9.6 / June 2014

The Men of St. Christopher Street

We are the men of St. Christopher Street. Our dominion branches between the Fremont’s new addition and past the Caldwell’s unfinished deck, deep into a cleared away spot where Rick Stutesman draws the blueprints for his latest faux chateau. Rick Stutesman built all our houses. He lives in one of them. That’s a trait of St. Christopher Street.

But we are beyond your white bread suburbia; we have drama teachers, and philanthropists, and a retired Methodist clergyman. We have Canadians. The Merdys. They bought a safe room the day they moved to the neighborhood, and we laughed at that, but in the ironic way, nothing against them. We understand culture, after all, and proved it by learning about hockey. We have jerseys. All our sons have their birthday parties at skating rinks. We put National Geographics on our coffee tables. We acknowledge Black History Month. We celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

Summers on St. Christopher Street are marked by sprinklers, and barbeques, and garden contests, and those door-to-door salesman who offer to fix our computers or sell us their daughter’s cookies. We very much like their daughter’s cookies. This is when our wives tell us to put down hardwood floors, and replace our cabinets’ gold nobs with darker copper nobs, and when we mow and mow and mow the grass. We prefer fescue. All of us except Ralph Morris who sprinkles Bermuda seeds on his yard every fall. We do not like this.

We are the ones whose dogs rotate yards to piss, whose children rotate pools to swim, and whose wives, we suspect, rotate husbands during tax season. And we fear this, and expect this, for that is what comes with community. And that is St. Christopher Street.

So when Roy Baughman called us to his backyard on Sunday, we came without hesitation, bringing weed eaters, pruners, the neighborhood aerator—a grand specimen of our allegiance. But Roy shrugged when we arrived and looked down at a hole that rested in the middle of his garden. We looked too, circling the thing, which was small as a fist but deep. Very deep. And it looked back at us, like an eye, a guilty pupil, as if claiming it did, in fact, belong between the two rose bushes.

The strangest thing, said Roy. You fellas ever see anything like it?

I’d say it was moles, said Jay Fremont after a time. He bent down and felt the smooth edges of the hole, rubbing them like dust off the mantelpiece. Very precise moles.

Not like the moles I know, said Pastor Davis, and we nodded, deciding long ago that when pastors spoke, you were expected to nod. Florian Merdy got on his knees and measured the thing but wouldn’t put his hand inside.

But a sinkhole, said Wesley Wald. That must be it. It’s deep, to be sure. You can’t even see where it goes.

We mumbled the way uncertain fathers should. Those of us who had opinions gave them, while those untroubled by thoughts smiled and agreed or commented on the size of the peppers in Roy’s garden.

Florian gasped and tripped over the grass like we do on fresh ice. There’s someone down there! He yelled. I saw them. I saw their eyes. Big brown eyes. Look! Look! Someone’s down there!

We threw down our tools and bent over the hole like huddled up Blackhawks. There was much squinting, but we didn’t see any eyes. Pastor Davis shouted scripture into the darkness, but the hole didn’t answer to Jeremiah or Romans. Not even an echo.

I swear I saw them, cried Florian Merdy. Two eyes! We patted him on the back as we left, telling him it was just a mole, after all. But it wasn’t mole eyes, he said. Roy nodded but promised to get a trap before they bred and dug up the rest of our yards.

Jay Fremont called us that night, one by one, telling us to drop what we were doing and look out our windows. Something came out of his backyard, he said—No, not a plant or a mole. It was tall, with arms—But up from the ground, he said. Like a tulip, he said. With arms.

We each went to the blinds, separating them enough to watch the shadow that creeped from the Fremonts’ yard up St. Christopher Street, wandering around in the wind and carrying something like a large clay pot on top of its head. Drugs, we guessed. Or Schwan’s. Together we rang up the neighborhood calling tree, deeply offended by the shadow. We roused our most ferocious dogs and woke our more blood-thirsty children, and with our social networking skills we organized a midnight militia of seventeen strong, thinking of ourselves like something out of a Spaghetti Western.

But when we saw it was woman-shaped, the rigged blinds of our windows relaxed somewhat—for we secretly thought this was less threatening than a man’s shadow, which already slinked in our nightmares like a bankrupt car salesman, or the kind of silhouette that sported gang symbols, or swastika patches. Men who, of course, don’t live on St. Christopher Street. But this was a woman, or the outline of a woman, who scrambled in a confused way between sprinklers and mailboxes, screaming when she stepped on a chew toy one of our dogs left out. As our children mustered out of service for the night we nominated the good Pastor Davis to offer her a ride home. But when he went to her, she had already vanished.

Back down the rabbit hole, Jay Fremont said. The one in my garden.

St. Christopher Street called in sick that next week; we settled on an un-diagnosable affliction that our bosses wouldn’t question, deciding to get to the bottom of this funny business once and for all. We skipped breakfast and showers, replacing them with extra scoops of Folgers. Our wives were beginning to worry.

By then there were holes in each of our yards, some no bigger than a shoe, but others large enough to eat a tricycle. Wesley Wald’s hole did just that, sucking his son’s Universal 505 into the obscurity. Wes said it was about time he learned to ride a two-wheeler, anyway.

Settle yourselves, Rick Stutesman told us at dawn. His wife passed around a cooler of Diet Coke around the driveway and asked if anyone wanted a cinnamon roll. As we gathered about his garage, we noticed for the first time a small man with olive skin who sat in a foldout chair under Rick’s basketball net. He smiled the way people do on the Discovery Channel, and we looked at him and tried not to think about the crusades. He looked uncomfortable but drank the Diet Coke that Rick’s wife handed him. He didn’t take it with ice. Rick was busy flattening out his blueprints of St. Christopher—he’d already recorded all the known holes on the street by marking them with a red Sharpie—and then unloaded some of the books he’d read from a self-improvement course they taught on Tuesday nights at the community college.

It really comes down to the science, Rick explained, and wiped his ruddy face with a handkerchief. This is classic Schwarzschild, he said, and we followed him to a hole that had swallowed his birdbath. Rick traced it with a finger. He shined a flashlight inside it and said things like spacetime, and exotic energy, and Einstein, and the Starship Enterprise. Reality is collapsing upon itself, he warned. Like a blanket being folded up by the corners. And St. Christopher Street is one of those corners.

Like wormholes, Pastor Davis offered, who knew the importance of simplification.

Like wormholes, agreed Rick. He pointed to the small man who sat under the basketball net. This is Mr. Acar, he said, and nodded to the stranger. Mr. Erol Acar. Says he’s from Kas. That’s in Turkey, you know. We Googled.

Erol waved hesitantly at his name and nodded. Rick’s wife offered him another drink.

The men of St Christopher Street bowed diplomatically. A foreigner? How lovely, we thought, and were delighted and envious of Rick Stutesman’s luck. A world traveler, right here on St. Christopher Street. How is your trip? we asked. Everything you thought it would be and more? Flight was pleasant?

He didn’t fly, Rick said. He came from this hole.

You mean the wormhole, said the pastor.

Like a tulip, said Jay Fremont.

Remarkable, said Aaron Caldwell.

Precisely, said Rick. Instantaneous travel. And this might just be the beginning. If this is one hole among many, the hole to Turkey, and there are others in our yards—

But is it traversable, Pastor Davis interrupted. Rick cleared his throat and said something about that chapter being studied in the advanced class in the spring.

Can he go back, I mean, said the pastor. Back to Turkey. I mean if he wanted to.

It’s traversable, of course, said Rick. He’s been hopping between here and Kas all morning.

We might have sighed when he said that, just a little, but we assured Erol it was nothing personal. Erol sipped his Diet Coke.

Hogspit, said Roy Baughman. All it is is holes. And holes are made from rodents. And rodents need to be trapped and buried before they make a real mess of things. All I see here is a mole problem. An infestation.

But it wasn’t moles. By midday the holes produced more than the calorie conscious Turk. Aaron Caldwell reported having people of Inuit decent (he called them Eskimos until we said not to call them that) popping up from behind his privacy fence, while Florian Merdy witnessed a Tibetan monk petting his cat behind the ears. He wore robes, called it a dhonka, and offered to help out around our gardens. We heard through the grapevine that Ralph Morris’ revealed some kind of jungle with trees bigger than Sequoias, and he said there was this great, winged bird hovering in the air around it. And there was light. This bright light. You guys wouldn’t believe it, he said. Pastor Davis had an entire Indian reservation from Arizona coming through the hole in his compost pile, and he called them into his house for shared theories on the deluge stories that ran through both of their religions. Wesley Wald was ecstatic when a couple of French college students climbed out of his hole. It’s okay, he said, they’re from Northern France. And that made it better. Jay Fremont had Ethiopia in his backyard, which his wife cooed and awed over, saying they had always wanted to sponsor one of those children through their college years, with pens and paper, and things like food, the children we see on daytime television. Those commercials, you know? Jay didn’t watch the commercials.

We welcomed all who came and closed off the gates around St. Christopher Street for a block party, celebrating the newcomers with an afternoon of shared cultures, and we hung up banners and flags and shot off the fireworks Florian’s kids had been hording for three Fourth of Julys. And the hole-travelers joined us for the festivities, and the Native Americans went away and returned with guitars and traditional drums, and we made burgers and store-bought French fries and lemonade. And they were happy.

They brought their own foods to share as well, fruits and meats and breads that we’d never tasted before, that looked interesting enough to try a little and nod politely. All except Roy Baughman, who locked his doors, calling it required family time. The rest of us danced with them, those who would dance, and they told us to come back with them through their holes. An adventure, they told us. You must see it for yourselves.

Some other time, we promised. Tomorrow perhaps. We might have meant it. And they left in the evening through the traversable holes, and we watched as each of them went, making sure they got back to where they belonged. Wesley Wald had to redirect the Frenchmen from the Inuit hole, and we laughed at that later. Jay Fremont’s wife made sack lunches for each of the Ethiopian children as they hopped back into the darkness. Erol Acar didn’t want to go at all, and he pulled out a pipe and told his life story around the glow of the grill through a sequence of gestures and broken English. We learned he had worked on one of those floating docks of the Turkish shipyards, and we learned he had always been good with his hands, and we learned that he had two dogs and a wife or two wives and a dog. We learned that Erol Acar was a talker. It would have kept going like this if we didn’t intervene, so we hurried him through his anecdotes about his aspirations of owning a boat, and told him, sorry, there was no water near St. Christopher, except for a private pond we stocked with fish every spring. Members only. He was disappointed, so we insisted he go home for the night.

When they were all gone, we praised ourselves and Roy came out of his house, and we put the foreign dishes in Tupperware bowls and pushed them to the back of our refrigerators. And then we grilled up the rest of our meats all through the night. And we were happy.

Stranger things were happening that first week, too, like the curious incident at the Morris residence. Ralph Morris was the quietest of us all, an urbanite who’d softened up to easier living, and we welcomed him into our community with the same obligation you’d find from your local postal service. Rain or snow, though never on holidays. But he was always on the edge of our hospitality.

So when he came to us with news of his hole—we felt some form of ownership for them by this point, the way we might claim a wild sunflower—we took it as a sign of comradery, and shared our beer and grilled meats with him. But Ralph Morris didn’t have an appetite, he said, and we secretly thought it was because our meats weren’t free range meats, or because our beers were made with quantity in mind, rather than the experience.

But then he said that God was now sitting on the other side of his hole, like He was just waiting for something, and Ralph wasn’t sure what to do about that.

What an honor, we said, especially Pastor Davis, who had felt somewhat cheated for getting the reservation in his backyard. We’d love to meet Him, we said. Tell Him to come on over, won’t you?

Ralph didn’t want to talk anymore about it, but we made him talk about it.

He doesn’t want to come to St. Christopher Street, Ralph said finally, and we were troubled by the way his eyes went all longing like when he said that. I’ve got to go now, Ralph told us. Goodbye, gentlemen, he said, and he walked back toward his yard.

We never saw Ralph after that night. Our wives sent casseroles to his house, but he didn’t answer the door, and we took turns cutting his grass. We replanted it with fescue, of course, figuring he would have wanted it that way. Our children would instinctively ride their bikes in big arcs away from the Morris place. And Aaron Caldwell said his dog peed on the edge of the house one afternoon, and that dog just went stiff and died right there when the urine made contact with the yellow siding. The strangest thing.

The hole-travelers were back in the morning. They were back every morning. Some poking their heads in to say hello while others tried to join us for breakfast or go with us to work. By then we had used up most of our vacation days or taken a sabbatical just to keep them from roaming. Who knows what would happen to them if they left St. Christopher Street. We looked to the Frenchmen as good examples for the others. With Jay Fremont’s permission that had turned his shed into a photography studio, and the two Europeans spent afternoons taking pictures of St. Christopher Street and touching up the negatives among the mower and old crochet mallets. We guided them around, proudly showing them the best angles and infrastructure. We appreciate good art.

The others didn’t adjust nearly as well. Some of the children from Tibet would run around our yards butt-naked and urinate freely on our streets, and we would have to cover the eyes of our own children. We’d use the travelers as examples of what not to do when we talked about things like manners over family dinner. The lady with the pot was a Zululander, and our wives noticed right off the bat that she had a shaved head. The pot lady said it was shaved because her husband hadn’t treated her well, and that she would leave it shaved until he amended his behavior. Well, that started a mess for the rest of us, and half of our wives took razors to their previously styled hair, and we had to tell our friends and families that St. Christopher Street was raising money for cancer awareness.

There were more holes by the end of that first month. Stranger ones. Rick Stutesman told us something about a low-browed Neanderthal coming out of a new hole that opened up in his crawl space. The recluse seemed to like it so much that he took up residence. Through rudimentary drawings he explained that we had smaller, less threatening dogs and cats than the ones he had at home. We also had suspicions that there was an affair happening between Mrs. Stutesman and the Neanderthal. We tried to make light of it and called her Mistress Flintstone behind her back, but it never really caught on.

Pastor Davis told us he now had Conquistadors from the sixteenth century where his koi pond used to be, and that they were not keen on sharing the backyard with an Indian reservation. He told us that things really got bad when the group of iron-clad Spaniards stuck one of their flags down the reservation hole. Within moments, traditional war drums could be heard coming from his side of the street as the Indians prepared to avenge their ancestors.

Aaron Caldwell told us a new hole opened up to his wife’s childhood town from 1972, and that the future Mrs. Caldwell, wearing a fringed miniskirt, hoop earnings, and some other guy’s class ring, was disappointed by the balding man she would one day have to marry. Erol Acar squatted in the shade of Rick’s house and watched it all unfold. He drank Diet Coke.

Toward the end of the summer we were beginning to wonder where Florian Merdy had gone off to. A few of us saw him run onto the street one night shouting things like, We’re overrun! And Independence for Tibet! But he had a wild look in his eyes and his upper lip was swollen, as if from a brawl. Last time we made contact with him, he and his wife were fending off the PRC with nothing but hockey sticks from within their safe room.

And Jay Fremont and his wife were growing tired of Ethiopia, which now glitched indecisively to parts of Sudan, but the Fremonts hardly had time to process these changes. No matter what they did, more and more were coming through the holes each morning, a daily exodus that drained pantries, and refrigerators, and sweet, sweet moments when we just needed to sit. Children and mothers, fathers and brothers screamed from these holes, and at times we could see hands pressing through the ground like flowers. Dead flowers. All stem and no petals.

When autumn came and the first leaf fell, we were all worn and troubled by what we saw coming from these holes, and said things like, enough was enough, and there comes a time when a man’s privacy outweighs his duty, and, we can only do so much.

We called another meeting that afternoon in Rick Stutesman’s garage, and politely told Erol to leave us alone while we did some thinking. Wesley Wald said he’d had plenty of the Frenchmen, whose coquettish ways, he said, had bewitched his daughter into tighter pants and laissez-faire thinking. Pastor Davis said he’d done all he could—from peace treaties to peace pipes—and still the Spaniards were priming their guns.

Roy Baughman was the only one of us who didn’t seem disturbed by the hole-travelers. He just sat there in the garage and watched, and we asked him what was coming out of his backyard today.

Nothing, he said, and leaned back in his foldout chair and watched the ceiling.

Of course there is, we said. We saw it for ourselves.

Not anymore, he said.

It’s gone, you mean? They’re going away? And we were relieved. See, we said, just like that the world is correcting itself.

They’re not going nowhere fast, he laughed. But like I said, a hole’s a hole. And there’s only one way to deal with that.

And that night we waved goodbye to the travelers, and Jay Fremont’s wife helped each of the Ethiopian children into their hole, and Wesley Wald patted the Frenchmen on the backs, and Aaron Caldwell made lunch plans with his future wife and she just said whatever, and Rick told Erol Acar he’d see him in the morning, and we all waited until St. Christopher Street turned quiet, and we stood on the street, making sure they were gone.

And then we brought out the shovels. It was the most natural thing in the world. With garden topsoil and chat from Rick’s construction sites we began to fill the holes, quietly, passionately, and pressed forward until we clogged them up with dirt. And all across St. Christopher Street there was much sweat and purpose and peace, and our wives, now with their hair reaching below their ears, and our children, bathed and courteous, watched us from the porches and cheered, and we filled the darkness all the way to the brim, until there was much earth between us and them.

Patrick is currently attending a graduate creative writing program at Missouri State University. He enjoys camping, horticulture, hiking, and most other activities involving survival. That's probably why he decided to major in English in the first place. This is Patrick's first publication.
9.6 / June 2014