THE INFINITE PIGGY BANK
Mark Lee Pearson
(First appeared in Beyond Centauri Issue 20)
It all started when Amelia received a mysterious parcel from Aunt Swantje in Germany.
She tore the wrapping off the box and looked inside.
“What is it, Ladybug?” said Dad.
“It’s a Piggy Bank!” Amelia cried. She held it up for him to see. Baby-pink and doe-eyed, the little china pig was decorated with hand-painted yellow and white daisies.
Dad took a fifty pence piece from his pocket and dropped it into the slot. “Bad luck to have an empty money box,” he said.
Amelia took the Piggy Bank to her room, placed it on her dresser and gazed into its eyes. “You are my treasure,” she said.
Dad gave Amelia fifty pence pocket money every Friday. She put every single coin into the Piggy Bank.
One day she said, “I must have saved a million pounds by now.”
Dad laughed. “I don’t think you could get that much into your little pig. You’ve only been saving for six months. That’s about—”
Amelia grabbed a pencil and scribbled down the sums in her notebook.
“Why don’t you use your calculator?” said Dad.
“I like how the numbers tie up so neatly on paper,” she said, showing him the notebook. “Look.”
“Ten pounds,” said Dad. “Let’s go shopping!”
Amelia peered into the slot. “How do we get the money out?” she said.
“We’ll have to break it open.”
A look of horror swept across Amelia’s face. “I think I’ll keep saving until she’s full,” she said.
“Right-O.” said Dad, tweaking her cheek. “I’m proud of you, Ladybug.”
“I’m proud of you too, Dad.”
On the day of Amelia’s birthday Dad came in jingling a bag full of shiny silver heptagonal coins. “Let’s fill her up today,” he said. “Then we’ll go out and buy you a present.”
“Do you think we’ve got enough for a new bike?”
“We might.” He reached for the pig. “Goodness! It’s heavy. What have you been feeding her?”
Amelia handed him her notebook. All the neat sums were written in 2B pencil. “Twenty-four pounds fifty,” she said.
Dad turned the pig in his fingers and inspected it closely. He shook it.
“That’s strange,” he said.
“Are you telling me there are forty-nine fifty pence pieces in there?”
“But, there’s no sound.”
Amelia looked puzzled. “No sound?”
“Listen.” He shook the bag and the coins jingle-jangled. Then he shook the pig, but it didn’t make a sound.
They stood there, eyes widening with astonishment.
Suddenly, Dad’s face lit up. He grabbed the bag and pulled out a coin. “Let’s make it twenty-five pounds,” he said.
Holding the coin between his thumb and forefinger, he positioned it over the pig. Just as he was about to let go a mysterious force snatched it from his grasp and sent it spinning through the slot in the pig’s back.
“Incredible,” he said, taking another coin from the bag. That one followed the same spiraling descent as the first.
“Extraordinary!” said Amelia.
Coin after coin traced a spiraling descent into the pig until the bag was empty. Each one was drawn through the slot by the same mysterious force.
Dad turned to Amelia, his mouth wide open and awe in his eyes. “She’s done it!” he said.
“Who’s done what?”
But he was already halfway down the stairs with the pig in his hands, “Come on, Ladybug!” he shouted.
“Where are we going?”
“To the bank.”
They arrived at the National Bank on Brook Street in no time. Dad flew out of the car, charged in through the door, barged past a line of dismayed customers and headed straight for the counter. Amelia was right behind him.
“Excuse me.” A woman in a red sou’wester prodded him in the backside with her umbrella. “There is a queue.”
Amelia glared at her, “We’re in a hurry!” she said.
The woman glared back. “Who isn’t?”
Dad handed his bank book to the cashier. “I’d like one hundred—”
The cashier looked at him sharply through the partition and indicated towards a desk which displayed an array of banking forms. “Sir, you have to fill out a withdrawal form,” she said.
“Can’t you do it here?”
“But, it’s urgent.”
The cashier raised her eyebrows and gave him a tight-lipped smile. “I don’t care if the world is ending,” she said. “It’s the rules.”
Dad started to speak, but thought better of it. As they passed back along the line to the desk, the Sou’wester Hag gave them a triumphant look. Amelia responded by sticking her tongue out and the Sou’wester Hag said something scornful about genes.
While Dad was filling in the form Amelia held the pig tight. “Don’t worry,” she whispered. “Dad has it all under control.”
Dad jumped the queue a second time, waving the slip at the casier. “Please hurry,” he said. “We don’t have much time.”
The Sou’wester Hag muttered under her breath to a girl in a green Mackintosh. The cashier looked at Dad, “Please join the queue,” she said.
“I really need you to do this for me now,” said Dad. “The future depends on it.”
The cashier sighed, took the form and the bank book from the revolving bin and her eyes widened as she read. “Sir, are you sure—?”
“Just count it out!”
“But I can’t—”
“You can’t? Then call someone who can.” He looked at her badge, “Miss Pimm.”
Miss Pimm sighed, stood up and disappeared through a door.
Shortly, a fresh-faced man wearing a baggy suit appeared. He swaggered across the lobby towards them, held out his hand and introduced himself as the Branch Manager. “I’m terribly sorry sir, but we don’t stock twenty-thousand pounds in fifty pence pieces.”
“I’ll take as many as you have,” said Dad.
“What on earth for?”
Dad snatched the pig from Amelia. “I want to try to fill this.”
The Branch Manager looked down his nose and smirked. “A Piggy Bank?”
“This is no ordinary Piggy Bank,” said Dad. “I believe it holds the answer to the puzzle of infinity.”
“Infinity, the boundless, the never ending—”
“I know what infinity means.” The Branch Manager sneered at the pig. “I just don’t know what it has to do with a money box.”
The Sou’wester Hag stepped forward and addressed the Branch Manager. “Are you going to serve us, or am I going to have to remove my custom from your banking facility?”
The Branch Manager glanced along the line of people. He turned to Dad. “Sir, if you’d like to step into my office—”
“There’s no time,” said Dad. He turned to the people in the queue, galaxies of frustration and exasperation swirling within the irises of his eyes. “Have you heard of black holes?” he said.
Only the Mackintosh Girl nodded.
“My sister is a genius. She has toiled half her life away in an effort to understand the mysteries of the universe. Her dream was to discover a black hole. She has succeeded! God only knows how, but encapsulated within this Piggy Bank is a black hole.”
The Mackintosh Girl smiled. A man wearing a deerstalker shuffled his feet. The Sou’wester Hag came forward. “Are you utterly mad? Manager, I think you should call the police.”
Dad continued, “A black hole! A singularity! Infinite mass in this finite space—”
The Branch Manager took Dad by the arm. Dad ignored him. “My sister has folded up space and time and stuffed it into this little pig. Do you have any idea what this means?”
The Branch Manager pushed him towards the door, “You had better leave, sir.”
Dad pointed his finger at the hole in the pig’s back, “It means we are on the verge of an Event Horizon.”
The bank fell silent. He was losing them. Even the Mackintosh Girl’s eyes were double-glazed.
Amelia stepped forward.
“Take your hands off my dad,” she said. She turned to address everyone, “I’m not a scientist, but—”
The Sou’wester Hag let out a guffaw. The Mackintosh Girl glared at her.
Amelia held up her index finger, “Do you know the story of the little Dutch boy? We read it at school. He stuck his finger in the dyke to stop the water flooding the town.”
Some of the customers nodded, others voiced their assent.
“I think Dad is like the boy in that story. If he doesn’t fill this hole, the world will be flooded with infinity.”
The customers’ eyes began to light up like street lamps.
“That’s right!” said Dad, regaining his composure. He ruffled his daughter’s hair and grinned at her.
The Deerstalker said, “Why don’t you stick your finger in the hole?”
“It’s not that easy,” said Dad. In fact although the principle of plugging the hole is the same, the reverse theorem is true—”
Dad was losing them. Amelia said, “What Dad means is that it won’t flood us—”
“That’s a relief,” said the Mackintosh Girl.
“But we’ll be sucked in through the hole if we don’t act fast.”
Dad became animated again, “That’s right, Ladybug! But we won’t be sucked in. We’ll be pulled headlong into the pig by the force of gravity. That gravity will crush everything to the size of an atom and blow it out of existence, unless—”
“You are a madman!” yelled the Hag.
“Sir, I think you had better leave,” said the Branch Manager.
“Wait!” said the Mackintosh Girl. “What if he’s telling the truth?”
Dad grinned. “Yes! What if I am? “What if I am right and you can’t see that because of all your stuffiness about queues and order and—”
“All right,” said The Branch Manager. “If you can demonstrate how you think you can plug this hole—”
“Black hole,” said Dad.
“Yes…black hole,” said the Branch Manager. “Then we’ll decide what to do.”
“Right-O,” said Dad.
It was the most marvelous magic trick anyone had ever seen.
The Mackintosh Girl, whose name was Jody, lent Dad a fifty pence piece. Amelia placed the pig on the lobby floor. The customers and staff crowded round to see. Dad held the coin above his head. Amelia held her breath. The entire National Bank held its breath.
Dad released the coin.
Everyone gasped as the coin, drawn by gravity, made a high velocity spiraling descent and disappeared into the tiny slot in the back of the pig.
“Bravo!” cried the Deerstalker.
“One more!” said Jody, pulling out another fifty.
The Sou’wester Hag shook her head. “The world is going daft!” she said.
Everyone applauded. Dad passed the pig around and they were all astounded by the incredible weight of the little ornament.
Then in all the kafuffle someone said, “I wonder if it will take anything bigger.”
“This is an Infinite Pig,” said Dad, rising to the challenge. “Its gravitational pull is so strong it will accept anything of any size.”
“Prove it,” said the Branch Manager.
“Right-O,” said Dad.
The Sou’wester Hag was apprehensive at first, but with the other customers urging her on she couldn’t very well disappoint them. Dad motioned her to his side, took her hand and guided her foot into the pig’s slot. Her right leg disappeared up to the knee, then her left leg and before long she was up to her waist.
“Hold tight,” said Dad. “It could be dangerous.”
The old Hag’s face was a picture of disbelief as she sunk past her waist and up to her chest.
“Can you feel anything?” said Dad.
“Wriggle your toes,” said Amelia.
“Get me out of here.” There was terror in her eyes. “Get me out of here, now!”
“Where has her body gone?” said Jody.
“It’s being stretched and curved through space and time,” said Dad.
“Help me you fool!” The Sou’wester Hag was up to her neck.
“Incredible,” said the Branch Manager.
Amelia held her Dad’s hand tight as the Sou’wester Hag was swallowed up. She marveled at the sight, but she also felt sorry for her Piggy Bank.
“Will you let me have my money now?” said Dad.
“Yes, let him have it,” said the Deerstalker.
“Give him his money!” cried the customers.
“Give him all the money he needs, Miss Pimm,” said the Branch Manager.
There were exactly fifteen-thousand and forty-two fifty pence pieces in stock. It took the afternoon to feed all the coins into the Piggy Bank. Dad cleaned out his deposit account and the current account.
Amelia sat on the desk and watched every single coin as it was drawn into the pig. Piggy groaned under the weight of each extra coin. There was despair in its eyes. She felt the poor creature’s intense sorrow.
The pig took it all in. And little by little, with each coin’s spiraling descent, the mysterious gravitational force decreased until finally it was gone.
At three o’clock, Miss Pimm made tea. “Why did you use fifty pence pieces?” she asked.
“I just thought it best to keep it constant,” said Dad.
“What happened to the lady in the red sou’wester,” asked Jody.
“Who knows what happens once you enter a black hole?” said Dad. “Some say it stretches you out until you are the thickness of a single atom. Others believe you’ll appear in a different dimension or even a different universe.”
“Well, at least she won’t want for anything. I mean she has all that money,” said Miss Pimm.
“It’ll be hard to distinguish her atoms from those of all the coins in that soup,” said Dad, laughing. He turned to Amelia. She had a long face. “What’s up Ladybug?”
“What are we going to tell Mum about the money?” she said.
“I think we’ll worry about that later,” said Dad.
Amelia thought hard for a moment. Then she said, “I’ve made a decision. I think we’d better destroy Piggy before it happens again.”
“That’s very noble of you, but you love that pig.”
“It’s necessary for the safety of the universe.”
“I’m proud of you, Ladybug.”
“I’m proud of you too, Dad.”
He smiled and ruffled her hair. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s go home. There’s a big hammer in the shed.”
Amelia took the Infinite Piggy Bank and waved goodbye to everyone at the bank. It had been a long day. The black hole was satisfied for now, but they still had work to do. And, thanks to Aunt Swantje, Amelia knew a little more about gravity, black holes and the nature of the universe.