“The Black Hole” by Eleanor Talbot

The Black Hole

When Olivia opened the front door to a large black hole spanning her entire front porch, she stood frozen, unable to remove her gaze from the great cavity before her. The dark hollow swirled in a maddening whirligig, pulling everything outside it inwards, dismantling the earth’s surface one layer at a time. Trees followed branches, people followed shoes; animals, pipes, birds, cars  — every kind of possible thing was being sucked in at astonishing speed, only to turn down the vortex and disappear from sight.

Though the hole appeared set on total devastation, Olivia remained unharmed, standing before it, only a slight breeze mussing up her hair. She took a step back, aghast. Slowly disordered thoughts began rising to the surface of her consciousness, as if the cement bags that tethered them down had been cut loose. She wondered what she should do. Perhaps the hole would go away if she closed the door and pretended it wasn’t there. Perhaps she was having a mental episode that would right itself after two aspirin and a good night’s rest.

“Perhaps I’m having a sugar turn,” she murmured.

She slammed the door, uncertain of a reasonable explanation for the strangeness. In the kitchen, she grabbed orange juice from the fridge and with shaking hands, drank directly from the carton. She put the box back into the fridge, returned to the front door and listened. The black hole was still there, she was sure of it. While the sound of the world being pulled apart wasn’t as loud as she would’ve expected, Olivia supposed that it had something to do with the speed at which it was happening — though she was no scientist, so that was a guess.

Olivia backed away from the door. In the hallway, she picked up the telephone and dialed.

“911, what is your emergency?”

“Um,” stammered Olivia. “I’ll need someone to come to 3 Land’s End, Pinewood.”

“What’s the problem, Ma’am?”

Olivia hesitated. On the one hand she knew it would sound crazy to say there was a black hole on her porch, but on the other, it was the truth and something needed to be done.

“There’s a strange phenomenon on my front porch.”

“Could you explain the phenomenon, Ma’am?”

“It’s wide and black. It’s causing extensive damage.”

The operator cleared his throat. “Are we talking a dog? A man? I’m gonna need a little more to go on.”

“I don’t know how to explain…” Olivia suddenly felt confused. “Could you hold a minute?”

She put the phone down, trotted to the front door and opened it. There, as sure as apples, was the black hole still in the business of towing chunks of the world into its gaping middle. She rushed back to the phone.

“It’s still there. It’s a sort of vacuum…everything’s going into it. Soon there won’t be anything left.”

The operator was silent. Olivia waited. She could hear the buzz of voices in the background of the call centre.

“Ma’am, do you need a doctor?” he said, eventually.

Olivia considered the suggestion. “I’m not sure. Will a doctor be able to do something about it?”

“Tell you what, let me send an ambulance and we’ll see what we can do.”

“Alright then,” she said.

Olivia put down the phone and stared at the door. She could still hear the hole’s whistly gusting, but she didn’t want to look at it again until the ambulance arrived. She couldn’t imagine what she was capable of doing about it anyway.  She was a middle-aged bookkeeper who’d lived in the same house she was born in, her whole life. She’d never been anywhere or done anything other than attend work, church and book club. She didn’t possess any of the qualities required to battle a black hole. What was needed was someone extraordinary — someone quick, practical and experienced.

“Oh why couldn’t this have happened on someone else’s porch,” Olivia said, squeezing the flesh between her lip and nose. “It shouldn’t be up to me to deal with this.”

She heard a wail in the distance — the ambulance was approaching. At the last moment, Olivia realized that it too would get drawn into the hole. Panicked, she rushed to the phone.

But it was too late. The siren muffled and she caught a glimpse of a blurred red van being whooshed down the hole. Olivia felt guilty and sad for the people inside the ambulance. She should never have called.

In a hallway chair, Olivia watched the black hole for hours and hours until darkness fell. In the dim light, the black hole took on a luminous quality, like black velvet. It was heavy and deep; rich with complexity and texture. While still terrifying, it was oddly beautiful, just as she imagined a wild animal would be up close. Not that Olivia had been near anything more exotic than a goat—travelling in an aeroplane was out of the question and besides, she suffered from allergies.

Dawn broke. She wondered what the last thing to be drawn into the hole would be. The ocean? Clouds? The sun itself? It occurred to her that when it was done, her familiar world would be gone, replaced with emptiness; filled with nothing.

Olivia got up from her chair. At the hallway closet, she put on a coat and buttoned it up to the neck, the heavy twill catching the delicate skin of her throat. She tied a scarf around her head and dug behind hangers of beige coats for her umbrella. When she found it, she hooked it over her arm and strode to the front door. She spat lightly on her fingertips, smoothed down her eyebrows and stepped forward towards the chasm. As her feet entered space, her stooped shoulders uncurled and she spread out, into the unknown.

Eleanor Talbot lives in South Africa.