FICTION July 7, 2023

The Sinkhole

On the night my husband, Stephen, and his mistress drove off a cliff in Maine, a sinkhole opened in front of our house here in Florida, swallowing one neighbor’s car and another’s dog. The dog’s owner, Tanya, said she heard a rumbling then felt its leash pull away like an anchor. Imagine if I’d been holding it tight, she said. I’d be gone just like Buster. As if her inch-long fingernails would let her hold anything tightly.

That morning, my husband told me he was leaving as I was laying out breakfast for our son, Jack. As I put down a pancake, he erupted with a flow of announcements: He had been having an affair with his assistant professor, they were leaving for a four-day trip to Maine, and our marriage was over. I kept looking down at the plate, impressed with my browning technique.

I could tell Stephen expected a fight, his slung jacket a shield to protect him from a flying dish or butter knife. For a few moments, we were a paused videotape, lines and static between us. I put down the spatula, filling the moment with a dramatic sigh while I thought of a reply. Is your mother still coming? was all I managed to say. He sighed, too, half as long but twice as potent.

His mother, Barbara, was coming in a week. She wasn’t the mother-in-law you saw in movies: There was no snarky undertone, she didn’t walk around checking surfaces for dust. But, she did resent me for taking her son from her, slipping in when her back was turned with my southern twang and crescent hips. Ironically, when I had Jack, I understood—all mothers are victims of theft eventually.

Stephen had it planned out: He’d call his mother to reschedule, tell Jack he was on a work trip, and, when he got back, explain three was becoming two. It was a shock but not a surprise—since our son’s birth four years earlier, there’d been a shift in allegiances. Love with my husband had been bidirectional, a thing passed between us. But, Jack was a well I filled with every breath, flinging pieces of myself into an endless hole that never gave back. I don’t know how any marriage was expected to survive a bomb like that.

The sinkhole opened around 10 p.m. while most of the block was asleep except for Tanya, who was walking Buster. Gossip had it she was coming back from a rendezvous with a married man named Bill, a neighbor who bought Tanya the dog so they could hook up while he was walking his. I met him once at a neighborhood function: balding, doughy, spacious teeth, laugh a deflating tire. But, his eyes were kind—a light that outshone the rest.

I was standing outside Jack’s bedroom when I heard the boom from the sinkhole. He’d made a fuss about going to bed, as if he sensed the unraveling of his family through the extra ice cream at dinner. After he fell asleep, I stayed looking at the family photos taped to his door. We’d need a knife to cut Stephen out.

Tanya’s screams were an even louder explosion. Otherworldly. Running out, I expected to see her wrestling a demon to the ground. Instead, a black lake was between us, like someone had taken an eraser to the street. At the edge was Tanya, on her knees, crying into the darkness for Buster.

As I got closer, a few neighbors materialized. There was Mike calling 911, his wife, Carol, directing people to stay away, arms out like a hallway monitor. Judy and Ed stumbled forward, mouths black holes like the one before us. I waited for Stephen to join before remembering he was with a woman who wasn’t me.

We had loved nighttime adventures. Our second date was an evening picnic in Loblolly Woods. We’d taken two bites of a baguette when we decided to get sex out of the way. If it was bad, we could blame the swamp. If it was good, we could blame the swamp when it wasn’t as good later. As Stephen was doing a striptease, he accidentally tossed his keys—we spent half an hour looking for them, working as a team. That night, seeds for a future together were planted.

Sirens from the Gainesville police were circling like birds, and I felt alone for the first time since Stephen’s blowup. Something like this was exactly the kind of thing you’d want to talk over with a partner. Showing Jack wouldn’t be the same thing. He’d just want to see how deep the hole was, toss things in to test the depth.

Other neighbors were coming out in their robes, looking at the police and city workers flocking to our little nuisance. Some cast judgmental glances at Tanya as if she had fucked the hole into existence. It occurred to me I was the insignificant other or whatever they called the ones cheated on. Did that make Tanya my enemy by proxy?

We’d never interacted much. In truth, she was talked more about than to, defined by the whispers of others. Tanya was in marketing in some form or another, making people feel inadequate without whatever she was selling.

When my phone rang after midnight, I thought it was Stephen calling to apologize, telling me he was on his way back with flowers and a promise. But, the cascade of words coming from my phone were from a stranger’s lips: a narrow road, a lot of rain, a dangerous cliff. The man who wasn’t my husband waited for a response.

I think you’ve got the wrong number, I said.

I’m sorry, ma’am, I don’t, he replied with the emotion of a lamp.

Stephen is a common name; it’s a mistake.

I understand it’s a shock.

But he’s a good driver. He wouldn’t let that happen.

If you’re not from around here, these roads can be tricky.

He’s. A. Good. Driver.

I know this is hard to hear.

It’s not hard, because you’re joking.

We don’t joke about these things.

My jaw locked up, tongue paralyzed so all I could do was bark like a seal hoping to be thrown a treat. I’d never thought about Stephen dying without me; it felt so lonely. Was it lonely for him?

Was he with anyone? I finally spit out. Then came a pause big enough to dwarf the sinkhole outside.

Yes, ma’am. We’re notifying her family as well.

I hung up and turned off my phone when he started talking details. I got a bottle of wine from downstairs along with a few Sominex tablets and gulped both like I was twenty-one again.

In the morning, Jack’s head appeared at my bedroom door, smiling like Stephen, a mini version of my dead husband asking to come into bed. Was it the mother or the lover that said yes?

He came in, put his head on my shoulder, and looked up, curling into the space between us. It’s like he knew the preciousness of childhood was fleeting.

Can we call daddy and say good morning?

He said it so casually, I choked.

Stephen dying was a meteor going so fast the air hummed. I couldn’t protect us, so I turned my eyes to the ground, focusing on every blade of grass, knowing when it landed it would take us both. I just didn’t want to know when.

Honey, he called when you were asleep. He said good morning and he loves you.

Okay, we can call when he’s not at work, Jack conceded.

I told him to put on clothes so I could show him something he’d never seen before. While he was changing, I turned on my phone; eight voicemails from the same two Maine numbers were waiting. It was easy to delete them.

At 8:27, the theme from Amélie started playing—my cue to give Stephen a ten-minute warning for work. We’d dance to that song in our kitchen, knocking things over, neither very graceful. I had loved that about us, the way we embraced things we weren’t good at because we weren’t good at them together. Sometimes when I was mad at him, I’d imagine us awkwardly dancing and fall newly in love, the fresh kind that nips at your ear.

Jack yelped and ran as soon as he saw the sinkhole, stopping when he got to the caution tape and sad-eyeing me to walk faster. Neighbors gathered in clusters, holding their coffee cups and looking at the sinkhole like a stain that needed washing. It was curb-to-curb wide. The bottom was a gray mist with the hint of a red mound—my neighbor’s Porsche, a sporty thing he bought when he turned fifty.

I thought of Stephen’s car at the bottom of a cliff. Him and his lover in the wreckage, facing each other, eyes open in shock, holding hands. What were they listening to as they flew over? A podcast? Music? Were his last thoughts of me?

I felt a warmth on my leg: a leak, something escaping.

Mommy, you’re peeing! Jack jumped back from me like I was a hole opening. Fifteen pairs of eyes landed on me, the yellow circle at my feet more interesting than the big black one.

Quiet! I snapped at Jack, but he was still dancing around as if on fire. I grabbed his wrist and bolted back to the house, hands tightening with each step. I heard squeals of pain behind me but didn’t take my eyes off the front door, my shield.

Inside, he was sniffling and looking at his hands. The smell of piss between us was the only communication for a few seconds. I was embarrassed, angry, ashamed. I tried the role of repentant mother.

I’m sorry, honey.

He shrugged, nodded slightly.

Can you go upstairs and get mommy a towel?

He turned, leading with his shoulder, little legs taking wide steps up the stairs, just like Stephen would. For a moment, I thought Jack was mocking me.

My phone rang, a Maine number—I sent it to voicemail. After a minute, a notification popped up. I stepped into the backyard to listen. The sunlight felt protective, and if things got too intense, I could chuck the phone into the bushes, let the worms sort things out.

It was a woman this time, the tone in her voice a sugary revulsion. Apparently, not answering your phone after your spouse died wasn’t acceptable. My faux pas.

Hello, this is Officer Gellman from the Maine State Police. We’ve tried contacting you several times. There’s a lot we need to discuss regarding the passing of your husband. You can ask to talk to me or Officer Ingersoll, but it’s important we speak as soon as possible. Thank you.

In the sliding glass door, my reflection looked like a dress swinging from a wire hanger. Jack was just beyond, towel in hand, head positioned right next to my hip. His eyes and mouth were three craters I couldn’t see the depths of.

The house phone rang, a remnant from another era. We only used cellphones now, but Stephen had said he felt odd not having one around. Jack ran over and picked up. I heard Hi, grandma! fly from his throat. Barbara. I rushed into the house.

Daddy’s at work, Jack pronounced. She’s here, he said, handing the phone to me.

Barbara? My heart tried collapsing; my chest tried to catch it.

Sorry to bother you, but I left a few messages with Stephen, and he hasn’t gotten back to me.

He hadn’t called her, she was still coming. I was at the bottom of a mountain, watching the first sections of snow come loose.

He’s at a conference for a few days, I stammered.

Who’ll pick me up from the airport? she said after a few moments. I hated her for asking that.

We’ll figure it out. I have to go; something’s on the stove.

The phone fell off the hook when I tried hanging up, rejecting my lies. It crashed to the floor, skidded next to Jack, who looked like someone had dropped a dead body at his feet. When he reached to pick it up, I told him to leave it in a razor voice. He whimpered and ran upstairs.

Walking past the living-room window, I saw Tanya standing at the end of our driveway. I could see why someone would buy her a cover dog. She was fit—big boobs that were probably fake but looked real enough to question and an ass that looked carved. Every time you saw her, she had the air of someone who had just finished having the best sex. We met eyes for a second, the invitation she needed.

I opened the door as she was walking up, getting a whiff of the urine I had yet to wipe off.

Sorry about Buster, Tanya, I started.

Thanks. It was just so sudden, I couldn’t hold on.

Well, that was probably for the best. Too tight and you might’ve fallen, too. Silver linings, I guess.

She nodded and gave me a half-abandoned smile. Jack looked excited to see the hole. Stephen not interested?

He’s at a conference in Ohio.

He’s always leaving for something. He go with anyone?

Her eyes had an expectant look, too excited for the moment.

No, just himself.

Well, make sure to keep an eye out; you don’t want him falling.


Jack. You know how boys are.

The rest of the morning was filled with artful dodging every time Jack asked to call his father. I wouldn’t let him finish, deflecting the question with a cookie, a carton of juice, a growl. I wanted to pack him away until I was ready, put him in a box. The next minute felt exhausting. The next week felt crippling. The rest of my life felt horrifying.

He’d had enough of my evasion after lunch.

I want to call daddy right now, he said, rooting himself like a 500-pound boulder.

I caved in. The phone trembled as I pressed his number and it started ringing, afraid a stranger would answer. Afraid Stephen would.

It went straight to voicemail, an echo of another life. I remembered when he set up the message, fretting over coming across as too informal for his colleagues but too distant for his students. In the end, he sounded like someone who wanted it to be over: the phone call, the message, our marriage.

Mommy, you’re biting yourself. Jack shook me lightly.

I wiped red streaks against my hand. They looked like escaping ghosts.

Let’s leave a message together, okay?

I love you daddy I miss you daddy there’s a big hole call back. I didn’t add anything.

Cleaning up after lunch, I snarled at Jack so much he cowered like a rain-soaked dog. Every time he made a sound—loading the dishwasher, closing a drawer—he looked at me with a simmering dread. I didn’t care. It kept him from talking.

Mid-afternoon, I got a call from a neighbor—I had forgotten about a play date for Jack with her son Trevor. We couldn’t get there fast enough.

Stephen had never liked this couple—Martha and Dillon—saying they were too low- class for us. I’d remind him I was descended from tenant farmers, as low as it got for some. He’d say I was different, of course, but I sometimes felt his love for me was conditional—that if I pulled out a jar of Miracle Whip, he’d pack his bags.

Martha kept asking about Stephen as I was leaving. She had a crush on him; once, when he was featured in the local paper, she kept the article on their fridge for months. Dillon worked at a demolition company, and there was always grime loitering on his face—a biology professor at the university was probably exotic. I both did and didn’t understand her fascination. Sure, Stephen was witty and intelligent, but Dillon was sexy and primal in a way my husband never was.

I finally told her I had to meet a friend, which got Jack’s attention.

Mommy, who are you seeing?

Just a friend, honey.

Can I come?

No. Have fun with Trevor.

I don’t want to.

At that, he clamped onto my leg. Martha tried helping.

Jack, Trevor got a new truck. It’s pretty cool.

Jack held tighter. I asked Martha to give us a minute. She ushered Trevor—who looked like he didn’t give a shit either way—into the kitchen.

I need to go by myself, I hissed. Stay here and play for a while.

It hurts, he whined.

I had not realized I was grabbing his arm. I loosened my grip but didn’t let go, punctuating each word with a squeeze.

Stay with Trevor.

How long?

Until I say so.

The concern on his face would’ve broken a better woman’s heart.

A surveyor was taking measurements of the sinkhole when I got home. He said the Porsche would be pulled out, and anything else down there—trash, pieces of asphalt, Buster—would be covered up, swept under the rug by a fifty-ton broom. Around the perimeter of the sinkhole, the city put “No Dumping” signs.

The house felt like the insides had been scraped out and only skin remained. Every time a thought of Stephen or Jack slithered into my head, I squeezed it out by humming a song or reading a book out loud. This was supposed to be my time; couldn’t they do that for me?

Different Maine numbers kept calling. I chuckled, imagining the police thinking they’d fool me, twirling villainous mustaches with each call. Sometimes, they left messages. Always, I deleted them.

While taking a bath, I sank under the water, watching the world dissolve above me, disappointed when I hit bottom. A muffled howl like a coyote’s lapped my ears. I thought it might be Stephen crying out for me, for the wrong he’d done. It repeated itself. Again. When I came up for air, Jack’s voice told someone to leave a message.

Hello, this is Officer Gellman. We’ve left several messages on your cell phone. It’s important you call us.

I cut the cords of the phones we had in the house. I also threw away the tapes in the answering machines. It was outdated tech; we needed to move on.

Jack was so shaken when I picked him up, I offered a pizza party as an apology.

He didn’t ask to call Stephen, and in return I let him stay up well past his bedtime, pretending to wrestle with the idea. I would’ve let him watch TV forever if it meant not talking about his father. I’d be a dusty old maid, he a middle-aged mama’s boy, as we watched Bugs Bunny escape death for the 10,000th time.

They even slept like each other, mouths open as if mid-sentence. I’d tease Stephen that spiders would lay eggs in his mouth sleeping like that. Once, he pretended to convulse and “threw up” candy eggs all over our bed, laughing the entire time. That was before the egg that came out of me made us both sick.

After I brought Jack up to bed, I heard a clank outside. Tanya was at the edge of the sinkhole, taking things from a shopping bag and softballing them into it. I stepped out, intrigued.

Hiding evidence? I joked.

It’s a funeral for Buster. I’m sending him off with his toys.

You’re not worried about getting caught throwing stuff down there?

Caught by who, these judgmental assholes? She broadly gestured.

There was acid in her voice. I must’ve looked shocked—her tone softened a little.

Sorry, I had a talk with one of our lovely neighbors earlier, she continued.

About what? I played dumb.

Oh, come on.

I guess I figured you didn’t know we knew.

Because I’d stop seeing Bill if I did?

Well, yeah.

I don’t care what people think.

What about his wife? Don’t you care what you’re doing to her?

I’m not “doing” anything to her.

You are. You’re fucking her husband.

Oh, come on, you know better. Fucking someone else isn’t the first sign of a broken marriage, it’s the last.

I started to reply, but the look Tanya heaved at me was a warning. She threw one final toy in, waved dismissively, then blended into the darkness. I turned back to the house.

The pulse of red lights from the barricades was a heartbeat against the siding, the front door an aorta waiting for blood to rush in. Or a person—a drifter, a burglar. Maybe worse. Walking upstairs, I left the door open, praying for whoever accepted my invitation to spare me from the days ahead.

The next morning, a construction worker stopped by, saying the sinkhole would be filled the following day. The street had been inspected and our house had been deemed safe. Not for me, I said.

Closing the door, I heard hesitant steps approaching, causing a wild rage to tear through me. Let’s go to the woods then get some ice cream, I said before the words “daddy” or “phone” could leave Jack’s lips. He suggested we find a pretty spot and video chat with Stephen. I told him he had meetings all day.

Barbara called my cell phone as Jack was changing. She must have been desperate to call me directly; the only times she did was to plan surprises for Stephen. I let it ring; no message ever arrived. There was nothing for me to say no to.

Walking to the car, Jack ran to the sinkhole without saying a word. I thought he was going to jump in, join his father in some faraway hole. In the seconds before he reached the edge, I imagined a double funeral, selling the house, moving to Paris.

Jack, stop!

The sound piercing the air didn’t come from my throat but someone else’s. I looked around.

Neighbors were gaping at me in disgust; I waited for one to say something, anything. Jack tossed an apple into the sinkhole and came back to the car, giving me a light hug. I sneered at the world.

I wanted to give Buster a snack so he wouldn’t get hungry, he told me with the purest sincerity.

Driving to the outskirts of the city, we passed a funeral home. At a stoplight, I watched a sea of black suits and dresses flowing inward, envious of the people diving into their sorrow. My hands caressed the steering wheel like I was consoling it. I crossed the meridian and parked in the lot.

Mommy, why did we stop? Jack asked.

See those people? Something bad happened to their friend, and they’re going inside to talk about it.

Do you know her?

I did. We’re going inside for a little bit.

It was a woman who had died; she looked about my age. Her name was Deborah Fields; the photo they used for the poster was the kind you got at a Walmart studio. She was wearing too much makeup—her eyes looked bruised rather than sultry—and behind her a forest was crying autumn leaves. Her photo brought out tears, ones I could disguise in the surrounding grief.

For our first Christmas as husband and wife, Stephen and I sent out photo cards. We went to a studio that hadn’t been updated since the 70s. The photographer kept saying, Oh, yeah, that’s it. Nice, nice! as we got sillier and sillier with our poses. When we were leaving, he said he also did boudoir photography and handed me his business card. Stephen took it and winked, saying he’d be back. I couldn’t wait to fuck him when we got home.

Jack and I were very underdressed, so I plopped us in the back row. Up front was Deborah’s open casket, fifty or sixty people in line to say goodbye. Both of us looked around awkwardly.

Is that your friend? He pointed to the casket.

Yes, her name was Deborah.

Is she asleep?

Sometimes, people get so hurt or so sick they don’t wake up. Ever.

They can’t shake her?

No, and that’s why everyone is so sad. They have to say goodbye forever.

Are we going to say goodbye?

In college, a friend talked me into taking an improv class. The only thing I remembered was the teacher telling us comedy was all about committing to the bit.

Sure, I replied.

The same person that did Deborah’s makeup in life seemed to have done it in death. Still, she looked pretty, with a perfect nose and laugh lines around her mouth that looked earned. Jack looked up at me for guidance, expecting me to say something or kiss her forehead like he had seen others do.

Say goodbye, mommy, he said like a dare.

I bent over and kissed Deborah’s clammy cheek, whispering the few words from the Lord’s Prayer I remembered. Jack raised his arms, and I held him like Superman over her. He loudly said Bye! and kissed her forehead several times, then her mouth for several moments. There was a gasp behind us. Someone said Ewww.

Back in our seats, a woman asked how I knew Deborah; I said we’d been friends since high school.

Did she ever mention suicide? she asked.

No, I said, but these things come out of nowhere. All it takes is one thing to push us over the edge.

I would have considered it if it wasn’t for Jack. Then again, if it wasn’t for Jack, maybe Stephen wouldn’t have left. I looked at my little anchor, legs swinging off the edge of the pew like he was ready to jump, thinking how a drop of doubt could poison an ocean.

Deborah’s mother got up to speak, a bubble of emotions around her. Jack put his hand on my lap, giving my thigh a squeeze like his father used to do when I was anxious. Startled, I shoved it away, telling him to be still until the funeral was over. He looked like a rejected lover.

In the parking lot, Jack grabbed my wrist and spun me around. Mommy, we can go home. You’re too sad, he said in a protective tone, cupping his chin with his hand—Stephen’s pose when deciding something.

I slapped his hand away, yelled at him to stop pretending to be his father. His eyes started to water and his lips quivered; when I tried apologizing, he pushed me away. A few friends of Deborah looked ready to call child services.

I want daddy.

He’s at work, he can’t talk.

Call him, he screamed so loud I’m sure Stephen heard.


I took out my phone, dialed Stephen’s number, and smashed it against Jack’s ear so hard he pulled away. I pushed his head back with my other hand, feeling plastic against bone. We gave each other defiant looks.

Daddy! Where are you? Jack yelled into the phone when voicemail picked up.

He can’t hear you.

At that, he became a sobbing mess that fell onto the asphalt, pounding it with his fists. Not his worst tantrum, but it was up there.

Jack, I told you he’s busy with work, I said.

Is he mad at me?

Who was Stephen mad at? When he told me he was leaving, he said he’d been unhappy for a while, but what does that mean? Six months? A year? Four?

We didn’t have sex for months after our son was born. I was breastfeeding, and my body felt like it was Jack’s, like intercourse would defile the temple I had built for him. Every time Stephen tried to initiate something, I retreated. Eventually, he gave up trying, and I had assumed the late nights in his office were spent masturbating.

When we finally did have sex again, it was on his birthday, and we fumbled through it like first-timers. Afterward, as we lay staring at the ceiling, he said, Thanks for the pity fuck. I didn’t correct him.

I picked Jack up off the ground and draped him over me, his head nestling into my neck, mucus and water rubbing into my skin. As I was putting him in the car seat, my phone rang. It was Barbara. I accidentally hit answer instead of ignore. I steeled myself.

Hi, Barbara.

What is going on? No one is answering my phone calls. Is everything okay?

We’re fine. Just busy, and I’m not feeling well.

You don’t sound well. Is Stephen back?

No. Not for a few days yet.

I’m coming tomorrow. I have a friend who’s a travel agent; she can help.

We’re fine. Stephen will be back soon.

I’ll take a taxi from the airport, she said with the finality of a guillotine.

Barbara coming meant telling her about Stephen, which meant telling Jack. I decided to take us to Daytona Beach, the edge of the continent. Maybe further.

The idea of driving to the coast birthed another idea. While Jack was taking his afternoon nap, I called Martha and asked to speak to Dillon. Her tone changed from friendly neighbor to protective wife. I imagined her right up against his ear, listening in to catch us making secret plans.

I explained Stephen was too busy to call and it was really upsetting Jack. Dillon said it was natural for a boy to miss his father, with which I agreed vehemently. Then I went in for the ask.

I know this sounds strange, but would you mind calling and pretending you’re Stephen? Just to say hi to Jack.


Just for a minute. It would mean so much to him.

You want me to lie to the boy? I had no idea Dillon was so moralistic.

Not lie, just pretend. He’s really heartbroken. A few words, that’s all.

He put the phone on mute, probably telling Martha what a bad mother I was. This would get me a couple hours, maybe days, of quiet. I didn’t care.

Please, I’ll pay you, I said into the silence.

No need for that. Okay, but just to say hi. And we tell Stephen when he gets back. I don’t want anything weird between us.

When he called, Jack was leery at first, asking if “Stephen” had a cold. Dillon did well with improvisation, saying his allergies had kicked in. I was feeling smug until Jack wanted to make it more than a quick hello.

Daddy, we saw our favorite cartoon.

How nice.

It’s the great . . ., Jack started. Stephen would always finish with, “Galactic Defender, villains beware!”

Pumpkin, Charlie Brown? Dillon said.

No, Galactic Defender. Remember?

Oh, yeah. Of course. Hurrah, Galactic Defense!

Daddy, you’re being silly; that’s not what he says.

I chimed in. Honey, your father has to work. Say goodbye.

Goodbye, daddy. I love you, Jack yelled.

I love you too, Trevor, was Dillon’s response. Understandable.

Daddy, I’m Jack.

Of course! I love you too, Jack. Be a good boy and listen to your mother.

Then there was silence. Jack stared at the phone for a few seconds.

I think daddy’s sick, he said.

I shooed him into the backyard to play while I packed clothes. We’d leave after dinner to avoid traffic and be at Daytona Beach in less than two hours. If Jack asked any questions, I’d tell him we were going to meet Stephen then delay, delay, delay.

Jack and I had traveled alone before while Stephen stayed home since his schedule was so rigid. People warned me having a kid was a tether you couldn’t break free from, but Jack was my escape. Whatever guilt I felt about leaving Stephen behind was absorbed by my son.

I was loading up the car when an hourglass shadow fell on the ground next to me, footsteps following in a hurried pattern.

You going somewhere? Tanya sounded grave.

If this is about last night, I’m sorry. Things are stressful right now.

I know. Stephen talk to you?

I slammed the trunk. Look. I know you think you’re the expert on adultery. Stay out of this.

It’s just that I don’t like keeping other people’s secrets. When I caught them, I told him he had to tell you.

Caught them? Were they here?

She nodded. My stomach fell to the other side of the world. No, no, no, I breathed, backing away.

I know you think it’s your—

My hands went to my ears, blocking out Tanya and the whole goddamn world.

Turn around. Go away. Don’t come back, I yelled.

She wouldn’t stop, so I kicked her, landing blows to her thigh, all the while covering my ears and singing to drown her out. Tanya seemed keenly aware of the spectators up and down the street and backed off.

I looked at our house, which had gone from white to gray, safe to sinister. They had been here. Fucked here. Laughed at me here. I needed to get rid of his treachery.

I ran inside, locked the door to the backyard, and began emptying his dresser, closet, every backpack or briefcase he had. Into garbage bags went Stephen’s clothes. Christmas cards and Valentine’s Day gifts. His diplomas and photos.

Jack asked to be let in, tapping lightly on the door then pounding when I didn’t answer. Mommy, mommy! was blasting from his mouth, bouncing off the glass, the house, my head. Only his bedroom was left to purge.

Stephen and I didn’t want a typical gendered one. There would be no firetruck wallpaper, no blue-colored furniture. He suggested we paint it our favorite colors since we’d be spending so much time in there. I had felt so partnered with him in those small moments, and now here I was on my hands and knees, looking at evidence of his cheating.

What I found wasn’t as scandalous as a used condom or a pair of bunched-up panties. It was a bright-pink hairband under Jack’s bed. You don’t expect the ordinary to level you.

When I was finished and finally let Jack in the house, he said, I hate you I hate you I hate you so many times it sounded like he was sneezing. Dinner was a partly frozen chicken pot pie he dared not complain about.

Just after midnight, I went outside and grabbed the first of seven garbage bags I had left on the side of the house. It felt as heavy as Jack. As I approached the edge of the sinkhole, I stopped, feeling the need to make a speech.

I was happy; I thought you were, too. Whose fault was this? I miss you. Goodbye.

The bag didn’t even fall with a satisfying thud, only a rustle of plastic and some indiscriminate snapping. No lights went on in any houses, no one poked their head through curtains. I was alone.

The last bag ripped just as I got to the edge. Staring up at me was a photo of us at our engagement party—I was talking to a friend, and Stephen was looking at me with the faith of a newborn. I kicked it into the darkness.

I sat on the edge with my feet dangling into the emptiness. Only one thing was left: my wedding ring. Into the mouth it went, making a ting as it hit something. I was so tired, I didn’t hear Jack approach.


What are you doing? Go back inside.

What are you doing?

I’m throwing away trash.

Was it too much for the trash cans?

It was.

He sat next to me, kicking his feet like he was on a swing. In the moonlight, his profile was exactly like Stephen’s: the same sloping brow, beautiful Roman nose, fuller-than-average lips. No matter what I threw away, no matter how deep the hole, I would see my husband every day for the rest of my life.

I put my hand on his back. I could feel bones through his skin; the ridges of his spine felt like escalators moving forward. His body was directing me.

No one would be surprised. A curious child. A front door left carelessly unlocked. A terrible double tragedy. Maybe father and son would land in the same position.

Jack filled the negative space between us. I love you mommy fell into the dark.

The sinkhole was filled over the next few days, during which time I sent Jack to stay with my mother. When she asked why, I told her Stephen and I had gotten in a fight. When she asked for the real reason, I said I was feeling confused. When she kept pressing me, I told her I wasn’t sure I could keep Jack safe. The silence that followed was the most honest time I’d ever spent with her.

I told Barbara everything, and instead of visiting us, she flew to Maine to pick up Stephen’s body, angry I abandoned him. When she insinuated it was my fault he cheated, I told her to crawl into the coffin with her son. I can count on both hands the times we spoke after that.

With Jack, it was different; I kept Stephen’s memory pure as a final act of love. He knew it was a car accident. He knew he was in Maine. He knew his father was never coming back. And that was it.

He slept in my bed for months, leaving space between us in case a body miraculously appeared in the emptiness, closing the gap each night until there was none. Eventually, we stopped listening for the front door to open.

Sometimes, when I walk across the spot where the sinkhole was, I feel a pull toward the bottom, like everything I tossed in is calling for me. On nights when I can’t sleep, I’ll go out and lay over it, arms open like an embrace. Jack is terrified, convinced the slightest movement or agitation will cause the hole to open up again. He’s not wrong.

Adrián Pérez is a writer and designer living in Brooklyn, NY. He holds an MFA in Fiction from Columbia University, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of Columbia Journal. He is currently finishing work on his first novel, a multi-character narrative about losing and gaining power during a global catastrophe. When not writing, he enjoys traveling, figuring out what his cats are thinking, and perfecting his grandmother’s salsa recipe.