A Thing of Nothing

Michael Holt


I don't know if I can use the word begin, but around that time things in my house had ceased to be content with their simple existence and insisted on announcing and asserting themselves over and over again.

My husband's alarm clock no longer sat on the bedside table as it had always sat, beside his glasses and the bottle of aspirin: it sat there again.

The toaster perched in its place on the counter with a kind of exaggerated poise.

In bed at night I'd hear the refrigerator humming with an urgent, irritable hum.

Even objects that weren't plugged in seemed to have engines hidden within them, mechanisms that urged them on, coaxing them, again, again.

The rhythm of everything humming at once made a hive of sound in my head.

At night those rhythms would mysteriously align, the frequencies of things would all sync up, and the whole house beat to one throbbing hum, again, again, again.

One night I thought: But there has to be a moment when one again stops and another begins.

I thought: The refrigerator could not be the refrigerator again unless it stopped, for a second, being the refrigerator.

And if it stopped, for a second, being the refrigerator, what was it then?

I sat up in bed, my brain clicking, and went back to the beginning.

There had to be a gap between two agains.

And things had to jump, at every moment, over the gap.

If they didn't jump over the gap, they'd stall, or stutter, or disappear, or collapse, or something else would happen to them.

One moment there would be the chair, humming along, and the next moment—

So I had to widen the gap.

I had to pry the chair apart from the chair, the couch apart from the couch, the refrigerator apart from the refrigerator.

I had to pry things from themselves.

And so I rose, one night, and went into the kitchen, and began putting my ear up to things, listening for the gap, the pause, the silence between two agains.

They came too quickly, againagainagainagain, a stampede of things jumping over the gap.

I went into the living room.

I stood in the middle of the floor, and stared at my husband's adjustable chair.

I thought: I'll sync my heart to the rhythm of the chair, then widen the gap with my pulse.

I thought: I'll wedge my life in the gap, lodge all my living in the gap, make my last stand between the chair and itself!

And then my husband came into the room.

I turned to find his disheveled form emerging from the mouth of the hall.

For a few moments he merely stood there breathing, until he reached around to scratch the back of his neck and said, What are you doing?

Nothing, I said.

His hair was sticking up from his head.

I said it again, just to be sure.


Something between a grunt and a sniffle issued from his nose or mouth.

And then, incredibly, he began to recede back down the hall, as if someone were rewinding a film.

I whispered the word as he went, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, as if sweeping him away with a soft broom.

I dusted the walls with that word, and wove through the rooms dusting everything else, the floors and windows and shelves, the lampshades and the appliances.

I made a wind of it, and it blew through the bedroom and halls, and blew through the bedroom and halls, even when my husband had long been gone.