by Caroline Humes
a cup of tea in an old china cup
Charlotte knelt in the attic among the sum total of her possessions, piled in boxes around her. Only now was she getting round to sorting through the items she'd carefully packed away before moving in with her partner, Henry, three months ago.
Henry's head appeared in the hatchway from the floor below. "How are you getting on?" he said. His wire-rimmed spectacles had slid down his nose and with one finger he pushed them back up.
"Dunno, I don't even know what I'm looking for really."
He climbed up to stand next to her. "I thought you were going to see how much you can get rid of. This is your home now; you don't need most of this stuff."
"A lot of it is Kyle's; old toys, sports equipment and so on. I don't want to let it go without asking him." Kyle was her fourteen year old son from a previous relationship. He was spending the night at a friend's house.
"Well you can mark it up and ask him tomorrow." Henry bent to examine a box. "Look, this one's labelled 'Kitchen cutlery and crockery'. Surely you don't need to keep this."
It was easy for him to say. He wasn't the one who'd left her home and security to take a chance on a new relationship. She'd only known Henry for nine months before she'd agreed to move in. She'd agonised over the decision but had done what she thought best. Henry was a good person, and stable too; a good role model for Kyle.
"It's just hard; I've got sentimental attachment to it all." She let out a heavy sigh. "Maybe this isn't the right time."
"You're not having second thoughts are you?"
"No, not at all. But there's no harm in leaving it up here for now, is there? It's not in the way or anything."
"We could make the attic into a room for Kyle. There's loads of space up here; he'd love it."
It was true; the house was a barn conversion and the attic was huge, with a high vaulted roof. But the comment struck a nerve. "That would get him out of the way, wouldn't it," she said, an edge in her voice. "He feels alone and uprooted enough, Henry."
She picked up another box and scrutinised the label, deliberately turning her back on him. A strand of brown hair fell forward over her eye and she tucked it back behind her ear. Garden tools. She wouldn't need these either; it was as if everything she'd worked to obtain was no longer of use, rendered irrelevant.
She glanced at Henry; his expression was confused and uncertain, his forehead creased in a small frown. Her anger evaporated. "I'm sorry," she said. "You haven't done anything wrong. I'm finding it difficult, that's all. I have to think about Kyle as well."
She reached out a hand and he stared at it like he was unsure what to do, so she grabbed one of his and squeezed. "Everything will be fine," she said.
There was a noise at the far end of the attic, a scraping sound followed by a flutter.
"What's that?" said Charlotte.
"It'll be a bird, I should think," said Henry. "They roost under the eaves."
"Yes, but it sounded like it was inside."
The noise came again, louder this time, and a dark object flew out from the end of the room over their heads only to disappear into the boxes at the other end.
"I don't believe it!" Henry's eyes were wide. "It's a bat!"
"Well it looks..."
The bat, for that was clearly what it was now, flew out from the boxes and into the middle of the room where the roof was highest. It swooped high then low, setting the two lightbulbs swinging. Suspended as they were at the end of long cables, the room became a freaky homage to disco, with light and shade randomly alternating in every corner, casting an array of shadows from the piles of boxes.
The harsh fluctuating illumination made it difficult to see the intruder. When the bat swooped low again, Henry dropped into a crouch, hands over his head, waving them wildly.
"Keep still; you're frightening it," said Charlotte.
Her words fell on deaf ears. The next time the bat swooped, Henry jumped up and sprinted to the other end of the room.
"You're making it worse!" shouted Charlotte.
"They've got rabies! Get it away from me!"
Henry's voice was an octave higher than she'd ever heard it. She could barely see him, hiding behind the largest pile of boxes at the other end of the room.
In truth, the bat hadn't come close to either of them, and was clearly more concerned about getting out than terrorising the bewildered humans. Charlotte couldn't tell who was more panicked - the bat or Henry.
"It's looking for a way out," she said.
"How did it get in?" shouted Henry. Then a shriek of "Get it away!" as the bat swooped down again.
The bat continued to flutter from one end of the room to the other. Charlotte calmly sat on a box waiting for it to tire itself out, when without warning Henry shot out from his refuge and ran to the hatch, half-climbing, half-sliding down to the floor below. Charlotte watched with amusement, but it turned to disbelief when she saw the hatch slam shut and heard the bolt drawn across.
She walked to the hatch, bending low to stay out of the bat's airspace. "Henry?" she said. No answer. Louder: "Henry."
"Open the hatch."
"Not until that bat's under control."
"Are you being serious?"
"They've got rabies. I can't afford to get bitten."
"So you shut me in here? Open the hatch."
She sat on the box again. The bat was tiring now, and settled on a box nearby. The poor thing was panting hard, its little body shaking.
She knew that bats could carry rabies but the chance of encountering an infected animal was negligible. In any case, she felt an affinity with this misplaced individual.
Moving slowly and deliberately so as not to alarm the bat, she walked to the box marked Garden tools and opened it. After a quick rummage she found what she was looking for: a pair of heavy-duty gardening gloves.
She moved next to the creature and very gently picked it up, holding it firmly in both hands. Even through the thick gloves she could feel it quivering.
Crouched at the hatch she said, "Henry?"
"Henry I've got the bat. I've picked it up with some gardening gloves. You need to let me out so I can release it outside."
She heard a scraping as the bolt was drawn back, and then the hatch swung down. It was a struggle to climb down the ladder with both hands holding the animal, but she managed it. The whole time, Henry was nowhere to be seen.
In the back garden, she stood in the middle of the lawn and took one hand away, leaving the bat lying on the palm of the other. "Please be OK," she whispered, willing it to recover and take flight. After a couple of minutes she got her wish and the bat took off, disappearing among the trees. She laughed, glad there was a happy ending for the little creature.
She looked back at the house and her laughter died. Clearly visible in the kitchen window, Henry had watched the whole thing. He moved out of sight and she waited for him to come out to the garden but he didn't emerge.
She found him in his study, sitting at his desk. At any other time, she would have found his attempt to look composed and important funny, the way he stared at his computer monitor over the top of his glasses; but she was too angry.
"What on Earth was that?" she said.
"What was what?" He looked down his nose at her.
"You know full well what." She waved her arms. "Ahhhh they've got rabies!" She used a high mocking voice.
"You seemed to have it under control."
"Do you think about anyone but yourself? You locked me in with an animal you thought might have rabies."
"Charlotte, you're making too much out of this. Everything turned out alright didn't it?"
She bit back a caustic retort and turned to leave, saying only, "I'm going to stay with my sister. Don't touch the boxes in the attic; I'll be needing them."
About the author
Always an avid reader, Caroline’s passion for writing ignited five years ago and she hasn’t looked back. She lives in central Leeds with two cats.