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Cube by Amelia Gray

04/27/2009

The children who found the cube shrieked over it as children do. The adults couldn't be pulled away from the picnic at first, and assumed that the children had found a shedded snakeskin or a gopher hole. Only when the Rogers kid touched the iron cube and burned his hand did the parents come running, attracted by the screams.
     It was a massive monolith, wider than it was tall and taller than anyone could reach, wavering like an oasis in the heat. The Rogers kid wept bitterly, his hand already swelling with a blister.
     Nobody knew what to make of the thing. It was too big to have been carted in on a pickup truck. It would be too large for the open bed of an eighteen-wheeler, and even then there were no tire marks in the area, no damaged vegetation and not even a road nearby wide enough for a load that size. It was if the block had been cast in its spot and destined to remain. And then there was the issue of the inscription.
     They didn't notice it at first, between the screaming Rogers kid, his mother's wailing panic to hustle him back to camp for ice, and the pandemonium of parents finding their own children and clasping them to their chests and lifting them up at once. The object in question itself received little scrutiny. Only when the mothers walked their children back to camp for calamine lotion and jelly beans did the rest of the adults notice the printed text, sized no larger than a half inch, on the shady side of the block:

EVERYTHING MUST EVENTUALLY SINK.


    The words caused an uncomfortable stir among the gathered crowd.
     "What about Noah's Ark?" asked one man in the silence.
     "After the flood, the ark was lost in the sand."
     "What about buoys?"
     "Given time and water retention," said a woman who worked in a laboratory, "a buoy will sink like the rest."
     This was disconcerting news. Everyone stood around a while, thinking.
     "What about an indestructable balloon?"
     "Such a contraption does not exist, and is therefore not a thing."
     "A floating bird, such as a swan?"
     "It will die and then sink," the first man said, annoyed.
     One man made to rest against the iron cube and stepped back, grimacing in pain at the surface heat.
     "A glass bubble, then."
     The laboratory woman shook her head. "The glass would eventually erode, as would polymer, plastic, wood, and ceramic. We are talking thousands of years, but of course it would happen."
     The group was becoming visibly nervous. One young man recalled a flood in his hometown that brought all the watertight caskets bobbing out of the earth, rising triumphantly out of the water like breeching whales. The water eventually found its way though the leak-proof seals and the caskets sank again.
     Another man recalled a mother from the city who drove her car into a pond, her children still strapped to their seats.
     A man and a woman walked to camp and returned shortly with a cooler of beer. The gathered crowd commenced to drinking, forming a half-circle around the cube. They agreed that many things would eventually sink:

           A credit card
           A potato (peeled)
           A baby stroller
           A canoe
           A pickle jar full of helium
           A rattan deck chair
           A matress made of NASA foam

     They even agreed on alternate theories: everything that sunk could rise again, for example. One of the men splashed a few ounces of beer on the iron surface as a gesture of respect. The place where the beer touched cooled down and the man leaned on the cube. It didn't budge.
     The men and women grew drunk and their claims more grandiose (a skyscraper, an orchard, a city of mermaids). Eventually, the mothers came to lead them back to camp but they didn't want to go, eliciting words from the mothers, who had been stuck with the children and each other all afternoon and were ready for the silence of their respective cars. Back at camp, they were throwing leftover food into the pond. Ducks paddled up to eat the bread crumbs and slices of meat and the children clapped. The Rogers kid stayed on his mother's lap, picking jelly beans from her hand. A pair of siblings threw an entire loaf of bread into the water and watched it disappear.
     The mothers didn't talk much, preoccupied with children or ducks. As they sat, some thought about the children, and some thought about everything eventually sinking, but most thought of the long drive ahead, the end of the weekend, and the days after that.

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Amelia Gray lives in Austin, where she founded the Five Things reading series. Her writing has appeared in The Onion, American Short Fiction, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, DIAGRAM, and Caketrain, among others. Her first book, AM/PM, was published February 2009 by Featherproof Books. Learn more about her at www.ameliagray.com.

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