In past years, someone would come in to announce at the Temperance Bar and Grill or the Post Office or yell across from the set of pumps, next, at the gas station, "The holes are coming in early this year — just saw one at....." The fence outside of Johnson's soybean field, or beside the steps to the library, or on the sidewalk just outside the laundromat. Every year the holes are early, though they always start coming in at about the same time each year, as making the arrival early adds a bit of excitement to an otherwise bland statement of fact. "Early" makes the announcer more observant, the event smelling a little special.
Every year the holes come in, first in the farms and abandoned industrial sites strewn around the boundaries of our town. A hole shows up in a dirt road used by farmers to move farm equipment between fields. A hole settles just beyond where a working barn door swings. A woman living just at the edge finds a new hole down the center of her not—quite—long—enough clothesline as she stumbles about in the too high grass with too many wet clothes and not enough clothespins.
Later, holes start showing up in paved roads, or little depressions creep into front yards. One year a sinkhole large enough to swallow the fountain over at city hall moved in and swallowed the fountain over at city hall. By the end of any hole season, everyone is moving about town with their heads down, watching for holes, old and new. Long term residents just adapt to it; newbies trip and scan side to side, step gingerly and ask long time locals how long does this last, how long before the holes move on?
Given a few months of holes, and everyone getting a bit frayed — even if they are too stoic to admit it — the things begin their migration back or on: away. Season's end, and the holes start to leave. First a few, just like when they arrived; then more, ever more in small flocks and occasionally a great extended murder of holes. Off they go and the burdened roads heal, the gleeful trip hazards just at the edge of porch stoops dry up and the home's occupants quiver in relief — gone is something they have had to look for to miss during the day, calculate to miss each night.
The year the sinkhole took the town fountain, we had to use two good sized diesel pickup trucks to wrench the fountain out, reconnect it, pay a crew of two for a day to get it going again on the restored stretch of flat it had months earlier been but a mildly pristine landmark on.
But that was the happiness of past years. This year, like every year, the holes came in, starting in stray places and odd lots, but according to the usual general pattern. Locals informed each other of the arrivals when those arrivals were a bit out of the year to year norm, or in places where the newly settled hole might cause a tangle. People noted the new arrivals, moved on. Nothing unusual. The annual migration. Every year coming and going, coming and going. Just a part of our town.
Within the first month, most of the holes had settled in. We knew we would have to navigate around all the resting holes, maybe brace structures where a hole wedged itself against a foundation, perhaps accept the loss of a ridge of roses to a surly depression. We shrugged. Two months, and they would be migrating again. Minor repairs, minor damage, flat land until the next migration.
This time, after two months of waiting, we were expecting, as always, someone to pop into the Bar and Grill, or lean over their grocery cart at the discount food—a—rama, and say, "You know that hole that I've been saying takes a chunk out of my tomato patch — well, it left this morning. I still see a lot of holes around town, but I am sure glad that one is gone. I might get three more tomato plants in that garden now, have enough tomatoes eventually to surprise the neighbors." And the silent listener would nod and make note to check on the three or four holes most bedeviling his or her progress, hoping those had been among the early migrators.
Not this year, though. People kept waiting for that first testimony of migration. And waiting. Two weeks past the usual start of the migration and no one tauntingly revealed that any hole they knew of had moved on, retired to wherever the holes go after they leave us. Not a single report out of the migration beginning. People began to look at the holes about their living spaces or common travels and think, "Why don't you be first?"
It was a month past the magic moment when the last of the holes would likely be gone, and yet the holes were as numerous as at the peak of their common residency. Theories began to emerge. We had never asked where the holes go, where they came from, whether they went back to where they originated, or on to some place waiting farther. Could it be that something was blocking them? Could some seasonal home, or some migratory resting place in between, suddenly have become unavailable? Had our rotation in crops, or reshaping the lands, the new strip mall just past the go-cart track, somehow changed our profile to make the holes more comfortable here past their usual season? Or perhaps worse, they had been sapped of their need to migrate, their desire to leave us for elsewhere.
Two months into the time when there should be no holes, we considered demographics, chemistry, news of changes in the counties around us. Reason, reason, reason. Weather, perhaps. An increase in car traffic. All of our answers were maybe, perhaps, could be, possibly, I'd suspect.
This morning, though, Ned, who had been at first mock complaining and then actually complaining about a hole at the end of his ten-year-old driveway, went into the hardware store for a bag of off-brand cement mix. Nobody thought anything of it at first. Ned gets funny ideas, and you never know what he is going to find interesting at the hardware store. What might Ned want with cement mix is none of our care.
Then we thought: that driveway is cement; Ned has been working himself up, complaining he has to drive ghoulishly over into his yard to miss that uncaring hole and the grass on that side of the driveway is getting to look less jubilant than the grass everywhere else in his yard. Ned loves his yard. Seeds and weeds, fertilizes, picks up the dog litter. Gets a new lawnmower every ten years whether he needs it or not.
Between many lackluster tellings, several overly calibrated suppositions, clipped conclusions — passed through many small crowd institutions and third hand embellishments — an unholy idea came to shine within a critical mass of us: Ned is going to fill that hole.
That would be novel. That would be an experiment against commonly accepted practice. Year after year we have waited for the holes to move on, expected them to be a resident nuisance for a few months, migrate to wherever they go for the next season. We had already considered trying to map out where they are supposed to go, to more closely inspect the holes to see if this year there were some deformity or rot that kept them in place. Perhaps to measure and catalog to see if some statistic leapt out of the dark and solved the conundrum. But to fill one in: what would that do?
So, faster than opinion can form and demonically branch out, a group of us head over to Ned's place. A few of us want to see if he is planning to fill the hole, or if he has some other more innocent use for concrete mix. Others have made up their minds and plan, through reason or civic pride, to stop him, ensure without proof that fill in the hole and it will never migrate. Others just want to see what the outcome might be if he actually tried to fill the hole — a hole forced out, a hole locked out of migration, a hole by the same volume expanded, or a hole gone?
We gather in mixed groups, each with our own mission kept close and secret, and take four cars over to Ned's, saying little over the brief hole—dodging ride, parking just down the way from where Ned's driveway dumps into the lane—and—a—half ordinary town street.
There is Ned, actually standing in the street, looking down into the hole, the empty bag of concrete mix, a bucket and hand shovel on the driveway beside the hole.
Or is it still a hole? Or is it now something else, something trapped, something angry, something evolved, or something gone? If Ned would move just a bit out of the way, left or right, we jury of concern could see.
After years of impersonating a Systems Engineer, Ken Poyner
has retired to watch his wife of forty+ years continue to break both Masters and Open world raw powerlifting records. Ken's two current poetry collections ("The Book of Robot", "Victims of a Failed Civics") and three short fiction collections ("Constant Animals", "Avenging Cartography", "The Revenge of the House Hurlers") are available from Amazon and most book selling websites.