SCI FICTION, June 15, 2005

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"There’s a Hole in the City" by Richard Bowes

ImageRichard Bowes’s “There’s a Hole in the City” is this week’s SCI FICTION Original. The story takes place in the days after the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001.  

The narrator of the story lives in the South Village. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, New York is in a state of near hibernation.  Identification is required to move around in the boroughs nearest to Ground Zero. Many of the shops and restaurants are closed. People are trying to cope.

The narrator is out on the 12th to meet a friend, Mags, for supper and to get out of the apartment. They find an open restaurant, and eat and talk.  Everyone is having trouble with sleep. The narrator’s elderly upstairs neighbor has a heart attack. Mags is visited by a ghost.

Mags starts to see more ghosts, the victims of other great tragedies in New York City history. She becomes convinced that there is a hole in the city and the ghosts of past victims are coming through to try to find their homes. And that another ghost from the past is searching for them, a ghost from their shared past.

Mags, the narrator, and Geoffrey were a part of a youthful love triangle.  Of course, none of them were focused on the person who was focused on them. In the end, Mags and the narrator survived their youth. Geoffrey took his own life.

The narrator also has another reminder of this past with him.  He is a reference librarian for a university in the city.  Many university students have been displaced by the attacks, amongst them one named Marco. The narrator agrees to let Marco stay with him while he looks for an open dorm room. Marco, it turns out, is involved in the same kind of three way relationship the narrator was, but Marco is as unaware of it as the narrator was when it was his present. Marco’s position in his little trio serves to remind the narrator of Geoffrey.

Mags starts putting up posters of her trio, with notes about looking for Geoffrey. Many people did so after the attacks, looking for loved ones.  But she wasn’t in contact.  The narrator searched for her, seeing these posters, but not finding her. She hadn’t been home, according to her landlady.  Their mutual friends hadn’t seen her.

At some point, the narrator joins a group of staff members who escorted the students down to their old residences in the city, near ground zero, to get their stuff to move into new dorm rooms. As he watches Marco, watching the girl who was watching the boy watching Marco, the narrator sees Mags. She’s disheveled, carrying the poster of her, the narrator and Geoffrey around.  And then, he sees Geoffrey. And as Mags and Geoffrey walk away, ghosts heading to the hole in the city, he warns Marco, who can also see the ghosts, to be smarter than they were.

“There’s a Hole in the City” is a remarkably complex story that succeeds where many stories set in the aftermath of 9/11 fail. It succeeds primarily because it isn’t focused upon the attacks and the city, but rather on the experiences of a single person.  The richness and complexity are sustained by the mirror of the narrator’s past around him in the students. The story also avoids becoming maudlin, another great failing that many stories set in this time frame seem to lean towards. All in all, this was an excellent story, and a solid example of Mr. Bowes’s fine writing.