Black Hole

Hhala Khouri



In Anna’s hallway,

Wondering why she dumped him

November 17th, 2022, around 11pm.

Anna’s door slams shut behind me, leaving an echo rippling in the hallway, and me, shell-shocked; why did she end our relationship a week before my birthday, and right after the best afternoon we’d ever had? Why did I leave and close the door behind me?! Maybe she’d have kept it open. Maybe there would have been a terrorist attack, or an ice cream vendor could’ve turned up, and she would have asked me to come back inside. And avoided making the biggest mistake of her life.

Just minutes earlier, we were snugged up on the couch in her “music room”, her head resting on my shoulder. My hand was in her hair and her fingers were idly stroking my arm, then suddenly the stroking stopped, and in one sharp move she shook off my hand, then turned to face me and said, her eyes spearing mine,

‘Ian, quit staring at our shadows on the wall and listen to me. I. Never. Want. To see you again. I don’t even want to hear a word coming from you anymore. Not ever. Understand?’

I sprang off the couch, dumbfounded, caught my wristwatch off the table, and walked out of our twilight-lit cocoon, in a daze, bumping into furniture once, and once again. My shadow, still sitting on the couch, leisurely drew a cigarette out of its pack.

Anna’s footsteps were resonating behind me. I stopped, turned, then reached over and tucked a silky blue strand behind her ear. She stood still as my thumb lingered briefly on her jawline. I needed to say something, despite what she’d told me. And, despite the words catching in my throat, words I wanted to say to her and that were now to remain inside me, I blurted out insipidly instead,

‘The music room is warmer … You should go back in there.’

She was looking at me questioningly, or so I thought, and so I convinced myself she was expecting something from me, that I may still have a chance. And so riveted my eyes on hers, both mentally willing her to change her mind and wishing I could turn back time all at once. But nothing happened; now, her gaze seemed outright blank to me. I hastily shifted mine and glued my eyes to my shoes, pushed my ponytail inside my beanie, zipped and buttoned up my parka. I said goodbye, stepped out, and closed the door behind me.

Why did she break up with me?! The elevator’s ominous ping reminds me of a hospital. I instinctively rummage inside my pocket to find my facemask, put in on (though no one’s wearing them anymore), and go in, the question I should’ve asked her an insistent guilt-stricken self-accusing leitmotiv in my head, as a blinding-white tornado of memories of our time together starts flashing up in my confused mind: Anna singing outside my window or unhurriedly enjoying a chocolate bar, me drinking beer on her terrace, or the two of us in her kitchen concocting yet another twist to our Tuesday Mongolian beef stew.

The elevator’s sudden jolt brings me back to now. I’m at parking level. I catch my breath, get out. Then I climb inside the car, and drive away, eyes focused on the road ahead.

My mind travels back to the first time I saw Anna, that day when she woke me up at the crack of dawn, singing very loudly outside my bedroom window; I peeked through the shutters and saw her short messy hair, bright blue under the early morning sun, and it brought back images of another. She turned and I saw her face, and I was suddenly sure I already knew her – though we had never met before – and that I would tell her one day how everything was clear the second I saw her. She was, while I gazed at her, overcome by this unexpected certainty, still singing.

I snap out of my reminiscence once more, grab my phone, check the screen. No unread messages. Ignoring the conveniently empty parking space in front of my building, I park in front of Anna’s old flat, back when she was my neighbour. I seize my house keys, step out into the piercing rain and climb up the stairs to my flat. Lifting my fist to knock on the door, I remember on time that Mum is probably asleep and use my key instead. Then I head straight to my bedroom, kicking off my boots on the way, unmindful of their loud thump on the ancient wooden floor. Drenched clothes and all, I slump down on my bed, and it creaks.

I grab my phone and text Josef.

“She threw me out,” I type, my sheets like quicksand around me.

He calls,

‘What are you talking about? I thought that something had happened to your mother!’

‘Forget my mother! Anna left me!’

‘… Why?’

‘I don’t know!’ I growl through clenched teeth, my jaw so tight I can feel its clasp right up to the back of my skull.

‘Oh, don’t worry, she’ll call you tomorrow. Man, you, of all guys, should know women better. Now go to bed. And sleep.’

But Anna’s not just any woman.





On the street,

Wondering why Anna dumped him

November 18th, 2022, 1am.

Why did she leave me? I sit up, resigned that sleep will surely not come anytime soon, and decide to take Star and Zeus for a stroll. I get out of my bedroom and go pick up my two buddies from their doghouse out on the icy terrace.

It’s 1am. The streets in Old Montreal are empty and slippery. Like two clumsy dancers, the dogs drag me behind them. And I can’t help but imagine Anna’s much-desired elephant pulling her about on the icy road.

We finally halt in front of a bakery.

What’s she doing now? Could she be waiting for morning to come so she can call and take me back in? Although I really doubt Anna would worry about something like what time it is.

I start thinking of what we could do together tomorrow; maybe go for a picnic on Plateau-Mont-Royal? My regular wine cellar opens at noon, which leaves me plenty of time in the morning to buy cheese (rosemary Manchego), nuts, not pickles, spicy salami, maybe grapes, chocolate for her, and rolls. Then I’ll go get a bottle of red or two, or even better, her favourite sweet white, and … No, no … what am I thinking?! I can’t plan something outdoors in this weather! A restaurant instead, maybe?

Again, I’m not thinking straight; because Anna systematically refuses to go with me anywhere there are people. One would think she has a husband lurking, all the time and everywhere.

It’s always been like I exist only if I’m alone with her, and I still haven’t dared to ask her why. She’s never expressed her wish for me to join when she goes out. And I know that she does go out often enough, either with her friends or by herself, to bars and clubs and galleries and theatres. I know this because I’ve followed her more than once. And because I know that she never checks her messages when she’s out. And there’s been plenty of times when the messages I sent her were left unread for long hours.

… I can’t fathom why Anna wouldn’t want to be seen with me. There’s nothing about me I can think of which she would be ashamed of or that would make her feel uncomfortable in public. Not once in my 25 years of existence have I ever experienced something like this.





Dreams about the night and the day

After her first date with Ian

November 18th, 2022, 1am.

Anna closes the door, grabs her coat and goes out on the terrace for a cigarette. She sits down on the ice-covered bench and stares into the empty sky, unmindful of the wetness that very quickly seeps into her layers of clothes. She feels both thrown back and blissfully happy. She’s only just grasped what happened; reality had made its way into her mind just seconds earlier, slowly as she closed the door behind Ian, then had hit her full blast with the hollow click of the door-latch. “He too senses that unearthly thing that binds [them]! It’s not just [her] imagination.”

Anna stubs out her cigarette then stands up, still looking at the sky. She doesn’t even want to rewind the evening in her head, because she knows that no memory would ever match it. She walks back inside, removes her coat, throws it on the back of a chair and goes straight to bed.

She wakes up the next morning before the sun is up and starts doing her abs. A few seconds into her morning training though, she realises that she forgot to count. So she starts again. But once again, somewhere along the way, doesn’t know how many reps she did or how many are left. This is obviously not going to work. She gets up and walks without thinking to her music room.

There’s an empty wine bottle on the table, and two glasses, one of which is half-full. She smiles, goes to the kitchen, and puts the kettle on.

It’s four in the morning. Anna wakes up smiling, but a split second later, her face turns stern: this wasn’t the night before. It was a dream of Ian’s first visit.

She sits up, wishing she could go back to that first evening. Yet wishes too, at the same time, that it had never happened, because she can never go back to before it all happened.

Throughout their relationship, she had had doubts upon doubts, one of the most recurrent ones being her obsessive fear of boring Ian to the point of losing him.

A fear that overwhelms her with almost everybody. Because of her experience with her parents:

Anna liked to talk a lot when she was a kid, always had things to say, all the time.

But those things never interested her parents.

Her mother would turn them into some sort of a joke, repeating that her daughter lived on a planet of her own and wrongly thought that her alien ideas could be of interest to mere humans.

Her father, on the other hand, had simply said once – he was not the talkative type,

‘You had better preserve your voice, because you’ve only got so much to use. One day, young lady, there won’t be any words left inside you and you’ll be voiceless forever.’

Anna has been playing back his words in her head ever since.

Later in life, even though Anna never trusted that the things she said could entertain the people around her, she still couldn’t stop herself from being a chatterbox. Mostly when she was nervous and her emotions were deeply involved.

Some of the people she met as she was growing up did point out her over-talkativeness, often too emphatically. Yet all she heard was that she bored them. To a point where she felt that not only the things she said, but also the things she did or how she lived, were a good enough reason for people to find her mind-numbing.

However, she had always captivated Ian’s attention; not once during their relationship did she suspect he didn’t enjoy being with her or listening to her. Still, she would sometimes declare that she was aware of her “flaw”, playfully, adding very quickly that she’d make it worth his while.

She goes back to sleep.
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