A Bat Tale from Poe and Me
“It was night, and the rain fell; and falling, it was rain, but, having fallen, it was blood.”
Well, not exactly, but I hope I now have your attention.
On a mid-August night this year, August 15, 2016, in fact, a fierce and sudden thunderstorm broke loose as I drove the four blocks home from the Giant food market, my thirteen-year-old Chevy wincing under squalls of violent wind and heavy rain. I parked outside my home and waited in dread: was death more certain if I sat in my car (under an 80 year old sycamore whose branches sometimes fall in storms) or if I ran into the house (across my porch, whose ornamental iron fencing was sure to attract a lightning bolt)?
So, yes, “there are moments when, even to the sober eye of Reason, the world of our sad Humanity may assume the semblance of a Hell.”  In this particular hellish moment, I decided to make a run for it, from car to porch in the driving rain, as my heart beat wildly—and, I hoped, not for the last few times. Fingers clutching my house key, my body shaking at the encircling bolts of lightning and claps of thunder, battered by a strong wind from the north, I unlocked the heavy oaken door. And was blown inside.
As I entered, I felt a spooky, indeed ungodly, flutter of wind above and around me. Scenes of Young Frankenstein (Marty Feldman’s Igor, in particular) flitted through my mind, but I put those aside. Enter I did and happy I was, finally safe in my sturdy little home. I put away the groceries and, after that, enjoyed an extended phone talk with my daughter-in-law. I then turned off the large lamp, leaving on only a small one, and turned on the television, wanting to find Rachel Maddow defending all things good and right, a beacon of hope on this stormy night. As I did, a flutter appeared at the very edge of my vision, indeed at its outermost edge. Was there a large black moth in the room, or did I just imagine it? Or was it something else? Was there something—or was there nothing? Stay with me here, reader. “Nervous — very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?”
Within the space of no more than ten seconds, I saw that flutter turn into a broadly winged creature: a bat! (So that was the spooky movement I’d felt above me as I’d entered the house! The flimsy creature was blown inside, as was I, both victims of an evil storm.) It fluttered near, then disappeared, then fluttered back again, and disappeared again, into the unlit back rooms of the house. “Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing/Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before,“ so I grabbed a large broom and opened the front door, because I’d heard that was the way to purge one’s home of bats. But it was not to be. Once I even thought the accursed creature had left, so I closed and bolted the door, only to find it dipping and soaring around me a few seconds later. I was becoming quite agitated, and even may have cried out: “Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!” But predictably, “quoth the raven, bat, ‘Nevermore.’ “ 
Surely a call to my sister in California would help, I thought (because “the ingenious man person is often remarkably incapable of analysis” ), so I dialed her up and told her my story. Alas! Its telling was interrupted by my repeated shrieks, as the bat looped around me, its trumpery and deplorable self constantly mocking me. At times I could even hear a humiliating chuckle emanate from its mouth. All this and more I bore that despicable night. “The thousand insults of Fortunato the bat I had borne as best I could, but when he ventured upon insult I swore revenge.”  I decided it was time to call out the cavalry: I would call 911! So I said good night to my sister. This next call would surely save me: Nine. One. One.
Me: “There’s a bat in my house and I can’t get it out. Could you send firemen out to remove it?” Visions of First Responders courageously rushing to my doorstep, bringing survival for me and death for the monstrous creature, filled my deteriorating mind; I could almost “Hear the loud alarum bells/Brazen bells!/ What a tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!”
911 Operator: “Firemen? Absolutely not. They don’t do that. I’ll send out a police officer.” (?) And she did. Not one but two. It was 10:30 p.m. by now, close to the end of their shift, and evidently, though I live in Baltimore, they had time on their hands. We talked and joked; I offered them coffee; we even looked for the bat sometimes, but never did we see it. Their visit was a nice relief, but pointless—except that one of them suggested I call City Animal Control the next day, because they were closed at that time. (I would learn later that Animal Control was on duty 24/7 and should have been sent to my house that night by the 911 Operator.)
That was all on Monday. On Tuesday I called Animal Control. A nice man showed up, rather quickly, bearing a large net and an air of confidence, but the bat was in full hiding mode. Yet it flaunted to me its continued existence by leaving its “droppings” for the next two nights (yes, they look like mouse droppings). I slept uneasily each night, and the stress started to mount. Friends kept me company; some brought me nets and hats to wear, others (tall ones) came to search for the bat in the higher regions of my cupboards and windows. But little did it help and shockingly, “I grew, day by day, more moody, more irritable, more regardless of the feelings of others. I suffered myself to use intemperate language.”  (This was not me!) On Wednesday, the Baltimore City Health Department (alerted by Animal Control) called to say I must run, not walk, to the nearest hospital E.R. to start a series of rabies shots, for “you’ve been living with a bat for three days!” My own primary care physician also insisted—and so, reluctantly, I started the shots. It was the week from hell, as I rotated trips to the hospital with trips home, where I donned a large-brimmed hat and clutched wooden tennis rackets (all hurriedly acquired at Goodwill—see accompanying photo). Verily it must be said that increasingly “I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.” 
Friends helped a great deal, in fact two of them insisted I not sleep at home and invited me to stay with them, which I did. But, sadly, once I overheard one saying to the other: “I was cautious in what I said before the young lady; for I could not be sure that she was sane; and in fact, there was a certain restless brilliancy about her eyes which half led me to imagine she was not.” (I told myself this “restless brilliancy” might be blamed on the rabies shots, but even I doubted that.) Things got worse as the universe began to conspire against me and for the bat. Whenever I turned on the t.v., there were bat movies on the screen. Whenever I answered the phone, friends and relatives reported unending stories of bats: bats in washing machines in Pittsburgh; bat bites in bedrooms in Baltimore and apartments in Texas; bat infestations in colonial homes in Connecticut; a bat birth in a bath tub in Belfast, Maine. Bat. Bat. Bat.
It was all becoming too much, so that “then there stole into my fancy, like a rich musical note, the thought of what sweet rest there must be in the grave.” I have been able to reject that thought so far, ever hopeful that truth and goodness still exist (cf., Rachel Maddow), even in the midst of the 2016 American presidential campaign, wherein I have seen a Creature infinitely worse than any bat. It is now mid-October, and the bat has never been spotted again. Assuredly, I will find its dried-out corpse some day behind a major appliance or in a corner of my moldy cellar, next to the case of Amontillado. Gradually, hope and confidence have re-emerged in me, for I remind myself that “all that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream,” but dream or not, Hillary will crush The Donald.
And as “literature is the most noble of professions . . . and there is no seducing me from the path,” I hope you’ve enjoyed this bat tale wrought by a four-handed monster: Poe and me.
 Edgar Allan Poe, “Silence – A Fable”  Poe, “The Premature Burial”  Poe, “The Tell-Tale Heart”  Poe, “The Raven”  Poe, “The Raven”  Poe, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”  Poe, “The Cask of Amontillado”  Poe, “The Bells”  Poe, “The Black Cat”  Poe, Letter to G.W. Eveleth, 1848  Poe, “The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether”  Bats are excellent for the environment, but not in my house!  Poe, “The Pit and the Pendulum”  Poe, “A Dream within a Dream” (poem)  Poe, Letter to F.W. Thomas, 1849
Copyright © 2016 Jo-Ann Pilardi.
Jo-Ann Pilardi is retired from Towson University where she taught Philosophy and Women’s Studies for 38 years. A working-class Italian from Pittsburgh, she moved to Baltimore in 1969 and was active in women’s movement groups through the 1970s. Currently, she teaches for TU’s Osher Institute, reads and writes, gardens, travels, and studies jazz piano.
Excerpts from a letter by Adam Smith, LL.D., to William Strahan, Esq., about the death of David Hume.
November 9, 1776
It is with a real, though a very melancholy pleasure, that I sit down to give you some account of the behaviour or our late excellent friend, Mr. Hume, during his last illness . . . . His cheerfulness was so great, and his conversation and amusements run so much in their usual strain, that, notwithstanding all bad symptoms, many people could not believe he was dying . . . . But, though Mr. Hume always talked of his approaching dissolution with great cheerfulness, he never affected to make any parade of his magnanimity. He never mentioned the subject but when the conversation naturally led to it, and never dwelt longer upon it than the course of the conversation happened to require: it was a subject indeed which occurred pretty frequently, in consequence of the inquires which these friends, who came to see him, naturally made concerning the state of his health . . . .
Thus died our most excellent, and never to be forgotten friend; concerning whose philosophical opinions men will, no doubt, judge variously, every one approving, or condemning them, according as they happen to coincide or disagree with his own; but concerning whose character and conduct there can scarce be a difference of opinion. His temper, indeed seemed to be more happily balanced, if I may be allowed such an expression, than that perhaps of any other man I have ever known. Even in the lowest state of his fortune, his great and necessary frugality never hindered him from exercising, upon proper occasions, acts both of charity and generosity. It was a frugality founded, not upon avarice, but upon the love of independency. The extreme gentleness of his nature never weakened either the firmness of his mind, or the steadiness of his resolutions. His constant pleasantry was the genuine effusion of good-nature, tempered with delicacy and modesty, and without even the slightest tincture of malignity, so frequently the disagreeable source of what is called wit in other men. It never was the meaning of his raillery to mortify; and therefore, far from offending, it seldom failed to please and delight, even those who were the objects of it. To his friends, who were frequently the objects of it, there was not perhaps any one of all his great and amiable qualities, which contributed more to endear his conversation. And that gaiety of temper, so agreeable in society, but which is so often accompanied with frivolous and superficial qualities, was in him certainly attended with the most severe application, the most extensive learning, the greatest depth of thought, and a capacity in every respect the most comprehensive. Upon the whole, I have always considered him, both in his lifetime and since his death, as approaching as nearly to the idea of a perfectly wise and virtuous man, as perhaps the nature of human frailty will permit.
“Years ago, Charlie, a highly respected orthopedist and a mentor of mine, found a lump in his stomach. He had a surgeon explore the area, and the diagnosis was pancreatic cancer. This surgeon was one of the best in the country. He had even invented a new procedure for this exact cancer that could triple a patient’s five-year-survival odds—from 5 percent to 15 percent—albeit with a poor quality of life. Charlie was uninterested. He went home the next day, closed his practice, and never set foot in a hospital again. He focused on spending time with family and feeling as good as possible. Several months later, he died at home. He got no chemotherapy, radiation, or surgical treatment. Medicare didn’t spend much on him.”
Ken Murray, How Doctors Die, The Best American Essays, 2012
Originally published in Zocalo Public Square
By Oliver Sacks, 1933 – 2015
“When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate—the genetic and neural fate—of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.”
New York Times essay.
(Click image to enlarge.)
My annual mammogram keeps migrating. It used to fall in August, then in September, and now this year it was in October, national Breast Cancer Awareness month. The exam migrates because I receive my referral from my primary care physician at my annual check-up, and if that appointment gets delayed then the mammogram appointment gets delayed as well. Admittedly, however, I’m usually not in any rush to have my boobs pancaked between two metal plates. A week’s procrastination here or there and eventually I find my scans scheduled smack in the middle of pink ribbon season. I’m usually apprehensive enough about the exam without being deluged by reminders that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. Frankly, an entire month of heightened awareness seems like overkill to a person in my demographic: postmenopausal, childless, with a maternal grandmother who died of breast cancer. I already eye a glass of alcohol with suspicion, mentally calculating the increased risk at which it puts me and hoping that the effect might be counteracted by my otherwise healthy habits. I opt out of full body scans at the airport and beg off dental x-rays when possible, out of an abundance of caution. That the mammogram itself exposes breast tissue to potentially carcinogenic radiation is an egregious contradiction to which I’ve resigned myself.
Mammograms and I have a long history, beginning in my fourth decade, since only recently has the value of scans for younger women been called into question. Both of my mammaries have met metal every twelve months since I was thirty; furthermore, there was a period of about three years where my left breast got special attention, being squeezed and pinched and photographed twice as often as its twin. The fact is, when I was forty, I got the dreaded call-back: “Something” had shown up in the images of my left breast. A sonogram shed no greater light on what that Something might be—small calcifications, perhaps, but my breast tissue, as little as there was of it, was too dense to tell for sure. We decided to take a wait-and-see approach, following up with more frequent mammograms that would reveal whether the Something had changed or grown. I’m not sure why this specter of an actual anomaly taking up residence in my chest did not send me into a panic: perhaps it was because no one mentioned any consequence more dire than having my left side mashed flat at double the rate of the right. When, however, after numerous follow-ups a radiologist finally asked, “Why don’t you just go ahead and get a biopsy and have it over with?,” I became alarmed. The prospect of a giant hole-punch (as I imagined it) plunging into the most delicate and sensitive skin on my body suddenly made every possible outcome more concrete. I inveigled a meeting with Lillie Shockney, a breast specialist at Johns Hopkins and, at the designated hour carried my x-rays, like an undetonated IED, into Shockney’s office. The expert took one look at the films and said, “This is nothing to worry about. Nothing.” I floated out of there on a wave of relief. I had dodged the one-in-eight bullet, at least for the time being.
I now have more mammograms under my belt than I care to count, but that doesn’t make me any more blasé about them, especially when October obliges women to recall that breast cancer increases with age and that the average age at diagnosis is sixty-one. Oh, by the way, I just turned sixty-two. Sitting in the waiting room of Advanced Radiology a couple of weeks ago, I ran through the worst-case scenario in my mind, as a way both of steeling myself should it come to pass and of warding it off, because, as everyone knows, if you envision a catastrophe vividly enough, it can’t really happen. The office was busy that morning and I had fifteen or twenty minutes to contemplate this bleak future before the clinician with her clipboard opened the swinging door and called out, “Barbara.” I was on my feet before she got to “Newman,” because Barbara is my first name, which I answer to when it is used by medical personnel. Another woman stood up almost simultaneously, just before the clinician called “Barbara” again, this time with a different surname. The other Barbara and I followed the clinician back into a maze of halls and exam rooms to the changing area, where she entered one of two curtained stalls and I the next. By the time I’d taken off everything above my waist, deposited those items and my purse in the locker, donned a blue cotton gown with the opening in front, and locked the locker, taking the key (attached to a shiny round CD, so that no one would accidentally leave the building with it), Barbara was already sitting in one of a pair of chairs that flanked a coffee table covered with magazines.
I picked up a Redbook and leafed through it, meanwhile surreptitiously sizing up my companion. She was about my height (that is, petite) and (I guessed) about my age. We ventured a bit of small talk about the hospital gowns, which feature three short ties attached in such a way that no configuration of connecting them will secure the garment around one’s body. Suddenly Barbara burst out with (apparently) faux chagrin, “I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. I put it off as long as possible.” I told her about my own migrating mammograms. “It’s been two years,” Barbara responded. Two years! I suppose I should have tut-tutted at her negligence (this was a couple of days before the American Cancer Society’s announcement of its new guidelines recommending mammograms every other year for women fifty-five and up), but instead I admired her audacity. She’d done the equivalent of spitting in Hitler’s eye while walking a wire suspended over Niagara Falls. We went on to rail against all sorts of overscreening and overtreatment by the medical profession. It turned out that Barbara was a nurse, so her aversion to scans, tests, and prescription meds seemed to vindicate my belief that no good could come from them. I was just about to declare that I intended to forgo treatment if I was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ, otherwise known as “not-really-breast-cancer-(yet),” when another gowned woman with a sullen expression entered the changing area and headed for my stall. “Hey,” I protested, “That’s my. . .” “My clothes are in there,” the woman snapped back and disappeared behind the curtain. Advanced Radiology was definitely doing a booming business during October: I couldn’t remember ever having to share my stall with anyone before.
A moment later, Barbara was summoned to the exam room. The image of a mammogram assembly line flashed across my mind, with Lucy and Ethel struggling to keep up with the mounds of. . . er, mounds. . . pouring down the conveyer belt. As if to provide a laugh track for my fantasy, sounds of giggling and friendly banter drifted down the hall. Barbara must have hit it off with the radiology technician. Maybe the staff went easier on patients they liked–for instance, skipping that little extra tightening of the vise at the end of each pose. By the time Barbara got back, the sullen lady had dressed and left, and yet another woman, younger, perhaps in her late thirties, had donned her blue gown and was sitting in the chair Barbara had occupied earlier. Barbara stepped into her stall, but as she pulled shut the curtain, she popped out her head and grinned: “I warmed them up for you.” Then it was my turn.
“Hello, I’m Jill. I’ll be performing your mammogram today.” Apart from that greeting, Jill and I exchanged no superfluous words, only her instructions and my murmurs of assent: arm out, turn here, grasp there, don’t move. The process was routine and swift, so swift that when Jill paused between shots, ensconced in the lead-lined booth where she could view the image she’d just taken, I had only half a minute or so to wonder what she was seeing and whether the pause was prolonged enough to indicate that she had noticed Something Worrisome. Before I knew it, Jill was leading me, CD key-chain in hand, back down the hall. “You’ll receive your results by mail in about a week.” How I appreciated that week-long reprieve! In the bad old days, a radiologist would be on call to read questionable scans and order additional tests immediately. Inside the changing room, the younger woman—glossy brown hair cut shoulder length, full lips and cheeks, gown held closed with an arm across the rib cage—was still sitting patiently. “She was right,” I said, “The plates weren’t cold at all.” The woman smiled wanly. “It’s my first time.” I thought of all of the many things I might say about what lay ahead for her, then limited myself to “It’s uncomfortable, but it doesn’t last long.” “That’s pretty much what my sister told me,” she answered. I ducked into the stall, retrieved my clothes from the locker, put them on (noticing that the top of my chest looked like it had been badly sunburned), and emerged again. By then, the young woman was gone. I dropped my blue gown on top of the others in the overflowing hamper and headed home.
Copyright © 2015, Florence Newman
Florence Newman is professor emerita at Towson University, where she taught in the English Department for 27 years. A specialist in Middle English literature, she has published and delivered conference papers on Chaucer, the Gawain-Poet, and medieval women writers. She grew up in Blacksburg, Va., reading books in her parents’ library and eating strawberries from her grandfather’s garden. She currently lives with her husband in Towson, Md., escapes occasionally to their farm on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, and travels farther afield when time, energy, and finances permit.
Doodlemeister.com is looking for first-person observations up to 1,500 words for this series. If need be, we’ll help you to edit and/or cut your piece. If you’d like to submit a story about something interesting you experienced, or simply thought about, please contact us by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
My name is Amanda Rothschild and I’m the manager of Charmington’s, a café in Baltimore City. That’s me to the lower right of President Barack Obama in this picture.
(Click image to enlarge.)
The president visited my restaurant because our workers get paid sick days, even though Maryland law does not require employers to offer them. Because our employees have paid sick time off, they can take the time they need to get well or take care of their families. They don’t come to work sick, spreading germs to their co-workers or our patrons.
This year we have the chance to pass the Healthy Working Families Act in the Maryland General Assembly and give more than 700,000 Maryland workers paid sick days. Sign our petition and tell Maryland legislators that you think workers should be able to earn paid sick leave.
When the president dropped by yesterday for a sandwich, we talked about our paid sick days policy. I shared with the president that having paid sick days makes our employees healthier and reduces our staff turnover, saving the business time and money. He told me about his work to pass paid sick days legislation in the U.S. Congress and that he is encouraging every state to give workers earned leave.
Thanks for your activism and visit us at Charmington’s soon!