The hole

None of us were certain when the hole first appeared. Initially, we ignored it and sometimes would forget it was even there, except when we were sitting outside, hanging up our washing, or if we happened to look out of the large bay window above the kitchen sink that faced the backyard.

“It’s just a hole,” said Yusuf. Pitch black inside, perfectly circular, about the size of a basketball. It looked improbable and strange.

“Maybe it will go away,” said Soraya. But soon it became obvious to us that the hole was growing.

Idhil dropped by to finish wrapping presents for her friend Maryam’s birthday. She commandeered my room and turned my desk into an arts and crafts station, attaching little cardboard cutouts of birds to a small gift bag.

There was a card, too, that presumably had the nicest possible thing written on it, but I doubted Maryam would have any luck deciphering it. Idhil’s bad handwriting was how we met. We were both serving three-day internal suspensions, which we took in a bare storage room behind Mr Walker’s office, just large enough for two desks and their chairs.

Idhil was a year younger than me, and we’d only occasionally interacted with each other before. When she asked me what I was in for, I told her that I beat up a boy. “Sick,” she replied, and then told me her handwriting was so bad that they’d suspended her. She held up a stack of worksheets with big dotted outlines of letters that she had to trace over and over.

A week later we skipped class and took a bus to Werribee Plaza and watched Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Afterwards, we went to Nando’s, where we both ordered meals with only the barest slivers of chicken. “Our salad days,” Idhil now called it. I always disagreed when she said that. I believed we were still so full of potential.

Idhil pointed out through my bedroom window at her car. A bunch of balloons clung to the ceiling of her little Hyundai.

“I don’t know anything about the life span of helium balloons,” I told her.

“Neither do I. Will they be okay in my car?” she worried. “The guy who sold them to me told me he had a special extended-life helium, but it was extra. It’s got chemicals that make it last longer, which could be bad for the environment, but I haven’t checked. I should have bought it. Maryam’s going to hate her sagging day-old balloons. I’m such an idiot.”

I told her she was smart and capable, and that I didn’t want to talk about helium balloons anymore. I wanted to talk about the hole in our backyard. There were people at the local council who had an interest in holes, perhaps some who even specialised in them, but our landlords – an old white couple without a seed of kindness between them – had made it clear to us when we tried to get green bins that they would kick us all out if we called the council again.

“I mean, there’s not a lot you can do about it, is there?” said Idhil.

That evening, I was sitting on our back step staring at the hole again. Idhil thought there was no revelation to be found in it, but I wasn’t so sure. It seemed like a negative miracle, an unwholesome glitch. Soraya sat down next to me and held her mug of hot water and lemon juice against her cheek. “I used to be able to do the most perfect handstands,” she said.

“You’re just a little out of practice,” I assured her. The evenings were getting cooler, I noticed. It was almost June already.

Yusuf started calling the hole “our growing boy” and would often stare at it, for hours, ripping cones while sitting as close as he dared to its sheer edge. Sometimes the hole would contort itself, growing larger in a single direction before snapping back into shape.

“Maybe we can get Nick to look at the hole?” I said to Idhil.

Nick, the landlord’s son, was our property manager, and he would occasionally come by unannounced and tell us how his parents were entertaining offers to turn our entire block into an apartment complex. According to him, they were regularly wined and dined by rich developers who were keen on our slice of Ithaca Park.

Nick would fill Yusuf’s head with lurid tales of soaring pillars of glass and steel; rooms stuffed with riches, leather and customisable LED lighting arrays. Nick told us he was a member of a private internet forum full of like-minded individuals who kept up with the latest developments in the real estate market. “The houses that are on the market nowadays, mate, you wouldn’t believe…” he’d trail off, shaking his head.

The look on Yusuf’s face when he was around Nick worried me. It reminded me of the time Yusuf had casually mentioned a kind of mountain berry none of us had heard of before, and I discovered he’d been reading multilevel marketing literature that he’d found on the internet. I sometimes felt I knew how to look out for my little brother, but I didn’t know how to look out for anyone else, not even myself.

Idhil had stopped coming round as often after the hole swallowed her favourite lawn chair. It took two of our three milk crates, our barbecue, the Hills hoist and, we were increasingly sure, our neighbour’s black cat. Yusuf was devastated by the possibility after our neighbour came by and asked if we’d seen Missy. It was what spurred us to finally act. Yusuf called Nick.

“He’s bringing beer,” said Yusuf, after he’d hung up.

“Why?” said Idhil.

“I don’t know.”

Soraya emerged from her room. “I’m going to do a handstand,” she announced.

We were all on her side in this and gave her a big cheer. Soraya looked stunned and pleased by our enthusiasm. “Thank you. I believe in myself.” She carried herself with a straight-backed athleticism that reminded me of the blonde netball girls in high school. She had her hair in a tight, high ponytail and was wearing a loose singlet and Nike leggings.

She went out into the backyard, skipped around the edges of the hole, onto the grass, took a deep breath and executed the loveliest handstand I had ever seen. It was beautiful. We were all cheering, and Idhil was taking pictures on her phone. Then Nick arrived, carrying a six-pack of Melbourne Bitter.

“What’s up, my homies!” he said, and the hole suddenly stretched out towards him, swallowing him completely, along with our last milk crate. We all looked at each other, at the hole, dumbfounded. Suddenly, Yusuf was screaming, and Idhil had her phone out and was also screaming. Soraya had run off into the house. I was frozen in shock, staring at Missy, who hadn’t fallen into the hole after all. She was perched regally on a branch that stretched out from the tree in the neighbours’ yard and onto our side of the fence. She looked so comfortable, content and alive.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 6, 2020 as "The hole".

For almost a decade, The Saturday Paper has published Australia’s leading writers and thinkers. We have pursued stories that are ignored elsewhere, covering them with sensitivity and depth. We have done this on refugee policy, on government integrity, on robo-debt, on aged care, on climate change, on the pandemic.

All our journalism is fiercely independent. It relies on the support of readers. By subscribing to The Saturday Paper, you are ensuring that we can continue to produce essential, issue-defining coverage, to dig out stories that take time, to doggedly hold to account politicians and the political class.

There are very few titles that have the freedom and the space to produce journalism like this. In a country with a concentration of media ownership unlike anything else in the world, it is vitally important. Your subscription helps make it possible.

Select your digital subscription

Month selector

Use your Google account to create your subscription