I am suffering from post-traumatic sinkhole syndrome.
I was awakened at 3:30 am last Thursday.
My brother said that my Audi 2013 was under water—in a sinkhole, where I had parked, in front of our house.
We went outside.
I was furious because it was his house and his pipes. But alas, it was a water main break. Our pipes were old in this neighborhood along the Jersey Shore. As a result, the entire block did not have water.
Mind you, once, in Southwest Virginia, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, at 1 a.m., my GPS didn’t work because there was no internet connection. My dog Hercules and I nearly drove into a creek, but our high beams were on, and we promptly hit reverse.
Regarding the sinkhole fiasco, I got up at 3 a.m. to use the bathroom. The toilet did not work. I tried to fix it, but no luck, which was unusual, as I am normally a seasoned latrine fixer. I had lived in Manhattan and Philadelphia apartments and was as good as any plumber or landlord at fixing the “terlet,” as Archie Bunker called it.
Thereafter, I washed my hands. No water.
“Harold!” I yelled into my brother’s bedroom, “there’s no water! Did you pay the bill?”
Harold was having a dream where he was in the middle of a transubstantiation experiment at Heidelberg University in Germany.
“You’re interrupting God’s work!” he yelled at me, as Christ and the apostles made Harold part of their religion in his dream.
“We are not even Christians,” I said to him, “we are just humble Jews who got out of Poland before it was too late.”
“What’s that, Martin Luther?” he asked. Apparently both the papacy and Martin Luther were conducting a transubstantiation that involved Harold.
“There’s no water… did you pay the bill?”
“Huh? What?” Harold, annoyed at my interruption, left the Counter-Reformation. He was barely awake.
“Did you pay the water bill?” I asked again, as if he were on the witness stand.
“Fuck you, cunt.” He yelled abruptly, half thinking I might be a Jesuit priest.
“Apologize for calling me cunt!”
I tried training Harold not to call me “cunt” as you’d instruct a labradoodle.
“I’m sorry,” he murmured, with a volume less overbearing than when he used the “c” word.
“Did you pay the water bill?”
He muttered something about the meter needing to be checked—he received a postcard from the American Water Company— “I’m all paid up.”
Nonetheless, he phoned the water company and they discovered, while speaking with him, that there had been a “water main break in our area”—no one on our street currently “has water,” and would he mind going outside to see what it looks like?
“Your car is under water,” he said.
“Don’t get mad at me—I didn’t do anything.”
“Why is my car in water?”
I jumped into gym clothes.
“Do you have a flashlight?”
“I already gave you a flashlight.”
“Harold—this is an emergency!”
After much debate as to when he gave “it” to me and when I lost “it,” he grabbed his “other” flashlight.
My Audi was immersed in a far more dangerous situation than when it was parked in South Philly and crack addicts scratched stolen keys against it. It was in fecal water—submerged in the shit and piss of the block.
“I’m going to drive it out before it gets ruined,” I said.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he advised, “if you open the door, the shit water will ruin your interior.”
“You don’t think I should drive it?”
“No,” he blinked, also immobilized.
“I’ll drive it before it sinks,” I told myself, not knowing that the electrical insides had been ruined by water, though I definitely thought I could “save” my car.
“If it’s not salt water, you should be okay,” the water company man, sent to rescue us from this depravity on our street, told me, unlike the Audi mechanic, who, while acknowledging “the car still runs,” knew that my electrical parts had been soaked to death.
It was 4:30 in the morning. I was without words or understanding.
Sinkholes didn’t normally occur in Little Silver, NJ. I expected to crash into another driver at Sonic, perhaps at the new Starbucks drive-through, but never in a million years, in the comfort zone of my New Jersey enclave, imagined my car would descend.
Our dog was yelping and scraping his paws against the window. His breath was a visible fog with scratch marks.
I returned to my house, realizing that the police and the water company did not consider me or my automobile as important as the “situation” though “I am the situation.”
On my cell phone I spoke with numerous people who were also up at 5 a.m.: Roadside Assistance, my AA sponsor, and the water company, which had caused the damage.
This was like the 1960s Batman TV show when our heroes sunk into quicksand or were eaten by alligators as the floor opened.
My friend Harriet, who lived in Santa Fe, and whose diabetic friend recently had her leg amputated, did not sympathize with my plight. “It’s not like you had your leg amputated,” she texted. This was also the same Harriet who almost checked herself into a mental institution because I visited friends in Texas, which she considered more like Saudi Arabia than Jerusalem. This was the first time she had texted me since our breakup over the red state visit.
The U.S. Department of the Interior, on its website, uses the below definition for sinkholes:
A sinkhole is an area of ground that has no natural external surface drainage—when it rains, the water stays inside the sinkhole and typically drains into the subsurface. Sinkholes can vary from a few feet to hundreds of acres and from less than 1 to more than 100 feet deep. Some are shaped like shallow bowls or saucers whereas others have vertical walls; some hold water and form natural ponds.
“Do you think that I will be reimbursed for this? Has this ever happened to you? Do you like your job?” I conversed with Mel, the Roadside Assistance person, who assured me the tow truck would arrive in ninety minutes, though he said that more than an hour ago.
My brother stared at me.
Harold returned to the Counter-Reformation era, still pondering his dream. Apparently, Martin Luther gave more compelling arguments than the Jesuits and so Jesus followed the former monk.
“Yes,” Harold coughed, “Martin Luther was the Trotsky of Christianity.”
“Do you realize my fucking car is under water?”
“Jesus felt he was more dedicated than the papacy.”
“Do they know you are Jewish?” I asked him. “Hold on Harold—the Roadside Assistance people are talking.”
“Are you lonely?” my brother asked.
“Is that why you have personal conversations with these people?”
“Eat shit, Harold! You don’t even know them! What’s that Mel?”
Harold went upstairs and shut his door. It slammed and the dog ran in with him.
The cat jumped on my lap.
“What’s that? Oh hi,” I said to Mel, the Roadside Assistance guy, “yeah…they said they were coming two hours ago…”
Harold’s door was closed.
There was an ominous non-noise that permeated the house. My Audi was ruined. I was out thousands of dollars, though therapy and the insurance company might bring redemption.
Still, it did not save me from the depression of my car gone, with its blues CDs and my life of eating fried shrimp in it and getting grease on the driving wheel or having my dog bark so that I’d stop and let him pee, or of writing poetry along Sandy Hook.
It was 5:45 a.m. I saw a few stars, what resembled the moon, which was not full. The birds chirped and the neighborhood ferret blinked at me through her window. I took a picture of the sky and put it on Instagram, hoping I’d get at least five likes.
Eleanor Levine’s writing has appeared in more than 90 publications, including Fiction, the Denver Quarterly, and Faultline Journal of Arts and Letters. Her poetry collection, Waitress at the Red Moon Pizzeria, was published by Unsolicited Press. Her short story collection, Kissing a Tree Surgeon, was published by Guernica Editions. She’s almost done with her first novel.