The hole

23 November 2014

The hole refuses to be fathomed. It is at the centre of, or is central to, my life. Yet I understand it no better than when I discovered it.

I was on my way home from work. Someone had left a large black plastic bag next to a bin. A pair of shoes, a broken toy and some DVDs had spilled out onto the pavement.

On rummaging, I saw an area of the bag was blacker than the rest. But it wasn’t black, it was an absence of light, a gap in the world.

When I touched it, I didn’t. The tips of my fingers disappeared from view. I pulled my arm back, and they returned.

After witnessing the disappearance and reappearance of my arm to the elbow, I explored the extent of the phenomenon. I found edges and a small loop of cord that seemed to be a handle. From the bag I withdrew what I could, and can, only describe as a hole.

I unbuckled my satchel and dropped the hole in, between a pad of paper and a magazine. It didn’t fold up or sag even slightly. It sat there as if it were a vinyl LP.

At home I laid it on the dining table and looked at it. I dipped a hand in, brought it back out. It was tempting, but I couldn’t bring myself to do the same with my head. I tried a leg instead.

The penny dropped and disappeared. As did the plate. Five metres of nylon line returned as it had left. I ate dinner.

The next day I went to a pet shop and asked for a slow moving animal. The lizard sat on a small branch in the vivarium, eyes swivelling. On the table next to it lay the hole.

I tied the line to one of the lizard’s hind legs and lowered it into the hole. It returned, apparently unperturbed. It is called Michael and seems content.

On Monday I went to work. On my way home I dropped the hole on the pavement and sat at the bus stop on the opposite side of the road. People avoided it. A few stopped to peer down. A dog attached to a distracted owner sniffed at it, the end of its snout disappearing for a few seconds before it was dragged away.

A pigeon landed nearby and pecked its way about. It pecked at the hole in turn. Then it hopped in. After about five minutes I stopped waiting, crossed the road and picked up the hole.

At home, I texted Mark. “Are you busy? Want to come over? I’ve found a hole. Bring beer.”

Once I’d explained, we sat at either side of the table, looking at the hole. Next to it sat a few coins, the line, the lizard and two glasses of beer.

Mark kept starting to say something. I had nothing to say. We watched Who Framed Roger Rabbit, drank some more beer and smoked a couple of joints.

As he left, Mark remembered, “I think I saw a rope ladder in our loft. See you tomorrow?” I didn’t know people actually owned rope ladders.

“It’s just, lightless,” Mark told me. “It’s not dark, there’s no light. I couldn’t see anything, not my hand in front of my face. But I could feel the ladder was there. And I touched my nose.”

We’d fixed the rope ladder to a door frame and put the hole on the floor under it. Mark had disappeared into it and reappeared half a minute later.

“How did it feel?” I asked.

“Like being in the dark,” he replied. “In a very still room.”

He was right. In the hole nothing moved, unless I did. There was no sound. It wasn’t particularly hot or cold. I didn’t smell anything of note. Up and down still existed.

“This hole appears to be boring,” I said. “Apart from the fact it exists. I mean, that it’s a hole I can move around. And stuff that isn’t tied down disappears into it.”

“Exactly,” Mark agreed. “Maybe there’s more.” But neither of us felt inclined to push it.

I woke up on Saturday with nothing to do. After washing up, cleaning the bathroom, vacuuming, answering emails, showering and dressing, I sat on the sofa. I picked up a book, wasn’t interested by it, put it back down. I resisted the urge to smoke a joint. I looked out of the window. The same houses were still there.

I took the hole from its drawer and put it in the middle of the living room floor. Then I sat back down on the sofa. I made some coffee and smoked a roll up while I drank it. I almost threw the butt in the hole.

It was amusing to sit on the floor, my legs in the hole. I could feel them dangle but saw them disappear. I imagined new pathways being laid down in my brain.

Hooking two fingers through the hole’s handle, I pushed off and dropped in. I was standing on a pavement. There had been no absence of light, no flash, no whoosh. I was simply where I was, where I hadn’t been. The hole hung from my fingers.

The street looked like a street. Houses, cars, people here and there. But not one I recognised. And not a London street, I could tell.

It led to a busier road with more people, and shops. Strolling along it, I eventually recognised the main thing informing me I wasn’t in London. Signs and slogans in windows were in French.

I continued walking, heading in the direction of greater activity. Then, looking up, I saw what appeared to be the Eiffel Tower. By the time I reached it, everything I saw and had seen suggested it was.

The date on a newspaper for sale at a stand told me I hadn’t travelled in time, at least not significantly. A digital clock in a shop window, once I’d remembered the time difference, confirmed not at all.

I sat on a park bench and wondered. A portal to Paris? It seemed specifically odd. Paris. When had I heard it mentioned recently? I was sure I had.

I left the bench to find somewhere quiet and arrived at a small unenjoyed playground. I put the hole on the ground, sat down and dangled my legs. I thought about where I would appear next, if I would return home or be late for work on Monday, hooked my fingers into the handle and pushed off.

I was sitting in my chair at work. What I assumed was the burglar alarm was ringing. I made a second assumption that it wasn’t a coincidence, put the hole on the floor and quickly plunged, I hoped, homeward.

And I was standing back in my living room, the hole dangling. I sat on the sofa.

Paris, work, home, I thought. For about half an hour. I made some coffee and smoked a roll up while I drank it.

My eyes drifted about the room as I mused. Paris jumped out at me from the travel section of my book shelves. A memory; it had been the last thing my brain picked up before I went into the hole the first time.

Then: when I’d dropped into the hole in Paris I’d thought about being late for work on Monday. At work, I’d hoped I’d be going home.

I texted Mark. “Have been in and come out again. I was in Paris an hour ago. Bring bagels.”

When he was back in the living room, Mark agreed with my conclusion.

“I was nervous at first,” he explained. “So I just went home. Then to that big ball thing in the Epcot Centre, the playground of my junior school and Loch Ness.

“You’re right, think of somewhere and you’re there.”

For the next couple of years Mark and me travelled the world. We didn’t even need to pay for accommodation.

And there were remarkably few mistakes. We worried we might think of different places as we fell in together, but either we’re in perfect tune or the hole has some way of working it out. I don’t worry that the assumption imputes some kind of consciousness to the hole; it works. All that ever went wrong was us arriving somewhere we didn’t intend to. Even that turned out well most of the time. When it didn’t, we tried again.

We never came close to telling anyone else. We’d watched enough films and read enough books to think that was likely to cause problems. So we enjoyed what we had instead.

It only occurred to me recently how little we had wondered about the hole, where it came from, how it worked.

I was particularly bored, felt more unnecessary than usual. Even considering where to go next held little interest. I texted Mark but he was busy. I rolled a joint and switched the television on.

Disney’s version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was being broadcast. She tumbled down the rabbit hole, accepting everything she saw. She had the look of someone who was expecting to wake up.

Extinguishing the joint, I went to its drawer and retrieved the hole. I placed it in its place in the middle of the living room floor and dangled my legs in.

Hooking my fingers through the handle, I pushed off, thinking, “In the hole.” Light and sound left.

I see and hear nothing. I feel, I can feel the cord on my fingers. There is no sensation of falling.

It is curious. But, I am not.

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