She was already thinking about moving when she found the hole.
Her reason was simple. She liked cats and their aloof company, and it had been many years since she had owned one. It was lonely in the apartment by herself, and she had found that a good antidote to loneliness was holding a purring cat in one’s arms. As her apartment building did not allow pets, however, moving was required.
The problem was that moving was not feasible; the rent was too damn high in the city. If she left, it would require moving to a more expensive apartment, and the current one was already stretching her budget. She could, of course, move to some terrible basement suite in the suburbs and commute in for work, but then she would be stuck in a room with almost no light which would cancel out the good vibes of acquiring a cat. The other option was to move to another city, the current one squeezing her and her friends out one by one, but she was stubborn. This was her city, the place where she was born and raised. If she left, it would be because she wanted to leave, not because fate and economics had driven her out.
Then she found the hole in the wall.
It was not a very big hole, a perfect circle about the size of a dime, just around knee height and to the left of her dresser. It looked like it was about a quarter inch deep into the wall, and when she peered into it, she could see something shimmering at the back, like there was liquid moving there, just at the edge of her vision.
She didn’t know what had caused it. There was nothing around the hole that would have made such a dent. She considered termites, but she didn’t think they made holes like that. If anything, it was the shimmering something at the back of the hole that made her worried—perhaps there was something leaking back there. She tried calling the building manager, but when they came and saw the hole they just shrugged and said it wasn’t worth calling maintenance. If there wasn’t anything actually leaking into the apartment, it wasn’t a problem.
Of course, this did not reassure her. If leaks did start in her apartment, then perhaps she’d have to move during the renovation work, or maybe they wouldn’t be able to fix it properly, and then she’d be out of a place to live. She stayed up much later than she intended, just staring at the ceiling as she worked through all the worst possible scenarios that her mind could come up with. It was because of this, that she was awake when she started hearing the voices.
They were very soft and gentle, the voices. At first she thought it was someone with their television turned up too loud downstairs, but she realized they sounded much closer, like they were coming from within her own apartment. She got up, still half-asleep, and rubbed at her eyes. Then she went and walked around the apartment in the dark, trying to find where the sound was coming from and quickly realized the source was the hole.
She sat down next to the hole and looked into it. The shimmering thing at the end was still there, but how she could see it in the dark she didn’t know. She put her ear next to the hole. It was definitely something like conversation on the other end, but it sounded like… like it was in Arabic.
She tried to remember if she had any Arabic speaking neighbours, but none sprung to mind. Perhaps she was just half asleep and imagining things. She turned on all the lights, and then went back to the hole and listened carefully. Definitely voices coming from it, she decided, and definitely in Arabic. It sounded like she was next to some family who were sitting around a table and chatting at four o’clock in the morning. How was she hearing this through the hole, anyways? There wasn’t another apartment on the other side, just the elevator, and her neighbours on the other sides had always been quiet.
She sat there for a few more minutes, trying to figure it out. Maybe there was a pipe in there, and somehow it was transmitting the noise upward. She thought about calling the building manager again, but then she thought about how it would sound to him. Voices coming out of a hole in the wall? He’d just think that she was schizophrenic. Whatever. She went and grabbed some paper towel, compressed it into a little ball, and plugged the hole with it. Then she shifted the dresser over slightly to hide it, which muffled most of the noise. Then she went back to bed and fell asleep.
She forgot about the hole until that weekend. While enjoying a lazy Saturday morning on the couch, just drinking her coffee and reading a book, something like dull thunder rumbled through the apartment. She jumped up and spilled her coffee on herself in the process.
Then it came again. And again. And again. But there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
More than a little frightened, she ran to the window and looked out to see if something was happening outside. The glass in her windows rattled as she looked about, but there was nothing she could see causing the noise. As she turned her head, she realized that the sound was, in fact, coming from behind the dresser.
She stared at the dresser, her palms suddenly sweaty. What the hell was going on? She walked slowly towards the piece of furniture. She thought about the hole in the wall behind it. That couldn’t be it? Could it?
Pushing the dresser back to its original position, she found that the hole had expanded. Now it was about the same diameter as a baseball, and the wad of paper towel she had shoved into it had disappeared. The rumble like thunder came again, and when she knelt down to look into the hole, she could see the silvery disc inside shimmer in time to the dull roar.
Bah-boom, went whatever was making the sound at the other end. Bah-boom. Bah-boom. Just underneath it, she could hear something like frightened whispers at the edge of her hearing. It was too strange for her to even process, so she just sat there staring at the hole that wasn’t a hole, starting every time the dull thunder came from it.
Someone banged at her door. She leapt up, her heart doing its own series of jumps in the process. ‘Who’s there?’ she yelled.
Whoever it was didn’t seem to hear her and instead rapped loudly on the door again.
Tying her dressing gown around her tightly, she went to the door and looked out the peephole. She relaxed when she saw it was only her neighbour from next door, this old Eastern European man whom she had never spoken to. She leaned on the door for a moment to gain her composure, and then she opened it quickly.
The man on her doorstep was caught mid-rap, and it threw him off. He took a step back, and did a cough that came from deep in his throat. ‘The noise,’ he told her. ‘You cannot make this noise. It is making the wall shake. Are you trying to break the building? I know it is weekend, but it is still early morning. People trying to sleep.’
‘I know, I know, I’m sorry,’ she told him. ‘But honestly, it’s not me. There’s something in the wall, I think. I don’t know what’s doing it.’
The old man gave her a look that suggested he did not believe her. She quickly assessed him: wrinkled and slightly bent over, some calluses on his hands, and some paint on the pants he was wearing. He looked like he might be good with tools, or building things, or being generally useful.
‘Actually,’ she said, ‘do you mind coming in and having a look? Maybe you can figure it out.’
The old man grunted. ‘You want me to solve your problem for you? That is the building manager’s job.’
‘Well I already had them come look at the hole, and they didn’t help at all.’ She smiled to try and appear friendly. ‘If you came and looked at it, it might be faster than getting them to help.’
‘Alright. I help,’ he said. He extended his hand. ‘Ibrahim Tihić,’ he said.
She shook his hand. ‘Rosa Fischer,’ she said. ‘A pleasure to meet you.’ She was now uncertain about where he was from. He looked and dressed like he was from someplace like Romania, but that name sounded Middle Eastern ‘Come in, I’ll show you the hole.’
When he saw the hole in the wall, he made a face. He knelt down and put his finger inside, touching the silvery substance near the back, which she’d been afraid to do. When his finger came back dry and without any of the silver substance on it, he was completely perplexed.
‘The noise comes from this hole?’ he asked.
‘That’s what it sounds like.’
Tihić went and grabbed a coat hanger from her closet, and without asking for her permission, bent it into an improvised hook and put that though the hole. His idea seemed to be to to try and grab some the silvery material near the back, but the hook went deep into the hole and came out with nothing on it.
‘I really would have preferred if you’d asked me before bending that coat hanger…’ she started, and then a noise came from the hole again. This time, however, it felt very loud and close, like a firework exploding only a few feet away. The glass shook in all her windows, and it made both her and Tihić jump. She felt a headache from the noise coming on.
She looked at her neighbour. His face was pale and there was a thin sheen of sweat on his forehead. His hands were trembling.
‘Mr. Tihić,’ she asked, ‘is something wrong?’
‘That’s mortar fire,’ he said, his voice faint. ‘That sound coming from your wall. Mortar fire.’ He went over to the window and looked out to see if anything was there, staying low like he was afraid of something hitting them, but of course there was nothing. He came back and stared at the hole.
‘Mortar fire?’ she asked. ‘That’s not possible. And how do you know what mortar fire sounds like anyway? Were you in the army or something?’
‘Sarajevo,’ he said. ‘I am a Sarajevan. I was trapped in the city during the siege, and that’s when…’ He didn’t finish what he was saying; he just walked right out of the room without an explanation. When she went after him, she found he had gone back to his own apartment and would not answer his door, no matter how many times she knocked.
Back in her own apartment, the noise had stopped, and whatever was at the back of the hole had turned an inky black. It was so strange. She felt bad about frightening Mr. Tihić. She would never have known that he was from Bosnia. She knew there had been a terrible war there when she had been a child, but she didn’t know much about it.
She pushed the dresser back up against the hole, and tried not to think about it for the rest of the day. She didn’t know what else to do, who else to talk to about it.
That night, after getting to sleep with some difficulty, she was woken up by something whispering from the hole again. She sat up in bed and hugged her pillow as she stared in its direction. They frightened her more than the mortar fire, the whispers. The latter had good decency to occur in daylight, when her mind was not as free to imagine what might be doing the whispering.
She forced herself to get up, and go over to the hole. As quietly as she could, she pushed the dresser away from the it.
The stuff at the back had turned silvery again, like a swirling disk of mercury or metallic soapsuds, with odd ringed rainbows of colour appearing from time to time. It glowed with a dim light, and she could tell, now that she was closer, that the voice coming from it was a child’s, whispering softly in Arabic.
She knelt down by the hole. ‘Hello there,’ she whispered. ‘Is there someone on the other side?’
The whispering stopped. There was silence for a minute.
‘Hello,’ said the voice from the hole. ‘How are you?’
She froze. She was talking with voices in her wall. This was the very definition of madness.
‘Hi,’ she said, very carefully. ‘I am well. A little…a little tired. Who am I speaking to?’
‘Farah,’ came the voice. ‘I’m sorry, my English is not so good.’
‘It sounds pretty good to me,’ she said, automatically wanting to put the invisible child at ease. ‘I’m Rosa. Where are you now, Farah?’
‘At home,’ came the answer. ‘Upstairs in my room.’
‘Where is home?’
Farah said something very quickly then in Arabic, which she couldn’t catch.
‘I’m sorry, honey,’ she said. ‘I don’t know where that is.’
‘Everyone knows where that is,’ Farah said. ‘It’s near the centre of the city. You know these words, city centre?’
‘Yes, I’ve heard it. What city are you in?’
‘Aleppo,’ came the answer.
She had to take a moment to process this. ’Aleppo…Syria?’
‘Yes, Syria. Where are you? Is this like a phone in the wall? Are you someplace else?’
‘I’m…’ and she had to pause here. ‘I’m in V__ It’s very far from where you are.’
‘Is it night time there? Yesterday?’
‘Yes, it’s night time,’ she replied and quickly did the math in her head. Farah was about twelve to fifteen hours ahead. ‘And from your perspective, yes it’s yesterday. The fifteenth.’
The rest of her thoughts quickly caught up then. The hole in her wall went to some little girl’s room in Syria, in the city of Aleppo. Which explained the voices speaking quietly in Arabic and the mortar blasts…
Oh right, she thought. They’re in the middle of a war. A horrible, horrible war, just like the one that Mr. Tihić went through, where he was so scared of the sound of mortar fire that he left her apartment without saying goodbye and locked his door to her. Then she thought a little more and wondered that if the voices could travel through the hole with its silver and black sides, could bombs and bullets and explosions as well? Was she safe in her own apartment anymore? What if a mortar hit the house on the other end, and the explosion ripped through the hole…?
And she immediately felt terrible, because on the other end of the hole was a little girl who was living through this every day. So she sat there and proceeded to have a conversation with her. If Farah was surprised that there was a hole in her wall connecting her to another room half the world away, she did not let it show. In an age of smartphones and other wonders, it was hardly in the realm of great miracles, especially to a child. So Rosa asked the young girl about where she went to school (shut down for years), and her friends (many dead). She liked to listen to music by this Lebanese pop star that Rosa had never heard of. Her brother was in something called the White Helmets and an Uncle was part of some sort of militia. From the sounds of it, her block had been spared the worst of the war, but their district was surrounded by the government forces, and there was no way in or out.
They spoke for close to an hour before Farah broke off the conversation. ‘I have to go,’ she said. ‘My brother and I have to go help with the tire burning.’
‘Tire burning?’ Rosa asked. ‘Why are you burning tires?’
‘The smoke,’ she said. ‘It makes it harder for the Russians and the government to aim their bombs.’
Christ, she thought to herself, but to the child she said ‘stay safe,’ wishing that saying the words would make it so. Then Farah was gone.
She got up, turned on all the lights, and went and looked in the mirror. She checked the time. An hour had gone by since she started talking to Farah, to someone she wasn’t quite convinced was real. She checked her pupils to see if they were dilated (perhaps she’d somehow ingested an hallucinogen), tried pinching herself, and then went and checked some of the things Farah had told her. The pop star she mentioned existed, as did the White Helmets. The latter were some sort of civilian rescue crew who ran into blown up buildings to pull people out of the wreckage. It seemed to her that she could not have come these details by herself.
She tried to understand the conflict, but it seemed very chaotic. On one side was the Syrian government and the Russians, and on the other a motley mix of militias, Muslim extremists, and ethnic groups, which often fought each other. There were no clear good guys, no one simple to cheer for.
She got back to sleep with difficulty.
Work went by too quickly the next day, and she was reluctant to go home. At work, there was no mortar fire. Still, when she heard Farah whispering at the hole again, she got up and talked to her. They didn’t talk about much important, but the girl seemed to like having this secret friend in the wall. She asked the child not to tell people about her, because she was worried what her parents might do if they found out about the hole. It would be a strange thing to explain to an adult—children accepted things at face value. When she was too tired to go on, she excused herself and went back to sleep.
Things fell into a strange rhythm with the hole after that. She would chat at night for an hour with Farah about her life, about the war, writing things down so she didn’t forget them. Then she would try to sleep, but often there would be mortar fire or bombing runs at odd hours, which would wake her up again. They were never loud enough to gain the attention of anyone except for her (and perhaps Mr. Tihić). When Farah was scared, she tried to distract her by teaching her songs she’d learned at camp, nonsense rhymes, and other silliness to keep the fear away.
After a week of this, she noticed that the vacancy sign in her building was up again. When she asked the building manager about it, he told her that Mr. Tihić had moved out.
‘Very sudden,’ he said. ‘No explanation. Rent was paid and everything, but that guy just had to go. It was like he got scared of something.’
Great, she thought to herself, now there was no one she could talk to about the hole.
The next day, when she came home from work, the hole seemed to have disappeared. When she went and pulled back the dresser from the wall, she saw that it had moved over about a foot, and shrunk down to the size of a dime again, the silvery stuff at the back gone all black.
Part of her was relieved. Maybe the hole was just going to shrink even further and disappear, and then there would be no more mortar fire in her bedroom. Of course, Farah would still be there. If the hole was a little bigger, she thought, maybe she could have pulled the child through, brought her safe to the other side. Maybe. But now the door was closed. She wondered if perhaps she should have suggested it, looked for a way to open the hole further. Hindsight twenty-twenty and all that.
It bought her a few days quiet, the smaller hole, but she was soon woken up again by the sound of air strikes. She slipped off her bed and huddled beside it, as if the mattress and frame would supply her some protection from whatever was in her wall, the reaction instinctive. When the raid stopped, she went and looked at the hole, and it was bigger again. She felt sick inside. This thing wasn’t going to go away. It wasn’t something she could forget about.
Mr. Tihić had seen it and been frightened by the noise, so it was real, this hole, but it was something no one had seen before. What would the science-types call it? A breach in space-time, some little wormhole, a shortcut in the universe between two points? Who would you call to get that sorted? Perhaps there were physicists for hire out there somewhere, who would come and smooth the space-time wrinkles, plug the rifts in the fabric of the universe. She tried searching online for something like that, but to no avail.
The air strikes and the mortar fire grew more frequent. They kept waking her in the middle of the night and often forced out of her home in the middle of the day. She tried a few work arounds to avoid the noise—trips to see the family in the interior, late nights with friends that kept her out for hours—but she couldn’t tell anyone without seeming completely insane. There’s a hole in my wall, she imagined telling them, that leads to Syria. I hear explosions from the war there. Even if she brought people to the apartment, she’d have to wait for hours for the air strikes to start, and they didn’t exactly follow a schedule.
It began to wear her down, the war on the other side of the wall. She didn’t get enough sleep, so she was always tired at work. She snapped at people who made mistakes around her and jumped at car sirens and the smallest noise. Sometimes her hands would start shaking for no reason at all. She worked longer hours to avoid home, till her boss told her to stop trying to get overtime he didn’t approve. After that, she just went to the public library after work, and tried to read for as many hours as she could. It was quiet in the library, a welcome reprieve, an oasis in her quickly shrinking world.
She started looking for a new place, but there wasn’t anything in her price range. Maybe she’d have to move cities, after all, she thought, but how was she supposed to get a job in another city if she didn’t have a place there? Maybe if she moved she’d just end up unemployed, running through her savings while trying to find something in her line of work. It seemed to her that it was better to suck it up and bear the situation. This was her apartment after all. She shouldn’t have to move just because of a space-time anomaly. You got used to it, after all, as you got used to everything.
One night, as she was walking home, she caught sight of this odd person wandering about her neighbourhood. It was this very short and very slight young woman with giant glasses. She was stuffed into a giant puffy winter coat that threatened to consume her, and there was something in her hands that looked like a metronome. It had this black wand on top that was moving back and forth in time. Occasionally the woman would stamp her feet to keep warm and then bang the device as if to recalibrate it. It was like something out of Ghostbusters. She wondered if maybe the woman was searching for the hole, but decided she was probably crazy: real scientists didn’t run around like ghostbusters. She went home, put in her earplugs and went to sleep on the couch, having surrendered the bedroom to the hole by this point.
That night was a bad night. There was a lot of bombing, and what sounded like gunfire close to the other side of the hole. She kept waking up and walking over to the bedroom to make sure that nothing had come through. Sometime after three in the morning, the explosions stopped, and after she was certain it was over, she crept into her bedroom.
When she looked at the hole, it had grown much larger. Now it was about the size of a basketball in diameter, and the shimmering something that was inside it was an iridescent disk of quicksilver. There was no mistaking this for something ordinary, she thought. She decided to take a video so she could show someone.
She pulled back the dresser so that the hole was properly visible. Putting a pair of her shoes underneath for a sense of scale, she took a very long video where she tried to capture it from as many angles as possible. Once she was satisfied as to the result, she sat down and stared at the hole again.
‘Farah,’ she said, mostly to herself. ‘What happened to you?’
‘Hello?’ someone said on the other side. ‘Who is that?’
She jumped back.‘Hello,’ she said. ‘Who is this?’
‘Yusuf,’ came the reply. ‘Who is this?’
The speaker was a man, and his English was more heavily accented than Farah’s. She couldn’t guess his age. She struggled to find her words again.
’I am Rosa,’ she said. ’Where are you, Yusuf?’
‘Where…?’ came the reply, and then there was the sound of things being pushed around on the other side. Then she heard the man gasp, and then came a long litany in arabic, with many invocations of the name of God.
It took her a few minutes to calm Yusuf down so that she could get something in English out of him again. He attributed the hole alternatively to divine providence or to some creation of the Americans and had to run out of the room he was in and into the next one to establish that she wasn’t hiding there. He also didn’t believe her that she was in V_.
‘There is no way that is possible,’ he said. ‘It is too far.’
‘Believe me,’ she said, ‘it doesn’t make sense to me either.’ She hesitated before asking him the next question. ‘I spoke to a young girl earlier through this hole. Her name was Farah. She lived in __ district. Do you know her?’
It was quiet on the other side of the hole. ‘I know the girl,’ he said. ‘Her apartment block was hit by an artillery strike a few days ago. She did not survive.’
Rosa felt like her legs had been kicked out from under her. She had taken some comfort from the unlikely friendship, and now…now the girl was gone, crushed by falling mortar in the night or blown to pieces by Russian ordnance. When the hole had shrunk it had been because it had sealed itself from the blast on the other end, shielded her like the Atlantic ocean and two continents shielded her neighbours from the conflict.
‘I am sorry about your friend,’ Yusuf said. ‘There are many dead here.’
‘Yeah,’ she said, ‘I’m sorry about that too.’
‘The battle has grown much worse,’ Yusuf went on. ‘We are very low on food now. The hospitals are all shut down because the Russians target them with airstrikes. The government is advancing on this neighbourhood, and we are cut off from the other rebels.’
‘I don’t know what to do,’ she said. ‘I don’t know how to help you.’
Yusuf went quiet again. ‘This is a tunnel between two places, yes?’ he asked.
‘I think so.’
‘Can a man pass through?’
‘I don’t know…’ she said, but then she saw the silver disk of the hole quiver, and first one, then three, then five points came through. They coalesced into a brown, dust covered hand, that was followed by a long arm. She felt invaded by that hand, like it was some monster come through, something entirely alien and foreign, and she was momentarily so terrified she couldn’t speak.
‘My hand,’ Yusuf said. ‘I have put my hand through the hole. Can you see it?’
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I see your hand.’ The hand began to feel around the edges of the hole, patting the wall as if to test that it was real. She instinctively reached out to touch it, and Yusuf gave a yelp and pulled back his arm.
‘Something touched me!’ he said. ‘Something in the hole!’
‘It was just me,’ she explained. ‘You don’t need to be frightened.’ Although, perhaps she should be. Who knew what kind of person this Yusuf was? Maybe he was a fighter in one of those militias. Maybe he was armed. Maybe he was the sort of man who took advantage of women in war zones. She’d heard about that happening in other war.
Yusuf put his hand through very carefully. She touched it gently this time, shook it softly. He withdrew it without saying a word.
‘There is no way I can fit through,’ he said. ‘Is there a way you can make the hole bigger?’
‘I don’t think you understand,’ she said. ‘This hole leads into my apartment. My apartment! If I widen it so you can come through, then how many people are going to come in? I don’t know you. I don’t know who else will try to get in. I’m safe here in V_. I don’t want the war to come into my own…’
‘We are going to die here,’ Yusuf said. ‘They are going to come through again and reduce this neighbourhood to rubble. Or maybe we will just starve here first, all my family and my friends together, everyone I have ever known and loved. Or perhaps they will drop chlorine munitions again. You ever see someone dying from chlorine gas? I have. They cough up their lungs, they gasp for…for breaths that will not come.’
‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry,’ she said, immediately apologetic. ‘I don’t know how to open this any further, and I’m scared, you know? A war in my wall.’ She thought of her apartment being taken over by the government as refugees streamed out of her building to stand beneath the grey V_ skies, walking from warlike sunshine into peaceful rain. It was a strange thought.
Yusuf went quiet at that. ‘Of course,’ he said. ‘It is a miracle. There is no dealing with the size of the hole.’ She heard him slump against the wall on the other side. ‘I think I shall die here.’
She wanted to console him then, to tell him that everything would be okay, even though she knew it wouldn’t be. Wars like Syria always played out the same way, she knew. They were faraway tragedies slowly unfurling on the back pages of newspapers, the end of television ticker strips, that eventually went away when one side lost. ‘I don’t know what will happen,’ she said.
‘Your government, will it do anything?’
‘I don’t think so,’ she said. ‘We’ve very small. Too small to go up against Russia by ourselves. The rest of the NATO, I don’t know.’
‘So no one will come to help,’ he said. ‘As I thought. No surprise.’
He didn’t say anything more after that. Eventually she gave up trying to get a response from him and went back to bed.
In the morning, the hole was still the size of a basketball. She wondered how much larger it would grow. She debated moving the dresser back in front of it again, but it wouldn’t block the sound much anymore, and it wouldn’t stop anyone determined from getting through. She left the hole as it was, and went to work.
When she got back that evening, the smell of cooked meat hit her the moment she stepped into the apartment. It was like someone had burned a chunk of bacon on her stove, the smell thick in the air. She ran straight to the bedroom to check on the hole.
It was once again dime sized. There were soot stains all around it, but only at the radius it used to occupy, creating a white halo of untouched wall around it. On the floor in front of the hole lay a severed black thing. There was something crablike on the end…but then she realized the severed black thing was a human arm, and the twisted things on the end were fingers. She immediately lost the remnants of her lunch, the sight and the smell being too much for her.
Too much, too much, too much, she thought. The war had finally burst into her room. That had to be Yusuf’s arm, she thought, as he made a desperate attempt to clamber out of the only hole he could escape through. Dead, dead, they’re all dead, everyone who ever whispered to her from the other side of the hole.
She must have been in shock after that, because she didn’t react normally. She went and got an old shoebox, and put the piece of arm into it, very carefully. Then she went and opened all the windows to let out the smell and sat down on her couch with the box in front of her. She didn’t know what to do. She should have moved, when she’d first seen the hole. She should have left this stupid apartment, this damn city that didn’t seem to want her in it anymore. She put her head in her hands and cried for a little bit. Then she phoned her friend, Evelyn, and told her that she needed to meet her right away.
They went out for a few drinks downtown. Everything about the hole spilled out of her over those drinks, all the insanity that taken over her life. She showed Evelyn the video of the hole, the impossible hole, in the hope that the evidence would prove that she wasn’t a crazy person. In the middle of it, she started crying again and she started saying things that didn’t make a lot of sense, like her words were getting all jumbled up, her sentences twisted in on themselves.
Evelyn listened very carefully, and when she was done, she asked to see the hole.
When they got back to the apartment, it still smelled like cooked meat. The hole had expanded to the size of a baseball again. Evelyn looked at the thing in the box, and confirmed that it was a human arm. She looked at the hole, but didn’t know what to make of it.
‘You should have told me about this before,’ she said, shaking her head. ‘I think we have to call the police. You’ve got a human body part in your possession, for christ’s sake.’
‘I wasn’t sure you’d believe me,’ Rosa said. ‘And the cops, they won’t know what to do.’
‘Maybe not,’ Evelyn said, ‘but they can probably find someone who does.’
There was a knock on the door, which made them both jump. It was almost eleven by that point.
‘Expecting someone?’ Evelyn asked.
‘No,’ she said. She walked over to her door, and looked through the peephole. On the other side was the tiny woman she’d seen around the neighbourhood earlier, looking rather nervous. The metronome/ghostbuster device was in her hands, its arm moving back and forth very rapidly.
She opened the door carefully. ‘Can I help you?’ she asked.
‘Is it here?’ the woman asked.
‘Is what here?’
‘The eye of the needle,’ she said. ‘The doorway.’
Rosa didn’t need further clarification; she stood aside and waved her in. The woman smiled, but didn’t say anything. Instead she followed the accelerating beat of her metronome device to the bedroom, and came to a stop in front of the hole. She sat down in front of it, and then looked back at Rosa. ‘Beautiful,’ she said. ‘It’s beautiful.’
‘It’s terrible is what it is,’ Rosa said. ‘It leads to Aleppo, Syria, to a damn war zone.’
The woman’s smile faded. ‘I didn’t know where it would go,’ she said. ‘I didn’t know that it would slide.’
‘Who on earth is this, Rosa?’ Evelyn asked. ‘How does she know about this?’
The woman stood up and stuck out a hand. ‘Doctor Williams,’ she said, ‘at your service. I study theoretical physics at the university.’ She glanced back at the hole, at the needle’s eye. ‘Well, not so theoretical anymore.’
Rosa introduced herself and Evelyn. ‘So you made this thing?’ she asked. ‘This was your doing?’
‘Yes,’ Doctor Williams said. ‘We made this, and it slipped away from us. I would like to take it back, but I can’t move it.’
‘You can’t move it?’ Rosa said, nearly on the verge of tears again. ‘Or close it? There’s no way?’ For a second, she had this fleeting hope that Williams would have all the answers, that she would know how to get rid of it.
‘I can do two things: open it further or shrink it down so small that it will be unnoticeable.’
‘So shrink it.’
Williams hesitated. ‘We created the needle’s eye with a form of matter beyond our world, exotic matter that we had only a few grams of. Creating the hole used it all up, but if we keep the eye we can expand it, divide it, multiply it. Without it, we will lose everything.’
‘This is my apartment,’ Rosa protested. ‘I live here.’
‘I know, I know,’ said Williams, even though she couldn’t possibly understand. ‘But the university will make sure you get a new apartment! This is ground zero for a whole new world, an expansion of our understanding of the universe.’
‘Oh you can’t be serious!’ Evelyn said, butting in. ’You’ve got some sort of black hole that you’ve let loose and you want to keep it open? This is dangerous, and you need to close it, and compensate my friend for what you’ve put her through.’
‘It is not a black hole,’ Williams protested. ‘And you need to think of what we could learn from it, about the benefit to humanity. This one leads to a war zone, but what if we created more from it, leading to all the major cities of the world? We could connect the entire globe with free instantaneous travel between continents.’
‘I think I’m connected enough to the world by my phone,’ Evelyn snapped back. ‘I get enough harassment from my twitter followers without them all being able to show up on my front door.’
‘Yes, but it’s not the same!’
‘Right now,’ Evelyn retorted, ‘I’m seeing a war bleeding into my friend’s bedroom. Tell me how that’s a good thing.’
They started going off at each other, their argument swirling back and forth and getting louder and louder. Rosa tuned them out and sat down and looked at the hole. She thought about the whispers of the family that she had first heard late at night. She thought of Farah, of her childhood denied, of her future removed by an airstrike, of all the children like her dying in the city on the other side. She thought of Yusuf and his despair, of all the people doing nothing because the war was far away, because it didn’t concern them, because it was happening to people they’d never met, whose lives they could not conceive of, in a war that followed no easy script, where there were no good guys, only people being killed for no good reason.
She thought of this impossible world that Williams was describing, this perfect world where people slid from New York to London in a second, a world without the messiness of war, full of people who weren’t afraid of each other. She thought of the other world, the one she knew would come instead, the one where refugees poured out of apartment buildings, where your closest neighbours might live on the other side of the world. It would be a world you would hear their whispered hopes and fears in your wall, where you would have to face your own ignorance and fear. It would be a strange world, a hard world full of difficult choices where you could not look away.
She was so very tired, so tired of it all, but mostly tired of being unable to do anything.
She turned to the two arguing behind her. They looked down.
‘Open it,’ she said. ‘Open it wide.’