A crash of thunder destroyed my dream. It was a good one too. About a Kentucky Derby where the cast members of Gilligan’s
Island were the jockeys. I scootched to the end of my bed and pressed my nose to the window. No rain? Then how—
“Bats! Bats! To arms! To arms!” All three of my brothers sounded the alarm in unison. I heard the thunder noise again. Oh, it’s just them. On the stairs.
I almost went back to sleep. Shut my eyes for a second. Then I sat up. Threw off the covers.
“Did someone say bats? Oh, my! I have to save Houdini. Else the bats'll suck his blood!”
I felt my way over to the hamster cage on my desk and pried the lid off. Plucked my little guy out of his Habitrail and snuggled him to my chest. I dove back in bed, careful not to squish him in the process. I buried us both in my Mary Poppins sheets and tulip basket quilt. The air felt close so I carved out a tee tiny air hole near the wall.
I stroked Houdini between the ears. But then my petting finger froze. “Oh, no!” I said. “The crack under the door!”
I flung the bed clothes down again. Positioned Houdini on my pillow. Pointed at him. “Don’t move! I mean it!”
I dug under my bed. “Where is it? I know it’s here somewhere!”
Found it! The beach towel I’d forgotten to give Mom to wash (last month). I crawled over to the door and stuffed it in the gap. The boy noise muted. Still, I could hear activity. The sound of it carried from the basement up through the ductwork. Wire hangers jangled on the coat rack bar.
“They’re getting their winter coats on,” I whispered to Hou. “Bat fangs can’t penetrate parkas, you know.”
I recognized the thump of snow boots on the furnace housing.
“They have to protect their feet,” I said. “I can’t imagine a bat drinking my pinky toe blood, can you?”
All of a sudden Dad’s voice boomed. “Men, don’t forget your gloves,” he said. “Don’t let any skin show. I guarantee those flying rats can smell exposed flesh.”
No one spoke for a minute. I knew what they were doing though. See, this wasn’t the first bat invasion at one ten Green Oak Drive. It happened almost every year, usually during leaf-raking season.
I cupped Houdini in my hand. “I bet they’re putting paper grocery bags on their heads. They always do that. Hear that rippy sound? That's them tearing out eyeholes.”
The noise shifted. To the metal shelves over by the fireplace. Clang! Clank!
“One for you,” Dad said. “And one for you. And here’s yours.”
I rolled on my side and put Houdini next to my belly. “That’s Dad handing out tennis racquets. They’ll use ‘em to shoo the bats outside. Least, I hope they do. Oh, goodness. I better say a prayer for the bats.”
I closed my eyes and put my hands together. “Dear God, I pray they only stun the little, grey guys and take them outside. Death isn’t really necessary, is it?”
The house shook again as the boys ascended. Holly, our liver-and-white Heinz 57 pup, followed them through the kitchen, then the dining room, belting out a Beagle howl all the while. Out in the living room, the guys paused. A moment later I heard the whap of wood on wood.
“Touche!” Mike crowed.
“En guarde!” Geof countered.
Someone threw open the front door with too much zeal. It cracked against the dining room archway. Dad took the Lord’s name in vain. Right before he blew Taps on his bugle.
“Good golly,” I said. “He’s gonna wake the whole neighborhood!”
“Women! Children! Abandon ship!”
Don’t have to tell me twice. With Houdini clutched against my sternum, I sprinted out of my room. Dang it! I backtracked to grab the shades of blue zigzag afghan Mom made when she learned to crochet at the YWCA. When I got to the living room, I collided smackdab into her.
“Move it, Mom,” I said. “Do you want to get rabies?”
Mom didn’t seem to have the same urgency as the rest of us. She stopped to gather her cigarettes and silver lighter from the coffee table. Then she sipped at the dregs of Tab and melted ice in her topaz-colored juice glass. In her shiny satin housecoat with her hair wrapped around prickly rollers, she looked like a Lost in Space alien—“Danger Will Robinson!”
Outside in the yard, Mom turned two lawn chairs to face the house. “We don’t want to miss this now, do we?” she said.
I plopped into the chair on the left and she took the other one. I busied myself wrapping every inch of exposed flesh and hamster hair with blue afghan. Mom smacked her pack of cigarettes on the chaise lounge arm ‘til a butt peeked out. Flicked her other wrist to open her lighter. Rolled her thumb down the little wheel. A flame sprang up, a tiny bright teardrop in the night. I inhaled through my nose. I know cigarettes cause cancer but I love their fragrance in the moment right after they catch fire. Mom sucked in until she could hold no more, then she huffed out little grey halos. I watched her mouth go from flat line to smile.
We were out there a good half hour while the guys raced up and down the stairs, whooping and hollering. At the bottom of the steps Dad gave orders.
“Men! Watch out! There’s one above your heads. Swat it! Shoo it! Someone open the door! Dagnabbit, Michael! Geoffrey! Whichever boy you are! Get out of the way!”
Mom moved her head side to side so her smoke stream made an 's.' “Hear that? That’s his Navy voice.”
I squinted and listened close but he sounded like plain ole Dad to me. I leaned back and shut my eyes. Maybe I can catch a nap. A minute later Mom tapped my wrist. Nodded to the wall over to her right. I held my breath as I saw movement in the shadows. Slowly, elegantly, our cat Ginger emerged from the darkness.
Mom dropped her non-cigarette hand into the grass. Snapped her fingers.
“Here, kitty, kitty. Come on, girl.”
Ginger slunk over then sprang into Mom’s lap. I watched as Mom smoothed her white, black, and pumpkin fur. Then I screamed. Mom jumped up and Ginger went flying with a yowl.
Mom turned and glared at me. “What?”
I pointed a shaky finger at Ginger’s face. Ginger opened her mouth and deposited something, a small furry grey something, onto the sidewalk beside Mom’s chair. It didn’t move. Awww!
I covered Houdini with my hand. “Don’t look, sweet boy.”
Without flinching, Mom cleared her throat. “Yoo hoo! Oh, men,” she said. She waved her cigarette hand. The little orange beacon bobbed.
The guys all gathered out on the porch. “What?” Dad said. His voice had a snarl in it.
Mom nudged the little dead guy with her slippered toe. “Looks like Ginger did your job for you.”
The boys came down the steps and into the dew-dropped grass. “Aw, man!" John said. "She killed it before we did.”
Dad took the paper bag off his head and used the bell of his bugle to sweep the little grey guy into it.
“All right then,” he said. “Our job is done here. Men, escort the women back inside.”
Mom tucked her arm into the loop of Mike’s. She glanced back at me and winked.
“I feel so safe having all these big, strong men in the house, don’t you?”
I rubbed Houdini’s soft warm flank against my cheek. “Actually, I feel safe having Ginger around,” I said.
Back in my room, I returned Houdini to his Habitrail. Put the lid on and draped the cage with the beach towel that needed washed. Just in case. Then I crawled back into bed and carefully tucked myself in until all that showed was my forehead and eyes. Now, where was I? Oh, yeah. At the
Kentucky . With Ginger and the gang. Derby