by Blair Hurley
There’s a bat in my old bedroom.
Someone opened a closet up there, cleaning things out, I suppose, and now the bat is loose, careening around the close dimensions of the room. My father is at the center of its ceaseless whirling spirals. He has a tennis racket. He’s going to kill it.
My mother and I both cry out. We protest. The bat flies and flies in its smooth, flawless cir- cles, searching for a way out. It won’t land. My mother is dying of cancer and only gets out of bed once a day now but she is standing in the doorway, holding on to the frame. “Don’t kill it, please don’t kill it,” she says.
How many girls and women have pleaded this way? And why do we have to beg? Even still my father refuses to listen to us. He’s swinging the tennis racket crazily. He knocks over a lamp. The bat claws at the wall, avoids him, swerves like a fighter pilot. “Stop, just stop,” says my mother. “I don’t want anything to die in this house.”
I think, Why can’t he obey her? Who would refuse this request? But for a moment he can’t control himself. He’s not my father at all, he’s something else, a beast, a creature of rage. He wants to destroy this invader, he can’t handle this one more agent of disorder in this house. He swings and swings, crazily, like a bad baseball player right behind the fastball each time. “Don’t kill it,” we plead with him. And for a moment we think, you have this power, to be merciful. Please, save it. Please, save us.
Finally he stops, panting. We get a garbage bag over the bat and I hurry it downstairs. I walk out into the hot night where the crickets are singing and I walk a long way from our house, away from all the streetlights, down another road. I don’t want it to come back. Over the years we’ve saved birds and mice and little baby rabbits from our cat — easing the warm little bodies from her jaws — only to find them dead later, re-captured, because we did not take the creature far enough from home. This time I walk and walk. I don’t want to go back to the house, to see my mother and her gaunt face, the wrongness of it.
I open the bag and at first nothing happens. I give it a good shake and then out crawls the bat, scaling the sidewalk like it’s a cliff face, its warm brown body like a clump of someone’s hair. But alive, breathing, its whole body trembling with fear and life. I nudge it with a finger and final- ly it flies, soundless and terrifying, at me at first and then away.
My father will be easing her back into bed now. He’ll pull up the cover and put the quick- dissolving pill for pain under her tongue. Then he might take one of her anti-anxiety meds for himself. I’m scared to go back, to walk into the dark and see the light on in my old bedroom window. For a moment I enjoy the respite; crickets in a hot night that shouldn’t exist, that is four months beyond its life expectancy. Bats swooping around me, alive in the dark.