There was a hole in the tree at the end of our nan’s garden. We used to love shoving our arms into it, me and my sister, pretending we were Flash Gordon, pretending we might get bitten and die.
No matter how old we got, no matter how long our arms grew, we never could reach the end of it. We stuck the garden hose into it once, lowered it down slowly into the depths as if we were dropping a bucket down into a well, or a bathysphere into the sea. And even when we’d unspooled it all we still could have gone deeper.
My sister said it must be coiling around in there like a snake, or like the tape inside a cassette, tightly wound round some tree-ish spindle deep down there in the dark.
All I could imagine it as was guts. But then at the time all I could imagine at any time was guts, stomachs slashed open, intestines bulging out from the gaping wound like a colony of bloated worms, all this the consequence of some surreptitiously watched forbidden video, rented out on our behalf from the shop by a friend’s older brother or an unconcerned uncle.
And every day since, these visions of mutilation and evisceration. I’d sit in the bathtub and stare at my ever largening belly, horrified and fascinated about was was within, what was straining to get out.
We turned the hose on, in the end, while it was in the hole, and counted out the seconds until it overflowed, so that we could work out an approximate volume of the expanse within the tree. But it never overflowed. The hollow was obviously infinite, a void unexplainable by science. (My sister had more prosaic explanations).
Our nan asked us what we were doing out there, when we’d gone back inside in the afternoon for a glass of watery orange squash and a biscuit, most likely a rich tea but, if we were lucky, perhaps one of those with the cow on them, whatever they were called.
“We were putting our arms in the hole in the tree,” said my sister, rather guilelessly.
“You shouldn’t put things in holes, dear,” said our nan. “You might not get them out again.”
And she chuckled to herself as if it was funny, both what she’d said and what we were doing. But after that she never let us play in the garden much again, or at least not on our own.
That summer extended on forever and we forgot about the hole. Moved on to other mysteries. Then there was school, again, eventually, autumn, winter, christmas, snow.
In the half term we stayed there, and we got snowed in. It was quite exciting. The roofs of cars protruding out from the drifts like polyps. Icicles growing down from the gutter so far when you looked out of the window it felt like you were behind bars.
I woke up one night, a gap in the curtains letting the moonlight through. The house was silent. Outside the snow glowed as if lit from below.
I heard the screams of foxes, far away, nearer, near. Then out into the garden one ran, each footstep an echo of its passage through the snow.
My nan burst out from beneath the picnic bench, galloping across the snow on all fours towards her prey. A silent leap, up, up, down onto the back of the transfixed fox. Then an explosion of noise and movement and screaming.
My nan rose from the snow, up on to her hind legs, the dead animal hanging from her mouth, blood dripping from the holes where her teeth were submerged in the poor thing’s belly, splashes of red on the white of her nightgown, and more behind her in the hollow in the snow where her footstepped path and the fox’s converged.
She walked across to the tree, bent down towards the hole, and pushed herself into it, fox first, then face, her shoulders dislocating behind her as the rest of her slithered inside.
Silence, then, and stillness, for a moment. Then clouds obscured the moon. Snow fell in darkness. Sleep eventually took me back to bed. And in the morning no trace of footsteps in the snow, no stains of blood on the ground, nor on the tree. Even in my mind, the memory was softened out by the possibility of it being a dream.
For breakfast there was toast and jam, thick and red and spread too strong. Everyone eating it, except for me and my nan. No one believed me about the hole and what I’d seen go in it, and later when we went outside to look it was frozen full of ice, so thick and clear you couldn’t see it, you had to touch it to know it was there, to know it existed in more than just your mind.
1. Written on July 3rd, 2018
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