Nothing says love like a dead bat

Nothing says love better than a dead bat first thing in the morning.

The other day my cat Horton brought me one for breakfast. In all fairness, I am not sure whether the cat expected me to eat it or whether she was merely showing off. Either way, this was a first. This summer, Horton has caught and killed mice, shrews, crickets, butterflies, birds (far too many), and a flower from the hydrangea tree in our front yard that was wafting aimlessly along the lawn in the breeze. But until the other day, she hadn’t caught a bat.

In the interest of journalistic full disclosure, I should tell you that she caught this bat in our living room. I’m not sure I want to know what a bat was doing in our living room, but I like to believe it was a loner for two reasons. First, I have enough pets already. Second, an epidemic called white-nose syndrome has decimated the bat population in the Northeast. It’s hard enough surviving as a bat right now. The last thing they need is to have to share a house or cave with one of my killer cats.

In any case, it was about 5 a.m. and my wife was feeding Horton and her three feline siblings in the kitchen. All of a sudden, my wife said, Horton flew like a cruise missile from the kitchen into the living room and leapt into the air. When she landed back on the carpet, she had a bat in her mouth, still squeaking and flapping its little bat wings. Then she paraded proudly past my wife and the awestruck gaze of the three other cats and into the library where I had just started work for the day. When she reached my chair, she dropped the bat, now dead, at my feet.

Did I tell you it was my birthday?

In my opinion, this was no shabby accomplishment. Horton is a 5-year-old white and tan duster: She’s all fur. And so even though a bat doesn’t weigh a lot, neither does Horton. Plus, bats can fly.

The creature was actually pretty cute. The only other time I have had the chance to look at a dead bat up close and personal was easily a decade ago, when I found a dead one plastered to the inside of my wood stove door. It was September and I have a feeling that the dead bat had been pasted to that door a long, long time. For all I know it wasn’t really a bat; maybe it was a piece of decomposing bologna with wings. I tried to use a spatula to peel it off the wrought iron, but suddenly my stomach was feeling a lot like it does when your airplane falls a few thousand feet in a thunderhead and I decided that the best way to honor this bat was to start a fire and cremate it.

The animal that Horton brought me for breakfast, however, was very definitely not decomposing bologna with wings. It had a pair of semi-sweet mini morsels for eyes and fur the color of coffee with milk. It had those iconic bat wings and generous triangles for ears. Remember “Stellaluna,” Janell Cannon’s delightful picture book about a baby bat who is raised by birds? This bat looked a lot like Stellaluna, with the minor detail that it was dead.

Now, my cats really don’t need my approval. If they did, they would be less likely to shoot hairballs with firehose-like power from atop the kitchen counters or start rousing games of turd hockey the moment a guest arrives in the house. So, Horton didn’t hang around by my feet like a dog after depositing the dead bat. She went back to her own breakfast and left me to mine.

My sense is she was proud of herself. And I was proud of her, too. I didn’t eat the bat because I’m a vegetarian and because the Federal Reserve couldn’t print enough money to get me to put a dead bat in my mouth. But it was a delightful start to my birthday.

(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on August 23, 2009.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.