We have bats in our belfry, my wife Mary said.
You are wrong, I said. We do not have a belfry. A belfry is a bell tower. We have a turret.
Whatever. There are bats up there. And I am not putting up with it, Mary said. Fix this.
O.K., I said.
I checked online. Used bronze bells go for $6,000 and up. Plus there would be the installation fee and I'd have to take a day off to let the workers in.
So rather than putting a bell in the turret and making it a proper belfry, I decided to get the bats out.
We had first seen a bat when we ventured up to the rarely used third floor after dark one night. It fluttered around silently the way bats do, too fast to get a good look, and I quickly slammed the door of the room it fluttered into. It was the room where we store our grove of artificial Christmas trees. The next day I crept back up. I scanned the ceiling and shook the trees individually in case the bat was roosting in one of them but couldn't find it.
Nor did I find it on subsequent trips to the third floor over the next couple of weeks. We figured it came down from the turret through one of the myriad small openings that are a characteristic of century-old houses.
Then a week ago we had guests and showed them around the house.
It is a big house and more than one guest remarked that climbing the stairs to the third floor was kind of spooky. Maybe they expected to see Norman Bates' mother.
What they did see was the bat, which chose that evening to make its second public appearance, startling our guests and prompting a quick retreat downstairs. Best house tour ever.
Online research revealed that removing bats is difficult and the only effective remedy is to find their points of entry and seal them up while the bats are outside.
Doing so would be problematic for two reasons: it would be difficult to know when the bats (assuming there are more than one) are out, and our house is large enough to have scores of possible entry points and tall enough to make most of them difficult to reach.
Having eliminated the effective remedy, I decided to try the ineffective ones. Call me a dreamer.
Sources on Google informed me bats dislike the smell of naphthalene and would vacate the premises if confronted with an infusion of mothballs. Of course, other, more credible sources assured me mothballs were largely counterproductive, that their use was an urban legend.
The packaging on the mothballs specifically discouraged employing them as a bat deterrent.
So I bought two boxes, opened them up and tossed the mothballs in the attic.
Later that night we were watching TV in our living room when we saw movement from the corners of our eyes, movement that coalesced into the spiral patterns of a panic-stricken bat fluttering from room to room.
We jumped up, scurried around and waved frantically. We grabbed rackets that are part of our granddaughter's giant badminton set, thinking they would make good defensive tools.
The cat that lives in our house also ran from room to room. There was one difference. We wanted the bat out of the house. The cat wanted it in her mouth.
Mary opened the double front doors and ran around to shut the pocket door to the living room, hoping to block the bat from the main body of the house.
That was the last we saw of it. We patrolled the house for an hour, turning on every light, clutching our trusty rackets like Buffy the vampire slayer holding a sharpened stake.
It must have flown out the door, I said.
Did you see it fly out? Mary said.
No, but its sonar must have shown it the way, I said. I am certain of it. I think.
We will leave the lights on, she said.
Maybe it went back up to the third floor, she said.
You are going to check, aren't you, she added. It was not a question.
I am? I said.
Mary looked at me, her eyebrow raised a single millimeter.
Of course I am, I said hastily.
I climbed the stairs. Sixteen steps. I am at the door, I said. I am going through. Do not try to talk me out of it.
O.K., Mary said.
Seriously, I mean it, I said. I am going in, rabid bat or not. You cannot stop me, so do not even try.
All right, she said.
Even if you are worried it might bite me, it would be useless to protest, I said. I would not listen even if you begged me to turn back.
Turn the knob to the right, Mary said. Shut the door behind you.
Armed with my racket I checked each room, shook all the trees again and returned downstairs with nothing but a crick in my neck from staring up at the ceiling.
We spent the rest of the evening with our eyes darting from shadow to shadow, not that there were many of those because we kept the lights on for a long time.
Well there is one good thing, I said. The mothballs worked. We got it out of the attic.