of anything one could make eye contact with, including ducks and chickens, as a mammal. John has never gotten over it. "Because I don't think he wants to stare you down, if that's what you're worried about."
The conversation continued at about this level for another hour. We reviewed what is and is not a mammal and discussed rabies treatment, which is much improved from the days when my great-grandfather had to have seven shots in his stomach. Among the boys he grew up with, John said, rabies shots were the big fear, surpassing nuclear war and Lysol grenades. "For some reason it seemed completely plausible that we might have to have them," he said. Eventually we dragged some quilts and sofa cushions into the dining room and slept, or tried to. Sleeping in the same room as the bat was not an option; he was probably just waiting to hear us snore so he could put his plan into action.
The next day, when it was just the two of us again, John came home carrying a big bag and a long box. "Net," he said, taking one from the bag. "The guy at Target says this always works." The guy at Target probably didn't have a two-story ceiling, but it was worth a try. Next he took out a tennis racket. "This just seems like it might help."
"What's in the box?" I asked.
"The last resort," he said. "A gun."
"You bought a shotgun?"
"It's a pellet rifle," he said. "You don't shoot a bat with a shotgun." He gave me that look that said Girls. "However, I could have bought a shotgun on the spot, no waiting period, which is outrageous."
"Well, once we've blown this bat apart, maybe we should contact our Congressman about that," I said.
"Look," John said. "It's a last resort. You know I don't want to shoot our bat. But something is obviously wrong with him, and I don't think he's going to leave of his own accord."
"I hate guns," I said.
"Yeah, but aren't you starting to hate bats more?"
He had a point. "I really don't think you should shoot the bat," I said, "but if you were to fire at him, do you think you could hit him?"
"No question. Plus, this is a really good rifle. It cost about sixty bucks more than the other ones, but the quality is much higher."
"I'll remember that the next time I buy shoes," I said.
As it turned out, we never got a chance to pass or fail the gun test. When the bat woke up that night, John got the gloves and the net and prepared for battle. "This could get chaotic," he said. "Why don't you stay out of the living room."
"You probably think I'm a bad feminist," I said. "Why shouldn't I be the one to deal with the bat?" I had no intention of dealing with the bat, but I thought my cowardice should be acknowledged.
"You're a fine feminist," John said. "You're just scared of bats, and you're really not all that coordinated. I'll take care of it."
He flailed around in the living room for a while as I watched through the French doors; it was like seeing outtakes from an Errol Flynn movie. Then he climbed up to the loft, where he and the bat would be on the same latitude. There were a series of thwacks — the net hitting the ceiling beams, I imagined. I listened for the thud of a human body meeting the living room floor. But within a few minutes John was making his way down the ladder, net gathered in his hand. "I got it," he called, making a muscle.
On the front porch we looked closely at the bat, who was making clicking noises and trying to put his tiny fangs through John's glove. "I guess he hates me too," John said. He started to open the net.
"Maybe we should let him out down the street," I suggested. I thought that, like a stray cat, he might just hang around otherwise. So we carried our bat to the corner and released him in front of Bev's Carribean Kitchen. We barely saw him go.
On the walk home I said, "I guess we can return the shotgun."
"Pellet rifle." We climbed the steps to our house. "It's a very nice gun. Might be a good thing to have around."
"Camping?" he said. We have never gone camping together. "What if I told you I've wanted this exact pellet rifle since I was ten and my parents wouldn't let me have it? Would that make a difference?"
I unlocked the door. I smiled at him. "It might."
Write "Ellavon" at email@example.com.
Released: July 21, 1998