All the time we’re trained to identify signs of danger. A rash on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet. This is the reason they add sulfur to gas: when there’s a leak, you can identify it by the smell of rotting eggs. I wait for the subway and examine a laminated sign that tells me, Don’t become a statistic! Stand back! On the Q Saturday morning, a man walks through the crowded train car barefoot, making a sound in his throat like the earth dying. I used to think of black holes with abject horror; now I imagine with relative peace the whole earth de-inflating easily as a soccer ball, all its contents inside-outing into the void. I imagine a scar ripped in the galaxy and healing; the dark line down a pregnant belly extending ad infinitum, equator-like. Someone once told me nothing in this world can heal without a souvenir of its pain. But just last week I slept with a man who wrapped his hands around my neck just hard enough it almost felt like my eyes were being squeezed out of their sockets; after, I lay on his chest and touched my own throat; touched the gold Star of David around his neck, each of its sharp precise points. And then later, on the subway: the awareness of my body, unharmed and whole, esophagus floating in my throat like a flower. So tell me, where does the pain go when it evaporates? Afterward, as we laid there, I could see it in his face: the moment he thought of asking whether he’d accidentally hurt me. Then it passed, and I was glad. I knew whatever was inside me didn’t have a name. When I first discovered what a black hole was—accidentally in the second grade, at the back of my older brother’s science textbook—what scared me most about the world’s end was not the destruction but the promise of quiet afterward. I imagined galaxies spinning silently in the dark like sinister baby mobiles; I imagined the black hole punched clean and gaping through the world, a smooth-gummed mouth. I look around me even now and it’s everywhere. I see people teaching their children to look both ways before crossing the street, I see them moving their mouths in waiting rooms. I dream about him sometimes, every time waking up and wondering at the blind roots of my teeth, still all neat and stacked in my mouth.
Rena Grossman holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Virginia, and has had work published in the Kenyon Review, Literary Matters, and Kirkus Reviews. She was the winner of the 2020 Kenyon Review Short Nonfiction Contest and the 2018 ALSCW Meringoff Writing Award in Fiction. Currently, she is at work on her debut collection. She lives in Brooklyn.