It took us close to an hour, but I managed to knock the bat to the floor with the broom, causing a slapping sound that made my stomach tighten. Emily covered the animal with an upside-down garbage bin, which I then pushed, slowly, out the door and onto the side porch. We heard the bat fluttering about for a few seconds, then it got quiet. I hoped we hadn’t killed it—Emily and I are both pretty squeamish about such things. This was at around 12:30 in the afternoon on a Sunday. We’d found it—our second bat in less than a week— sleeping in our dining room light fixture.
We let the cats out of the bedroom, where we had isolated them so that they wouldn’t get in our way as we got rid of the invasive creature. I regarded Leroy, who for the last day or so had been acting strangely—hiding under the bed, jumping at the slightest noise or unexpected movement. Not his usual purring, attention-seeking self. He also had a strange bump on his neck that I worried might have been a bite from a bat. He’d had his shots, but we were late getting the annual rabies booster. In fact, we hadn’t seen the need—neither of our cats had walked outside our home since their early kittenhood— until we saw the first bat.
Emily’s period was late, too, and though we knew the odds were against it, we were both afraid she might have been pregnant.
The guy who called me back from the emergency veterinary clinic told me Leroy should be quarantined for ten days, but he added that if I brought the bat in to the clinic, they could test it and get back to us the next day.
“How do I get it to you?” I asked.
“Just kill it with a tennis racket or something and bring it in,” he said with a nonchalance that puzzled me. “Don’t touch it with your bare hands, though.”
I don’t really know anything about rabies, but I thought I knew that you couldn’t just beat a bat to death and then test it. But this guy was the expert, and I was clearly out of my element. So.
“We have to kill the bat,” I said as I walked into the living room after I got off the phone. Emily inhaled sharply and stared at me, mouth and eyes opened wide. I realized she’d misunderstood my pronoun use. “I mean, I’m going to do it.”
We don’t play tennis. I thought we had a badminton racquet, but for the life of me I had no idea where it was. Though we both workout, neither of us is really into sports, to be honest. So with no other weapon at my disposal, I grabbed the broom again and walked towards the door.
I stood beside the overturned trashcan for several minutes, occasionally tapping it with the broom. No sound came from beneath it.
The screen door from the apartment next to ours slammed and a moment later our neighbor appeared in the driveway beside the porch. He was a young guy—just out of school, a fire fighter and sportsman. Country boy, 15 years my junior. I told him about the bat, thinking he might have advice. I needed someone with expertise to tell me I was doing this right. And though I have a PhD in creative writing and probably know more about literary theory and avant garde cinema than he does, I knew in this moment that he was smarter than I.
“How you gonna do it?” he asked.
“I’m going to beat him to death with this broom.”
He nodded. I could tell this plan didn’t impress him. “If he goes flying, you’ll probably miss him,” he said, which seemed obvious once the words were out of his mouth. “Bats are hard targets. Here.” He leaned over, picked up a huge brick left over from one of our landlord’s recent construction projects, and handed it to me. “I’ll lift the bin, you drop this on him.”
“Will that… work?” I knew a brick would kill a bat, of course, but it seemed to me there was a right way to do these sorts of things, and this wasn’t it. I’m not a hunter—I haven’t even caught a fish since I was a kid—so I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know much about these things. But this seemed wrong. Savage.
He laughed. “Let’s just get this done. You ready?”
Turned out Emily wasn’t pregnant. The cats didn’t contract rabies—in fact, apparently the one-year vaccine is effective for considerably longer than a year, and bat bites don’t tend to leave bumps. But I didn’t know these things then. All I knew was that the cats we had found in our backyard and nursed back to health when they were sickly kittens—holding them in the kitchen, feeding them with eye droppers– were in danger. That my possibly-pregnant wife could be at risk too. I wasn’t thinking about morality or the naturalist writers I read in graduate school or phrases like “hegemonic masculinity” or “what a man’s gotta do.” I wasn’t thinking about the time in the tenth grade that I declared to my parents that I would never fish again, that killing animals was immoral. I just knew that everything I loved was threatened, that the only way I could be sure we were all safe was with that brick.
I certainly didn’t know that the animal’s head needs to be intact to test it for rabies—that what I was about to do was going to make it impossible for me to get the definitive answer I wanted, wasting my time and the life of a bat who hadn’t actually intended us any harm.
My neighbor lifted the bin and I saw the bat, on the ground, unmoving.
“Do it,” he said.
“Wait…” I said weakly. I very much wanted for this to not be happening.
He raised his voice. “You’ve got to do it now.”
And I did. I let the brick go—“Fuck that rodent,” I might have thought— and it landed with a loud thud. The brick was big enough that it covered the entire crushed body. That was a blessing. I was already feeling nauseous.
William Bradley’s work appeared in numerous magazines and journals, including The Missouri Review, Brevity, Fourth Genre, The Normal School, Creative Nonfiction, and The Utne Reader. He was a professor at Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio and the author of Fractals, a collection of essays. He died on August 28, 2017 at the age of 41.
Photo: “Industrial Fro Yo” by Bobbi Le’ Rae Valentin