There are few things left that I can still derive joy from, the night bus being one of them. Whenever I can’t sleep and feel terrible about the state of all things—which is often—I remember that I can just walk out of my apartment in the middle of the night and wait at the bus stop and eventually, somebody will pull up. And then I’ll be on my way.
The last time I took the night bus, my apartment fell into a hole. Well, actually, it had fallen into the hole a week prior. But nobody was counting the days except for me, and every day felt the same. Time was irrelevant to how I felt and how the world seemed to be moving on.
That time, I didn’t have to walk to the bus stop alone. Ian walked me. Ian, who had bought me two drinks and left a large bruise on my inner thigh.
When we had arrived at his apartment a couple hours earlier, he kissed me on the cheek and took my sweater, folding it into a neat square. I was wearing a tank top I had stolen from H&M and a pleated skirt I had borrowed from a friend a couple of days ago. I had mentioned that I hadn’t eaten supper. He handed me a bowl of cereal and we sat on his rug cross-legged with our knees touching until both our bowls were drained.
All the while, I kept looking at him and mustering the strength to speak. I got dizzy when I stood up to get a glass of water. I wasn’t eating normally then and hadn’t slept more than a couple of hours a night.
“It feels like my whole life is falling apart,” I wanted to say.
But I said nothing, and just sipped my tap water and looked at the contours of his face, hollow and bird-like, flushed from the warmth of the kitchen lights.
“I didn’t have anything else, I hope this is enough,” he said, gesturing to our bowls.
He seemed sweet, then. He looked at me intently and I wanted to know everything about his life; where he was born and if he separated his laundry by colour.
Instead I said, “It’s perfect. It’s exactly what I needed.”
He smiled and went back to eating his cereal. When we kissed, I tasted milk.
Later, when we were lying naked together, and I was watching the hands of his clock stutter, he turned to me and smelled my hair.
“I just noticed your shampoo,” he said. “I mean, I wash my hair,” I said. “Argan oil?” he asked.
He paused, then looked up at the ceiling. I was starting to get comfortable in his bed. His sheets were standard-issue cotton-blend. He had a portrait of Che Guevara thumbtacked above his dresser. It stared at us, lips curling toward the ceiling.
“My mom also washed her hair with argan oil shampoo,” he said.
Around then I realized that I couldn’t stay. I didn’t say anything in response—it wasn’t worth it. People say a lot of weird things to me. Once, while training me, one of my co- workers said: “Make sure it’s written in a way that’s easy to understand, so you could explain it to a child, or a woman.”
I said, “Excuse me?”
And my co-worker said “No no no no, no, I didn’t mean it like that.”
Back in Ian’s room, I was snapping my nylons over my waist. I kept my eyes steady on the horizon, like I was sitting in a lurching car trying not to vomit. I heard him re-making his bed behind me, tucking his duvet under the mattress, fluffing his pillows.
“I’ll walk you,” he said from across the room.
And since we were no longer strangers to each other, and since I already knew that I wasn’t in love with him, I said yes, yes, the bus stop is far and I’d really appreciate it if I didn’t have to walk alone in the dark.
I didn’t bother mentioning that a sinkhole had opened up in the basement of my building and swallowed everything whole.
I noticed the hole while doing laundry. First, it was small. It looked like a paint drop, or a squashed bug. I only noticed it because I dropped a hair pin and it fell through the floor in a straight vertical line. Like a swimmer doing a pencil dive. When I ran my finger over it, I could feel the air underneath.
The next week, I could fit my index finger. Then, my fist.
I stopped doing laundry altogether after that. My clothes accumulated into a rank pile at the foot of my bed and I closed my eyes and plugged my nose every time I entered my room.
When my landlord called to tell me what happened, I had just dragged a suitcase full of dirty clothes to the laundromat.
“Sorry,” he said. “You’re going to have to find somewhere else to stay for the night.”
“But how long until I can return?” I asked.
“I don’t know, up to the city,” he said.
I walked to the depanneur and cried in front of the cashier. He gave me a pack of beers and two limes for free.
At night, the city is cool and everything is still. Nothing rots in the cold. While waiting for the bus, Ian put his arm around me. Suddenly I felt awful and embarrassed—the scene we had practised and put on within the confines of his apartment was now out for the whole street to see. A taxi drove by.
“Do you ever just worry that all the pollution we’re emitting is going to fuck up the air and one day we’ll run out of oxygen and we’ll all just suffocate together at the exact same time?” I asked.
Ian dropped his arm softly.
“Um,” he said. “Honestly, that’s never occurred to me as a possibility.”
The bus pulled up.
“Thanks for being nice,” I said.
We both paused. This is when we kiss, I thought. The air moved slowly around us. Although he was standing a foot away from me, he suddenly seemed very far and very small. Like I was looking at him from an airplane window.
“Well, have a good one,” he said. When he turned away, I sensed that I would not see him for a long time.
On the bus, I opened my phone to my workplace app and clicked “Active.” As long as I have the app open, the automated timesheet system counts it as working hours, even if I’m not really doing anything. And since the company has international offices, it doesn’t matter if I work weird hours, because it’s bound to be daytime somewhere. Whenever I’m online, it feels like I’ve never logged off, like whatever I did in between my shifts never actually happened. The hours are flat. I scrolled mindlessly up and down conversations and channels. I’ll do this for hours while at a bar, or at the movies. Walking through the grocery store. Waiting for the doctor. Waiting for someone to text me back.
There was one other person on the bus, a young girl wearing a puffer jacket, a huge scarf, and a knit beanie. She turned to look at me, and took out one of her earbuds.
“Excuse me, but did you date Allan?” she asked.
“Who?” I asked.
“Allan,” she repeated. “Your ex-boyfriend?”
I shook my head slowly. “No, that’s not me.” “But I know you from somewhere,” she pressed. I shook my head again. “You must be mistaken.”
She frowned. “Don’t act so oblivious.”
Before I could say anything, the bus pulled onto my street and lurched to an unsatisfying stop.
“Bye,” the girl in the puffer said. She had a half-wrapped Filet-O-Fish in her hands.
“Can I have that?” I asked. I was really hungry.
“No,” she responded, and took a big bite. She ate noisily, the saliva snapping in her mouth as she chewed. The plush bun glistened under the fluorescents. I could smell the tartar sauce, fantasizing about how it would coat my tongue with a thick, creamy layer.
She leaned against the door handles and they opened with a hiss. I stepped off and walked ten feet to the right, where my apartment was. Had been. Where it had been. Where there was now a hole.
I looped around through the back alley to get a better view of the sinkhole. A mountain of rocks and cracked concrete slabs loomed, sloppily covering the crater.
I stepped over punctured garbage bags, their trashed guts spilled out, to see if I could peer beneath the debris. I flashed my phone light into an opening. All I saw was bent concrete and rubble.
The low hum of a train passed through the alley. I could hear one of my neighbours watching TV from a second-floor unit.
“Mr. Trebek, I’d like to make this a true Daily Double,” a contestant said.
I heard Mr. Trebek’s voice, warm and smooth and paternal. “This is a natural opening where surface water enters into underground passages. These are typically found in landscapes dominated by porous limestone rock.”
Impulsively, I buzzed in.
“What is: A sinkhole?” I stated confidently.
Mr. Trebek shook his head at me. “I’m afraid not.” I lost $400. No one else buzzed in. I kicked a piece of gravel. It dinged off of a metal fence.
“A ponor,” he said, tapping his cards against the podium. “That, my friend, is a different sort of hole in the ground.”
I nodded. There was only one question left on the board, in the category “American Rock Music” for $1,000.
Mr. Trebek cleared his throat. “This 1971 album by Alice Cooper takes its title from this fatal adjective.”
There was a dead pause as everyone wracked their brain for the answer. But I knew it, I obviously knew it.
I buzzed in. “What is Killer?”
Mr. Trebek smiled warmly at me, ear-to-ear. “That is correct.” From the alleyway, I smiled back at him.
The word lingered in my mouth. It tasted cold and bitter. I said it again, awaiting a response, but the ground remained still and silent. The earth did not shake or scream or display any signs of grief or loss. It held its breath during the slow erosion toward entropy. I stood for a while longer, thinking about these so-called signs and my so-called oblivion. I wondered what else I had made myself wilfully ignorant of. If there were any symptoms of genetic disease I’d overlooked, any strange moles or lumps on my body. If there was a black hole opening up in the middle of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch waiting to swallow us all up.
I started walking to my friend Hannah’s. I knew she would be awake watching Chinese singing competitions. Her couch was comfortable and available and at my disposal. I walked the length of the city block alone. I could tell that everyone in the city was asleep, but that they were all sleeping very poorly. They were sleeping on their sides, knees curled to their stomachs, their dreams filled with boring symbolism. Their dreams were full of teeth and dogs and normal sexual urges. They were all sleeping with their blinds open, the eyes of their apartment buildings wide and ready to capture light.
I caught my reflection in the darkened pharmacy window. I thought my face looked inviting and sad against the outlines of half-clothed mannequins and discount sunscreen. I hoped that if people passed me on the street, if they saw my reflection through a pane of glass, they would think of how morose and fascinating I looked. My lips pouty and chapped. Large streaks of black smudged under my eyes. I wanted to look like I had a rich interior life. That I had internalized death and God and the slow climate apocalypse better than any of my peers. That I looked like I deserved a boyfriend.
An electric scooter was idling in front of a 24-hour shawarma place. The driver sat solo, backlit by the glow from inside the restaurant. He was checking his phone. I walked over and tapped him on the shoulder. He was a middle-aged East Asian man with straight bangs. He looked up at me. Even in the helmet, I could see how perfect his bangs were. They hit right above the arch of his left eyebrow.
“Excuse me, where are you driving that to?” I asked. He didn’t miss a beat. “5432 Jeanne Mance.”
He eyed me up and down.
“Can I ride with you there?”
He says yes, and since neither of us have anything to lose or gain, suddenly I’m being whisked down the street, cold air rushing against my face. Droplets of road dew splattering on my ankles and knuckles and nose.
I tilt my head all the way back while my hands are around his waist. He feels warm. As my head falls back, I crane my neck to glimpse any stars. Even with light pollution, I can see a few. Not that I can name any, but they’re there. You can see satellites and planes better, anyways. There’s always something worth seeing.
Flying past me, the ground doesn’t look hard anymore. It looks plush. It looks standard-issue. It streams by, beckoning me. If the ground can swallow my apartment, surely it can stomach me. When the scooter halts, I get off and immediately crumple, my ankles and knees faltering under the weight of my body. My palms dig into the asphalt and I let my skull thump against the ground. I roll onto my back, my spinal alignment straightening against the hard ground. I can vaguely make out the man calling my name from the scooter, but I can’t hear him clearly. He’s calling my name from a cellular dead zone. It’s all static. It feels warm, and I close my eyes, drifting off to sleep. It’s inconvenient for everyone else, but impossible for me to resist. I can’t resist. The sidewalk is simply too soft.
Katia Lo Innes is a writer from London, Ontario, based in Tio’tia:ke/Montreal. She is a researcher and producer for The Breach. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Maisonneuve, Ricepaper Magazine, and Echolocation. In 2022, she was selected for the ECW BIPOC Writers Mentorship Program.