Fiction

Holes

They knocked a hole in the wall on the day that Rohan died. I learnt these two things simultaneously. Remy was in the front room, sobbing. I saw her from the street, through the hole, and knew.

That morning we had pasted virtual missing posters all over the internet. My first thought seeing her was: We should take those down. The whole thing had suddenly become so private.

Remy looked up as I squeaked through the gate. We held each other with our eyes, through the hole in the wall. Later, when our baby was asleep, we sat and cried together. At some point, one of us said, I’ll call the landlord tomorrow. Meaning about the hole. But we never did.

I went back to work the following week. I had told Remy I was never going back, but there I was. I think I needed the tedium of the place, the distorting sense of importance. Plus, we needed the money. Some colleagues had left a small bouquet of white lilies on my desk, their condolences printed in a sans serif font. The lilies were dusted with a fine layer of grey silt. It felt colder than usual in the office. It felt dead. Now and then, a breeze would disturb a stack of papers, or send a pen rolling across my desk. I looked up only to confirm what I already knew: on the far side of the office, by the copier, was a hole in the wall.

In time, I came to expect the holes, even welcome them. They had their uses. At work, we made a game of throwing unwanted mail out the hole, showering the streets below with catalogues advertising discounted whitegoods. At home, if Remy was in the front yard, I could pass her cups of milky tea or take her phone to put on charge without having to trouble the deadbolt. And when our baby started to walk, we would hear his laughter wobbling its way up the side of the house and in through the hole.

 

Rohan: I wonder what you would think of this story. You were always so generous with me, but holes? Come on.

I still don’t know how you did it. I stayed home when everyone went to see you, said I needed to work on my speech. I was afraid that your body might carry a clue, that seeing you would give it away.

You’ll like this: after your service, the funeral director came up to me. You spoke well, she said. You should do this more often.

 

Eventually, we found a place with a second bedroom, a little further from the city. We had viewed it remotely, scrutinising the low-res images for signs of Photoshop, for conspicuously placed posters or rugs – anything that might be hiding something. And yet neither of us had noticed the hole in the wall. As we pulled up, our car’s headlights sent shadows tumbling through the kitchen.

In the months that followed, I searched the neighbourhood for more holes. Whenever I came across a crew of workers, I’d throw the brakes on the stroller and stage a fuss over my sleeping boy. Jackhammers made me jumpy, and I was unable to pass a skip bin without looking in it. Of course, I never found anything. After a while, I stopped looking.

We had by then plugged the hole in the kitchen with loose bricks and a sheet of marine ply and had placed a freestanding pantry in front of it. We went to work and school and came home and sang and drew with our child. We cooked and ate and watched The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and worried about new pandemics – worse ones – and about the economy, and what our skills would be worth when the singularity happened (we’d be mid-career by then), and what our lives would be worth (we’d be middle-aged), and whether our boy would even get a chance to worry about these things, or whether it would all be over by then.

And we spoke about Rohan. It took a while, but we did.

Then it was Christmas, and the days were hot and the nights unending. We sprayed each other with punctured water bottles and lay on the cool tiles in the kitchen, beneath spinning fans. A small olive tree wilted in a terracotta pot by the pantry. The olive tree was our first attempt at a family tradition. It bore a single decoration – a chubby, painted clay candy cane. Rohan had been Remy’s Secret Santa a few years back. It was nearly a year since he died.

I got up.

Want me to pause?

No, I’ll be quick.

I walked over to the pantry and shuffled it away from the wall. The wooden legs made a horrible scraping sound on the tile floor. I slid away the marine ply and gave the bricks a push. They swayed but felt more structurally sound for having some give. I gave them a kick. Remy came over and shushed me. We listened for sleep murmurs. Hearing none, we continued, both on our bums now, jabbing at the bricks with our bare heels. We made no effort to be quiet, imagining the wall coming down in big Tetris clumps. We were laughing and panting and sweating and sobbing. We jabbed and jabbed and then something gave – truly gave – and the bricks leaned away from us as one and there was a great sucking sound as the hot air escaped through the hole as if it were a flue.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 10, 2023 as "Holes".

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