Black Hole

by Steve Himmer

Most of the time I don't mind having a black hole in the back of my closet. When I found it there two years ago, I didn't have much going on so I spent a lot of time thinking about it— why it was there, where it had come from, why my closet of all the closets where it might have appeared. At first I tried to ask people— friends of my wife's and of mine, people at work— if they'd ever found a black hole. I didn't want to come right out with the whole story, though, and I guess my questions were too circuitous because no one understood what I was asking.

Anyway, once I got used to it, the black hole turned out to be pretty useful. It's come through for me in ways I never expected. Little ways, like I'm not big on beets but my wife was— she still is, I suppose— and around the time I found the black hole she began cooking them night after night. Before, I would have just eaten them, kept my mouth shut or kept it stuffed full of beets, but since the morning I pulled my coat from the closet and found it half gone, I haven't eaten beet one. Instead I'd wait until she carried her dinner out of the kitchen, to eat in front of TV or upstairs in her office, then scrape my plate into the void and make a sandwich or something instead.

Now that she's gone, I don't have to worry about being served beets, but it's nice to know I still have an out if I need it. It'll be there in case she comes back.

And most months I'm late paying bills. Not for any good reason, but they pile up in the mailbox while I'm busy with other things. Since I found the black hole, I throw the bills in when they come overdue, and I throw the letters sent reminding me, too. It saves money, but better than that it makes the problem of remembering just go away, because once something is in the black hole any memory of it decays pretty fast. So I can honestly tell the collectors, "I don't remember receiving that bill." Since they don't remember sending it, either, and neither does their computer, they always offer to waive the late fees. I thank them, but I don't mention that I have a black hole and whatever replacement bills they might send, late fees or not, will end up inside it, too.

The only time paying bills this way caused a problem was when my new credit card came and I didn't realize the significance of the envelope's stiff, plastic feeling until after I'd let it go. But I forgot about losing it, and the company forgot a card had been sent, so a replacement came before long. That's something I thought I'd learned from the black hole, that everything can be replaced if you wait long enough. Everything but the black hole itself, I supposed, until what happened this morning.

Like last year there was this job I applied for and didn't get, but when the letter declining my application arrived I tossed it into the closet. I keep remembering that I applied, and that I haven't heard back, so I call the company every few days to inquire and they don't remember rejecting me, either, so at least they review my application again. It always turns out the same way, but the note on the wall by my closet explains that I'm hoping (at least, I was hoping when I wrote the note) that if I keep this up long enough it will drive the person they hired to quit, or enough time will pass that the job comes opens again and I'll get my second chance.

I don't think there's anything wrong with that. It's not like I've kidnapped the person they hired and stuffed him into the black hole. There's nothing wrong with putting myself in a position to be reconsidered when the time comes. My wife disagreed, she thought the whole thing was immoral, but she's never believed in second chances so I can't expect her to understand. Then again, she doesn't know about the black hole, so when she saw me calling the company again and again she thought I was just being a pest, and told me to find another job to apply for. She's pretty quick about reaching conclusions, and good luck talking her out of one when it's been reached.

I ruined all her shoes with the belt sander, the afternoon I came home from work and found her note on the fridge...well, it's more complicated than that, and too long a story to get into now. What matters is there was an accident with a few of her shoes and some of my power tools, and I hid what was left inside the black hole. When she came by to pack up her things, she didn't say a word about missing shoes other than mentioning to her sister— who'd come along to help— that she could've sworn she owned more. Then they talked about going shopping for some new shoes and about me while I listened through the floor from above. She'd told me to be out when they came, that it would be better, but I couldn't think of any places I needed to go so I waited in the attic instead.

I'm lucky I got to keep the condo, since it has the black hole. Really it's too expensive for me, since I'm still waiting to be offered that job, but now that I don't pay my bills anymore the mortgage shouldn't be any problem. It's big, too big for just me, so I mostly live in a couple of rooms and pretend the rest of it doesn't exist. I've been sleeping on the couch for the last couple months, and since my wife moved I only go into the bedroom when I need something to wear. And most of the clothes I like best landed in piles on the couch and the chairs, or on the dining room table, so I can find what I need without going upstairs at all.

Then yesterday she left a message to tell me she'd be coming over for the rest of her boxes, and to divide up everything else. The pots and the pans, and most of the furniture, too, all came to us as wedding presents. The TV and the stereo we bought together, and even though the grandfather clock came from her parents, it was mostly given to me. After playing her message I began thinking. I thought about all of our stuff, all the things we'd assembled, and realized it wouldn't be together anymore after she came.

I'd been drinking, a lot— all afternoon, really, and into the night— so maybe that put the idea in my head or maybe I would have done what I did anyway and the drinking just made me clumsy. However it happened, I began dragging all that we owned, all we'd owned together, down the stairs and out of rooms and piled it in the front hall by the closet. And bit by bit, pot by pot and by handfuls of forks, I dropped all our possessions into the black hole. The dining room table I took apart with an ax, then when I let my mind wander and dropped the ax, too, I used the claw of a hammer to finish. I broke down the couch and the chairs and tore up the floorboards we'd installed together one weekend a long time ago. The TV, though it seemed big when we bought it, felt so light and so small when I hoisted it up in my arms and hurled it into the closet; part of me expected to hear the crack and the crash of it breaking, part of me listened, confused, but not even sound can escape a black hole, not even the sound of a television set smashing against whatever is beyond all that darkness.

It took the whole night to get through all we owned, but as the sunrise appeared in our curtainless windows there was nothing left in the condo but me. Me, and the black hole. The rooms are all empty, and there are ghosts on the walls: the shape of a chair where the paint hasn't bleached, and the footprints of our bed on a carpet that was here when we moved in. My wife said she would come early, so I decided to go out for coffee and bagels since there's nothing in the house I could serve, or even a refrigerator or stove I might serve it from. With a nice breakfast, I thought, and with the house cleared of our clutter, maybe she'd be convinced to start over at assembling a new set of things. Maybe I could tell her about the black hole, and together we could drop the papers she said she'd be bringing to the same place I sent the envelopes mailed by her lawyer.

But I guess I was more tired than I realized, or else I just wasn't paying attention, because as I took my jacket out of the closet I accidentally dropped my ring of keys. Into the black hole, I mean. And then, not thinking, I reached in after them. I knew as soon as I'd done it that I shouldn't have, but I guess there are no second chances with a black hole after all.

Now I don't have my keys or my arm, and I know that once I've forgotten they ever existed I'm going to lock myself out of the house. I won't even understand why. And the worst part is that when my wife gets here and finds me standing outside, I won't be able to explain why I've lost my right arm since I won't recall having one in the past. And she probably won't remember that I had one either so she won't even ask, and neither of us will know what's been lost, or even that anything has.

Steve Himmer's stories have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Pindeldyboz, Juked, Pequin, and the anthologies Brevity & Echo, The Bush Years, and A Field Guide to Surreal Botany.