Roman Jenkins Contemplates the Abyss

Two nights after Roman’s wife sent him to the guest room, the sinkhole appeared under the bed. Awake in the night, Roman heard the crack, the splintering, the sifting of debris giving way. He lay still for a moment, listening, wondering if the sound had woken Annie, whether a détente might be possible, even for an hour. But the house fell silent once more. Roman dropped over the edge of the bed, blood rushing to his head, pressure building behind his eyes, before he lifted the bed skirt. The harsh glow from his phone’s flashlight cut through the 3 a.m. darkness, deeper now on the underside of the bed, when he spotted it.

The hole was small, only about six inches in diameter, but everyone knew that, sometimes, small things were the scariest for their ability to grow without notice. The way he’d thrown good money after bad, digging them deeper into debt. The jet-black void seemed to swallow the blue light from his phone, seemed to soak up even the sound of his breath. Heart racing, he pushed himself back to the pillowtop. Shadows from the palmetto leaves rippled on the ceiling like any other night.

On any other night, Roman would have had the sense to get up, to wake Annie, to evacuate the house. Instead, he stared at the ceiling, caught in an eddy of thoughts so powerful he no longer saw the dancing shadows above. Once, while waiting at the dealership for a recall repair, he had picked up the customer copy of Popular Science and read an article about black holes — wells of gravity so strong that nothing could escape them. At the time, the concept unsettled him, the inability to escape their pull, their ability to alter time and space.

Now, as Roman contemplated the hole directly beneath him, he thought perhaps this was a lucky break. Maybe the hole beneath the guest bed — his bed — would absorb Annie’s disgusted silence that showed no signs of ending. Maybe it would compress his shame into something unrecognizable. Maybe he could avoid facing that he’d fallen for a real estate investment that, in retrospect, had all the signs of going south. He cried to himself. But only for a few minutes.

In the morning light, Roman saw the spidery fracture in the ceiling plaster. He got down on his hands and knees and peered under the bed. The gaping darkness was still there, though the opening had grown, which was a comfort to him. He heard the familiar background noise of the automated sprinklers watering the lawn and Annie blow-drying her hair in the master bathroom. Sounds of mundane mornings that were no longer his to take for granted. He waited until he heard the garage door close before retrieving the shovel they used to amend the sandy soil in the garden beds around their house. Beds where Annie had planted hibiscus trees that had, at first, fooled him into sniffing their bright pink blooms for a scent that did not exist. She’d teased him about it, made an offhand remark about not getting greedy. Now, he realized, she should have taken it as a sign.

Back in the guest room, Roman slid the bed toward the door so he could get a better look. Even with the plantation shutters open, the hole soaked up all light. Roman hit around the edges with the shovel, the wood floorboards cracking away with no slab to hold them in place. Edging against the wall, he picked up the glass of water from the nightstand, held it over the hole, and dropped it in. He tilted his head but heard no shattering of glass. He reached for the nightstand flashlight, flipped it on, and threw it in. The light was immediately swallowed. Confused, Roman lifted the bedside lamp and threw it in. Then the nightstand. Still nothing. He worked his way back to the bed, lying on his stomach, chin on his hands, and stared into the abyss. Its darkness, its silence, so alluring. He tried to imagine oblivion, the feeling of not being, but he’d never known anything different than always wanting. He could jump, escape his problems in a flash. But then Annie would surely hate him forever, leaving her to sort out his mess.

What he needed to do was enlarge the void, to make the whole house, with the home equity line he’d quietly emptied, disappear. The weight shifted as he got off the bed, another floorboard fell. Roman collected some paperwork, Annie’s heirloom jewelry, and their wedding photos and tucked it in the trunk of his car before pulling the car on to the street. The morning’s watering had collected in slight depressions in the grass. He turned the sprinkler system back on, knowing a neighbor would likely report their off-hours water usage to the HOA. Another hose threaded through the house, its fitting curved into the black. The water pressure dropped as he turned on the tap to speed up the collapse of bedrock. He hit at the hole’s edges, mopping sweat away with his forearm.

Roman threw himself into this work, relishing the reverberation each impact made in his bones. He made good progress — at this rate, Annie might come home to a pit in the ground. The foundation had given enough for Roman to push in the guest bed, which he did with a feeling akin to freedom. The hole took his holler along with the bed. He chipped away at everything they had accumulated — how little it mattered anymore. With the insurance money, he and Annie could start over, start small. If she’d have him, the first thing he’d buy her, a hibiscus.

Photo by Negro Elkha/Adobe Stock


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