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Issue number four




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The cube by Cristovam Buarque

Everything was imaginary: the wood, the bricks, the cement. The only thing that was real was the cube. No one doubted this. It's true that no one ever saw it, never touched it with their hands, never measured the exact dimensions of its walls. Perhaps because of just this no one doubted its existence. Especially not Astor, who disappeared behind the walls, never to be seen again. He, above all, who had constructed it, little by little, over two years' time with care, with affection, never knowing why, but thinking it so logical, so natural, that only once he asked himself why. He, above all, the imaginary constructor, who without a single question described the construction of his own work: brick upon brick; side to side; one after another; the ends carefully covered with cement smoothed with the care of someone building a dwelling, perhaps the definitive dwelling; and wanting the others to see it.

Astor never knew when he began. He remembers how it was. He saw the bricks piled up, the heap of sand and the sacks of cement. The tools he had assembled with his own hands a long time ago. Later all he did was to begin. Without any questions.

Taking a great deal of care, he began with the first brick. He stepped back to gain perspective, laughed about the perfect placement and returned to work.

This was a long time ago.

Since then, he has never stopped. The bricks followed, one after another, on top of the cement; the cement, on top of the bricks. The first wall was constructed rapidly. After the first one there was no pause. Laying the bricks perpendicularly, he began to raise the second wall immediately. This was the time when Astor felt the most pleasure in his work and worked the hardest; and because of this the second wall was constructed even more rapidly than the first.

When he began the third wall, Astor began to have doubts. There was a moment, then, when he sat down, looked at what he had made, looked at the cement remaining and at the piles of bricks, and he questioned himself. But the pause didn't last long. He returned to work immediately. Of course, it was never the same. Never again was he able to carry bricks or open a sack of cement without experiencing a pang of doubt. A variety of doubts. Sometimes he doubted if the bricks he was using existed. Other times, when he thought that the bricks and the cement and everything else existed, he doubted if the cube would be good for anything. These doubts were to blame for the length of time it took to complete the work.

But he didn't stop.

Because of this, he didn't delay in beginning the last of the four walls. And when he saw that it was half done, he laughed happily because the project he had dreamed of was becoming a reality. And so the work received an unexpected boost: the bricks followed one after another, the rhythmic blows were heard without stopping; the cement was always ready, and he made the run from one point to another with a mechanical certainty, efficiently done as if to the beat of music. In a short time the top of the last wall was ready.

Astor felt tired. He looked around, inspecting the rigid walls. They were symmetrical, well made, protective. Exhausted, he slept, certain that on the following day he would definitely finish his cube. And that he would disappear, protected, into its interior.

Seen from the outside, the walls looked cheerful, divided into small colored squares, like an enormous magic cube.

(translated by Linda Jerome)

Cristovam Buarque is an economics professor at the University of Brasília in Brazil. The author of over 15 books, both fiction and non-fiction, he is the former governor of the Federal District of Brasília. "The Cube" was originally published in Portugese as "O Cubo," Astrícia (Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 1984).

Linda Jerome is a freelance translator living in San Francisco. She translates from Portuguese and Spanish to English.

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translation copyright by translator 2000 all rights reserved