Over the course of the summer, Geoffrey had any number of plumbers, inspectors, even city officials come to examine the hole in his back yard, and none of them had any answers for him. It wasn’t a sinkhole, or a natural gas pocket, or some old vent from the water main. There were no chemical emissions coming from it, no carbon monoxide or methane or toxic runoff cocktail. Just a deep hole that plunged straight down from the grass into the darkness. By the autumn he didn’t waste his time calling anyone else, just covered it with a piece of chipboard and rolled a strip of sod over that. It wasn’t pretty, but it also wasn’t a weird, probably lethal hazard right behind his house.
In late September, Martin left. Geoffrey could say all he wanted that it was a long time coming, that he had been braced for it, but the departure still stung when it happened and ached long after. In the many months preceding it, he had planned for it as an inevitability, rehearsed his reactions and his feelings, and how he would explain it to his friends and family. Had a whole story about it, really, acted out from his perspective. Thoughtful and empathetic, truly understanding of Martin and his needs and Geoffrey’s own role in the rift between them. Of course, the real event didn’t happen anything like it. But he forgot sometimes that it didn’t, especially as time went on.
Part of the difference was that it was sudden. Geoffrey had envisioned a slow erosion, a tense and bitter parsing of terms, and then a peaceable but, obviously, sad departure. Instead, after something Geoffrey said in the morning, Martin stood up from the kitchen table, seemed to ripple from head to foot precisely one time, and walked out. He never came back to collect any of his things, never called or had anyone else call to inquire about them.
Martin had had his own towels. He had a humble but not miniscule collection of vinyl. Toothbrushes, his own shaving cream. He ate meat and Geoffrey didn’t, so there was a lot of meat left in the refrigerator that would never be eaten, unless Geoffrey had someone over, and he was not going to have anyone over.
The reminders made Geoffrey ache. They were like splinters that dug in to his joints and twisted between the bones. Mornings, he would brush his teeth and Martin’s toothbrush would be there, and he would assure himself that he was not as immature as some teenage movie character who had to throw everything out onto the lawn after a breakup. After a couple weeks he made himself dry off after a shower using one of Martin’s towels, chalked it up as a victory, and then couldn’t bring himself to touch it again to put it in the wash. After that, he made a bad decision.
The hole had been covered up for a couple months at that point. The sod was thin, dry, and brown, because there was nothing for it to put its roots down into. When Geoffrey pulled it away, it crumbled into small chunks. Some little tendrils of roots had tried to squeeze between the layers of the chipboard beneath, only to maybe be poisoned by the adhesive. Or something. Geoffrey cleared it all away and shoved it to the side. The hole beneath was now framed with a nice square of dead grass, crumbling to create a slight funnel.
He stared for some time, before finally tossing the toothbrush in. The flare of warmth in his chest was familiar. It was like the first time he had asked someone out. Stress and guilt and anticipation and just a hint of righteousness. He threw in a vacuum-sealed ham. And an armful of bunched-up towels.
The crumbling edges meant he couldn’t stand close enough to look straight in anymore, but he knew there would be nothing to see. Nothing for anything to catch on. The hole curved slightly about thirty feet down, so that he couldn’t see the bottom, or where anything was landing. As far as he could tell, everything disappeared. Maybe it was ending up in some subterranean aquifer, or landing on the roof of an ancient bomb shelter.
Records went after, and clothes, and the toaster oven because Martin had bought it. Geoffrey suppressed nervous, guilty laughter as he brought out more artifacts of their three years’ cohabitation. He found that it was more satisfying to bring several out and make a pile in the yard, then stand by the pile and throw article after article into the hole, several in a row instead of making a whole trip for each one. Shaving mirror. Photography how-to books.
He hesitated at the very last item, the hard drive onto which he had backed up all of their photographs together. By that point the fun was over, and it was solemn work. He told himself he didn’t need to feel any guilt, because Martin knew about the hole, would have come back within hours if he had wanted anything back, because it was obvious where everything would go. That wasn’t necessarily true, but it was enough for now.
Everything on the drive was in the cloud somewhere. Geoffrey tipped it over the edge and let it fall. There was no audible impact. He couldn’t see, but he was sure it would be falling for a long time. As far as he cared, it could all fall forever until it disintegrated from friction with the air.
He dragged the cover back over the hole, tucked the sod back over it. Suddenly he was worried again about being found out. He shook the thought out of his head and went back inside, where the only glaring reminders of the breakup were the conspicuous spaces left where Martin’s things had been. He would have to fill those with other things soon. He didn’t think he could throw empty space into the hole.
The High Mendicant shrank in his robes when the workers of the golem came to him with their emergency, because he would have to report it to the Grand Director, Son of the Earth Itself.
“You are certain?” he pleaded with them for different information. “You would not come to me in my quarters before you knew.”
They assured him with tight, nervous nods. They could not suspect that he would punish them for the news, that was not his way, but they knew his fear of the Grand Director, Son of the Earth Itself’s response, which could press any unpredictable behavior out of him. By rights, he should go to the Grand Director et cetera immediately, prostrate himself and bring the news. Instead, he bade the workers show him the golem and its state.
They shuffled through the delicately hewn corridors of mantle, stuffy and redly lit by windows to magma channels in the walls. He with his headdress askew and his underlings with darting eyes. In the golem chamber they swept aside ceremonial fixtures and candles to let him through, and drew back the curtain. In the back of the chamber the giant head hung slackly from the wall, its crown facing the setup at which the priests spoke their incantations while the workers teased it, a fingernail’s width at a time, out of the rock.
It lay still. It never lay still. It always struggled and worried, always had to be soothed until its body could be more complete. When the High Mendicant approached it from the side he saw that its adonic beauty, an idealized form of the Grand Director’s look, was entirely absent now, as its features flattened toward the ground. There was no life left in them.
“This is five months’ work, destroyed!” the High Mendicant asked after a long silence. “How did it happen?”
One of the priests spread her hands in miserable peace.
“The child is not being born like one of flesh,” she said. “It has no heart, no lungs until we have brought it that far out of the wall. For it to live before then, we gave it a throat, which reaches to the surface.”
“We have evidence,” one of the workers tried to put in. “that rumors of surface life may –“
“How did the golem die?” the High Mendicant demanded.
The priest directed him to a table, on which were placed an assortment of strange items. A scrap of fabric, some manner of box with a transparent front panel. Illustrated squares of paper, which seemed to contain discs of some kind of shiny material.
“It choked,” she said.