By S.E. Casey
He constructs the walls and erects the towers. She carves the decorations and adds the treatments. On the shimmering sand of the beach, the boy and girl build the castle.
Stealing glances during his frequent water-fetching trips, he decides she is beautiful—the first girl he has ever considered so. Her attractiveness goes beyond the physical. There is something intangible shining in her, an aura of warm blue electricity that stirs a palpable ache and longing.
Constructed below the tide line, the ocean advances to lick the castle’s southern wall. It won’t be long before it will be breached, the leaning towers behind toppled. He considers reinforcing the bulwark, or diverting the water using French drains, but decides against either delaying tactic. This construct isn’t meant to be permanent, only an afternoon fancy to be enjoyed briefly. The castle would rest in memory only a short while, in time replaced by newer thrills and charms. She, however, continues to toil over the details of the doomed palace’s grand entrance.
Using the tip of a plastic shovel and the subtle angles of a scallop shell, she carves elaborate figures into the unopenable door. The twisted faces and gargoyle-like torsos are too complex for the medium, but in youth, under the magical summer sun, anything is possible.
“Wow. You’re really good at that.”
His sunburn disguises his blush. However, deep in concentration, she ignores this compliment, continuing her work in silence.
Her indifference is thrilling. He continues undeterred.
“Who should we have living here? Maybe talking starfish . . . or how about mermaids!”
Still etching her crooked compositions without pause, she responds absently.
“Not mermaids—murderers. And the madness in insanity’s heart. And cursed human threshers with spinning blades of the most dreadful nightmares.”
He grins wildly reveling in her acknowledgment.
Finishing, she stands, her narrow shadow falling over the door. A dark spark is struck; her shade doesn’t dull, rather seems to animate the contorted figures stitched into lintel and jamb. Nonetheless, the sight elicits only a bored sigh. She turns to the parking lot.
“I have to go. Promise to stay until the water washes it away?”
The boy nods. His smile dims as he watches the most beautiful girl in the world walk away.
Dutifully, he remains. Despite the setting sun and emptying beach, his parents and brothers have to wait until the tide drowns the castle and dissolves the ornate door.
The first girl he kissed wasn’t as beautiful as the girl on the beach. The girl who turned him down five times to the prom wasn’t as pretty. Neither was the brunette in his intro-to-philosophy class on who he had a crush freshman year, nor his junior-year roommate’s blonde girlfriend. And despite the many wedding day compliments he was given of her shapely radiance, it was the same with his wife.
The pony-tailed barista who worked in the coffee shop forty minutes out-of-the-way from work wasn’t as beautiful. So too, the secretary with who he had an office romance. The beauty of his second wife also fell far shy.
No one measured up to the girl on the beach. No day compared. No thrill rivaled.
His third wife wasn’t beautiful by any standard, but she had money. They spent their retirement traveling the world, he contented to follow her whimsical itineraries.
On yet another excursion to another old, historic city—he lost track of the name or significance—he lags behind the tour as usual. Without warning, on a plain street along a most ordinary wall, there is set a most magnificent door. The bronze figures and anguished faces that jut from the detailed portal remind him of those carved from wet sand.
Pressing both hands on the heavy iron, he feels the give. This door has no lock, begging to be opened. If he had been told what resides behind, he has forgotten. However, it doesn’t matter. Only her face, her shining brown eyes, and the sparkle of the golden sun dancing in her hair has ever mattered. A longing that had never washed away rekindles and burns.
He hears his name being called from down the street. The shrill voice belongs to a strikingly ugly woman dressed in awful tourist garb similar to his own. He sinks into the soft sand beneath his feet. He smiles, back on solid ground after all these years. Before the tide sweeps him back into that desperate quiet sea, he pushes the doors wide to loose those beautiful, wailing wonders within.