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Will VanDenBerg

The Split Mass

It took twenty years for The Mass to crack. It began life in our museum as an 18-foot-high copper cube, polished to a fine shine at installation then left to tarnish naturally. The deed of gift stated that we could never clean or buff it. During its two decades in our collection, the bright gloss dulled then darkened. And then, as I said, it cracked. The fracture ran four feet along the cube's northern face, exposing the coarse texture of the interior. There was no clear cause. It was an internal defect that had laid dormant. When I first told the sculptor, he emitted a sexually-adjacent sound made of vowels.

He agreed to handle the repairs, but only if we transported the piece back to his studio in Iowa. He was too old to make the trip to New York, he said, yet somehow well enough to repair a 10,000 pound statue. I didn't get it. But as the curator who acquired the piece, the museum saddled me with supervising the removal, delivery, and repairs.

To get The Mass out of the museum required disassembling the whole east wing. We widened doorways, raised ceilings, took out exterior panes of glass. Other works of art were parted like a crowd. I can't overstate the hassle.

Meanwhile, my teenage son grew to a full foot taller than me. The doctor drawing his blood to check for height-related disorders privately advised a paternity test. "You never know," he said, palms open and up. Every other weekend, when the boy stayed at my loft, I fed him a diet of raw vegetables and bone broth aimed at detoxifying him. I believed that recombinant bovine growth hormones—fed to him in the cheap meat his mother prepared—were driving his growth. He soon became sick of my broths and asked to stay with his mother full time.


When we crashed, I was sleeping in the passenger side of the truck. We were midway through Iowa. A car ahead of us hit a deer and veered into our lane. On the first flip, the cables holding the cube snapped. It flew.

I crawled from the wreckage and concussedly stumbled to the sculpture. The crack had given way. The piece was in two halves, evenly split, the exposed texture of fresh bronze gleaming. At the center of the cube was a small open cavity, a negative cube. Within that chamber rested a rough chunk of bleach blonde hair held tight with a rubber band. I didn't know what it meant. I still don't. I pocketed the hair before the authorities arrived. It lives in a plastic bag in my kitchen drawer to this day.

Given the loss of life (the driver of the truck, two tourists in a cheap Kia flattened by the cube), the artist asked to scrap the piece. The museum complied and relinquished its deed of gift. The small town nearest the accident hauled it to a local dump before realizing its potential worth. They auctioned it off, netting four million. I don't know if the new owner has arranged for repairs from an outside source, or if they've left it in two halves. I've been meaning to look it up.

My son? The blood test confirmed his health and our relation. I haven't seen him in years. In the photographs his mother sends me, he grows taller and taller still.


Will VanDenBerg's short fiction has been published in Threadcount, Denver Quarterly, No Tokens, and elsewhere. He is a graduate of the Literary Arts MFA program at Brown University. He volunteers as a clinic escort at PPGNY and lives with his wife in Sunnyside, NY. Their dog is no longer afraid of wind.

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