nth state of matter by Jemimah Wei

nth state of matter

Ice cube as object

32 degrees Fahrenheit, 0 degrees Celsius, 1 ounce, 2 tablespoons.


Ice cube as type

Cube, crescent, flake, nugget, gourmet.


Ice cube as catalyst

“Twenty-two years ago, on March 21st ’99 – I’ll remember this forever because it was the first day I’d been moved from the back bar to customer-facing – there was this couple, and man, they just sat there all night, drink after drink after drink, and somewhere into his fourth one, the guy called me over and gave me shit, said his Hibiki was diluting too fast, and that in real Japanese bars, they use deoxygenated water to make their ice so it doesn’t have any bubbles, and rather than melting into the drink, the ice simply chills it. He’s a moron, this isn’t Japan, and I thought she was too pretty to be so easily impressed, but they left together, sloppily, which was a damned shame. I know you’re not supposed to, but later I looked up the name on that card. I found the asshole on Facebook and reported his account for fun. I didn’t think anything would happen, but it made me feel better.”

Ice cube as modifier

In anticipation of transforming/elevating an instant Nescafe blend whenever she spends the night. 

Ice cube as potential event 

In the morning, there is a slab of raw meat, wrapped only in a paper towel, balancing on the ice tray, bits of the paper towel sticking to the ice. 

Ice cube as compromise

The homemade iced coffee is quietly made anyway.

Ice cube as disaster warning

“Mom’s doing it again, I walked into the kitchen and she was just standing there, in front of the SMEG, holding two cubes in her palm, watching it melt.”

Ice cube as climate warning

“It’s not like snow, which is nature’s surprise. You can choose when to watch it change states.”

“Mom, it’s bad enough that we even have a refrigerator, can you not leave the door open?”

Ice cube as time capsule

“Mum, mum, mum, mum, look, it’s magic. Mum, you’re not looking, muuuuum.”

Ice cube as that which follows you into the future

There is no ice cube.

Ice cube as that which follows you into the past

In the beginning, there was light. And land, and sea, and sky. There was air and there was liquid and there was gas and there was man. And those lines were clear and delineated, and nobody thought, and then what? 

Ice cube as that which feels like prophecy

At the dive bar where you sometimes go to be alone, the new server says, Ma’am, ice is a privilege, but one that’ll only cost you fifty cents. He’s trying to be charming, but your mind snags on ma’am.

Ice cube as product of misrepresentation 

In the 1800s, bad air quality was thought to cause disease. 

Ice cube as solution

In 1844, American physician and inventor John Gorrie built a refrigerator with the sole purpose of producing ice to cool air. These cubes were then placed in basins and hung from the ceiling in order to lower the ambient room temperature, which was nice, but actually solved nothing. 

Ice cube as local solution

To quickly cool a giant dispenser of punch for a party on a humid summer’s day, fill sandwich baggies with tap water, tie a dead knot, and freeze overnight. 

Ice cube as splinter

When the guests text to say they’re arriving early, and your daughter grabs the lopsided bags of frozen water out of the tiny freezer, the negative imprint of whatever half-eaten Microwaveable-Meals they were wrapped around, and, realising that the plastic is stuck to the surface of the ice, she tries to shatter the ice that is still in the bag, by throwing the entire thing against the kitchen floor, the way she’s seen her mother do, many times; the plastic breaks, and shards go everywhere, leaking and pooling: you snap. Although you justify the snap later, and she insists it’s fine, she looks at you in bewilderment, like, it’s just ice, mom, it’s just water.

Ice cube as evidence of everyday miracle – 

Mom, please.

Ice cube as eternal being 

You’re either eighteen, or fifty-seven, or eighty-two. The ice cube sits in your palm, a continual source of fascination. When it loses structural integrity, the woman you never recognize materializes and replaces it, as she is paid to do. 

Ice cube as temporal being

Don’t worry about the mess. Just leave it, it’ll evaporate. Can you leave it? Can you?

Jemimah Wei is a writer and host based in Singapore and New York. She was recently named a 2020 Felipe P. De Alba Fellow at Columbia University, and is a Francine Ringold Award for New Writers honouree. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart prize, received support from Singapore’s National Arts Council, and has appeared or is forthcoming in Nimrod, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Florida Review, and CRAFT Literary, amongst others. Presently a columnist for No Contact Magazine, she is at work on a novel and several television projects. Say hi at @jemmawei on socials.


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Art (cropped) Olafur Eliasson Minik Rosing Tongeron91 CC2.0