The Bat Keepers
by Hattie Clarke
In the dusk that was the remains of a June evening, we watched the bats fly around the pear tree in my garden. My brother was first to notice their tiny bodies against the clouded sky, as they flitted like shadow puppets to an inaudible melody. There had been wine and lamb bolognese and we were relaxed and glowing in the fading light. The candle flickered and our shadows painted an unusual family portrait on the wall.
The bats reminded us of a time in Gilfach, when a baby bat flew into the house overnight and lodged itself in my grandmother’s antique screen. The screen was a faded forest colour with white embroidery and tassels. Cosy for a little body of fur and sinew. When my brother found the bat hanging fast asleep on the screen the next morning, we were told to move it outside onto the lawn, where the bat could feel the sun on its skin, wake up naturally and fly home. The only problem with this plan was that Gilfach was a place full of predators. The menagerie that our grandparents had collected over their years of sustainable farming were everywhere, from under the kitchen table to hiding in the hay barn. Even the geese were vicious.
“Two bowls of cereal were poured for the brave and noble bat keepers.”
So my brother and I defended the bat on both sides of the screen. Sitting quietly and watching the cats prowl through the grass, inquisitive of the treasure we guarded. The sheep gathered at the edge of the field, releasing an occasional worried bleat. The dogs watched impatiently from the dining room window, they did not like being kept out of the loop when we were looking busy. The adults were eating breakfast and talking about us in the way only adults can. They smiled with amused faces when we frowned back at them. This was a serious endeavour.
Some time later, we looked back at the screen to find the bat had disappeared. Neither of us saw him fly off. Terrified, we looked under the screen and around it, maybe he was injured and couldn’t fly? My brother felt through the strands of grass, as though it was possible the bat may have shrunk in size. But we never got sight of him again. Despondent and small, we returned from our duties, the dogs were let loose and immediately carried out a thorough patrol of the garden. Two bowls of cereal were poured for the brave and noble bat keepers.
Twenty years later, our fascination with bats is still there. Their presence in my garden made us feel like we’d been blessed by a visit from old friends. But now we’re the adults sitting at the table and watching their flight from a window. There are no excited children or impatient dogs waiting to explore the wilderness of this city garden. The world of those moments lives in a tomorrow. Now is our time to feel our own childhood nostalgia wash over us and raise a glass to its flight.
Hattie is a writer and arts professional living in London. When she’s not writing or reading she’s exploring the collections of museums and galleries, hunting for stories.