Thing 24: Sinkhole


“We discussed all of the scenarios involved in buying the old house and having the baby at the same time before we made the move. We made sure there was no lead paint or asbestos. We got those little plastic plug things for the outlets and those little plastic hook things for the cupboard.”

“Hook things?”

“Safety latches.”

“Ah yeah. Bartender, two more.”

“There’s a lot to think about. When you’re cooking you need to keep all the handles pointed toward the back of the stove. You can’t use tablecloths because a toddler could pull them down. You gotta keep all the cords coiled. All the cleaning products out of reach. Coffee, tea towards the center of the table. Knives.”

“Well that’s obvious. Cutlery and babies don’t mix.”

“In locked drawers at all times. We got rid of the block.”

“You thought things out.”

“We read up. We had to fasten all the bookcases to the wall, and we didn’t put books in the bottom shelf. We scrutinized all the toys people gave us at the shower. We threw half of them away. Choking hazards.”

“You can’t be too careful.”

“I learned CPR. We practiced the Heimlich on each other. The well we debated. A beautiful stone well, must have been there for a hundred, hundred and fifty years. At first I wanted to keep it. But.”

“The baby in a well scenario.”

“That’s right. You imagine. We got it filled in.”

“Right move. Should have been enough.”

The wind howled outside and rattled the windows. Another storm coming.

“Shampoo, soap, medicines, everything out of reach, everything locked down. Vacuumed twice a day. Could have eaten off that floor. Hired a specialist to check the basement for mold. You start looking, you start to see hazards everywhere. A home is a dangerous thing. An infant is infinitely vulnerable.”

“You don’t need to talk about this, Frank. If it, you know.”

“No, no, it’s okay. It helps.”

They were alone in the bar. The bartender, a slender man in his early twenties, was absent-mindedly picking his teeth at the other end of the bar while watching the Weather Channel. They sipped at their third glasses of scotch.

“I can’t imagine what you’ve been going through.”

“You try to think of everything. You try and try. But the earth itself. The ground that you stand on. You don’t think that’s going to come crumbling down.”

“At least she survived.”

“It was an awful noise, Joe. One minute she was standing there, and then there was this, this horrible kind of slurping noise. Her, her scream and a, a kind of gurgle. Just mud. The sounds, Joe, the sounds are what I remember.”

“You went in after her, Frank. Nobody could have expected more.”

“It was too late, she was, they were, already broken inside. By the time the ambulance got there it was too late.”

“So where’s she now?”

“She’s at her mother’s in Omaha. I don’t think she’s coming back.”

“Frank, you really tried. No one can blame you.”

“It’s like there was a test, and I failed it without even knowing it was a test.”

“Nothing’s safe anymore.”

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