the death of an ice cube / by laurel

11.8.04

I’m watching an ice cube melt at 30,000 ft. My flight departed at 4:33pm, the beverage cart rolled around at 5:00pm, and sometime between 5:01 and 5:15pm, an ice cube fell to the ground and began to melt.

It is now 5:26pm and a small pool of de-ice has formed under the cube. Given that our plane is flying at a slight angle—I’d say maybe 15-or-so degrees—the puddle should soon drift southbound down the aisle, toward the lavatories. And here I am presently, watching it. The de-icefication of an ice cube.

The puddle has drifted some 4 inches from its source. It’s 5:31pm. The water is tracing its path along mottled navy carpeting on a day-glo green strip that marks the edge of the asile. 8 inches. The puddle is streaming rapidly now, its shadowed contour moving at a rate of a few centimeters per 30 seconds. One foot.

I’ve lost track of the wayward water as it is now matte against the shadows. So I fix my attention to the ice cube once again.

It has the shape of those vexing cubes whose origin mystifies me; round, with a hole in the middle. A hole in the middle! What is the hole’s purpose? How is such a cube frozen? Does the cube tray have the same shape as a bunt cake pan or a jello mold? And furthermore, wouldn’t it be more space and cost effective to eliminate the superfluous hole altogether? It seems that having such a hole would expediate the melting process, thus cutting into the time which a drink is kept cold. This seems to be highly ineffective.

I find myself harboring bad feelings and ill will toward ice-cube tray manufacturers. (I must begetting worked up; my handwriting is getting sloppier by the second).

It’s 5:44pm. The ice cube is now half its normal size. At this rate, it will be completely de-iced by approximately 6:10pm. By 6:30pm, I predict that it will have evaporated completely, and will merely be a figment of memory.

Now here’s a thought: I wonder if I am the only one who will remember this ice cube when it is gone. I’m certainly the only one documenting its existence. Do you suppose it’s possible that I am the only one who has regarded this ice cube at all in its short existence? And if I hadn’t taken notice of it, do you suppose anyone would have?

I could be writing about the sunset; thin orange, green and blue ribbons pulled taut across a wrapping paper sky—but that doesn’t hold my attention (nor my affections) nearly as much as my dear ice cube (who, at 5:50pm is now three-quarters de-iced).

Suppose this is the only ice cube to ever fall in that exact place and melt ever again; then I am witnessing something truly great, as opposed to the sun setting, which happens every night and is regarded by nearly every one.

But no: by chance an ice cube was knocked from the beverage cart and landed on the floor between 5:01 and 5:15pm, where the de-icefication process began, and was noticed by me—by chance!

What could be said about the short life of an ice-cube? I’d venture to say it matters not at all to anyone else but me. But it matters very much to me.

Perhaps its existence was mediocre—after all, it has that ineffective hole in the middle of it. And it surely was wasted in the orthodox sense—after all, its purpose was to go into a beverage and prolong the chilling process. But it landed on the floor. Quite by chance. And here it will sit until it finally evaporates. A grim, overlooked, mediocre existence.

Except…I noticed it. I documented its life and chronicled its demise (which, by the way, at 6:01pm is nearly complete—right on schedule). I made it matter. I observed the way the light reflected its contours. I watched the runoff trace its path down the aisle. I gave it significance simply by regarding its existence. And that, my friends, matters.

It matters a great deal.

6:15pm: The death of an ice cube at 30,000 feet.