Johnny America


Our Black Hole


Al­ice and Brad were fight­ing again. You did this, you did that, you did­n’t do this, you did­n’t do that. Nei­ther could say how long they’d been fight­ing. Maybe this fight was just a con­tin­u­a­tion of the last; maybe fights did­n’t re­al­ly have edges, like the uni­verse it­self, in­fi­nite yet bound­ed. Nei­ther could say what had start­ed the fight. At a cer­tain point, they be­gan to fight about that. Brad was well on his way to his sixth beer and Al­ice was threat­en­ing to stick a steak knife in a wall sock­et when they no­ticed the anomaly.

“What is that?” asked Brad.

“Don’t change the sub­ject!” said Alice.

But nei­ther could ig­nore the weird shim­mer­ing patch that hov­ered be­tween them. It looked like a dis­tor­tion, as if the air it­self had thick­ened and kinked, and in fact Al­ice had been rub­bing her left eye all night be­cause she thought there was some­thing in it. But this was no floater, no gunk on the iris; this was some­thing very re­al but very strange, and it was def­i­nite­ly out there. Brad reached out to touch it but Al­ice told him not to.

“Don’t be an id­iot,” she said, as she pulled a wood­en sal­ad fork from the draw­er for over­sized uten­sils. She poked the tines in­to the dis­tor­tion, and, amaz­ing­ly, the tines vanished.

“Holy shit,” said Brad, “what is that thing?”

Al­ice jig­gled the fork around, which caused the dis­tor­tion to rip. It was like punc­tur­ing a blob of paint that you thought was dry but was­n’t. A gooey black in­te­ri­or­i­ty appeared.

“Stop jig­gling the fork. You’re mak­ing it worse.”

“I’m not mak­ing it worse, I’m just — I’m just let­ting it breathe.”

“Don’t let it breathe.”

“Don’t tell me what to do.”

She pushed the fork fur­ther in­to the lit­tle black hole, and, in­cred­i­bly, the fork van­ished. It seemed to fall in­to the hole, though the hole hov­ered up­right. Nei­ther Al­ice nor Brad was a physi­cist, but they knew spooky physics when they saw it.

“What should we do?” asked Alice.

“Maybe if we ig­nore it, it’ll go away,” said Brad.

Al­ice did­n’t have a bet­ter idea, so that’s what they did.

They went to bed and curled up on their sep­a­rate ends. Nor­mal­ly the cat slept be­tween them. In the morn­ing Al­ice asked, “Have you seen Fe­lix?” Brad had­n’t seen Fe­lix. They ar­gued over who’d seen him last. They eyed the black hole, which had grown overnight.

“You don’t think —” said Alice.

“He must have slipped past your legs when you took the garbage out last night. I’m sure we’ll find him.”

“Or maybe he jumped out the win­dow you left open again for the hun­dredth time. I’m sure we’ll find him.”

But they did­n’t find him, and the black hole grew.

“Where are my keys?” asked Brad.

“We’ve got to do some­thing,” said Alice.

The black hole on­ly ap­peared when Al­ice and Brad were in the same room. When they left for work, the hole dis­ap­peared. But when they re­turned, there it was again, hov­er­ing greed­i­ly be­tween them. Very soon, all their fights re­volved around the black hole.

“It’s be­cause you’re so neg­a­tive!” said Alice.

“Give me one rea­son not to be neg­a­tive!” said Brad.

Soon the hole was the size of a full-length mir­ror. Nor­mal­ly Al­ice and Brad stood on ei­ther side of the kitchen is­land to cook. When they care­less­ly took their po­si­tions one night, the is­land vanished.

“Oh, look what you’ve done now!” said Brad.

“It takes two to tan­go, buster!” said Alice.

They went for a walk to see the sun­set. A bird flew be­tween them and vanished.

“We re­al­ly have to do some­thing about this,” said Alice.

“You’re right,” said Brad. Then he said, “See? I can say it. Don’t tell me I nev­er say it!” They con­sult­ed a lo­cal physi­cist, who shot some laser puls­es in­to their hole and mea­sured its emanations.

“Well,” he said, “it’s a black hole.”

“It’s be­cause he’s so neg­a­tive,” said Al­ice, mean­ing Brad.

The physi­cist shook his head. “This is­n’t about pos­i­tiv­i­ty or neg­a­tiv­i­ty. It’s about col­lapsed space­time. Would you mind if I ran some tests?”

They agreed to the tests, and the physi­cist led them to his hadron col­lid­er. Af­ter a day of pok­ing and prod­ding, he told them, “It’s un­like any­thing I’ve ever seen. Al­ice, say some­thing to Brad. What­ev­er pops in­to your head.”

“All right. Why is it okay when your pee spat­ters on the floor? How can you just ig­nore that?”

The physi­cist watched his grav­i­ty me­ters. “Fas­ci­nat­ing,” he said. “Ab­solute­ly fas­ci­nat­ing. Now Brad, say some­thing to Al­ice. Any­thing at all.”

“Would you rather that I pee sit­ting down? Would that solve the prob­lem for you? Be­cause if so, maybe I’ll start. But on­ly on the con­di­tion that when I in­tro­duce you to peo­ple I get to say, This is Al­ice, she makes me pee sit­ting down.”

“Fas­ci­nat­ing.” The physi­cist mopped his brow with the bot­tom of his lab coat. “It seems that when­ev­er one of you speaks to the oth­er, some­thing un­said peels off and falls in­to the black hole.”

“That’s crazy,” said Alice.

“Yes, well, ad­vanced physics of­ten sounds crazy to the un­trained ear.”

“What can we do?” asked Brad.

The physi­cist looked up from his Hertzsprung-Rus­sell di­a­gram and said, “Black holes even­tu­al­ly evap­o­rate if you stop feed­ing them. So I’d say stop feed­ing it.”

“And that,” Al­ice told her best friends, “is what happened.”

“I nev­er liked Brad any­way,” said her pret­ty best friend.

“I liked him, but he was bad for you,” said her brainy best friend.

“I liked him,” said her dumb best friend. Every­one knew that the dumb best friend had a crush on Brad. Al­so, no one cared what she thought. She added, “You guys should try to work it out.”

“And that,” Brad told his drink­ing bud­dies, “is what happened.”

“Bullshit,” said his hand­some buddy.

“Bullshit,” said his know-it-all buddy.

Al­ice,” whis­tled the bud­dy with the jut­ting brow who was al­ways horny. “Boy,” he added, “that Al­ice.

As for the black hole? It knew there were oth­er galax­ies to an­chor, oth­er voids to ex­press. They say hy­dro­gen is the most abun­dant el­e­ment in the uni­verse, but their ac­count fails to tal­ly all that goes un­said. There’s al­ways lots of free-float­ing sub­text for a hun­gry black hole to de­vour, in­vis­i­ble to the hu­man eye, yet mas­sive enough to bend the very beams that light our way. The black hole knew it, and moved on.

Filed under Fiction on July 3rd, 2015

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