The hole in the floor had teeth in it.
It was not a mouth—of this much Elena was sure. The criteria for mouths, she thought, included much else besides just aperture + teeth. Mouths had tongues, palates; mouths had the implication of a larger system beyond it, the suggestion that after the teeth did their job, there was more yet to be done by other organs, in the workaday business of peristalsis, digestion, defecation.
No, this was simply a hole, with teeth. The teeth were sharp, with a carnivorous gleam in the low light of her bedside lamp, and beyond them there was only blackness, a deep and sharp dark that descended far past where she imagined the foundations of the house came to an end.
That first night she crouched beside the hole and fed it dust bunnies and tangles of long black hair from beneath her bed. The accumulated dirt of her floor vanished, speck by speck, into the fanged hole, which did not so much as acknowledge its new contents with a burp, hiccup, or smile.
The second night, Elena worked up the courage to touch the teeth, reasoning that the hole, un-mouthlike as it was, did not seem to have the facility to suddenly clamp down on her fingers, bite them clean off like a shark in a summer blockbuster. To her surprise, the teeth were warm to the touch. Their enameled heat sent a tingle up her arm as she ran her fingers lightly atop their neat rows.
She didn’t spend very long touching the teeth that night, but when she fell asleep with the hole beside her she dreamed of them slicing her palms open. She dreamed of waiting for the blood to well up, worrying if she’d have enough bandages to staunch it, and then feeling a wonderful, blissful relief when the wounds remained dry, clean, redless.
“Hello?” she yelled down into the hole the next morning, when she was supposed to be getting ready for work. “Is there something you want?”
But the hole was not a mouth, and could not answer.
From the grocery store by her office she brought home to the hole an array of foodstuffs. What would I want to eat, she thought, if I were a hole with teeth? It was difficult to get into the mindset of the hole, but Elena had taken a few drama classes back in undergrad, and tried to approach it from the perspective of motivation.
The hole did not react to any of Elena’s favorite foods: salt & vinegar chips, pretzels, Fig Newtons, ice cream, Mentos, cheese sticks.
This impartiality quickly began to wear on her. The hole’s frozen silence seemed accusatory, the kind of judgmental side-eye that one could easily take offense to, conveyed purely through the gleam of stacked rows of conical teeth.
She began to cook more. She had long relied, semi-shamefully, on frozen dinners and takeout and that endless parade of processed snacks, but the sophisticated, almost elegant arrangement of the teeth around the rim of the hole inspired her to whip up increasingly elaborate dishes, meringues and goulashes and ratatouilles. She’d eat half, sitting there on the floor, and spoon the other half gently, noiselessly, into the hole.
The hole seemed to like her clothes; she fed it her worn blouses, her ancient, moth-eaten cardigans, and the teeth (she thought) would grow slightly warmer in gratitude, and then she’d go out and buy, to replace the deposited garments, expensive new dresses from stores she’d long been too intimidated to enter.
She wished the hole would grow a tongue, a larynx, so it could speak to her, thank her for all the gifts. She’d have taken a dream of the hole’s voice, but even in sleep it remained resolutely silent; gaping black and keen in the dreamed quiet of her solitary bedroom. But she kept trying, night after night; she went to sleep on time, earlier than ever, in order to maximize the hours that the hole might choose to make its appreciation known, and in the morning she’d wake disappointed but extremely well rested. The dark bags beneath her eyes even began to fade away.
One morning, Elena shared her breakfast with the hole (poached eggs and semolina toast with avocado), and then knelt beside it, admiring its symmetry, its now-familiar anatomy.
Then, for the first time, though it had tempted her ever since she’d dreamed it, she pressed her palms deeply against the hole’s teeth until they broke the skin.
Unlike in the dream, blood did burst forth, flowing down the jagged white rows until it vanished into the dark of the hole. She could feel, beneath the pain in her hands and the sticky wetness of her blood, the teeth growing hot, and then hotter.
She looked around at her room, so neat— all its dust and down swept daily into the hole— and she cast an appraising eye at the clean, new shapes hanging gracefully in her closet— and she spared a glance to her plate, cleaned now but formerly host to a delicious, homemade meal.
At that moment, Elena was filled with an overwhelming sensation of gratitude. The hole had done this for her; it had made her anew. She’d been horribly mistaken, waiting all those nights for it to speak to her, thank her— she’d had it all the wrong way around, she was sure of it.
Elena had not kissed, nor been kissed, in years, but perhaps now that she was clean and beautiful and healthy, thanks to the hole, it was only a matter of time.
She drew her bloodied hands out and braced them on the floorboards. Had the hole always been the precise height of her own head? She’d never considered it before, but now it seemed so obvious.
Elena leaned forward, and kissed the hole.
Did it kiss her back?
It kissed her face.
Until there was nothing left.
Then, and only then, did the hole become a mouth, and smile.