Stampeding Elephants
Morgan Christie

At 3:04am, you lie awake because of the noise coming from up the hall and immediately think of your grandmother. Of her sensitive hearing and light-sleeperness. You think of these things because you are listening to your step-grandfather snore. You are listening to him snore because you cannot sleep, because he snores. Because his snore sounds like stampeding elephants that do not tire. You think of your not so sensitive hearing and heavy-sleeperness, and how the elephants still have you lying awake; how they must have her lying awake too.

You think of how he has snored since they wed eighteen years ago, and how countless others bear the same burden as her. You think of how she still searches for a well-fitted pair of earplugs. She has small, oddly shaped ears. As do you. You think of how she sweats when she wears earmuffs to bed, how she gently rolls him three times a night from his back to his side. You think of how they tried Vics and other concoctions, and how they all failed in quieting the elephants.

You cover your ears and curse under your breath, “Shit.”

You think about taping his mouth shut and stuffing tissues up his nose, but then think that is morbid and extreme, and wipe the humorously ugly thought from your mind.

You think of your grandmother only really getting to sleep around 4:30am, when he wakes up for work. Of how she doesn’t burden him because he is old and tired, and should be retired, but cannot afford to be. You think of how tired you are, again. You think of how you can barely do this for a week, yet alone a couple of decades. You think of a friend to call to inquire about a free couch you can crash on tomorrow. Then you remember how rarely you get to visit your grandmother and know how disappointed she would be if you slept anywhere else. You think of the impossibility of putting up with what your grandmother does every night.

And then you think of your step-grandfather tip-toeing around their room before the sun comes up with his weak knees and bad back. How he makes enough breakfast for her and leaves it covered on the stove because she is tired from not getting enough rest due to the thing he cannot control, and stirring oatmeal inflames the nerve damage in her right hand from the accident that turned her into a retiree. Something she was not prepared to do because she couldn’t afford retirement either, but it became a thing she could not control. You think of how this has become their daily, or nightly, routine.

You remember a time before they wed when she’d wake you just after the sun to help her tend the garden, and how she no longer has the energy to do so. Or how you’d sit on the porch and people watch – and she’d let out an almost unrecognizable grin as couples intertwined fingers and didn’t notice the two of you sitting there. You remember the empty way her eyes would slump when you had to leave, you think of how they no longer do that. Slump, yes; empty, no.

You think of your step-grandfather’s first wife leaving him for the man she’d had an affair with for six months, because she’d grown tired of their routine. You think of him being unbothered by it all, even after twenty-five years of marriage. You think of your grandmother only being touched by a man once in her life, until your step-grandfather that is.

You remember when she told you about him, the way her cheeks turned to high dollops and eyes almost sang. You think of her accent paralleling his, his craving for blood pudding and hers for Ackee and saltfish. You think of how they attracted uneasy looks and how neither of them noticed, or how they paid them no attention. You remember the mixtape at their wedding, Bob Marley and the Beatles, Neil Young and the Temptations. You think of what a good tape that was. You think about digging it up and playing it to drown out the elephants.

You remember the time you brought up possible medical reasons for the snoring over dinner. Your grandmother’s attentiveness and step-grandfather’s angst. You realized he took issue with perceived criticism then, when you think of the little you know of his past you understand why and quiet your suggestions. You are there for a few weeks out of the year. You can bear it. Think of when he came to find you after, apologising if he seemed crass. You listen and hear that he had gone to the doctor about the problem, that he has tried nasal strips and muscle relaxants. Nothing has helped. Nothing has helped and he feels guilty for moving into your grandmother’s bedroom and feeling like a burden to someone again. You stopped him and reminded him of how much it meant to you that she wasn’t alone anymore. That the last thing he could ever be was a burden. You remember the way he smiled at you that day and wonder if the feeling that came over you is what it must feel like to have a grandfather.

You think of your grandmother again as you lay in bed, “But how does she deal with this?”

You think of how one of them could sleep in the spare room, it’d be somewhat quieter. You think of how neither of them would even consider it. You think of how she is no longer lonely, and how the thought alone warms you. You close your eyes and are overwhelmed by your tiredness. Your eyes are too weak to open now, and as your consciousness fades you realize you are beginning to hear those stampeding elephants again. You smile in the darkness and roll on to your side. You think you are beginning to understand, love.

Morgan’s work has appeared in Room, Aethlon, The Hawai’i Review, Obra/Artifact, Blackberry, BLF Press, as well as others, and has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes. Her poetry chapbook ‘Variations on a Lobster’s Tale’ was the winner of the 2017 Alexander Posey Chapbook Prize (University of Central Oklahoma Press) and her second poetry chapbook ‘Sterling’ was released by CW Books. Her first full-length short story manuscript ‘These Bodies’ was published by Tolsun Publishing, and her most recent poetry chapbook ‘when they come’ was released by Black Sunflowers Press (2021) and is featured in the Forward Arts Foundation’s National Poetry Day exhibit.

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