Ladies We Are Floating in Space
by Hannah Gregory
Michael & Olivia
When the realtor brought us into the living room, we couldn’t help but notice the hole in the floor, roped off by orange traffic cones and yellow caution tape. There was also this… not sure about the best way to describe it… a blood-curdling scream coming from the hole? Which—if we’re being honest here—we both found a little distracting. The realtor pointed out the old push-button light switch, turning a fixtureless light bulb hanging naked from the ceiling on-and-off, on-and-off, just to prove to us that it worked and added to the charm of the whole place. We asked him what’s with the hole in the floor, the screams rattling in our heads, beginning to feel like they were our own screams, twisting and breaking us over-and-over for eternity. He waved his arm over the hole and was like, Oh, that thing? We leaned our heads over the tape and saw that the hole continued into the basement. In the basement, there was a deeper hole that was… well, it looked like someone dropped a bucket of Hole Paint on the concrete floor, but it also looked like the hole just kept falling into infinite, you know, hole-ness.
“Apparently, the previous owner was doing yoga one day and accidentally knocked the light fixture down, one of those vintage glass Art Deco-types with sculpted leaves. Bummer! It landed on her baby. Phew! The baby was okay. But, bummer! The fixture punched through the floor, through the basement foundation, opening this Infinite Hole Thing, and the baby fell through the hole. But, phew! The baby survived because you could hear her screaming nonstop. It made the news. The fire department came, but no one wanted to risk going in the hole to save the baby. She hired a company that specialized in rescuing babies from wells. She hired a private investigator, then a retired astronaut. Same thing, they all refused to enter the hole. No one knew why her baby was crying or see where she was. The baby sounded so close, like you could just reach in and grab her. So, one day, the mother jumped in the hole and the screaming just got louder.” The realtor clapped his hands together and let out a joyful sigh. “Anyway, this house is a real bargain.”
Everything in the house was perfect. The fenced-in backyard with garden potential. A peach tree. A pergola on the back deck. Wood beams in the ceilings. Exposed brick in the kitchen. Walk-in pantry. Two-car garage. Walking distance to parks and downtown. Good schools even though we hated children and sometimes each other. The timing was right and our rent was about to get hiked up again. We negotiated down to a price we almost felt bad about, but moved in two months later.
Doug & Evelyn
We were attempting to fix the toilet when the dog went missing. The house was quiet when the mail person dropped off the mail in our mail hole. We wondered why there wasn’t any barking. We stopped what we were doing and looked around the house, covered in shit water and barbs at each other’s decision-making skills. We walked around the yard and then took short laps around the neighborhood calling her name. That night, we ordered takeout and had lousy, greasy, post-takeout sex. We both felt numb-to-the-touch in our own unique, uncomfortable ways.
The dog was this black lab thing. She liked to dig holes and pull mice out of the ground, limp in her mouth as an offering. The shelter named her Xena. That dog was a last-ditch attempt on our relationship, something to tie us together, something to redirect Doug’s over-attentiveness, something to calm Evelyn’s irritation at having too much attention directed at her over the years. Xena molded to our personalities, providing exuberant reciprocity and mild indifference to each of us. Xena was supposed to be a proxy for children. Doug wanted kids, expanding the family unit the way one builds kingdoms; Evelyn did not want to let an alien live rent-free in her body. For a time, the dog provided what each of us needed in the relationship and delayed the Having Kids conversation.
We stapled Missing Dog signs to telephone poles. Vacant staples from old flyers climbed the wrinkled, splintered wood like busted ladders. We wondered how many dogs had been lost on this pole. We drove around the neighborhood yelling her name in forlorn pairs. You would think her name was Xena-Xena, the way we sang her name.
Our friends Olivia and Michael just bought a house and they asked us our advice about adopting a dog. They always wanted one, but their previous apartment did not allow dogs. We told them that having a dog was a lot of work and their lives would revolve around it.
One day, a dog ran up to us when we were putting up Missing Dog signs. Doug crouched down and wept, and Evelyn stood there waiting for him to finish weeping. It was not our dog, but it was being treated the way imitation crab stands in for actual crab sometimes. No one has ever cried about imitation crab before.
We’re not sure how Xena vanished actually; all of the doors and windows were closed. She was smart, but not that smart.
At the housewarming party, Doug’s cans of Narragansett never got warm in his hand as he twirled his keys in the other. He needed to be constantly occupied by a project and cold beers were a tincture for his unease. On the drive over, he tried to bring up all the things he looked forward to in this party, but Evelyn wanted to make a plan to leave by a certain time. Her face had these curves that caused his gaze to continually fall into her, like a river passing over a waterfall. As Doug caught glimpses of her while driving, he had the sense of being pulled into her, to continually please her even if it made him feel guilty. Her beauty made him feel like an ogre sometimes.
He wondered if this was bothering him. It might have also been the faint sound of screaming coming from the house, covered up by music from a Bluetooth speaker, at a loud volume that felt intentional to mask the screaming. It just caused more yelling at the party. Couples playing cornhole would try to yell jokes or taunts that no one could hear, as their bags slid or knocked each other’s bags into the hole.
Doug was drunk when he asked for a tour of the house. Michael and Olivia demurred, saying maybe later. “The inside is a bit of a mess.” Doug busied himself by playing cornhole by himself. None of his bags made it in the hole. His bags made defeating plops on the board or missed it altogether. He watched Evelyn seem/pretend like she was having a good time, talking/flirting with others. People were drawn to her, even if the attention was worthless emotional currency for her. The whole sight made him angry.
People trickled out after a while, until Doug and Evelyn were somehow the last people at the party. Michael turned off the music and the screaming gave off the feeling of discomfort and anticipation. It felt like Doug was waiting his turn before entering a haunted house. Evelyn and Olivia were deep in conversation about something. Olivia propped her head with her arm on a table, looking tired, but listening intently to everything Evelyn said.
Michael walked over to Doug and said, “Come on, I’ll give you the tour.”
By now, Day-Drunk Doug was turning into Day-Hangover Doug. Inside, the screaming shook his brains, while Michael walked him through each room from the least loud (bathroom in the main bedroom) to the loudest (the living room).
“What’s with the screaming?” Inquisitive-But-Trying-To-Be-Polite Doug finally asked.
“Oh, that?” Michael scratched his head and told him a story, something about a haunted Art Deco light fixture, a yoga teacher and her baby who fell in a well, but the well was not a well, but a hole made of infinite hole-ness in their basement. They covered the Floor Hole up with plywood and a rug until they could afford to pay someone to plug the floor and the basement.
“Can I see it?” asked Doug, twirling his keys.
“Yeah, let me get some earplugs.”
They walked down into the basement. Doug stared at the hole. He felt like he could walk right across the hole or fall into it forever. It was not that big, maybe four or five feet wide. Doug tried to ask questions, but it was hard to hear with the screaming and earplugs. He moved closer to the hole, spinning his keys on his finger. His mouth started to gape open as he leaned into it. His keys spun off his index finger and landed on the other side of the hole, missing it and landing with a metallic thud neither of them would have been able to hear. When he stepped forward to grab his keys, his foot, followed by the rest of his body, fell into the hole and never came out.
How does one have a funeral for someone who vanished in a hole? was Evelyn’s primary question these days. She was challenged by trying to figure out if she should file a missing person report (she knew where Doug was) or a death certificate issued (he seemed to be alive based on his screaming).
Michael and Olivia had been stopping by Evelyn’s condo. They both felt guilty about Doug falling in the hole. Evelyn reassured them that it was not a big deal and she was surprised that they did not pick up on her relationship with Doug falling apart. It seemed like Michael and Olivia needed Evelyn more than she needed them, as she witnessed them unravelling right in front of her. They had the look of new parents, constantly attending to a wailing child in the night. They were passive-aggressive and short with each other. They had a biting response for every comment.
“…and that’s how the milk expired.”
“It wouldn’t have been that way if you actually made those lattes like you planned.”
One night, Evelyn asked them to help her install a new light fixture. Olivia was working, so Michael came over and helped her put the fixture in the ceiling. It was simple, modern fixture, its curves redirecting one’s vision towards its center, flowing off into the ambience of the room. They both admired it. Evelyn put her hand on Michael’s arm as gratitude, which he understood as attraction. He looked to her, fell into her, his gaze constantly moving over her face, feeling the need to please her. He had the feeling that anything he did for her would never be enough. Evelyn was in a reckless post-breakup abandon, where consequences were non-existent and serving her needs were the only thing that mattered. They had awkward, angry sex. Evelyn did not regret it, even though she found herself unsatisfied by the end of it. Michael seemed to put too much emotion into the whole ordeal. Afterwards, he put on his clothes and crawled away in speechless shame.
He never came back around after that. The fixture started to settle away from the ceiling, leaving a gap. She ended up paying someone to fix his work. The handywoman said, “Some real amateur work here.” Everything was so dyke about her, the coveralls, the claw hammer hanging from the belt loop. Evelyn had sex with her too after offering her some lemonade and a grilled cheese.
The hole got louder after Doug fell in. Michael tried stuffing more insulation in the floor hole, but then the screaming felt like it was reverberating in the walls. Olivia was angry at him for doing nothing to fix the hole, so Michael kept the insulation in the floor to remind her that he was capable of fixing things, even though it made things louder. He bought concrete to show her he was going to do something about it. He watched DIY videos on foundation repair and clips of Carl Sagan. Olivia questioned his ability to repair the hole himself.
“Well, what the fuck did you think we were going to do when you said convinced me to buy a house with a screaming hole?”
“It wasn’t like that.”
To Michael, she was always issuing defensive manipulations of the truth. He was in a constant state of wanting to punch a wall, but instead he would take long drives around town and got drunk in secluded corners of the house.
He never told Olivia about having sex with Evelyn. He began to reframe his guilt as survival. I needed to do it for myself.
He would go to bars with friends to escape his house and complain about Olivia and the screaming. Michael got drunk whenever he went out, even when he suggested to his friends that they would grab just a beer. He was loud, not realizing he did not have to yell in the bar to be understood. His friends suggested therapy and stopped responding to his texts after a while.
Olivia bought items to cope with the screaming. Noise-cancelling headphones. White noise machine. Earplugs. Michael began to hide them as retaliation to Olivia’s badgering about the hole. He saw it as an act of defiance and she saw it as manipulation and abuse.
One night, Michael was drunk in the backyard. Olivia yelled out to him, saying she needed help moving something. He stumbled into the house and helped her move a bookshelf to another wall. She kept demanding micro-adjustments.
Olivia took a step back. “There, that looks good.”
“Does it?” Michael’s irritations had ballooned into anger, into hate for Olivia’s questions, her needs, her wants, her desires.
She walked backwards away from him. “Why are you like this?”
Michael was going to scream why she was like this. Instead, he went to a closet and pulled out a claw hammer. He screamed and swore as he dismantled an entire wall down to the studs, chunks and powder of drywall covering him and the floor, until he made a hole his body could pass through. He was so preoccupied by this project that he did not notice Olivia escaping the house. In their bedroom, he grabbed her white noise machine, her earplugs, her noise-cancelling headphones, and carried them in his arms to the basement.
He stood at the edge of the hole, under the dim, yellowed lighting. He looked down into the hole before throwing all of her items into it. He stacked pieces of plywood across the hole, while taking sips from a bottle of whiskey. He mixed concrete in a five-gallon bucket and started working his way from the edges of the hole, layering concrete as he worked towards the center.
It was around 3 a.m. when he took a break. He sat on the edge of the hole with his legs dangling into it before laying his back down on the cold concrete. It reminded him of the time he went to the Grand Canyon and he sat the edge with his feet hanging over. Olivia was scared that he would fall into the precipice. He was in total control of his body and he was annoyed that she did not trust him with that judgment.
Michael awoke wrapped in screaming, surrounded by darkness except for a light above him. The basement light. Just out of reach. He did not know what time it was. Maybe it was time to make his way to bed. He tried to push himself off the concrete, but there was nothing to push off of. There was no resistance in any of his movements. He was completely suspended in air, in a vacuum of nothing.
When Olivia went to gather clothing, toiletries, and her meds from the house the next day, the first thing she noticed was the louder screams. Evelyn accompanied her in case Michael was hanging around the house, ready to launch some pitiful plea for forgiveness or rehash some faulty argument. They looked for Michael, searching every room, every closet, and then in the basement. Empty beer cans and a tipped-over whiskey bottle scattered around the hole, along with a half-assed concrete job. The house seemed quieter to Olivia, even though the screaming was louder. It seemed to breathe more.
The screaming in the house was still unbearable. She spent her nights at Evelyn’s, sleeping in her guest bed. They would stay up late into the night, then early mornings, talking about what to do with the house, then about nothing at all, laughing about their sad boyfriends’ weird ends. Their kinship was cathartic for both of them. Evelyn described what her abusive parents were like and her reluctance of having kids despite Doug’s constant desire to build a family. Families always reminded of her childhood trauma, enduring alcoholic fights and constant berating from them about her weight and image. Olivia talked about how manipulative and destructive Michael was, always turning his emotions inward. It was always there, but the hole made it worse.
“One time, he was trying to replace a burnt-out lightbulb in the oven. For whatever reason, he could not get the threads to align. When he pulled himself out of the oven, he threw the lightbulb across the room and proceeded to smash every spare lightbulb with a hammer. It turns out he was screwing in the lightbulb the wrong way, but refused to believe it.”
Evelyn felt a desire to protect Olivia. “I can’t believe we spent so much time with these assholes.” They cringe-laughed.
One night, they sat in Evelyn’s bed. Evelyn got her laptop and they watched an early 2000s romcom that Olivia somehow never saw. They moved closer to one another to share the laptop between their legs, forming an arced, gapless seam. They fell asleep and woke up in each other’s arms. Olivia turned and looked into Evelyn’s eyes, feeling wanted, desired by them. Evelyn put her hand in Olivia’s hair and they kissed.
Michael & Doug & Xena & The Previous Owner & The Screaming Baby Whose Name We Never Learned
It’s not too bad in the hole if we’re being honest here. Once you get used to it. Maybe we’re just becoming deaf from the screaming. It’s not even our screaming. We think. We’re not screaming. At one point, we thought of that game Snake. Like, whenever you eat an apple, Snake’s body just gets longer. Maybe the hole is the snake. A screaming snake. Whenever one of us falls into the hole, the screaming in the hole gets louder. We’re the apple. Anyway, you get it.
There’s a hole-shaped light above us. Not too bright. Probably the basement.
Hey, throw us some sliders when you get a chance. Ha ha ha.
If you can hear us. Ha ha ha.
Well, anyway, we’re just floating down here in this dark space. Sometimes, we’ll bump into each other. It’s hard to tell how long we’ve been down here. We can’t really move. It’s like we’re swimming in Jell-O. The light looks so close and so far away. Like we can touch it and never will.
Doug found the baby and held on to it. He took off his shirt and fashioned some type of Baby Björn. He always wanted a kid of his own. In a pretty bad way. Good for him. We can’t seem to find the owner, but she’s around here somewhere. We think she might have given up. Lost her mind.
We heard some people talking above us. Something about the hole. A closet guy named Clement? A closet full of semen? A man named Klaus? Klaus and Clement with a semen closet?
No one knows how the dog got down here. But she keeps us company. It is getting a little lonely.
One day (morning? afternoon? evening?) we heard some muffled laughter. Maybe we are losing our hearing. Everything sounds like we’re underwater. Like we’ve got two empty cups on our ears. Anyway. Stuff started falling. Stuff we recognized. Our cell phones. Framed pictures of us with Evelyn and Olivia. Jewelry we gave them for presents. It made us… sad? Like we were being abandoned? Like they gave up? That sucks.
What did they say? God rids ants? Blood pennants? Food bread dance?
While you’re talking about food, why not throw us down a grilled cheese?
Ha ha. Ha.
Olivia & Evelyn
One afternoon, we threw all of the stupid gifts they gave us into the hole. Doug suffered from too much love. Michael suffered from selfishness. Both translated into similar categories of gifts. Jewelry that wasn’t our style. Framed pictures that were too homey looking, with words like Love and Live Life with Laughter and Peace Is Where the Home Is. Doug probably wanted something sentimental. Michael probably picked the first thing he saw at Target.
“Good riddance!” We high-fived and laughed.
Evelyn sold her condo and we used the money to fix the basement. We got a good deal from a small, family-owned foundation repair business. We think they felt bad for us. When they looked at Michael’s unfinished concrete job on the hole, they laughed at what a bad job he did. “He had the right idea, but no, just no. Ha ha. Oh man.”
They plugged the Infinite Hole Thing in the basement like a cork in a bottle and we never heard the screams again. There was a ring in the floor where the hole used to be. It looked like we cut a hole in the basement and buried bodies under the concrete. Which, actually, is not that far from the truth.
We found a quack doctor and a sympathetic town clerk to issue death certificates for Doug and Michael. The town clerk went off on a rant how her husband was annoying her the other night. “Sometimes, I wish he would fall into a hole. Ha ha.” Her laughs lapsed into a smoker’s cough. It was a little uncomfortable.
The house was quiet now and felt like ours. We never realized how ill-fitting our lives used to be. Something always felt incomplete. Like we were all mismatched socks, but not in a stylish, intentional way. Sometimes you meet someone and everything clicks into place. That’s how it feels with us now. Sexy, matching socks.
Anyway, we don’t know what’s next. Marriage? Hm. Kids? Ha ha. No.
We adopted a dog. A scruffy brown terrier named Peanut. She looked scared in the kennel, cowering back in her little cell. When we took her for a walk, she started to look more comfortable. When we brought her home, she opened up, as if she just needed a place to be accepted. She sleeps next to us on the couch and in our bed. She leans her head on our laps looking for love, which we readily give her. Love is not just the act of love, we’ve learned, but the want to give love and the reciprocal expectation of desire. It’s a good thing. It just took an Infinite Hole Thing to swallow our boyfriends for us to realize it.
Hannah Gregory is a trans, queer writer with work published in Passages North, X-R-A-Y, and Okay Donkey. She is a career services director at a community college and lives with her wife and dog in Western Massachusetts. Twitter: @hannah_birds
Photo: Jessica Tan/Unsplash