Cassandra O’Sullivan Sachar

Sleepless amongst Hypothetical Lions

Restless on the thin cot, Allison tried in vain to sleep.  

Anything could be roaming around outside, she thought, shifting under the weblike mosquito net, her ears attentive to the cacophony of rustling leaves, crackling twigs, and animal sounds.

Well, not anything, but perhaps lions. The guards said a small pride had ambled through the lodge the night before she arrived. While she yearned to glimpse the wildlife of which the website boasted, she hoped the guards’ guns were loaded. Just in case.

She had sought to find peace here, far away from her soon-to-be ex-husband back in New Jersey. In the dim glow of the paraffin lamp, it was too dark to make out the thatched roof above her. Instead, Allison imagined the bedroom ceiling in her soon-to-be ex-home: the herringbone pattern, crafted by a local artisan from reclaimed barn wood at a hefty price, of course—nothing but the best for a man who ended up barely sleeping there. She had stared at that beautiful ceiling many times, alone in her queen bed, waiting for the man who pledged to love her.

And now here she was, an insomniac deep in the Zambian bush, hours away from civilization and seemingly worlds away from her life. Her former life, as everything would soon change.

Earlier that day, a family of warthogs had sauntered past her hut, or “chalet” as it was apparently called. This was a budget safari, not a luxury one, so the word seemed a little pompous to Allison’s American sensibility. The trip had still nearly broken her bank account considering her impending financial tornado. But when she came back from the simple English breakfast of eggs, toast, beans, and coffee at the main camp, ready to freshen up with a quick and icy “bucket” shower, she encountered her guests, two adults and three piglets. While the babies hung about their mother’s legs, the adults grazed.

Allison had frozen at the breathtaking sight: While this family tableau appeared wholesome from afar, those menacing tusks warned her to stay put. Statue-like, she waited until they finally departed. She was the intruder in the animals’ natural habitat, after all.   

Now, alone in the near-darkness, she desperately needed to use the restroom but couldn’t bring herself to get out of bed, too frightened of the hypothetical lions. Surely she was safe in the chalet; the lions wouldn’t charge the walls, walls for which she had paid extra to avoid the vulnerability of sleeping in a tent. So if she was safe in the chalet, why couldn’t she walk across the small room to the toilet?

But she felt safe in the bed, even with the increasing pressure in her bladder, like a child hiding from monsters under the covers. It was silly. She was being silly.

And despite the terrifying, deep chortles of hippos and sharp barks of jackals surrounding the lodge, Allison knew she was safe here in the chalet, nestled in the Zambian bush, away from Andrew’s indifference and the painful, piteous expressions of her family and friends once they heard the news.

She closed her eyes and remembered the rapturous scene of the previous evening’s “night safari”: the brilliant stars illuminating the endless sky; the Milky Way a kaleidoscope of colors. Sitting under a blanket in the open-air vehicle, drinking a glass of white wine, she had never felt so close to the galaxy.

Yet she was so small, as were her problems in this huge world. If there existed such beauty, there existed hope, even back in New Jersey.

Pulling back the mosquito net, she soundlessly rose and traversed the room, finding her relief. If she could move about with the threat of lions outside, she could move on.

She thought of the stars and the promise of coffee and a boat ride in the Kafue River, and Allison finally drifted off to sleep, ready for a new day.  

Cassandra O’Sullivan Sachar is an associate professor of English at Bloomsburg University and a former English teacher in Delaware public secondary schools. While not teaching or writing practitioner and research articles for numerous educational publications, she enjoys creative writing. Her literary work has appeared or is forthcoming in Adelaide Literary Magazine, The Dribble Drabble Review, and Merlyn’s Pen. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, a crazy dog, a depressed cat, and the finest bat-catching cat of which a resident in an old house could dream.