Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Seven Dollars a Bat

On a day off, the interpreter walked into a nature house in a city not far from the one in which he worked. He had travelled by bus, which had taken almost two hours and required three transfers. The hopelessness of the public transportation system of the region was legendary.

This nature house was clean, bright, and inviting. It was constructed of cedar timbers, and had a high, vaulted ceiling with large, recessed skylights. He approached the front counter, where a young woman, also an interpreter, was typing at a computer. “Hi,” he said.

She looked up. “Oh, hi!” she replied. “It's great to see you.” She had a very pretty smile. He had last seen it at the annual conference at the lodge in the mountains, where they had gotten lost in the woods together, scant minutes before he was due to give a presentation he hadn't had time to prepare for.

"Gotten lost lately?" she asked.

"Always," said the interpreter. Then he placed his bat detector on the counter. It was a small, black, plastic device. It looked like a cheap transistor radio a child would build from a kit. But it was purchased as it was, and had cost 349 US dollars. The interpreter had ordered it from Bat Conservation International, which is in Austin, Texas.

A bat detector is an electronic device that detects high frequency sounds above the level of human hearing and converts them to audible sounds. The interpreter had not yet heard anywhere near 349 bats with his. The detections thus far had averaged out to about seven dollars a bat.

"You remembered! Oh that's great!" said the young woman. At the conference, the interpreter had offered to lend his expensive bat detector to the young woman. He did this for the same reason he had gotten lost in the woods with her.

“It’s very quiet in here,” said the interpreter. This was true. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon, but there were no other visitors in the nature house, or in the park outside. The parking lot was empty, except for the small red car belonging to the young woman.

“Well, it’s a nature centre,” said the young woman. “It’s not a mall, you know.”

The interpreter knew well. His nature house, in the other city, most likely at this moment was similarly devoid of visitors, containing only a bored interpreter behind a desk. Sometimes he was the one; today it was someone else.

Just then a hummingbird zoomed in through the front door, which was held open by a hook through an eye-loop. It shot up into one of the skylights, like fluff caught in a vacuum. It bounced against the plexiglass in the heat and dazzling light, for it was a very sunny day. Bounce, bounce, bounce.

“Oh, crap,” said the young woman. “I was told that would happen if I left the door open, but the air in here gets so stale.” They watched the tiny bird haplessly battering against the skylight, overheating and exhausting itself.

“I don't think it will last long, doing that,” said the interpreter. “How high up is that?”

“God, I dunno. Twenty feet?”

“It's going to cook in that light,” said the interpreter.

“I have an idea,” said the young woman. She opened a cupboard beneath the counter and took out a plastic spray bottle meant for misting the plants scattered throughout the nature house. She twisted the nozzle to the narrow stream setting, then moved the bat detector out of the way, to the front of the counter, and climbed up. The young woman reached as high as she could in a two-handed pistol stance, which caused the bottom of her sweater to lift. The interpreter was distracted and surprised by a sequence of Chinese characters tattooed across the small of her back. He hadn’t thought of her as a tattooed girl. He would later wonder if the tattoo was one of those intended to say something profound, but would turn out to be gibberish or malapropism. Now, mist was drifting past it and into the interpreter’s eyes. She was firing wildly.

The young woman explained, “If I hit it enough times, its wings will become heavy and it will flutter back down.”

“I'm not sure that will...” work, the interpreter was about to say, when a direct hit plastered the tiny bird against the skylight. It was stuck there, now certain to bake to death.

“Crap,” said the young woman.

“You would need a ladder to get it now,” said the interpreter.

“I don't like using the ladder,” said the young woman. “It's too high.”

“There’s a ladder for doing this?” the interpreter asked.

“Yes,” said the young woman, “but it's a real pain. It weighs a ton, and I refuse to climb that high. Can you do it?"

The interpreter, terrified of heights, said, “Sure.”

They went outside and removed an ancient, wooden, folding ladder from metal brackets on the side of the nature house. This ladder was most often used for the checking and cleaning of wood duck nest boxes. They dragged it inside and lay it on its side to pry the steps away from the supporting half. They carefully tipped the ladder up onto all fours and danced it into place below the skylight.

“Um,” said the interpreter.

But up he went, becoming heavier and more nervous with each step. He didn't look down, only upward at the tiny feathered thing glued to the skylight, stuck and dying. Up, up, up. He closed his eyes and reached for the bird. His grateful fingers finally found it, and, arm still held high, he stepped back down until his foot hit the planks of the floor.

“Is it alive?” asked the young woman.

“Is there a hummingbird feeder outside somewhere, with nectar in it?” asked the interpreter.

“There's one out back,” said the young woman. They ran together out the back door, down some steps, leaving the nature house open and unsupervised. The interpreter lifted the bird to insert its bill into one of the plastic red flowers, and, amazingly, it began to drink.

The interpreter opened his hand to let the hummingbird decide when it was time to go. Eventually it did, in a whirr of tiny, stiff wings.

“That was cool,” said the young woman.

As they climbed the steps back into the nature house, the interpreter saw through the open front door a green car driving out of the parking lot. Had someone been in here? Immediately he looked to the front of the counter, where the bat detector had lain.

"Crap," he said.

Next story...



Aunt Debbi/kurts mom said...

That sucks. No good deed goes unpunished. Tell us you got the girl.

PSYL said...

Crap indeed. It will forever worth $7/bat now.

I don't think this pretty interpreter is suitable for our already not-so-lucky interpreter. His luck seems to dwindle even more every time he's around her.

On the other hand, their stories together make great readings. Oh, the dilemma.

Anonymous said...

She's not good enough for him.

KaHolly said...

Happens to the best of us! So sorry it happened to "the interpreter"! All of his friends should get together and donate $ so he can replace it. As for the girl...........

Neon Swan said...

It was all a setup! She was in on the con! Cherchez la femme, and all that.

(Sorry, I've been reading all about social engineering today.)

Hugh Griffith said...

Not to worry, Deb.