Lydia Netzer 

 How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky



“A Cradle Song”

The angels are stooping

Above your bed;

They weary of trooping

With the whimpering dead.

God’s laughing in Heaven

To see you so good;

The Sailing Seven

Are gay with His mood.

I sigh that kiss you,

For I must own

That I shall miss you

When you have grown.

—William Butler Yeats

A test field in the form of an initially uniform train of waves propagating into a Kerr-Newman black hole has its crests crowded together and magnified by gravitational and Doppler blueshifts that grow without bound at the Cauchy horizon. Such perturbative results suggest (though they do not prove) that inside a black hole formed in a generic collapse, an observer falling toward the inner horizon should be engulfed in a wall of (classically) infinite density immediately after seeing the entire future history of the outer universe pass before his eyes in a flash.

—E. Poisson and W. Israel, “Inner-Horizon

Instability and Mass Inflation in Black Holes”

(Physical Review Letters, volume 63, pages 1663–66, 1989)


On the night when George and Irene were born, the sun set in a boil of red-orange ribbons across the Ohio sky. The people of Toledo looked out their western-facing windows at the night, buttoned the collars of their pajamas against the cold, and closed the blinds as darkness fell. They lay down flat in their beds and began to sleep. Some turned over on their sides, first some punched their pillows, and some sighed. But sleep came for them all, one by one, and they slid under it willingly. No one fought. No one refused. Sleeping, they lost track of what was going on. They were no longer in Toledo, but in Paris or in the past, on the moon or in a book they’d read. Behind closed eyes and sleeping faces, they were gone.

Into what deep well did they all fall, single file? On what small ledge did each waver, and then drop down from waking into dreaming, down from life to death? A man who falls asleep is like a diver who slips from the air into the water. Yet through it all, the sleeping man’s body stays put, under a thin sheet, straight and flat. You could put his whole body in a box. You could put the box into the ground.

Sleep is a shallow death we practice every night. City after city, as the earth turns and rolls around the sun, we lie down and close our eyes. We try out this thing, death, for an eight-hour stretch. New York, Toledo, Dallas, Los Angeles: we all go down. Our sleeping minds blur the boundaries between our bodies and our idea of the world into what would otherwise be madness. In sleep we have no senses but imagined senses, no grasp on fate except a lunatic’s idea of control. Being crazy is like being asleep, and being asleep is like dying. It’s just like dying, because the body needs to do it. It has no choice.

By the time the people of Toledo actually die, they will have practiced it thousands of times. The sense of going under will be familiar. The sense of slipping loose from sanity will be no stranger. They will be very good at dying, by the time they get to do it. So good, it will be absolutely irreversible. To everyone, this seems like a good idea. On the night that George and Irene were born, the city was silenced by the effort of sleep, and all the astronomers and astrologers, and all the preachers and historians, and all the girls and boys had gone into the dark.

There was one hospital in the city of Toledo, a box of light and nervous energy in the sleeping world. Inside, the people were wide awake. In the maternity ward, two mothers pushed and strained to give birth. There was a lot of grunting, a few tense moments, several people counted to ten, and then the babies emerged, full of love and covered in blood. The mothers that birthed them smiled at each other. These births had been carefully arranged.

George and Irene were born to be together.

The night sky was dark and windy from the stars exploding. But when the babies came out, they were perfect: a boy and a girl. The wide-awake nurses even said how beautiful and big and healthy they were. George and Irene didn’t look alike. Nor do gods look like humans, or heaven like the earth. They were the same age, exactly. Not an older and a younger twin, but the same twin repeated. It’s very difficult to produce twin souls. It’s not just a matter of double strollers and mega–diaper packs. There are subtleties and manipulations, and there are moments of distress, when it all seems like it won’t work out correctly. When you think about it, how many times have twin souls been successfully created? Look at Antony and Cleopatra. Now there was a botched project.

Look at Castor and Pollux; they ate each other in the end. At least, people think they did. But maybe they sat down together on an unmade bed, and began to kiss, and covered each other’s mouths with their mouths, and began to breathe, in and out, holding each other around the neck, and taking each other’s carbon dioxide, until their eyes bugged out and they were gone.

As for the twin souls of George and Irene, this is their story. How they met on earth, and how they slept and practiced for their deaths, night after night, and met in certain dreams, and came to love and lose each other, and live on.


At the time her mother fell down the stairs to her death in Toledo, Irene was far away in Pittsburgh, working in a lab. As her mother bounced down a flight of stairs in a bright city on the sparkling shore of Lake Erie, Irene sat in a dark room, in the basement of an ugly building, in a drab university, in an abandoned steel town. Irene’s mother was named Bernice. They had not spoken to each other in years.

Irene pulled her lab coat around her and stared intently into a small glass window on a large metal apparatus. She wasn’t thinking about her mother at all. In fact, all she was thinking about was her work. As her mother landed at the bottom of the stairs, arms and legs cracking, Irene concentrated only on recording the data from her machine. All of her recent days had been spent alone, just like this, compressed into the space in her own head. Yes, she had a boyfriend, a mother, a boss. But there was her and there was everything else. There was her and there was the world. She had a reason for this. It wasn’t only vanity.

As her mother’s limbs banged and broke and settled into place around her on the floor, Irene peered again into the window in the middle of her machine. It was as big as the whole room, and had the shape of an 8, made of bright metal. She leaned over it and looked down into it, where the two sides of the 8 connected. The machine buzzed under her hand. Inside, the little particles were whirring around. She was an astrophysicist, attempting to observe a black hole by exciting the particles in the machine. It was all she had been doing and trying and thinking about for months: proving that there are black holes all around us, and we have been walking through them all our lives. It was her work, and her entire focus was there.

In Toledo, Bernice’s spinal fluid leaked into the tissue around her cervical vertebrae, and there was thick blood coming out her ear. In Pittsburgh, Irene concentrated on turning a little numbered dial, click by click. Although her eyes were heavy and she was tired, she would not quit.

She adjusted a different knob on the control panel and flicked a switch. She adjusted and peered, over and over. There are a lot of fractions between zero and one. There are a lot of sort-ofs between off and on. She had to test everything. For an almost innumerable number of failures, she had continued. She had to assume that this day would be no different, but she would carry on anyway.

Never once had she felt the desire to hit the machine, to jostle it, berate it. But she had considered what it would feel like to slide it gently into the water, where the two rivers of Pittsburgh converged, then jump in after it. She would ride it down to the sea, like a barrel over the falls. Then, sleeping peacefully, they would drift out on the waves. These things had occurred to her. She had stood for panting, tense minutes at the railing of the George Westinghouse Bridge, glaring down at the train tracks below, flanked by green, thinking of jumping.

In Toledo, her mother was finally dying, and one last breath came out. Irene did not know the fight her mother was having, right at that exact moment.

Outside Pittsburgh, there was a green forest to hike in, with rivers and bald eagles. Inside the city, there were buildings you could look at, visit, and enjoy. A funicular went up and down, up and down, but Irene had never been in it. Irene didn’t care about all that. She just leaned over the experiment, her back bent. There are elements common to all cities. University laboratories, suicide bridges, small apartments to live in, boyfriends to have.

Irene kept her face steady, her eyes open, pointed at the machine. If she worked until her face melted into the detector, if her brain fell down into the path of the accelerator, if it was penetrated by pions and if a small black hole was created in her skull, then at least she would have finished all the data for this set. She blinked her eyes to wake herself up, clicked the knob, and peered into the machine, like every time before. But her mother had nothing left with which to blink herself awake. She could not stop.

Far away, her mother died.

And this time, when Irene looked into that little window, she saw something completely different. This time, even before her forehead pressed against the humming steel, she saw a tiny purple glow. A little bit of light came out the window she had been looking in. Light that had not been there before.

Her stomach dropped. Her brain woke up. She took a deep breath in, and she felt her heart tremble and thump against her ribs. The lab was perfectly quiet, a heavy door blocking out any sounds of the hallway. There was no window and no potted plant, no ticking clock, no stars marching across the firmament, no heavenly witnesses. Irene sat frozen, vibrating, the purple glow from the apparatus window lighting up her eyes. At that moment, she almost couldn’t look. It was too much to take.

As the person who had been standing in the upstairs hallway in her mother’s house came slowly down the stairs, step by step, toward the body, Irene pressed her face up to the experiment one final time in faith, opened her eyes wide, and stared at the evidence.

For the first time, it was there. More beautiful than she had ever imagined. A tiny pinprick in space, absorbing and draining particles, leaking radiation that came to her as light through the detector she had made. It flared up from a deep violet to the fiercest lavender and back again, the size of a speck of dust, as far as her human eye could tell. Her breath came faster. Her eyes did not want to pull away, did not want to leave the window, and the purple light bathed the sharp lines of her face, her pointed chin, tired eyelids, the pencil forgotten in her ear. Her finger pushed a button and recorded an image. Another image.

Then in a mist of lavender, it was gone. She blinked. Her heart surged and hurt against the back of her sternum. She felt prickles of adrenaline rippling down her limbs. Her hand reached into her lap and fished around in her lab coat, picked up a pencil. The hand felt the distance between the coils and the other edge of the notebook, felt its way halfway down the page, and then while her face was still glued to the machine, she wrote.

Irradiated Argon. Polarization 60%. Frequency 16 PHz. Wavelength 47nm. Visible Hawking radiation from possible black hole. Estimated mass, 1 ng. Estimated radius of anomaly, 0 nm. Estimated density, infinite. Halflife

She stopped writing. Had it lived for two breaths? Three seconds? Had she been watching for an hour? She leaned back over the machine and looked into the detector. The particles continued to whirr through the collider. Soon, there would be another one. Now she had no trouble staying awake.

One hour passed. Two hours more, and she was still looking. She saw one more, two more, but it was not enough for her. She was hungry for these results. Just one more, her brain said. Show me one more. Then I’ll sleep. “More gas,” her hand now wrote. A purer substrate. Try protons, for a perfect leptonic decay. The color of irises in spring.