I am at work when my husband discovers the sinkhole, small and unassuming, hiding in a part of our yard we never visit. He texts me to tell me it exists, but I am busy pretending to be busy. I don’t see the text until I’m walking through the front door, calling out “I’m home” to the quiet emptiness.
He’s in the yard with the dog on a leash. The dog is whining at the hole; even he can sense the strangeness.
“That definitely wasn’t there yesterday,” I say.
“These things happen when they happen,” my husband tells me, the leash clutching hand on his hip, the other playing with the dog’s ears, a motion that is comforting to both of them.
“What are we supposed to do with it?” I can feel worry flooding my body, taking away my appetite, clenching my muscles.
“Tend to it,” says my husband, with all the confidence that he is right.
We start with dirt. The dirt from the planters in the backyard, the planters on the front porch. The weird pile of dirt we thought we’d use for landscaping but never did. Slowly we feed it to the sinkhole to see what it does. Me, two shovelfuls in the morning. My husband, darting home at lunch for another. The two of us, a shovelful each, for dinner.
The dog stops using the backyard for his business. He’ll only go out front, and he tries to hold it for walks. The farther he can get from the hole, it seems, the better.
When we bring up the change with our friends, they say “Give it time.” They say “Time diminishes all sinkholes. Just honor it. Give it the space it deserves.”
So, when my husband is out, I go outside and put some lit candles around the sinkhole. I sing it a lullaby.
My husband wakes up at odd hours to measure it, run his fingers along its edges. He speaks to it sometimes, when he’s outside doing something else, and his hushed musings float through open windows to my ears. He tells the sinkhole about his day, his boss, his ideas for a podcast. And I am relieved to be unburdened.
In thanks, I toss vegetable scraps into the sinkhole, so it knows the extent of my gratitude.
If my husband notices the vegetable scraps he doesn’t say. I don’t mention his hamburger buns, the heels from loaves of bread. I toss in an unwanted pork chop, some wilted lettuce. And every night, we cover it all with a thin layer of dirt.
Sometimes, of course, I am furious at the sinkhole. Our new fence is lopsided now, our yard a mess. And it’s always on my mind, what it might do, what it might consume. I worry if I’m paying it too much attention, waking up early for it and spending time with it after dinner. I can’t sleep through the night for the thought of it out there, speechless and unassuming, waiting for me. I go out in my nightgown sometimes, barefoot in the mud, to stare and stare and stare at it. Has it grown? Has it receded? Is this all a dream?
We go to breweries where we can bring our dog, just in case. Only leave if he can leave with us. Our friends say maybe it’s time to stop feeding the sinkhole. “It’ll only get bigger if you pay attention to it,” they say.
“But you told us time would fix it,” we say.
“Well, yes.” But then they avert their eyes.
At work, too, my coworkers give me space. “To process the sinkhole,” they whisper, and squeeze my hand. “Let us know if you need any food.” As if suddenly I can’t make lasagna because of the sinkhole.
I give it meatloaf. Meatloaf just for the sinkhole. I give it potatoes I found under the sink. I give it gummy worms and laugh, because worms, because dirt. I give it moldy cheese and slimy deli turkey and a hunk of cake gone stale.
I throw all our non-registry wedding gifts into the sinkhole. I throw a faded pair of jeans in too. I chuck in a Bible I never opened, a little piece of wall art about love being gracious and kind. All the flowers everyone sent because of the sinkhole, gone into the sinkhole.
I know that my husband is offering too. I can hear him outside at night when he thinks I’m asleep. I can tell the dirt is disturbed in the morning. I can see that the hole isn’t lessening, isn’t deepening, is just changing shape, an inch wider here, narrower there, here and there and here.
Some days, I scream when I see it, and when I tell my panicked husband the thing has definitely grown, he rubs my back and says he’s pretty sure it’s smaller actually. Others, he begins compiling a list of contractors who might make quick work of the thing, even though I’m sure it’s diminished.
The house does not fall into the sinkhole. The driveway doesn’t buckle. The dog stops growling, even, and returns to his territory.
The sinkhole takes up permanent residence in my head, and I decide it can have a little apartment in the back of my mind. “A place to relax,” I tell the sinkhole one night as I sip directly from a bottle of wine. “You can stay, but be a quiet tenant.”
The sinkhole respects this, I suppose.
Occasionally, it is bigger. Occasionally, it is smaller. We keep going to the backyard, one at a time, with our offerings, arms ladened, the sinkhole waiting, time passing.
Kathryn Ordiway (she/her) is a technical editor and fiction writer. She studied English at Saint Vincent College. Her work has appeared in Wrongdoing Magazine, Mud Season Review, and other lit mags. She lives in central Oklahoma, with her husband and dog. She's on Twitter @KatOrdiway