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How Leopards Sleep

Story by Molia Dumbleton (Read author interview) June 18, 2018

Photograph by SmokeLong Quarterly

I’m thinking about my Dadi’s thandai drink in a little metal cup. What it felt like to run my fingernail along the swirls of the cup’s carvings. This helps me when I worry. I close my eyes to shut out the noise and concentrate on a memory so small and specific I can hold it in my hand. I don’t have to shut out noise tonight because it’s so quiet. I probably don’t have to close my eyes either—it’s so dark—but I do anyway.

Jeremy is beside me, breathing slow and deep the way he does when he’s had a few drinks and is really-and-truly asleep. One of his arms is over me in a way that might be sweet if he were awake and not drunk but it’s a thousand pounds now and probably one of the reasons I’m breathing through my nose, in and out, the way they say to.

Beside Jeremy is Kirk, the pompous dick from poetry class, sharing a single sleeping bag with his girlfriend who played Taylor Swift songs in the car all the way up here, and next to them are the pair of David Foster Wallaces, also from class, who take turns having beard, bandana, and wire-rimmed glasses but never the same combo on the same day.

We’re at—I can hardly say it but we’re at Fig’s cabin. Fig being the Chancellor’s Award poet, Nathaniel Figaro (two words which, if you say them on campus, fly out of your mouth on golden wings and flutter around your head) and his cabin being, apparently, a two-room shack in the woods with no plumbing. The general buzz is that Fig has a habit of getting “close” with a few hand-picked students and to be honest the whole thing felt a little sketchy from the start. Jeremy didn’t see it that way. What an opportunity, are you kidding me? he kept saying, the night Fig mentioned coming up here after one of the readings he hosts at his place.

So skip ahead and here we are, the seven of us—Fig in what I guess you would call the bedroom and the rest of us out on the floor. And I don’t know what my Dadi would say about the hashish passed around after dinner but I do know what she would say about me lying on the floor surrounded by strangers—white people—in the middle of the woods. Deer never trust a leopard, Naadi.

After we took turns in the outhouse and brushed our teeth with bottled water on the porch, Fig stood in the doorway and looked down on us, lined up in our sleeping bags between the wood-burning stove (which was unlit) and the couch (which one of the DFWs had nabbed) and rested his fingertips just above the light switch, the way my father used to on nights when Amma was out and he’d put my sisters and me to bed.

That’s probably what got the wheel in my belly started.

Or it might’ve started on the way up here, during the car ride, when I felt not quite inside my body?

Or it might’ve started over dinner, when I could see Jeremy’s face just fine—I mean, I could see it, and tell myself I recognized it—but I couldn’t find a single thing in it that felt familiar.

Or maybe it was when the hash was passing around and even though I shook my head no, the whole room got smaller anyway, and stretched out long and skinny, until I was looking at everything from a distance.

What I know is that the word Fig is stuck in my mouth. Fig. Fig. Fig. It’s wrong but I can’t get it out, even lying here in the dark. My mouth also has thandai in it now, from the warm cup in my hand—but the thandai came first, and I don’t want Fig and Dadi in there together, I don’t even want them in the same head.

And I know that if I could snap my fingers now, like in Bewitched, and be back in my dorm room by myself, with my old bathrobe wrapped up tight around my neck and the door locked and the lights off, and no one breathing down on me in the dark, I would choose that now. I would choose that.

But I am here. I am here now, and before he turned off the lights, Fig pointed at the bows and arrows hanging on the wall and said Let’s get some rabbits tomorrow!—and the DFWs nodded and slid down into their sleeping bags like good little boys on Christmas Eve, and Jeremy flickered worry at me—Right? Did he?—but nodded and slid down, too, like…like nothing at all…and Kirk shrugged and said Right on, man and tickled Taylor when she said Aw, bunnies, and then the light switched off and Fig should have gone away—I should have heard him go, but didn’t—and Kirk kept tickling Taylor and she kept laughing, until their voices disappeared into their shared sack, and the room got quiet and spun in the dark, and they all slept.

Their pale sleep seemed instant, and deep, and enviable. Their breaths were slow and even and sounded…safe. Unafraid. The way leopards must sleep.

How do rabbits sleep?

I run my fingernail along the grooves. I think about small brown rabbits running, and my old bathrobe, and watching VHS tapes with Dadi after school.

While it happens, in my head, I replay her favorites. The Office, The Golden Girls. Mulan.

I play The Truman Show, the one Dadi made me watch with her over and over again before she died. I play that swell of classical music at the end—when Truman’s ship survives the storm, and pierces the flimsy paper at the outer limits of his world, breaking everything open, making everything possible.

About the Author

Molia Dumbleton‘s fiction and poetry have found their way into the pages of The Kenyon Review, New England Review, Witness, Hobart, Bath Flash Fiction Anthology, and others. She has been awarded the Sean O’Faolain International Story Award, Columbia Journal Fiction Award, Kelly Barnhill Microficiton Prize, and Dromineer Literary Festival Flash Fiction Award, as well as a Kenyon Review Peter Taylor Fellowship and a Susannah McCorkle Scholarship to Sewanee Writers’ Conference.

This story appeared in Issue Sixty — The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Sixty — The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction

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