Dad Was Boring
My dad was boring. He sat at home, listening to music and reading the newspaper. Not only that, he had bushy eyebrows and a double chin. Whenever he angled his face down to look at me, I couldn’t help but think, bullfrog.
One day, when I was nine, Dad said to me, “Betsy, play with all the kids you want in the neighborhood, but don’t forget about spending a little time with the McGuires. It’s a mitzvah to visit with the old and the ill.”
That was the first time he had ever told me to spend more time with the sick old lady who lived with her daughter, Miss McGuire, across the street—that it was actually a good deed—and I asked Miss McGuire about it.
Miss McGuire had never heard the word “mitzvah” before, but once she understood, she said, “Your father is right. It brightens Mother’s day to have you near. It gives me someone to visit with too. That’s why it’s a good deed.”
I sat on the braided rug at the foot of the winged chair, looking at the old lady resting her eyes. All I saw was a pile of knitted afghans topped by a dome of white cotton candy. The woman snored, a faint fizzle with each inhale. I asked, “Miss McGuire, does she look the same after I leave?”
“What do you mean by that, dearie?”
“I don’t know. More alive, I guess. Or does she just stay in that chair?”
“She’s always calmer on days you come over.”
“Your mom must be the oldest one in town.” Betsy stroked the old woman’s flossy hair, studying her face, certain she saw an upturn in the corners of her mouth. “Curious, do daughters take care of old fathers too?”
“You won’t need to worry about that for a very long time, my dear. Your father is young and healthy.”
“Young? My dad’s not—”
“Well, missy, he’s younger than I am, and I still have plenty of life in me!”
I heard a strange noise—a squeal I thought might have come from the old lady, but it came from a corner of the ceiling.
“Lookit,” I said, pointing. “Something’s up there.”
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. It’s a bat,” Miss McGuire said more to herself than to me. “Mice are bad enough, but one with wings.” She grabbed my hand and pulled me into the kitchen, slamming the door shut.
“What about your mother?” I asked.
Miss McGuire opened the door a crack, and the creature flew across the room, flapping its wings. “I’ll take my chances. I can’t go back in there. I’m calling your father.” She picked up the phone and dialed. “Phil!” she shouted, “It’s Kate. Can you come over here right away?”
“Betsy? No. Betsy’s fine. It’s a bat. In the parlor. With Mother. Help!”
“A pillowcase?” Then to me: “Get a pillowcase off the clothesline.”
“Hairspray,” Miss McGuire said. “Yes, on the vanity in my bedroom. I’d have to go through the parlor. It’s flying around in there with Mother! And the noises it’s making, Phil. Screaming like a banshee.”
While we waited for Dad to drive from his office, I looked into the parlor through the crack in the door. The bat was not much more than a moth hanging upside down at the far corner of the room, but it spread its wings and took flight toward the kitchen door. It flew in figure eights around the room, bumping into walls like a house fly trapped in a light fixture.
“How long will it take Dad, do you think?” I asked.
Miss McGuire shook her head and grabbed the doorknob. “You stay in here!” she yelled. As she raced through the parlor, the brown Cordoba pulled into the driveway.
Dad ran around the house and came in through the back door, tie askew. “Where’s Kate?” he asked.
“She said she’d be right back.” I held up the pillowcase.
“Where’s the bat?” He threw off his jacket.
“In there,” I said, pointing to the parlor.
“Not sleeping, is it?” asked Dad.
“Nope, it was flying around everywhere. You should see it!”
“Kate, did you find the hairspray?” Dad called out.
“Got it, but I can’t run back through there. I just can’t. Aren’t they supposed to sleep during the day? What’s going on with this thing?”
Miss McGuire stood paralyzed in the hallway across the parlor.
Dad said, “Toss me the can. Or roll it.”
Because of the Dracula movie I’d watched with my friends, I feared bats had fangs, attacked humans to drink their blood, and turned into vampires at night. Nothing is more terrifying than lying in wait for a bat to sink its fangs into your neck. A chill brushed against the lace curtains. An unsuspecting paper boy tossed the evening news onto the stoop. The old lady coughed and then cleared her throat. Miss McGuire rolled the can of hairspray across the room. Dad grabbed it and climbed up on the sofa.
“There you are,” he whispered. The bat had landed on the edge of the window trim above a table. “Look at you. More scared than anything.”
The bat was plastered to the wall, spreading and folding its wings but not taking flight or leaping. It seemed to be blinking and looking around the room. We could hear it screeching softly, fangs showing as it opened and closed its mouth.
Dad should have tried at that moment, while the bat was still. But he waited. “Toss the pillowcase over here, Betsy.”
I threw it but it landed a few feet from Miss McGuire—too far from Dad. She rushed into the room and handed Dad the pillowcase, looking like she might faint. “Okay. Now what?”
In amazement I watched Dad take the can and walk over to the table in front of the window. His steps were slow but steady. He looked like a cat sneaking up on a canary. When Dad loosened his tie, Miss McGuire muttered, “Lord, have mercy,” and nibbled her fingernails.
Dad ran a hand through his hair; it was sticking up at a funny angle and he left it there. In the still air a bead of sweat dripped down his temple, getting lost in his bushy sideburn.
On the ceiling the bat made a decision. It swung its body to the right and spread its wings to take flight. It flapped its wings twice and jumped.
With rapid motion, so quick it seemed like a videotape played fast-forward, Dad raised the aerosol can as he pressed the button. The hairspray hissed. The bat stiffened, plummeted, and lay there, wings splayed open on the braided rug. Its eyes were wide and blinking.
Miss McGuire looked at the bat and shuddered. “How did you know that would work?” she asked.
“Just did,” answered Dad. “Let’s get the thing outside.” He picked it up with the pillowcase and brought the animal out the front door.
Vera Conti, the neighborhood busybody, opened her door and came out to take a closer look. She stood on her porch, hand at her brow, shielding the sun to see what was happening at the McGuires’.
When Dad noticed me following him, he warned, “Don’t get so close.”
After Dad left the bat outside, he returned to the front porch, where Miss McGuire actually wrapped her arms around his shoulders and hugged him. “Thank you so much. I don’t know how you knew to do that.”
“Read it somewhere,” said Dad.
“Dad?” I said.
“Lookee there. Phil Rosenblum saves the day!” called Vera, interrupting me.
Dad turned to see her. Their eyes locked but neither said a word. He took my hands and squatted so he could look me straight in the eye. “As soon as the rain begins, the hairspray will wash off, and it will be fine to fly—but mad as anything. So don’t go anywhere near that animal. You got it?”
“Got it,” I said. “Dad—”
“What’s wrong, Betsy, Queen of Curious?” said Miss McGuire, winking at me. “Don’t you want to hear about your dad’s—”
“Not now,” said Dad, “gotta get back to work.”
After he climbed into the Cordoba and drove away, I followed Miss McGuire to Vera Conti’s front porch. We stared in baffled anticipation at the stiffened bat lying on top of the pillowcase.
Vera Conti said, “Well, well, well. In a million years I’d never guess your father could come to the rescue like that. Imagine a bat in the house? Maybe he should have killed it. Maybe it will come back like some sort of deranged homing pigeon with fangs. I would hate to see you have to deal with this again, Kate.”
Miss McGuire said Vera would be telling a different tale if that bat had been roosting in her parlor, that she would have complained about the traps, or the poison, or the bloody mess.
I kept my eyes glued to the spot. “Lookit, Miss McGuire. Look. It’s just sprawled out there…and its wings are starched but it’s gonna be fine. Did you see my dad? He showed up and took charge. He fixed this with nobody getting hurt. Did you see that?”
Miss McGuire leaned over and kissed the top of my head. “Well, my Queen of Curious, Now there’s one less question about that father of yours.”
I smiled. “True.”
“That father of yours is kind and smart. If there’s a way to solve a problem without harming anyone or doing long-term damage, he’s the one to do it.”
We watched as the rain started. The bat flopped around on the pillowcase like a goldfish that had escaped the bowl. It opened and closed its wings and let out a screech. It took flight. Then it disappeared into the trees.
Lisa L. Leibow’s work is included in literary journals such as Coe Review, CommuterLit, Diverse Voices Quarterly, and Five on the Fifth. She earned a master’s in fiction writing from Johns Hopkins University. She’s co-founder of www.TheScheherazadeProject.org, an activism through storytelling arts movement, a Faulkner-Wisdom Award novel finalist, and a two-time Vermont Studio Center merit-based grant recipient. Lisa teaches writing at George Washington University and Northern Virginia Community College.