Jim Ross

Until the doctor fixed my left ear, it couldn’t hear. The minus, was not hearing. The plus,  was not hearing.  

I can give you an example of a minus. I have to sleep on my right side most nights, even though sleeping on the left side is supposedly better for digestion. Sleeping on the right feels better with my back the way it is. That means that the pillow snugly embracing my downside ear (that’s the right one) muffles any noise. And the upside ear (that’s the left one), before going to the ear doctor, couldn’t even hear a smoke alarm.  

Now that the left ear is up to snuff, I can’t sleep lying on my right side. I hear something scratching and ruffling at the other end of the room. It sounds faintly like somebody throwing dice and whispering, “snake eyes.” I wonder, when did they get into the house? And what draws them upstairs that the kitchen doesn’t offer? 

The sound moves to the doorless closet three feet away. If I manage to fall asleep, and if this beast on tiny feet manages to find my face, will he tickle it with his tail? Paint on it? Try to eat my smile? Bite my nose to spite my face? If I say the magic word, will he turn into a coachman? And if so, where would we go and in what vehicle? Who is he, anyway? And who asked him in? Will I remain stuck in this limbo state with the uncanny mice?

It’s constant, on or near the floor, probably in that little tray that holds two old pleather purses. He’s getting louder because nobody has told him to shush. Slowly I turn, inch by inch, and arise in one motion. Do I still hear him? I flick on the lights. I shake the tray. Nothing. And no longer do I hear the incessant crackly nibbling. I flick off the light. I curl and roll back into bed. I lay on my right side, as before.  

Soon, it begins again. Emboldened by invisibility, he seems confident that nobody will find him. Every time I cross the thin line between wakefulness and sleep, he rips me out again. No rest for the weary. He gets louder, the sound of defiance. I turn on my back, insert index fingers in both ears, and shout, “Lalalalalalala.” I remove my fingers. It worked.  

Peace and quiet has been restored. I figure it’s safe now to let myself drift off. But once again, as I pass into dreamland, he yanks me out, as if either he requires an audience or has a vested interest in my not sleeping. He’s determined to pen me in, in between.

I curl and roll, sitting upright on the bed’s edge in the dark, with my feet planted firmly on the floor. He hasn’t lowered his volume. If anything, he’s accentuating the bass notes and picking up the tempo.  

I jump up, flick on the lights, and without hesitation divebomb the tray holding two pleather purses. One after the other, I turn the purses upside down and shake so the hungry musician who only plays when I want to sleep will drop out. Plenty of things fall out but he’s not among them. I check the crevices and side compartments before throwing both purses aside.  Where is the damn sound coming from?   

I leave the room, pee, return, and stand in quiet contemplation of the closet floor, feeling no animosity toward my fellow creature. I can’t hear a sound. I flick off the light, curl and roll back into bed, and fall asleep lying on my right side, with the formerly bad ear sunnyside up.  

I hear him inching closer across the floor. I wait for the right moment, remembering what someone once said, “Don’t shoot till you see the whites of their eyes.” Sensing the metaphorical whites of his eyes, I curl, roll out of bed, and end up vertical. My left big toe rests on something other than just the floor. I’ve trapped him. Perhaps I should patent my left big toe. I flick on the light with my right hand and look down to witness my prisoner.   

Evidently, I caught him by stepping on one of his giant, floppy ears. Indeed, I’ve captured Dumbolina. Obviously, he must be a mere passer through, not the crackly nibbler.  

I wake at the same nerve-wracking sound, backed by rhythmic drumming. I laugh, realizing that Dumbolina was merely a dream. How could I know? It’s time to get control of reality. Who has taken up residence in the closet? Does he think I enjoy his midnight rock concerts? Why did Jimi Hendrix pick tonight to visit me? Is this the revival of Woodstock? Is this vengeance because I failed to make it to Woodstock? And what the hell does Hendrix want?  

If I hadn’t gone to see the damned ear doctor, who oozed excitement as he regaled me with tales of once working with rat fetuses, I wouldn’t be able to hear Hendrix’s incessant nibbling with strong bass notes backed by Charlie Watts on drums. Who let Watts in here anyway? Oh, Hendrix did. I get it, now I know what’s coming down. No further explanation needed.  

As I was saying, had I not gone to the ear doctor, who seemed to get off on playing with my left ear, I wouldn’t have stepped on poor Dumbolina’s ear with my left big toe. None of this would’ve happened. I would have drifted off to dreamland, to be interrupted now and then by calls of nature, rather than stuck here in between. No cranky nibbler, no Jimi, no Charlie. All of which is to say, don’t bother with mouse traps. Just stay away from ear doctors and you’ll sleep like a baby. Now let me get to sleep before Janis Joplin shows up.  

About the Author

Jim Ross jumped into creative pursuits in 2015 after a rewarding career in public health research. With a graduate degree from Howard University, in six years he’s published nonfiction, poetry, and photography in over 175 journals and anthologies on five continents. Publications include 580 Split, Bombay Gin, Burningword, Camas, Columbia Journal, Hippocampus, Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Kestrel, Lunch Ticket, Manchester Review, Stonecoast, The Atlantic, and Typehouse, with Newfound forthcoming. Jim’s recently-published photo essays include Barren, DASH, Kestrel, Litro, New World Writing, Sweet, So It Goes, and Wordpeace, with Typehouse forthcoming. Jim has also published graphic nonfiction pieces based on old postcards, such as Barren, Ilanot Review, and Litro, with Palaver forthcoming. A nonfiction piece led to appearances in a high-profile documentary limited series broadcast internationally. Jim and his wife—parents of two health professionals and grandparents of five little ones—split their time between city and mountains.