A persistent honking dug Muffy Blankenship from sleep. She sprawled in the king-sized bed she no longer shared, face puffy, hair a mop, and contemplated why, at 6:27 in the morning, her street might have morphed into a roiling artery of profanity. So, clueless and barefoot, she wandered out her front door. Traffic clogged the street in both directions. Tire tracks ran through the lawn, and at the bottom of the driveway, a gargantuan hole consumed the entire width of the road.
Muffy approached the hole to a chorus of shouts from the drivers—they couldn’t drive through her lawn any more at the risk of mowing her down—and she bent over the edge. The hole descended through striations of concrete, soil, and darkness. What the hell is this? Muffy thought. Then: How am I supposed to get to work? Muffy wrote up wills for The Law Offices of Digby & Sutton in downtown Naples. That required driving. How she’d get the car out of here was anybody’s guess.
“Blankenship!” Elderly and robe-clad Mr. Rosenbaum shouted across the hole from his side of the street. “This is your fault!”
“Me?” Muffy shouted back.
“It’s at the end of your driveway, Blankenship. It’s because of your goddamned divorce.”
“Then there’d be holes all over the place,” Muffy said, not loud enough for him to hear.
Then again, she thought, if it sucks in my house, the insurance company’ll call that an act of God. Muffy gazed down through the rooty dark, feeling vaguely moronic. Sure isn’t a sinkhole. The air that wafted from below carried the tang of the ocean. I wonder.
Muffy grabbed a gnome from the hedges and tossed him into the hole. He locked her with his porcelain, apple-cheeked grin as he plummeted, until he vanished into the abyss. Muffy waited for a splash. A clap echoed up, followed by a crumbling of rocks, and then the din of engine and horns reigned. The little guy just kept on falling, seems like, Muffy thought.
“You call Whit and get right with him,” Mr. Rosenbaum shouted.
“We’re not even divorced yet,” said Muffy. Mr. R kept on, but Muffy turned to direct traffic. She pointed. “Go back down Mangosteen. Take a left on Dune Poppy—” A horn blared. “Fine then!” Muffy threw up her hands. “Be late for work! See if I care.”
She marched inside and drew the deadbolt. May as well telecommute today.
Midway through answering an email about a client’s funeral arrangements, Muffy’s cellphone vibrated. The words, CHEATING BASTARD calling…, were superimposed over her estranged husband Whit’s picture. His real-estate salesman smile, green polo, and coif of parted brown hair—all of this dredged up a silt cloud of loneliness, like dragging feet on the bottom of the river. Muffy pressed ignore, but his picture popped right up again.
Muffy removed her noise-cancelling headphones to an odd silence. Birds bickered in the oak tree over the study. No car horns. She picked up the phone.
“You’ve really stepped in it now, Amanda,” said Whit.
Muffy sighed. “What did I do this time?”
“What did you do? You can’t seriously be—”
“This is about the hole.” Muffy glanced at the seashell clock across the patio. About 10:50. Is it too early to eat?
“Yes, Amanda, of course it’s about the hole. Do you have any idea what it’s doing to our property value? I do. The Dawsons’ sale just fell through.”
“I don’t understand why everyone thinks I did this,” said Muffy. It was the same as in their marriage. Couldn’t be Whit’s fault he cheated: Muffy had gotten fat.
Whit groaned. “It’s at the end of our driveway.”
“Mr. Rosenbaum thinks it’s because of our divorce.” And part of Muffy wished Whit would give her a second chance; the other part deeply regretted not stabbing him between the eyes with her fish fork the night he’d announced their un-nuptials.
“That’s ridiculous,” said Whit. “You didn’t buy an ancient totem at the flea market or something? No, never mind. Don’t tell me. The HOA just called. Linda Thornbush said there’s an emergency meeting at noon to discuss our sudden catastrophic abyss, and of course, we’re the guests of honor.”
“That’s great, but my car’s stuck in the garage because of our—what did you call it? Sudden catastrophic—”
“Then walk.” A silence followed. Call ended.
Muffy donned her best black pants suit, the one she wore to wakes, and with her serious, I’m-a-businesswoman pumps in hand and flip-flops on her feet, she locked the front door and edged around the hole to reach the sidewalk. Barricades with detour signs blocked off the enormous chasm’s jutting sides. The image of its dissolving blackness lingered in Muffy’s head as she hiked. Maybe it was a portal into another dimension. Maybe they’d popped up all over the state like love bugs, another University of Florida experiment gone wrong.
By the time Muffy reached the awnings of the Bosque Hermoso Country Club, an inglorious flop sweat hovered around her being like an aura. She basked in the lobby’s AC. She tried to collect her thoughts, but her heat-addled brain kept saying roadside attraction, like The World’s Largest Bowling Pin in Tampa. They couldn’t exactly fill the hole in. So that’s what they should do: capitalize.
Down the hall, the door to the convention room opened, and a man in a pink suit stepped out to look at his phone. It was Whit. He set a hand on his hip, displaying his growing paunch. Muffy’s phone chirped with a message from him, and Whit looked up to see her. “Where have you been? I told you they were starting at noon.” He waved for her to hurry, and when they entered, he announced, “She’s here, finally,” two dozen community members turned in their seats to stare.
Muffy strode up the aisle to the HOA board’s table on the raised platform. “Couldn’t this have been an email?” she said to the five.
“The people of this community would like an explanation.” Linda Thornbush, HOA director, announced over Muffy’s head. Linda’s skirt suit was the color of cotton candy, her face the color of inefficient death.
“Witchcraft isn’t welcome here,” a community member said in a raised voice.
“This is a gated community!” added another.
Muffy turned on them and wrenched the podium’s microphone toward her mouth. “Look, I get that you all need somebody to blame, but this is ludicrous. It’s not my fault.” Ha ha, geology pun, Muffy thought. “I don’t even know what the thing is. I woke up to it just like the rest of you, but since it’s kinda sorta on my property, I guess I’ll look into doing something about it. As of right now, I think we should make the best of it. I, personally, have never seen anything like it before. It’s like once in a lifetime. The kind of thing people would pay to see.”
“What are you getting at?” Whit stood off to the side, hands in his pockets.
The community members turned to murmur to their neighbors. Hot embarrassment rose in Muffy’s cheeks.
“I mean like make a roadside attraction out of it,” said Muffy. “Make people pay to see it.”
“For a little extra they could throw things in,” Linda said from her perch at the board table behind Muffy. “Of course, you’re not really zoned for this. But if the HOA got a sizeable slice—”
Facebook Page for The Bottomless Hole on Crooked Palm Boulevard.
About: Welcome to the one and only Bottomless Hole of South Florida. 28.6 feet in diameter and of an unknown depth, The Bottomless Hole was discovered and is run by the Bosque Hermoso Home Owners Association, and part of every purchase goes toward Keeping Our Community Hermoso (Handsome)!
Pricing: $12 Adults / $9 children
$20 – Throw one item into the hole.
$50 – Unlimited hole throwing.
Q: Where did the hole come from?
A: Nobody knows! Several geologists have been consulted, and they tell us it’s no ordinary sinkhole!
Q: How deep is the hole?
A: Nobody knows! We like to say it’s bottomless, but it has to stop someplace, right? Right?
Q: Is your hole a portal into the Mouth of Hell?
A: We wish people would stop saying this. Don’t you think worse things would be happening if a hole to the mouth of hell opened up in South Florida? Really. Let’s use some common sense people.
(Click to read 17 more questions.)
Two weekends later, Muffy swirled her mojito around its glass at the country club bar.
“Waiting for someone?”
Muffy turned to see Whit, groomed but sunburned, with his hand on the back of the stool beside her. “No, I’m just thinking.”
He took the seat and ordered a whisky on the rocks. “About what?” he said.
“What are you thinking about?”
“I’ve been watching people throw things into the hole. It’s disconcerting what people throw away. Like pictures, lots of pictures. I guess they really want to forget people, you know? But also weird stuff. I saw a lady throw two taxidermy cats into the hole. Like one would have been off, but two?”
“Maybe she had more,” said Whit. “What if she has seven or eight, and she’s like, man, this is really getting out of hand. I should get rid of a couple.”
“Hey, don’t judge, Muffy. You don’t know what that lady’s going through. It could have been really hard to choose which cat to send to purgatory.”
“You think that’s where it goes? Purgatory?”
Whit shrugged. “I actually read in the Herald that people think it may be an honest-to-God Einstein-Rosen Bridge.”
“And that is what exactly?”
“A wormhole, like a tunnel through space that connects two places.”
“I’ve seen a bunch of people testing it,” said Muffy. “A van will come, and guys send probes like roto-rooters down it, but they never get anything. It’s just darkness that goes on forever.”
“Maybe.” Drink set in front of him, Whit took a sip. “Have you thrown anything in it?”
Muffy stalled with a gulp of mojito. “Ah, nope. I mean, yeah, of course I have. It’s right there. Hard not to. But just like silly stuff, you know? Like that gnome that was under the rhododendron.”
“I keep hearing of people throwing in things they want to forget. Like Tom from the Honda place chucked all his ex-wife’s wedding china, and Cindy Carlton got rid of Ron’s Xbox, and when I heard that, I had a feeling you’d start tossing all our stuff.”
“It’s still in the storage unit,” said Muffy. Most of it.
“That means you don’t want to forget us, Amanda.” He took her hand. “We could give us another try.”
Muffy slid her hand out of his. “I’m not sure.”
“That’s not a no.” He grinned.
An incomplete list of things dumped into the hole:
a rusty generator, an old hp desktop, a cactus, a pallet of cinderblocks, a harpsichord, five couches, a very small palm tree, an iguana skeleton, a vhs player, 362 lbs of oak bark, 797 clothes hangers, 41 dock pilings, 2 disc brake rotors, 1,445.3 lbs of trash, a phlebotomist’s chair, 28 sectional couches, 8 twin beds, 7 double beds, 13 queen beds, 2 kind beds, 1 water bed, a cat condo, 17 tires, a refrigerator, 4 laptop computers, 14 shelving units, a Jacuzzi, 3 TV stands, 11 plastic Christmas trees, 190 empty glass bottles, a canoe, 2 elliptical machines, a treadmill, a pedestal sink, a bird bath, 3 swing sets, a torn trampoline, 12 trophies, an empty aquarium, 901 paperback books, a bee hive, an A-frame chicken coop, three ficuses, an oxygen tank, 4 sleeping bags, an armoire, two toilets, 620 lbs of scrap metal, a Memorex typewriter, 1,419 t-shirts, 847 pairs of pants, 324 skirts, 156 brassieres, 693 pairs of underwear, a set of handcuffs, Rock’em Sock’em Robots, five microwaves, 9 baby dolls, 57 Barbies, 4,692 plastic army men, 5 washers, 7 dryers, a wooden lamp carved into the shape of a mermaid…
By the light of her cellphone, Muffy ducked under the turnstile, crept past the unlit signs and barricades to reach the lip of the hole. It was 3 AM, and the clouds blocked out the moon. The only light came from Mr. Rosenbaum’s rippled bathroom window.
Muffy lay down, her belly on the cracked asphalt that ringed the hole. She gripped the edge and looked down. A whole lot of nothing, she thought. She’d come there to make a decision. If she could figure out a way to get stuff back—namely the lamp Whit had given her for their wooden anniversary, the one carved into the shape of a siren and brushed with gold—she’d take it as a sign. She and Whit could get back together then. If not, they’d go through with the divorce.
On the page of a legal pad from her tote, Muffy wrote: If there is someone at the other side of this wormhole, please respond in kind. ~ Amanda Blankenship, Esq. She then folded the page into a paper airplane and sent it sailing into the hole. She waited for a response with her chin on her arms. She gave it fifteen minutes. Then she wrote the same message on a fresh page, rolled it up, stuffed it into an empty Coke bottle, screwed on the top, and threw that into the hole. Nothing happened. After a few hours, she gave up her sentry and went to bed.
Her lonely bed. She lay awake, half-naked and thinking. There was no going back for her and Whit. She wanted to, but she also didn’t. He had sex with a woman whose name she still didn’t know. He had called her stiff. He said she’d gotten fat. That she’d lost her feeling for life. But the worst thing he said was that she was boring, that he couldn’t stand to hear her talk anymore. How the fuck dare you tell me what I can and cannot say. Except that’s not what she said. She said she was sorry. Muffy had become the kind of woman who said sorry all the time. Sorry for getting fat. Sorry for having an opinion. Sorry for not being the person you want me to be.
Whit wanted Sorry Woman back, not Muffy, who was a size 16, who looked herself in the mirror and winked, who confronted Linda Thornbush about her BS mailbox policies, who submitted snide questions to The Bottomless Hole on Crooked Palm FAQ. Whit didn’t want that Muffy back, and maybe—maybe that was better. Muffy would rather be strong on her own.
That morning, Muffy woke to her doorbell’s repeated abuse over a growing commotion of voices outside. Muffy tied on a kimono, and when she threw open the door, the boy jumped back. He was the zit-speckled cashier from the bottomless hole’s ticket booth, decked out in his striped pants, advertisers’ buttons all over his vest.
“What already?” said Muffy.
A drone swooped down behind him. Muffy yelped and slammed the door, and the drone crashed into it.
“What the hell?” she shouted.
“The drone’s here to see you,” said the cashier. “It came out of the hole.”
Muffy clutched her kimono closed and opened the door a sliver. “What did you say?”
“It came out of the hole this morning with a note.” He shoved his hand in with it.
Amanda Blankenship, I would like to talk to you. – Christina Xi.
A phone number followed.
“Hold on,” said Muffy. “At least let me put on some pants.”
Muffy returned 15 minutes later, dressed and ready to face the small crowd gathered on her lawn. The drone bobbed and hovered, filming her house. When it saw her, it zoomed closer. She showed it her phone. Then she dialed the number from the note and put it on speaker.
A woman with a sharp voice answered. “Muffy Blankenship?”
“This is Christina Xi. Are you the one throwing all this garbage on our beach?”
“Are you on the other side of the hole?”
“Certainly seems that way.”
“Honestly,” said Muffy, “we didn’t know there was another side. We thought it was just a hole to nowhere.”
“I get it, but that doesn’t clean up our beach. It probably doesn’t seem like much from your end, a few tchotchkes here and there, but it’s really piled up. It’s awful. This place is a wreck.”
“Are you like in another dimension?”
“We’re in Escondido Beach, California,” said Christina Xi.
“No, I mean, are we on the same Earth? Who’s the president where you are?”
“Hillary Clinton. Where are you?”
“Wait, what?” said Muffy.
“Who else would it be?” said Christina.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” said Muffy. “But it does mean that we’re not—” Muffy couldn’t believe she was saying this. “in the same reality. Still, the drone got through. And we’re talking. I’ll figure out a way to come get our stuff.”
“That’s kind of not what I expected you to say.”
“What did you expect?” said Muffy.
“You know how people are. Nothing is ever their fault. Nothing is ever their problem.”
“Right? But this was totally my fault,” said Muffy. “It was my idea to chuck things into the hole in the first place. I promise I’ll help.”
“How though? The drone is the first thing that’s made it through, and you can’t exactly hop on a plane and fly here. Not that I can tell, anyway.”
“Has anyone tried to jump in on your side?”
Christina gave her a shaky “No?” Then she steadied herself. “The drone made it through the wormhole just fine. There’s a camera on it. So I saw everything. It’s like going through a cloud or behind a waterfall. It’ll be fine. I swear. We’ll stretch one of those big parachutes out to catch you.”
“But the drone’s made of plastic, and I’m made of, well, me.”
Muffy could almost hear Christina shrug. “Or we could like interdimensionally sue you. I could probably figure it out.”
With the phone to her ear, Muffy trudged down to the edge of the hole. Like a cloud, a waterfall she says. Then there was the possibility of never coming back. Except I’m the one who fucked everything up. Sorry is one thing. Sorry doesn’t clean up their beach.
“You promise you’ll catch me?” said Muffy.
When Christina texted, “Ready,” Muffy stood with her toes over the edge and looked down. She weighed her prospects. She could miss the parachute and splatter. She could be cast adrift in an interdimensional void. She could wind up someplace else, another dimension, another Earth. Who knows: Ted Cruz might be president.
At a certain point, Muffy knew she had to do this. She sprang out, away from the rocky walls, and plummeted. Darkness rocked around her until the light of the hole’s opening was only a pinprick, a star. Mist exhaled all around her. The scent of the ocean, and for a moment, Muffy was weightless. Her shirt floated away from her belly and she yanked it down. Then a force pulled her upward. She rocketed out of the hole and into the air. For a second, she took in the rocky coastline, the monumental driftwood, the beach riddled with trash. Twenty feet below her, a wave spilled into the perfect circle of the hole. She gasped. Her stomach jumped as she started falling. Then the multicolored parachute unfurled. It caught her with a whiff, billowed all around her, blue, yellow, and red.
The people who had caught her helped her roll off the side into the sand. All around rose the mounds of broken glass, picture frames, misshapen pottery, a sofa, a high chair, layers of old clothes, anything that called up a memory that someone in Naples wanted to forget. Muffy stood, taken aback by the scope of it all, the height.
Christina Xi, a wiry Asian woman whose shirt said Surfrider Foundation, shook Muffy’s hand and gave her a tour of the trash heaps.
“Do you know where the wormhole came from?” Muffy said. They’d paused in front of a 70s-green stove.
“I get the feeling that it’s a natural phenomenon,” said Christina. “Like a waterspout or the aurora borealis.”
“I’m sorry about all this, but I don’t know how I can fix it by myself. But I think maybe the other people who did this might help. Maybe some of them.” While they stood there, the rush of the surf whispering in Muffy’s ears, Muffy called Whit and asked him to round up a group to come through the wormhole and help clean up the beach.
“I don’t know, Muffy,” he said, “I’m showing a house right now and—”
“Are you going to help or aren’t you?” said Muffy.
“I didn’t throw anything in that hole,” Whit said. “It’s not my problem.”
“Of course not. Nothing ever is.”
Muffy called Linda Thornbush next, and within the hour, the Californians stretched out the parachute to catch Linda’s clean up crew. Christina called in a dumpster. Wheelbarrows, shovels, and gloved hands got to work chipping away at the refuse.
By sundown, Muffy had broken a sweat. She borrowed a bandana to keep the hair off her forehead and set back to work. Others were calling to stop for the night, people volunteered their couches and guest bedrooms for the Floridians to sleep, while others jumped through the hole to sleep in their own beds.
With the sight of them leaping through the sea spray into the hole in the corner of her eye, Muffy kept working. She started to consider that maybe after weeks of this work, she wouldn’t want to go back. The firm would fire her. Her bills would go unpaid. Staying here, she thought, might free her of all the accumulated expectations of who she was supposed to be.
Muffy lifted up an old vacuum cleaner, and underneath, the gilded curves of Whit’s wooden anniversary mermaid caught the light of the waning sun.
“You almost ready to call it a night?” Christina said, jogging over.
“Almost,” Muffy answered, prying the mermaid from the pile.
Christina pointed to the lamp in Muffy’s arms. “That’s really beautiful.”
“It has potential,” Muffy said. “But really, it’s just garbage like the rest of it.”
Muffy strode to the closest dumpster and lobbed the mermaid over the rim.