Miriam Sturdee + Kate Charles

Hole in the Wall

Thursday, November 6th, 2008
Illustration for prose by Kate Charles

The hole in the wall appeared like a portent. Panelled with dark slats of rotting wood, the mass was edged by the simpering grey outline of damp plaster. That gaping patch was such a resonance of space.

The men who came to look at it appeared at the door accompanied by a sense of ownership and said that it was spreading. Inside that house now, there was something belonging to them. ‘Structurally unsound’  was the well-worn phrase they issued, allowing it to pervade. These men had the faces of dogs, but the papers they handed over felt clean. Their papers called the hole, ‘the specified area’, ‘the problem place’, or ‘NW corner 259’, this latter figuring only at the start of the document. The survey was left face up on the kitchen table.

The television stood below and beside the hole. On winter evenings the family sat watching the screen. Hanging above their still heads were three architect’s designs, graphic sketches of computerized lines. Their faces were content.

It was not Anna, the little girl, who spoke to the hole first. It was Martin. Or rather, the hole spoke and Martin listened.

You’re ugly said the hole. What you do is worthless,   I’m bigger than you. The hole also talked about sport and advertisements. It liked the one with the gorilla. It appeared beautiful to Martin when it spoke and he stood rapt in front of it, between his family and the television, gazing at the hole and its frenzied edges. Its dark grain almost pulsed as it spoke; it shivered, beguiling him.

Come to think of it, Martin thought, it isn’t a hole at all. The dark wooden panels are still there, behind the plaster, line after line. The gaps between them are slight and the wood is so swarthy, it’s a feature rather than an absence.

We should keep it, Martin said.
When the dog men came back, Martin slipped the latch. He was not surprised by their arrival. They came one morning when the sun was high and the sky drained. Their trained eyes saw that between every wall the insulation was being eaten up. Two more holes had opened up and become clear space so that sometimes, returning again and again, the men were able to stand on the path and watch Martin’s wife in the bathroom.

During this first return Martin waited in darkness, tucked in the corner by the first hole, watching them through the window, statues in his garden throughout the night. At some grey point of dawn they pushed fresh papers below the front door and turned away. Martin threw them in the bin. His wife saw his smooth flinging as belonging to a game, as if he were bowling for a team, or a coconut, or a hated window. Yet it was not a game she was wholly witness to.

Entering the house was easy as now there had emerged a yawning space between the front lawn and the kitchen. The children didn’t bother using the front door anymore, flinging their bags onto the floor as they rambled up the path. One day they arrived home from school before their parents. The dog-faced men were walking silently around the kitchen, finding the mugs and some milk to make tea. Sitting on the wooden kitchen chairs, they slurped their spoils. Alice dragged James upstairs by his clammy hand. They would play dress up, she insisted. Martin appeared at the front door, keys glinting in his stubby hands. Putting their cups down, the men stood and walked out through the hole, and down the path.

Martin went to rest in the sitting room and ask his favourite hole how its day had been. Above his head the children clattered and thumped. James was being hotly cocooned in a turquoise dress, arms raised in a forced hail against his ears as Alice tugged the material around his knees. Both children snickered, complicit in their make-believe.