Life's a beach

Posted on: March 11, 2014

A crashing wave rushes towards the shore, leaving a young girl curled up on the sand in its wake. The child opens her eyes and takes in her surroundings as the foamy water retreats to the horizon.

She pushes her elbow into the soggy ground and peels herself from the earth like the skin of an orange as another wave crashes in the distance. She rolls over onto her knees and trudges towards the Beachgrass gates lining the bright-white dunes.

She explores the terrain on all fours, astounded by every handprint and knee dent she leaves in the landscape. She giggles each time her tiny digits disappear beneath the supple surface that’s cradling her fragile figure.

The land hardens as the girl travels farther from the water line and her gleeful laughter turns into grunts of frustration. She pauses for a moment and studies the fading trail of prints leading back to the ocean. Her youthful smile morphs into a look of panic once she realizes her place between the water and the dunes.

She turns to the left and sees a young boy constructing a tiny castle from the same sand that’s resting beneath her. She lifts her hand and plunges her rigid fingers into the topsoil, signifying the groundbreaking of her new project.

She defines her property with a trench, much like the border surrounding her neighbor’s construction zone. She then piles the displaced sand in the center of her territory and contemplates what shape the elements should take.

Her eyes lock on a condominium towering over the coast. She makes note of every detail, from the scalloped columns spanning the height of the building to the golden lion statue eclipsing the sun from above the penthouse.

She shapes the mound of eroded shells into something resembling the colossal structure that’s casting shadows over the ocean like a sundial. Cloaked by the shade of the condominium, the little girl pats and smoothes the sand into a rectangle so tall, she’s forced to stand on her toes and blindly level the roof with her outstretched fingers.

The weight of gravity wears on her forefeet and she returns her heels to the sand, cursing her height for hampering her productivity. She sits with her back against her unfinished project and calculates how long she has until the salty waves breach her barricades. She crosses her arms on her knees, lowers her head and weeps, as if collapsing under the pressure of time.

Her sulking is interrupted by a hand on her shoulder. She looks up to find a tall girl silhouetted by the sun. The stranger’s braid ticks back and forth between her shoulder blades like the pendulum of a grandfather clock as she peers over the top of the castle. She effortlessly pats down all the unreached bumps and the little girl joyfully kneels and starts pinching cylinders up and down the sides of her tower.

The two girls laugh and sing as their building expands in every direction. Somewhere in the midst of all the digging and rezoning, their worksite merges with her pint-sized competitor’s. After a playful exchange of accusations, the girl and boy decide to join their castles into one massive estate.

As the sun fell from the clouds and the water crept up the shore, the young boy, the little girl, her taller friend and some newfound acquaintances continued inventing new tasks to ignore the persistent march of time. The turrets rose higher, the moat dipped lower and every wall of the castle was covered in embellishments reflective of their maker.

The little girl continued perfecting her masterpiece as, one by one, her colleagues were summoned to the dunes. She only allowed herself a brief moment of grief as she watched each cohort approach the bright light of the setting sun.

She kept busy until it was time for her tall companion to answer the call echoing from beyond the Beachgrass gates. The little girl watched as her closest friend walked away from their castle, her braid now resting motionlessly down the center of her back.

As she waved goodbye, the little girl noticed swells of wrinkles crashing along the back of her hand. She studied the ripples until the young boy took her weathered palm and helped her to her feet. He led her alongside their estate until they reached the frail sand at the foot of the dunes, each mound resembling the bottom half of a depleted hourglass.

They turned and watched as a wave from the rising tide cascaded over the edge of their boundary, occupying every crevice of the trench like milk on a tile floor. Another wave filled what remained of the moat as the young boy’s hand slipped from the little girl’s grasp. She stood there, alone, reminiscing on everything she and her friends had created.

As another wave surged towards her castle, the little girl searched for the condominium she had set out to replicate. She spotted the golden lion statue staring out over the water and began comparing the buildings. She was shocked by how far she had strayed from her blueprint, but even more so by how little she cared.

The endless layers of perfectly aligned balconies now seemed cold and lifeless next to the dissimilar terraces constructed by her and her friends. Even the great lion whose chin touched the clouds wore a somber expression without the luminance of the midday sun amplifying its features.

The little girl smiled. She took a final look at her castle, turned and walked peacefully towards the dunes. Waves continued battering the sculpted terrain until it returned to a flat patch of land with no signs of the little girl’s labor of love, hardship and friendship.

The sun rose the following morning and a crashing wave rushed towards the shore, leaving a young boy curled up on the sand in its wake. He opened his eyes, peeled himself from the earth and began his journey to the dunes.

Written by: Mark Killian
Photograph by: Emily Blincoe

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