Ava Paulsen

“So here we have our watermelon.” In front of Dr. Thomas Stevens sits a swollen, green watermelon. The top has been cut so it’s flat, and the bottom is leveled off as well, so it can sit on the table without rolling. “Now, if I were to place this metal block on top,” Dr. Stevens says, dropping a rectangular metal bar on the watermelon, “it can hold the weight just fine. Maybe even another.” Dr. Stevens places a second block. “Or possibly a third.” Three metal blocks are stacked on top of the bright green watermelon now. “The melon is holding approximately 45 pounds successfully. You must apply approximately 364 pounds to crush a watermelon, so it’s doing great. However, if we take this other watermelon—” Dr. Stevens shifts to his left where another identical watermelon sits. “Things might be different. This watermelon’s center has been completely hollowed out. All of the delicious flesh is gone. There is simply a thin layer of rind. So if I place this first block here…” Dr. Stevens balances the first metal bar atop the green sphere. “It holds the weight alright. Let me try another.” Once the second block is in position, the watermelon starts to sag. The melon shrinks in height, the outer walls expanding. “And if I place the third block—” the minute Dr. Steven sets it down, a crack appears along the striped pattern on the front. “Now we’re simply waiting for—” BOOM! The watermelon explodes, shooting chunks of rind towards the camera. The rest of the fruit collapses in on itself. The blocks fall to the table with a BANG!


“Jeffery, did you eat my watermelon?” Marianne snaps at her husband as he walks into the kitchen. She’s standing in front of the open refrigerator, searching. The surface of the stainless steel fridge is bare, except for a sticky note on the top left corner that reads Milk!, which is underlined three times. The kitchen is modest, with maple-colored cabinets and a white tiled floor. No backsplash. On the countertop lies a broken toaster and a blender that looks like it could use a good cleaning. There are no dishes in the sink, but the trash can is overflowing. The bin rests behind a cabinet door which is pushed ajar by the cardboard box of Diet Coke protruding from the stuffed trash can. 

“No, and you should—” but Marianne cuts Jeffery off before he can tell her to close the doors to save electricity. 

“Well, then where is it?” she asks, spinning around to face him. Jeffery stands on the other side of the kitchen counter where a pair of extremely uncomfortable bar stools sit. Marianne insisted on getting them since they matched her mid-century vision for the house. Jeffery insisted on never sitting in them because he’s rather fond of his unbruised tailbone. 

“I saw that it was—”

“You know I’m trying to eat keto til we go on our trip to Las Vegas! So I NEED my watermelon for breakfast!” 

“Honey, it was going bad! I had to throw it out!”

“It wasn’t going bad!” Marianne screeches. “I bought it yesterday.”

“Well, clearly you didn’t because it was stinking up the whole fridge.” Jeffery wasn’t sure when all Marianne’s cute little quirks turned into annoying things that evolved into enraging habits. He did recall a time when he loved her little obsessions, like when she got super invested in macrame and made the planter hangers she wanted for half the price they were selling on Etsy. Maybe his change of heart was around the time when she forced them to start couples therapy with Lisa. (The woman was clearly taking sides!) Now, as Jeffery stands in the kitchen, watching his wife scavenge the house for her stupid watermelon, Jeffery can’t help the string of words running through his head: thisisthestupidestfuckingthingever!

“You never want to support me in anything I do!” Marianne cries, slamming the refrigerator doors shut.

“That’s not true!” Jeffery runs his hands through his bedhead. Despite just waking up, he’s already exhausted. It’s another humid spring day, and the sun shines just a little too brightly through the windows where it sits amidst another cloudless sky. The air coming through the open window smells fresh at least, a little briny. Jeffery breathes in deeply, imagining the clear blue ocean water, trying to calm himself down. 

“Well, it’s true right now and it was true when we bought this house!”

“What are you talking about?” 

“I never wanted this house, Jeffery! You knew that! I wanted the one down the street, but oh no Jeffrey likes this one!” Marianne spent hours touring new model homes and going from house to house with the real estate agent before falling in love with her future home. The one with barrel tile roofing, a vegetable garden, and west-facing windows in the kitchen so she could eat breakfast in the peaceful dim light but watch the sunset over dinner. Two weeks later, she and Jeffery were moving into the house four doors down, with east-facing windows in the kitchen. The brilliant morning sun is already giving her a raging headache. She taps her fluffy slipper on the white tile floor that always looks dirty, no matter how hard she scrubs.

“It was completely out of our price range and—”

“And what you say is law!” Mariane flaps her arms, slapping them down to her sides. Marianne turns to look out the open window to her left into the backyard. No garden. There is a pool. She’ll admit that’s nice. Although, there’s always a slight green tinge to the water. And the fronds from the palms planted in the yard always fall into it, clogging the pipes. 

“Not true! This trip to Vegas is all your idea!” Jeffery shouts, jabbing an accusatory finger towards his wife. Gambling, cards, and drinks inside a windowless, fluorescent-lit box was not his idea of a good time. At all. 

“That’s because you never want to do anything fun!” Marianne wasn’t sure when the rose-colored glasses came off, and she saw her husband as more of a human with flaws and less of a God on a pedestal. But when those glasses came off, so did her ability to see the good in him anymore. Was he taking out the trash cans every week? Yes. Did he also place the cans far too close to her car so that every Monday, when she backed out of the driveway, she would nearly graze her fender on them? Also yes. But instead of stopping and appreciating the fact that she’s never rolled out the trash cans in their 4 years of marriage, every Monday she curses his name, glaring angrily at the back-up camera.

Jeffery scoffs. “I do fun things.” Visions of hot wings and motorboats pop into his head. 

“Football Sundays and fishing do not count!”

“Oh, but I suppose Saturday brunches with the girls do?”

“Well, if Cindy starts ordering mimosas for the table, then yeah IT COUNTS!” Clementine saunters into the kitchen, swishing his orange tail. He hops onto the counter and head butts Marianne’s shoulder. Clementine is ancient but somehow still as agile as a kitten. One can be certain that every mess he makes is absolutely intentional, not the error of an elderly cat. 

“And your stupid cat!” Jeffery seethes. “Clementine is just loads of fun with his hairballs and all the shit he breaks—” Clementine sends Jeffery a wicked glare, whiskers twitching with annoyance. He makes a plan to throw up again on his pillow before bed tonight. “I swear he has some kind of vendetta against me—”

“You say one more thing about my cat and I’ll fuck you up!” If the house was on fire it is entirely plausible that Marianne would save her cat before her own husband. Jeffery knows that. So does Clementine.

“Ladies and gentlemen, may I present, Marianne the psych case!”


“Ladies and gentlemen, may I present tonight’s featured guest, Dr. Thomas Stevens!” Wendy and John, the hosts of In Real Time with Wendy and John, sit on a shiny blue couch with a glowing cityscape illuminated in the background. The camera cuts to Dr. Stevens on the couch opposite of them. 

“Dr. Stevens is a geoscientist specializing in sinkhole research,” John says. “He recently earned his PhD at Northwestern, and just last year, he traveled to Venezuela to conduct in-depth research on the detrimental consequences of sinkholes on civilization.”

“Welcome, Dr. Stevens!” Wendy bubbles.

“Thank you so much for having me on the show today.” Dr. Stevens is surprisingly handsome for a geoscientist. His brown hair is swooped back with his tortoiseshell frames reminiscent of an off-brand Clark Kent.

“Thank you for being here!” John adds. “I’m sure our viewers are tuning in because the recent Bayshore Boulevard Incident has many Floridians in Tampa fearing for their own houses—and lives!”  

“Yes, what a tragedy.”

“So, to get us started, could you tell us exactly what a sinkhole is?” 

“Of course,” Dr. Stevens nods, re-crossing his legs. “A sinkhole is a depression or hole in the ground caused by the collapse of a surface layer. They can vary in size, from small features to large and deep cavities.” Wendy and John are engrossed, nodding enthusiastically. “The most common type of sinkhole, and the one featured in the Bayshore Boulevard Incident, is called a dissolution sinkhole. They typically occur in areas where soluble bedrock, such as limestone, gypsum, or salt is present. Over time, groundwater containing carbon dioxide dissolves the soluble rock, creating underground cavities. As the cavities enlarge, the overlying soil or sediment may become too heavy to support its own weight, leading to a collapse and the formation of a sinkhole.”

“Just like we saw with the watermelon!” 

“Yes, exactly, Wendy!”

“Very interesting, Dr. Stevens, but how can the residents in Florida prevent this from happening to their homes?”

“First, make sure that the soil around your home is properly drained and that water and sewer lines are in good condition. That’s very important.” Wendy and John nod. “You can also consider installing sinkhole monitors. These devices detect changes in ground stability and alert you to potential sinkhole activity. And lastly, there’s always sinkhole insurance. 

“These are all great options!” John announces. 

“Yes, well, ultimately, you should do what’s right for your particular living situation.” 


“You don’t like our living situation? Well, then, HERE!” Jeffery knocks the vase of flowers on the kitchen island down. The glass shatters across the floor. As their therapist often reminds him, de-escalating conflicts is not one of his strong suits. Recently, that’s all the couple has been doing: conflicting. On everything. 


“What, Marianne?” Jeffery crosses to the other side of the kitchen, opening a cabinet door. “If you hate this house so much, then it shouldn’t matter to you if I just… oops!” Jeffery drops a plate on the floor, the pieces of painted ceramic flying across the kitchen tile. 

“Those are our wedding dishes!” 

“You always said you hated them anyway!” Jeffery throws a bowl on the ground, which is now littered with shards of glass, ceramic, and rose petals with beads of water on them. He was right. The plates were a gift from Marianne’s mother, who had picked out the cutesy floral design that Marianne hates so much. They are also ceramic. Not even china. For her wedding. Marianne chalked it up to the fact that her parents never really liked Jeffery, which was more of his fault than theirs, she concluded. He could be quite the pushover, except when he wasn’t. Then he could be quite a dick. Neither of these are admirable qualities, by Marianne’s parent’s standards, or anyone else’s for that matter. 

“Are you insane?” 

“Maybe! I don’t know! Do you want me to book another appointment with your therapist?” Jeffery would rather pull out his own teeth than go back to therapy.

“Don’t you dare bring up Lisa!” Marianne snaps. Lisa had been kind enough to offer couples therapy to both of them, but after Jeffery complained that she was attacking his character, Marianne went back to individual sessions. At least that way, she could shit on him without him having to know about it. 

“I’ll bring up whoever I want to!” From his seat on the kitchen counter, Clementine glares at the two of them with contempt. He hops up onto the top shelf of the open cabinet for a better vantage point. Clementine positions himself next to a tall bottle filled with amber syrup as he surveys the ongoing argument.

“Well, then, how about I bring up Eric and how you’re too chicken to ask for that promotion.” 

“I can’t just—”

“Yes, you can!” Marianne roars. “The only way you get a promotion is if you show interest in the position.” She has gone over this with Jeffery many times. A couple of months ago they started rehearsing how the meeting should go. Marianne even plays the part of Eric herself, making sure to play drums on the desk with her fingers like Jeffrey always complains his boss does. He acts like a child! Jeffery cries. Then there’s no reason to be intimidated! Mariane would retort. But week after week, Jeffrey would come home a coward. And Marianne would try not to rip her hair out.

“And I’m supposed to listen to you? Mrs. Unemployed!” 

“How dare you! I have a business degree from Northwestern!”

“And look what good it’s done you!” Marianne used to work as a Marketing Director, but her untamed spirit often got her in trouble, culminating in her own resignation. Since then, she hasn’t found a company worthy of her time and ingenuity. 

“Maybe if you had fought for that promotion we could’ve bought the house down the street like I WANTED TO!” 

Jeffery smashes another plate on the ground with vehemence. 

“Stop it!” Marianne shrieks. The neighbors are going to think we’re crazy!” The Scotts, who live next door, already think they are crazy. There’s no changing that. They knew it from the moment the couple moved in. Four days after the moving trucks pulled out of the driveway, Mrs. Scott found Marianne crying on the front porch. Marianne proceeded to lecture Mrs. Scott on how she should be grateful her kitchen windows are west-facing, so it doesn’t feel like she’s cooking dinner in a cave every night like she’s Wilma Flintsone. Even Wilma got a girls night out with Betty Rubble! Marianne cried. All I have is my cat, and even he can be a real pain in the ass! Followed quickly by, Don’t tell my husband that!

Every holiday season Mrs. Scott drops off some peppermint bark and toffee on their doorstep, wrapped in a nice red, satin bow. Maybe it’s out of pity or maybe some false hope that her treats will calm the wars that rage between the couple. Despite her efforts, the aggression between the two seems only to grow in intensity each year. 

Jeffery throws his hands up in the air, “Well, maybe we are crazy!” 

From behind Jeffery’s head, Marianne sees the flash of a ginger tail. From the cabinet, out flies a tall glass bottle of pure, Vermont maple syrup. It soars over Jeffery’s head and smashes onto the floor between the couple. Shards of glass fly in the air, launching towards both of them. Maple syrup oozes over the mounds of broken ceramics and rose petals, the sticky substance spreading across the white tile. 


“Well, this is a sticky situation for those in the new housing developments,” John says. 

“Definitely,” Wendy agrees. “Is it rude to question the stability of a house that’s so new?”

“Why, I don’t think it’s rude at all, Wendy! In fact, installing these precautions should be standard,” Dr. Stevens says, taking a sip from the coffee mug on the table before him. “Just because the houses on Bayshore Boulevard had been standing for a while, doesn’t mean that newer houses can’t succumb to the same tragedy.” 

“That’s very good to know,” John says. “Although, because of this environmental threat, lots of residents in Tampa are considering moving, the fear around the Bayshore Boulevard incident is just so prevalent.”

“What would you say to those people, Doctor?’ Wendy asks. 

“Don’t move!” says Dr. Stevens.  “There are tons of things for prevention you can do, and honestly, Bayshore was an anomaly. Modern technology, houses are typically quite stable. As long as you are aware and maybe have a prevention method or two, you should be good to go.”

“You hear that, Tampa residents?” Wendy says, turning towards the cameras. “Don’t move!”


“Don’t move!” Jeffery demands as he assesses the situation.

“I wasn’t going to,” Marianne scoffs. “Despite what you think, I’m not an idiot!” 

Clementine is perched in the cabinet where the maple syrup used to sit. He admires the puddle of sticky brown syrup oozing across the shards of glass and broken dishware. His whiskers twitch, as if trying to hide a sly smile. 

“I just don’t want you getting hurt, honey.”

Marianne pauses, her husband’s sudden kindness disorienting her. This time, she decided to lean into it. “Do you remember when we just got back from our honeymoon and I said I needed pancakes so you brought me to that cute diner on the bay, but the maple syrup dispenser—”

“Shot the syrup like a bullet across the table? And I got a plate of maple syrup with a side of denver omelet?” 

Marianne laughs, wiggling her toes in her fuzzy slippers, feeling the sticky syrup seep through the fibers. “But you ate it all!” 

 “I had to! Our waiter practically abandoned us out on that patio!” 

“The view was beautiful though.”

“I dare say my view, from across the table, was even more so.” 

Marianne smiles and shakes her head at Jeffery who is trying to maneuver his way through the mess and towards the cupboard with the mop. She turns her gaze up to the cabinet where Clementine still sits, although maybe not for long. He looks like he’s about to launch himself into the sharp, sticky mess. “Babe! Don’t let Clementine jump down in the mess!”

Jeffery huffs.“Marianne, I’m not worried about—” his foot slips on a larger chunk of glass covered in syrup and he slides across the kitchen, slamming into a cabinet door. “Fuck! I’m not worried about your damn cat that is to blame for this whole mess. You know what I’m more worried about? The glass all over the kitchen we can’t see!”

“More than half of this mess is the result of your breakdown, Jeffery! Don’t you dare blame it all on my cat!” Marianne shouts, still glued to her position amidst the sticky mess, her slippers completely ruined. 

“I’ll blame it on your cat if I want to blame it on your cat!” 

“If he gets injured, you’ll be paying the vet bill!” Marianne fumes.


“Try me!”


“Try me!” Dr. Stevens says.

“Are you sure?” Wendy asks. “This is one heck of a question.” 


“It’s from Sarah Andrews, Tampa Florida resident. Can we anticipate insurance companies raising rates because of the rising trend in sinkholes across Florida?”

“Ah, I see what you mean,” Dr. Stevens says, nodding. “I’m no insurance man, all I got for you is science. Statistically, the rates of sinkholes aren’t rising, so I don’t see a case for insurance agencies. Of course, with the Bayshore Boulevard tragedy, the awareness of sinkholes is increasing which makes it feel like they are more common.”

“One could even surmise that with increasing awareness, there is more information about prevention circulating, effectively decreasing the odds of sinkholes.”

“Definitely, Wendy. What a great assertion! I’m very impressed!”

“Oh you’re making me blush! Can you see that John? Can you see me blushing?”

“Hello, Rudolph!” John chuckles, Wendy elbows her co-host playfully. “And we’ll be right back after the break!”


“If it wasn’t for your mental break, none of this would’ve happened Jeffery!” Marianne yells as he continues to shuffle over to the cabinet to grab the mop. 

“That’s not even—”

“Do you know what the real tragedy of this situation is?” Marianne whines. 


“I can’t have watermelon for breakfast or pancakes with maple syrup!”


“You know what the real tragedy of the Bayshore Boulevard situation is?’

“No, tell us Doctor,” Wendy says, leaning forward. 

“If they had just bought a house down the street, they would’ve been saved!” 

“Oh my gosh,” Wendy sighs. “And just last week their neighbors were telling us what a loving couple they were!”


“Couple of bitches!” Jeffery screams as he attacks the sticky mess with a mop. 

“Don’t you dare talk about my Brunch Ladies like that!” Marianne rips the mop out of Jeffery’s hand. “Just because they’re honest and candid with everyone, doesn’t mean they’re bad people.” 

“Uh, no, that’s exactly what they are,” Jeffery says. “They’re rotten to the core and they’re making you into one of them.” 

“Bullshit,” Marriane replies even though she knows they’re bitches. The only reason she hangs out with them is because she has no other friends. Ever since quitting her job, she has started going insane at home everyday with only her cat to talk to. Yes, Marianne has started talking to Clementine. He finds this to be extremely aggravating

The feeble plies of the mop are covered in syrup, they stick to each other and knot around the broken shards as Marianne jerks the mop around the floor. “We should’ve got the swiffer! This thing is shit!” 

“It’s not the mop!” Jeffery snatches the mop back from Marianne. “You just can’t see the glass on this color tile.”

“The house down the street has better tile,” Marianne mutters under her breath.

“What did you say?”

I SAID! The house down the street has better tile!” 

“Would you shut up! about the house down the street!” 

Just as the words leave Jeffery’s mouth, the crystals on the chandelier start to jingle. Marianne blinks, wondering if her eyes deceive her. Maybe there’s a draft? Or another iguana running across the roof? But then the floor begins to tremble. Marianne’s breathing becomes shallow. Her heart races as the ground beneath her starts shaking. 

“Earthquake!” she screams. 


“So what I’m hearing is sinkholes are to Floridians just as Earthquakes are to Californians?” 

“Pretty much, John,” Dr. Steven replies. “That’s the price you have to pay for the glorious weather and beautiful beaches!”

“What a shame!”

“Well, the real shame is the lives lost in the Bayshore Boulevard, of course,” Dr. Stevens adds.

“Without a doubt,” John amends. 

“I wonder how they spent their last fleeting minutes,” Wendy ponders. 

“I mean they were probably shocked! Scared!” John says. “I mean, hearing about it, I was dumbfounded!”


“Don’t be dumb!” Jeffery cries. “Florida doesn’t get Earthquakes!” 

“Don’t you call me dumb, dumbass!” 

The whole house sways, cabinet doors swing and banging against each other, the remaining ceramic plates slide out and shatter across the floor. 

“Would you just shut up for once in your life!” Jeffery yells as he desperately grabs hold of the granite countertops. He used to love the way his wife could make conversation out of nothing, but now the sound of her voice makes him want to scream. When he admitted that in couples therapy, he’d never seen his wife get so angry. Steam was shooting out Marianne’s ears. 

“Screw you!” The walls violently jerk back and forth, sending Marianne flying across the kitchen, slamming them down on the floor. Clementine leaps down from the cabinet, scurries across the floor and out the doggy door. Shards of glass slice into Marianne’s hands and knees, cutting into her stomach and piercing the front of her thighs. “Ow! Fuck! This is all your fault Jeffery!” She tries to grab hold of something—anything. But everything is slimy, covered in sticky maple syrup. Before Marianne’s husband can reply, the floor of the kitchen splits wide open, like a cat opening its mouth for a massive, tongue-curling yawn. 

The Earth swallowed everything: the shards of the ceramic wedding dishware that should’ve been china, the watermelon Jeffery threw in the trash that morning, and the mop Marianne wished was a Swiffer. In the backyard, the algae-covered plaster of the pool crumbled. The palm trees careened into the gorge, along with the outdoor furniture, and the new, shiny grill. Even Marianne and Jeffery are sucked deep into the abyss. As far as the rest of the houses on the street, they are left entirely unaffected. The cavernous chasm stopped just short of the one house’s property. On the edge of the dark pit is a crooked metal pole, jutting out from the raw earth. Clementine sits underneath it, his tail curled around his body as he licks dirt off his left paw. Fastened to the top of the pole splattered with mud is a green street sign which reads: Bayshore Blvd.

Ava Paulsen is a first-year journalism student from Los Angeles. When she’s not basking in the fleeting sunlight at the Lakefill or spending all her dining dollars at Café Bergson, you’ll find her hunched over her computer crafting worlds made entirely of words.