short story that i wrote as part of my degree.
I found the gap on a Tuesday evening. In the summer. This summer, I think, although it feels much longer ago than that. It was hot, hotter than it had been in years, so hot we couldn’t close the windows, couldn’t stop the outside world from encroaching. Incessant babbling drifting over wooden fences, snatches of conversations I could have lived without. The permanent smell of burnt meat and factor 50 sun cream, kids screaming on the park behind the house.
Elise was still living with me then, she’d phoned to say she would be home late. Late had become the new on time over the past few months, meetings and deadlines keeping her at work into the evening more often than not. And when she was home she struggled to think about anything else, slumping brain dead on to the sofa in front of some awful reality TV, often sighing so loud her breath would lift her fringe gently off her face.
Earlier in the evening I had planned to cook, but the heat had a way of making any task feel Herculean. Instead I sat in the kitchen and stared at my phone, bought some records, read some emails.
Our cat came home. I heard him before I saw him, a low growl that only ever meant one thing. He bounded into the kitchen, back straight and tail high, his black fur bristling, between his teeth a chaffinch. Still just about alive between clenched jaws, the cat seemed to take satisfaction from biting down harder against the bird’s last gasps, toying with its will to survive.
I followed the cat around the house parading his trophy until he became bored and dropped it in the hall, at the bottom of the stairs, then sat in front of me looking up expectantly. Proud, dad? He didn’t say, and my admonishment he didn’t understand. He just rubbed my leg and ran back out into the gloaming.
And then I found it. I reach down to retrieve the bird’s corpse and the gap appears. Six inches from the ground where the first step of the stairs should be there is a rip, an opening in the air that shouldn’t be there. The light from within is at first blinding, a slash of intense luminosity so bright it almost hurts to look directly in to.
I stand, and the gap disappears. I patrol around the space where I know I had seen something yet nothing reveals itself. I kick at the stairs, run my sock along the carpet looking for what I am not sure. And then slowly, tentatively, I return to my knees, and the light is there again.
The gap appears to exist in two-dimensional space, a flat tear in the room, like a nick on a canvas, an unintended look at the painting that came before. I crab-walk around the floor, ascertaining from what angles and distance the phenomenon still exists. My vocabulary fails me, and I resort to thinking of it as a window, and eventually as The Gap.
Elise comes home, opening the front door against my outstretched leg. I leap up and say hello, and she stares down, her face twisted in disgust.
What on earth-
she begins, and I say
I know, it’s strange but-
and then I glance down and realise she’s staring at the dead bird in my hand, and I shut up. No need to worry her with anything else.
I forget the gap for the rest of the evening, autopilot through dinner and TV and then to bed. However, the next day I wake at five with nothing else on my mind. Carefully extricating myself from a hug I slip from under the duvet and gingerly walk to the bottom of the stairs.
At first, I think the gap is gone, but with a little shuffling and dropping closer to the floor it reappears. As I stare my eyes adjust to the light and start to make sense of what I’m looking at. An explosion of colours gently turn in a distant sky, spinning faster as they recede into the distance, like a whirlpool.
Below fields stretch to the horizon, greens and yellows, wind blowing through grass and grain which sways hypnotically, ceaselessly. At the periphery smudges of black punctuate the sea of grass, maybe buildings, maybe mountains, maybe people? My mind struggles to maintain a sense of scale and perspective, a slight nausea washing over me as things never seem to resolve quite right.
Unable to fully unravel what I’m looking at I try a different sense, crouching lower and bringing my ear close to the gap. As upon first discovery the loudest sound emanating from within is a whistling noise, like wind through a shell or the deep reediness of a child blowing across bottles filled with water. The sound plays up and down a major scale, the melody meandering and never seeming to repeat itself. The more I concentrate on it the deeper and wider the sound becomes, a continuous stream of single notes produced by tens, hundreds of separate sounds.
And beyond the melody there are voices, distant, shouting at one another. Like a festival heard from three fields away the voices all exist just far enough out of reach that I can’t make sense of the words I am hearing. The hum and murmur of human voices is undeniable, but I singularly fail to identify even one word, familiar or otherwise, as though overhearing other people’s phone calls on trains.
The bubbling bed of voice and the thick whistle of melody continue and continue, and the whirlpool of colours in the sky turns and turns, and the grass continues to sway and sway. And I kneel there long enough that when Elise wakes and emerges from the bedroom at seven my knees have gone dead enough that I stumble over as I try to stand up and act normal.
She asks what I’m doing, and I make an excuse that probably isn’t very plausible, but its early and she doesn’t care so she frowns a little and goes to get ready for the day ahead. Pulled from the gap I miss it instantly but realise getting on with things is probably the best course of action.
Over the coming days and weeks, I start stealing time with the gap when I can. I get up a few hours before our alarm, get into work a little later and finish a little earlier. When Elise falls asleep I’ll sometimes wander down for a quick look, glass of water in hand or flushing the toilet after I’ve finished, cover story intact.
And inevitably people start to notice. In trouble at work, Elise confused at home, excuses piling up, I agree to get help to get people off my back. Elise has seen me kneeling by the door on more than a few occasions, though she never directly mentions this to me. Instead she suggests I am under too much stress, that I need to take a little time, that I can confide in her, tell her whatever is troubling me. I smile, and I go through the motions and I sit in waiting rooms and doctor’s offices and find that if I just keep quiet people will generally make up their own mind about what’s going on. No need to mention the gap, no need to share it.
As long as I get back to the gap I’m happy to go along with anything they say. Catatonia, anhedonia, melancholia. I nod, I shrug, I wait to get home.
Eventually Elise’s gentle concern turns to tears, sleeping in separate rooms, concerned smiles of distant love on the doorstep as I miss another day of work, until work says they regrettably need to let me go. I feign disappointment, just as I do when Elise walks out for last time.
And then, left alone, I forget to sleep.
I spend blissful days on my knees, supplicant before the gap, hungry for its light and its sound. The minutes I spend dealing with sustenance and hygiene shrink, my routine a choreographed whirlwind of efficiency, getting me back on the floor as quick as possible.
Light from outside has long become a distraction so I take bin liners and tape them around the windows. It’s at this point I realise how much I shake when I’m away from the gap, how my head begins to throb with pain and my mouth and throat dry. My breaks become less frequent, the few things I need to survive closer to where I kneel.
It takes several days without sun and several nights without sleep for me to finally ask the simplest of questions. The thought just hadn’t occurred until now, when free of the distractions and constraints of the world my mind has the space to have its epiphany, its eureka moment- what would happen if I touched the gap?
It takes another few days before I pluck up the courage to reach out, worried that my interference could ruin such a perfect thing, or worse still cause it to disappear altogether. Eventually the curiosity is too much to bear and I take a deep breath and stretch out a flat hand towards it.
My phone is ringing somewhere in the house, and further away someone is knocking at the back door. I kneel before the gap.
My hand trembles so much I wrap my other hand around my wrist, elbow on my thigh, try to steady myself. I feel a tingle of warmth as I approach the gap but can’t be sure if this isn’t psychosomatic, and then I’m holding my breath and clenching my every muscle and my fingertips reach the gap and-