The Sinkhole

By Tesia Tsai

The road was gone. What we’d thought had been an earthquake at 3 a.m. was actually the collapse of a giant hole in the middle of our street, taking down with it not only the asphalt but also pieces of sidewalk, chunks of spring green grass, and the Johnsons’ new pickup truck.

At 3:30, my husband and I stood by the window, looking out at the empty space where flat concrete should have been. The neighborhood looked alien, spotted by the yellow glow of the street lights.

“It’s just gone,” Jim said as we stared out at the gaping mouth in our neighborhood. It was about sixty feet wide and very deep, maybe thirty feet or so.

Just yesterday, the hole had been small, the size of a sewer lid. I’d seen some of the neighborhood children playing around it, rolling the gravel in their sticky palms and splashing in the remnants of the morning’s rain. How safe it had seemed then, like a dormant volcano disguised as a small campfire.

I grabbed a thin jacket and followed Jim outside onto the front porch. From where we stood, the edge of the sinkhole sat diagonally to our left. We could see some neighbors staring from behind their front windows and others were gathered on their lawns, far enough away to feel safe but close enough to satiate their curiosity.

Making a quick visual sweep of the neighborhood, no one seemed to be panicking or crying about hurt loved ones. Except for Mrs. Reynolds three houses down. She appeared to have lost one of her cats–the tabby that was always sleeping under one of the cars in the neighborhood.

I wondered if it had chosen the Johnsons’ pickup last night.

I wondered if it was dead.

(A gruesome thought, my therapist would say. She was dramatic that way.)

“The ground feels pretty solid,” Jim said as he stomped his feet on the earth next to the flower patch, almost looking like a dancing leprechaun with his shock of red hair.

“It felt pretty solid yesterday, too.”

“Good point.”

Standing on tiptoe, I tried to gauge the wreckage at the bottom of the hole. Blue and yellow pipes stuck out of the dirt walls; the top of a bicycle wheel protruded from the black mess at the bottom; debris leaned up against the edges, rough and cold. From here, I could see the alternating brown and black layers of the earth below the asphalt, parts of it smudged with a rusty sheen. The wall was not unlike the side of a German chocolate cake.

After checking in with the neighbors to insure that everyone was unharmed and accounted for, I went back into the house, leaving Jim to help the neighborhood men locate Mrs. Reynolds’s tabby.

Although it was barely past 4 a.m. no one aside from the children were in the mood to go back to sleep, so we all began our morning routines a few hours early. Mr. Smith had called the officials, but coincidentally, a fire had erupted in a complex across town, and the limited task force we had was occupied. Seeing as our sinkhole wasn’t an immediate threat, they estimated that they would arrive in roughly two hours. “Stay away from the hole” was all they said.

I wondered what we would do for two hours as I pushed eggs across the pan in the kitchen. The bright color of the yolk blended into the white, solidifying into a puffy, yellow cloud.

Jim came back as I scraped the eggs onto a plate. They hadn’t found the cat, and Mrs. Reynolds was beside herself. But then, she usually was, had been since Mr. Reynolds left the picture.

We sat across each other at the square dining table, eating our eggs with toast, crunching quietly, lost in our own thoughts. I broke the silence first.

“What do you think they’ll do about the hole?” I asked.

“Probably fill it up with concrete or something.” Jim washed his toast down with a large gulp of milk. “It’s pretty inconvenient.”

I rested my chin in my palm and gazed out the window. I could just see the shadowy edge of the sinkhole. “Sometimes it happens.”

Jim stared at me until I turned to face him. He looked apologetic. I knew what he was thinking about. The baby. The baby that never was.

Oh, that, my brain said.

I smiled, cleared the table, and put everything in the sink for later. “I’m going to take a walk,” I told him. “See if I can find Mrs. Reynolds’ cat.”

“With that hole out there?” he said. “It isn’t safe.”

“I’ll keep my distance.”

“Diane,” he said.

“Jim,” I said back.

A heartbeat.

Two.

He sighed. “Let me get my jacket. It’s weirdly chilly this morning.”

“I’m fine by myself,” I said.

“I can help find the cat,” he said, though we both knew he didn’t really care. (To be honest, I didn’t really care either.) “I’ll be right back. Wait for me, okay?”

“Okay.”

He disappeared upstairs. I didn’t wait for him.

Outside, the neighborhood was clear. A little girl—Julie, I think her name was—stood at her living room window, palms pressed against the pane as she stared at the hole. Seeing her curiosity kindled my own.

I moved to the edge of a cliff. Or had the cliff moved to me? For the first time, my stomach twisted at the sight of it, and I worried the hole was still hungry for asphalt or a tree or a woman taking a walk. But after tenderly stomping my foot as I neared the hole, the fear evaporated. It was just a hole. Gaping, large, frozen.

Approaching the edge of the hole, I lowered myself to the ground and let my legs dangle over the opening. Rocks skittered down the forty-degree slope. I recognized the cherry red rear end of the Johnsons’ truck. No sign of a tabby pelt anywhere.

The neighborhood kids would love playing around in this hole if it wasn’t so clearly dangerous and if their parents permitted it. I imagined a rope ladder trailing down the cliff, a tiny pool at one end of the hole for watery entertainment, and jutted walls for boys to hide behind as they played war games.

I blinked and the hole returned to its apocalyptic form. It was so still. Peaceful. I felt blank just staring at it.

The gravel bit into my palms, and I pressed harder, daring the hole to stir. It remained a coffee-colored mess of dirt, blood-rusted pipes, and crumbled concrete. I stared until my eyes lost focus and my vision blurred into a swirl of brown, red, black. Until it felt like the hole seemed to widen and deepen, drawing me into its mouth.

“Diane.”

I turned to look up at Jim. He stood with his hands buried in the pockets of his forest-green parka, the one I’d gotten him for Christmas. His eyes flicked to the hole, then me.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

I looked back at the hole. “I’m not going to jump.”

He nodded, closed his mouth and followed my gaze. The cool, silent morning draped over the two of us as we considered the void below. We were both thinking the same thing. It was a big hole.