What a day! What was I thinking? That if I impressed the teacher I’d impress the girl plus I’d get Brownie Points in Biology? Goofy like that, nervous and cool and dramatic combined.
Not the way it works.
My second year in high school, and like entering a different world (those mammoth jars of unknown, unsettling creatures—was one a human embryo?—lining the top of the row of cabinets along where most classrooms had windows). And, an awkward new arrangement, desks we had to stand at (no stools). And the first day a week ago, arriving and meeting Mrs. Churchill, Mrs. Ruth Churchill (the name written and underlined on the board), hanging back avoiding the front row, her waving us to move forward, move forward, filing in and filling in and finding one desk apiece; then, more arriving, hearing how we had to share, two at a desk, we had to pick a “partner” (choose a partner when I didn’t know anyone). When one of the prettiest girls I’d ever seen arrived late with not many places left and she more or less had to choose me.
Different world, unsettling atmosphere, not where you’d expect to meet anyone besides a frog in a kill jar, maybe.
A week ago. I was almost used to it now. Cathy—my partner—was a little less shy.
Anyway, this morning before I walked to school. Taking the trash out to beside the garage, bright sunlight, I almost stepped on—something black. Crumpled paper? No. A kitten? No. A bat!
I looked above in the oak tree it must have fallen from. I— A dead bat?
Okay, as a kid, until this year, until this morning I’d never found anything dead fascinating. (Still don’t, it must be a ghoulish side effect of taking Biology, of standing in that tomb-like room.)
I went back in the house and got a mason jar and a spatula and a paper bag to pick up the tiny cadaver. I didn’t look at it; Ruth Churchill could look at it. I’d stow it in my locker until Second Period after lunch.
I was uncomfortable about the bag with the bat in the jar I brought. Half-uncomfortable, because the other half was glad I came with ammunition. A test case, a way to butter up the teacher, to find out if she was as made-of-iron as she seemed, as Dracula-in-a-dress as she acted.
With a dead bat?!?
Not fair. Mrs. Churchill was married, she must have fallen in love once. And maybe Cathy (standing so close) could feel what an uproar, what a tidal wave was towering right beside her despite the Cavern of The Dead all around us.
Bat in jar in bag. What would Cathy say if he showed her that?
No, not a good idea.
But if I raised a hand—in Biology Class I raised my hand.
A long, embarrassing time before Mrs. Churchill saw this but, once I raised my hand, it would be equally embarrassing to put it down.
“Yes? I’m sorry, I don’t have your names memorized yet.”
“Can a bat eat blood?”
“What? A bat?”
“Yeah, a vampire bat. I was just wondering.” I could feel the class stop, everybody looking at me (including Cathy). Sort of waiting for a punch line.
It wasn’t a joke though, I really wondered if—by way of preparing to—
“Oh yes. But, they only live in— From Mexico to Argentina. Not around here.”
Mrs. Churchill ignored this, she figured I was clowning around.
And then, sort of, she got even. Fifteen minutes later, preaching to us, she went over the “Food Groups.” (What? Where’d this come from?) Making nasty comments about pizza and cheeseburgers. Then:
“—to eat the right food is very important. Celery, for instance—Celery is one of the best of Nature’s Scrapers.”
Oh God! How could she say—? As if romance in this room was close to dead, NATURE’S SCRAPERS was a bullet to my heart, a cannonball. I didn’t want to hear—I didn’t want Cathy to hear—I couldn’t stomach hearing about what’s in the stomach—! Or where it’s going.
But the bell rang and I stopped in mid-cringe. I remembered the paper bag down at my feet. The original plot, before getting sidetracked. The dream of making the teacher like me.
When the class had gone I moved up to the front. “Guess what I found?” I held out the bag for Mrs. Churchill.
“My lunch?” she laughed. (And when she smiled—even up close, her chin disappeared.) She peeked into the open bag. She wasn’t in a hurry to reach in, though.
“A bat!” I sang out.
“Oh. You found a bat.” Not at all enthused, Mrs. Churchill handed the bag back. If you started twisting a banana in its peel until it split and the insides bulged through—Mrs. Churchill’s smile now, boy, she could show her large bicuspids.
“I found it under a tree this morning. Don’t you wanna see it?”
“No thanks. Don’t take it out of the bag!”
“Bats have rabies.”
“Oh, it can’t bite or anything—it’s dead.”
What a melodramatic dud of a day.
Except—it wasn’t dead. Unbelievably, after eight hours in a jar with a lid on tight, no air holes, in a paper bag and mostly in my locker—when I got home, when I went to shake it out of the jar into the garbage can WHIZZ! It disappeared in a second, flying (though I never saw it spread its wings).
Gone. Truly like “a bat out of hell.”