Head in the Hole

By Frank Tavares

It hadn’t occurred to Michael that his head might get stuck. All these months of coming home from the office and placing it in the hole, he’d never had a problem. He’d been sleeping when he felt the tug; the familiar warmth of his hands cupped against his cold ears. But instead of his head being lifted from the hole, the bridge of his nose caught on some protuberance. It was dark. He couldn’t see; perhaps a loose rock, or a tree root. The hands pulled at him, grabbing his hair in another attempt to free him. But his head was stuck.

He was wide-awake now, and his nose hurt. The pain wasn’t sharp, but he felt something pressing against the bump on which he rested his glasses.

His glasses. He’d forgotten to take off his glasses. Normally he’d remove them with both hands and then fold them gently into the case. But last night he’d been so beat up from the commute he went straight to the backyard and put his head in the hole without even brushing his teeth.

Yes. It was the glasses causing the problem. They were new. Lightweight frames you could forget you were wearing. He’d had them less than a week. Expensive, even with insurance. He’d hate to break them so quickly, but perhaps that was the price of being careless.

He heard his footsteps wandering the yard. “Be careful,” he thought just as he heard himself trip and fall. It was a muted thud. He imagined himself now on hands and knees blindly crawling around the grass, palms swatting the ground looking for the hole.

For the first time, Michael felt concerned. What if his body didn’t find its way back? What if it dumbly ambled away? What if, somehow, it miraculously avoided the traffic on the boulevard and just plodded off? His head would be hopelessly left behind as if never needed. But the rest of him was truly helpless without it; case in point, his current predicament.

He needed to be ready if his hands reached back in the hole. He’d try to loosen the glasses. He manipulated his mouth and scrunched his face. He felt the frame slip, but one wing still hung up.

Michael could wiggle his ears, a trick he’d practiced in grade school to amuse his friends. He could move them almost a quarter of an inch. He tried. The frame slipped again, but not quite enough.

He heard himself moving closer along the surface, knees chafing, hands searching. Michael tried frantic contortions. Then he felt his hands. This time, the glasses fell away as they grabbed at his ears. In a moment his head was free from the hole, lifted through the air to its rightful place.

He found himself sitting on the ground, shaking in the early light. He was wearing his favorite suit, but the pants were grass-stained and his tie was wet from dragging through the morning dew. Michael struggled to his feet, and made his way into the house. He moved unsteadily, hands braced against the walls. He stood in the bathroom doorway fumbling for the light, then leaned against the sink. His face was scratched, and there was a cut below one eye.

By now, he was running late. Almost time to head for the train. No chance for tea and toast. He took a quick shower. Even under the soothing water, he could feel the morning anxiety starting to churn his stomach. If he turned on the radio as he drove to the station he’d hear commentators whipping up their listeners. If he grabbed a paper from the rack as he settled into a commuter seat he’d catch glimpses of turmoil in the headlines and pictures that framed only part of a story. At his desk, if he viewed the online videos pushed at him throughout the day he’d feel the hopelessness of anger and blinkered perception that chose the images.

All of this would dissipate the little energy he could rally, and dissolve his last hope. By five o’clock the turmoil would take its toll. And he’d numbly trudge back to the train jostled by others caught in the chaos, all of them hopelessly chasing their own illusions of escape. Throughout the commute, Michael would look forward to the one thing that gave him peace; better than a drink, better than sex. All he had to do was make it back home. Make it to the sanctuary of his backyard.

Headshot of Frank Tavares

Frank Tavares is the author of the collection, The Man Who Built Boxes and Other Stories (Bacon Press Books, 2013). Most, however, know him by his familiar voice — the fellow who delivered hundreds of thousands of NPR funding credits at the end of all national news programs through the fall of 2013. Tavares’s short stories have appeared in a variety of literary venues including Connecticut Review, Louisiana Literature, Story Quarterly, G.W. Review,and Tales of the Talisman.

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