It was a Thursday when the sinkhole appeared in the centre of their bedroom. Afterwards, Sam, who had been working on his appreciation of science fiction under Huck's tutelage, considers that this may have been explanation enough.
-- It's an invitation.
-- It's a big hole in the floor.
-- You need to stop being so literal.
-- I can't help it; I'm a lawyer.
-- Not anymore.
-- It's a surprisingly hard habit to lose, Huck.
-- I can't see the bottom.
-- Odd. Considering we're on the top floor. I was expecting Mr. Campbell shaking his fist at us and complaining about queers and Jews, to be honest.
-- I can't see anything, actually.
-- I should call someone.
-- Who? The hole police?
-- Come away from it, okay?
-- I just want to see what's down there. Do we have a flashlight?
-- No, we don't.
-- Sam, come on. Shining a light down there is unlikely to do me any damage.
-- We don't know what's down there.
-- Which is why I was thinking I'd have a look.
-- We don't have a flashlight either way.
-- I'm pretty sure we do, but whatever. Matches?
-- Why would I have matches?
-- To set things on fire, usually. And to provide a source of light.
-- No, Huck.
-- Don't you have an old lighter somewhere?
-- My dad's old one.
-- It's in ... here. It's in the dresser drawer.
-- ... Yes.
-- I still can't see anything.
Sam is looking at pictures of him as it happens. Photos of his (boyfriend?) in various states of undress. His favourite is the one of Huck's back, naked to the waist and staring down to something at his feet, before he grew the beard. He was wearing black corduroy pants with a red belt that Sam always wants to pull his fingers into. Something about the way the belt has deformed slightly just above the sacrum, around the darkened hollow that fits Sam's thumb perfectly. The hollow that cascades down from its source between his shoulder blades, the place which, Sam thinks, if it was possible for everyone to see what he sees, would ensure that everyone fell in love with him too. His father had the same place.
It happened in the beginning because of Sam's idée fixe with people named Ziegler and Huck's malleable sense of self-identity, but has endured because they realised, after a while, that they liked each other. And now Huck jokes about being a kept boy and calls Sam a renaissance patron, supporting Huck's art in exchange for sexual favours and the occasional gift of Huck's pot pies, which are really good, and protective against the winters in New York. The truth is that Sam hasn't got anyone better to be and, now that his father is dead, also has a lot of money that he has no idea what to do with. Trying to get another Ziegler into the newspapers seems like a good way to spend the stuff.
The Manhattan apartment that Sam bought outright the day after his father's funeral is, even to someone who grew up on the West Coast in undeniable affluence, outrageous. The bedroom alone is 700 square foot, which is, he supposes, why it is possible to fit a sizeable sinkhole in the middle of it.
But this is how they have made a new life: the smell of Huck's head, sleepy and full of hair oil, on their pillows and the view from the window in the bedroom which holds in its landscape the little desk that Huck uses to write at. He writes the sort of stuff that it is difficult to get published unless you know the right people or went to the right school, but Huck is like his father in more than looks and is determined to make things as hard for himself as possible. Sam has offered to help, and eventually he thinks Huck will want his help, but not for now.
So Sam's job is to keep the refrigerator stocked and plenty of space on the bookshelves, and to be there, or disappear, as required.
And he had thought, by now, that he would no longer be able to get drunk on the reality of Huck's body, that genetic accident that has gone some way, almost imperceptibly, to soothing him so that he no longer aches, every day. But he still can, and does, which is how he knows it isn't over.
The hole is dark to the bottom. Sam can see three distinct layers of rock, and then a grey expanse, and then nothing. It opens beneath their feet, by the side of the bed, and has swallowed the rather nice rug that Sam bought in some store he remembers intimidated him and probably wasn't Turkish, but looked as if it could have been. It is also between them and the bedroom door.
-- I'm sure I read a story like this once.
-- Are you sure you didn't write a story like this once?
-- Where d'you think it goes?
-- I don't know, Sam.
He says it like the sentence's second clause should be something like 'and I know you aren't going to let me find out' and Sam starts wondering exactly when Huck -- his Huck who would pick a log fire and a good book over almost anything other people would consider more exciting -- became someone who wanted to jump down mysterious holes.
-- It's late.
-- It's past two in the morning.
-- I know, I can read the clock from here.
And this last is bullshit, because he hasn't got his glasses on, and he can't see worth a damn without them. Sam tested him once, and his hand was less than six inches from Huck's face before he groaned and said, "Yes, I love you too. And you'll never get the Sharpie off your skin, you know."
-- Do you think you can sleep?
He turns to Sam and smiles. In the moonlight, and the street light, his eyes glitter.
-- Maybe. After.
-- Ah. I see.
The first time they did this was in the back of Sam's Mercedes. Huck was wearing an old Smiths tee and an old pair of dress pants that sagged in the ass. And because he was young and because he looked like Toby and because when he opened his mouth and said Sam's name there was that familiar scratch over the central vowel, Sam thought he was beautiful. Maybe he wouldn't have done if Toby had still been alive. He likes to think he wouldn't have, but he still isn't sure, even now.
It had been a long time. That wasn't the reason that his hands were clammy and he felt like he was going to throw up, but that was the reason he chose to stick with. And Huck had been shy then, too. Unaware that bodies mean both less and more than he thought, and that Sam couldn't have cared less about the little belly above his belt and the way the hair on his chest crept up to his collarbones in a way which his own explorations of bodies had taught him was undesirable. Sam had pressed his mouth there as a counter-lesson and been overwhelmed by the reality of skin and sweat and heat and proximity in a way which, while it was happening, seemed distant to him, metaphorical almost, as though he is back in physics class, trying to understand super-colliders, the movement of atoms, the weight of light, the collision of spatial bodies.
Afterwards he had tried to work out whether Huck knew, really knew. And then later on he tried to work out whether Huck cared. He gets a yes and a no each time, but can never decide which answer belongs to which question.
This time it is familiar and good and they laugh because they know each other and how ridiculous desire is, their desire or anyone's. Huck's hands and feet are cold, probably from the cold draught coming up from the hole. Sam holds Huck's hands between his own and when he begins kissing them Huck insinuates his first two fingers into Sam's mouth. They kiss as wet as eating peaches and when Sam opens him up it's as inexplicable as it was in the back seat of his Mercedes and Huck's deep sighs, his gulps for air, make him just as hard.
Because he is thirty-five years old, Sam sleeps easily, with Huck's head a pleasant weight on his chest. When he wakes up again, for a second he can fool himself that the weight is still there, but by the second blink he has accepted that it is not.
The old Smiths tee that Huck sleeps in, as well as his black boxer shorts, part of the set that Sam got him when his stock of old pairs was just too ragged to bear anymore, lie at the lip of the sinkhole. So is the golden chain he always wears (wore) around his neck, the one with the ring hanging from it. Toby's ring.
He would sell the apartment, but who would buy it with a giant, inexplicable hole in the centre of the master bedroom. I mean, just the draughts alone. So he lets it stand and buys a plane ticket instead, to the place where he always ends up running to, it seems. California is just the same and as soon as he gets off the plane he's twenty-one again and all his failures ahead of him.
He goes straight to the beach and takes off his shirt and sits at the shore in a white t-shirt and his jeans and stuffs his hands into the sand as deep as he can make them go. If he cries it's only for a minute or too, because he knows he doesn't really deserve any longer than that.
For a month or so he sets himself the task of living in a continuous present and if he eats, he eats, if he remembers to sleep then he gets rest, and he counts up the minutes and forgets them as soon as they're gone and he burns everything he still remembers up in the memory hole he has made in his mind. He plays games of Solitaire, as the broken-hearted are meant to. He starts to write again, for the first time in a very long time, and understands without having to be told (even by the voice of his partner in his head) that it isn't very good. But that doesn't matter. The thing is to put one word in front of another. Eventually, he is certain, he is certain someone promised him once, the accumulation of words will make something that appears to make sense.
He expects the dust. He might even have been drawn on the graffiti. The decay that seeps through the walls and gathers in puddles ink-black around the various door jambs is less surprising than it should be, but the clues were there already -- nothing about the apartment is usual anymore, the corridors echoed his footsteps back to him and everywhere feels cold, from the lobby to the elevators. He wasn't really expecting his key to turn in the door, but it did.
The view from the window is the same. Central Park in the snow and he wonders if he's just cold because a year in Laguna Beach will do that to a guy, but he's pretty sure it isn't that. At his feet a Turkish rug is anchored as firmly on the floor as the finest parquet will allow. The figure in the window, sitting at the desk, doesn't look cold -- wearing nothing but an old tee, bare feet. Over his head the spikes of the skycrapers and the oncoming storm front. All Sam can see is the way his hair curls around his ears and the shape of his glasses as he looks down at the desk.
The chapbook that was mailed to his house in California from an address in in New York was small and unpretentious, filled from cover to cover with stories he thinks he ought to remember, somehow, but doesn't, as if they came from dreams. He reads the first few in the bath on the morning that the book arrives and it's not until after he's dried himself off and is getting dressed, standing next to his bed, that he realises his mind is full of the stories, misty with them, the way his head is after he wakes up from the kind of dream that he wants to remember, but which fades with each hour he spends waking.
It was all he had. All he had to go on, to go back to.
The shape of the figure at the desk morphs in Sam's head, unable, seemingly to listen to the input from his eyes. He cannot decide whose back it is, the shape of whose shoulder blades. It (he) is turning round from the window as it says,
-- What took you so long?