The woman awakens when it is not quite yet dawn. She reaches out to take a cigarette from the nightstand. And it is then, as she lights it and raises it to her lips, that she notices the hole in her hand.
It is a small hole, not even the size of a quarter, in the very center of her palm. It’s black, like a void–not clear like a porthole–and the woman can’t see anything inside it.
The woman sits there, staring at the hole, smoking her cigarette in silence.
And then she takes it and moves it toward the hole. She pauses, and then dips it inside.
The burning end of the cigarette disappears into the dark. It disappears suddenly–without fading or dimming.
The woman turns her hand–there’s nothing emerging.
The hole in her palm doesn’t lead to the other side.
The woman withdraws the cigarette and stares at the tip. It’s still burning, as it was, no different. She puts it to her lips and takes another drag.
The cigarette tastes just the same.
The woman blows a plume of smoke across the empty room.
She wishes someone else were here to see this.
The woman goes into the other room and rummages around. She finds some string and returns to the bed. She ties the string around the filter of the cigarette, ties it tightly, then slides it in the hole.
She lets the string out slowly, until the cigarette is gone.
Then she lowers it down and away.
The string goes and goes, as if taken by gravity. Inch by inch, the woman plays out the spool. Finally, when the last of the string is almost all gone, she stops.
She wonders what could possibly be below.
The woman ransacks her apartment, looking for more string. She finds two spools like the first one, some dental floss, some twine. And then–the big find–a box of fishing line. It’s buried in the closet.
Her husband must have left it behind.
The woman sits on the bed, slowly playing out the cigarette, tying each string to the next as they go. She lowers the cigarette for hours and hours. She keeps lowering it even after sundown.
And then, in the very, very, very dead of night, the woman comes to the end of the last piece of string.
The woman sits there, terrified. Her hands are shaking. She can’t imagine the depth of this hole. She can’t imagine where it is, can’t imagine where it goes; she feels sick just to think that it’s inside her.
The woman pictures herself with an infinite amount of string, lowering the cigarette away forever. Lowering it away, down into the dark.
And just then her fingers slip, and the string leaps away.
No! the woman screams, grabbing after the end.
But the end is already gone into the hole.
The woman can hardly sleep that night, and when she does, she has nightmares. She dreams she’s in Hell, crying out, amidst flame.
But when she wakes she finds her nightmare is not a dream at all.
Her room is full of smoke.
And everything is on fire.
The woman crawls through the smoke toward the door. She is wheezing–gasping–for breath. The door is hot; she knows better than to try to open it up. She looks to the window on the other side of the room.
The woman’s apartment is on the top floor of the building, and she knows the window is no escape. But still she goes to it, crawling, somehow hoping.
When she gets there, she opens it.
There are fire trucks below.
The firemen are standing in a circle on the sidewalk, holding their round net open. They are looking up and waving–waving at the woman–and calling for her to jump.
The woman lifts a foot and places it on the sill. She steps up and stands there, balancing.
At this point she knows her hair is on fire–her hair, her arms, and her clothes.
But when she steps out, the people below see this: they see a comet, descending from the sky. A lost thing returning from the cold and empty night; a refugee from darkness, burning for the light.
In the hospital, the woman sits watching the sun rise. She sits there and watches from her bed. A nurse comes in to check on things and straighten all the pillows.
Then she stays.
The woman needs a friend.