The Invisibles

Cheryl Merrill / Published October 01, 2012 08:11 PM

An excerpt from my book: Larger than Life, Living in the Shadows of Elephants

It’s an oceanic, leviathan sort of night. The elephants head for their enclosure, the prows of their great heads plow into the gray waves of dusk, dipping and rising, breasting the night. Their ears flap and snap like the sails of boats as they luff into the wind. At their feet sharp, brittle grass hisses with their passage.

After dinner I walk to my tent in the bubble of illumination created by my flashlight. I walk down a short trail and around a few trees, to the back edge of camp. Forty steps and I’m out of everyone’s sight. Under an unreachable net of stars I find myself, for one of the few times in my life, not witnessed by human eyes.

Next to my tent a single leaf dangles from the bare branches of a thornbush. Held by an invisible spider’s thread, basted silver by moonlight, it spins a slow half-circle, then spins back. The panicked hawing of a lone zebra cuts through silence. The Invisibles –hyenas, leopards, lions – are beginning their nightly rounds.

I exchange boots for bare feet. Under my soles the sand is warmer than the cool grass. In the dark I could follow the path to my tent just by its difference in temperature. It occurs to me elephants must do this all the time: trace footpaths in the dark by their warmth.

I wipe dust from my face and arms, and lie on my cot. I switch off my flashlight. Elbows out, hands behind my head, I stare up at the canvas ceiling of my tent. A bone-deep peace spreads through my body.

Half-awake, half-asleep, I see Morula frozen in a sepia photograph, strolling down a dirt path. I walk slightly to one side. Her trunk is shaped like a J around her left leg, its tip pointed in my direction. Deliberately mindful of her own movements, she’s keeping track of the human scent mingling with that of the herd. Then – was this a dream? – I see her following me, as if I were another elephant, although where we were going I do not know.

I'm changing from a verbal being to a speechless one - whose body just is and whose mind speaks without words. I fall asleep and dream of familiar bodies, large and gray.

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Cheryl Merrill
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Cheryl Merrill
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Joined Jun 29, 2012
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