The Bat Woman by Rebecca Ciota

Rex is a bat who was born without claws on the crook of his wing. When he was an infant, he could not cling to his mother—not without claws. So, I hand-raised him. All of the bats at my research station accept me. Some, perhaps, even like me. But Rex fully trusts me.

I hold out my hand and he swings from the netting of his enclosure down to me. With soft, fingerless wings, he crawls onto my arm. I give him a chunk of fig as a treat as I step out of the enclosure.

I take him into the field house—a steel lean-to that served as both my lab and residence.  The window on the lab side faces the ocean, through a thicket of trees. When the wind comes through, I can see the shining blue of the sea and the splashes of pink that are the reefs. Today, I only see the forest.

Gently, I put Rex in the box and turn the valve to release the gas. After a few minutes, he is asleep. I move him to the worktable, where I had set up a clean tarp. I inject the tips of his wings with localized anesthesia.

I received my first degrees in Electrical and Biological Engineering from the University of Queensland—an undergraduate and a master’s. While the university was happy to provide accommodations, my classmates and professors were not. The best would say, “Hello, Amanda. How are you?” But they didn’t know what else to say to me after that. I wish that I could have said something back—said that I was well or that I was stressed from classes. I wish that they would have talked to me about their other classes, or who had sex with whom. I always wanted to ask them what sex was anyway. I understood the mechanics, but I had never done it.

With a scalpel, I open Rex’s wing and peel away the skin. I take the tiny biomechanical tool that I had fashioned for him: two claws of stainless steel, wires, and rubber grips. I screw the base of the claws to his bones. Then, I stitch up that wing and repeat on the other.

One of his ears twitches. I take the mask hooked to the anesthesia and place it over his head. He goes still again.

I inject above his ears with localized anesthesia. I cut two small holes in the skin, revealing his skull. With a small drill, I make two access points. I use tweezers to pick up the small, round transmitters. I put one in each hole, settled against his smooth, pink brain.

I obtained my next degree from James Cook University—a PhD in Tropical Environmental Management. It was while I was getting that degree that I first came to Woodlark Island to spend eight months studying the bats and found a new appreciation for them. If you hung upside down long enough, I wondered, did the laws of nature start acting differently? Surely, the laws of gravity worked differently. When I left the island to complete and defend my dissertation, I knew I would be applying for grants to return to the island.

I use medically safe glue to bind the transmitters to Rex’s head and sew him up. I observe him as he wakes up.

Almost immediately, he flexes his new claws. The transmitters and the prosthetics work!  But then it is as though he has a sudden realization of what has happened. His eyes widen at the metal claws; he bites gently at them. Then, he begins to scream. Fearing he is in pain, I give him morphine until he quiets.

By the time I had graduated from James Cook, my father had died of brain cancer. My mother came to my graduation. She said she was proud of me. My father, I would have believed.  My mother . . .

It’s not to say I didn’t believe she was proud. But I knew that she had spent her whole life wondering, why me. No parent imagined their daughter would grow up to be 130 kilograms, androgynous, and mute. Parents like my father had no preconceived conceptions of their child.  My mother—she had wanted a pageant queen.

Over the next few weeks, Rex healed. He used his claws. But he cried too—soft and painful whistles. I thought he was missing his friends, so I returned him to the enclosure. The other bats encircled him, chirping cheerfully as though to compliment his new hands.

It is not even two nights with his friends, though, that I hear Rex screaming again. In just underpants and nothing else, I take a lantern out to see what happened.

Rex swings from the top of the enclosure, howling. Blood dribbles down. I reach up and take him down. His wings are fucked. He has torn open his wings and ripped out his claws.  He wiggles in my grasp and I tighten my fingers around him. I just wanted you to be like the others, I think as I carry him back to the field house. His blood is all over my chest and forearms.

I place him in the box and turn the release valve. I leave him in there until he suffocates from the anesthesia.