“The Sand Sculpture”
The woman rested her forearm on the steel railing of the patio and looked across the sun-blistered beach. There had been a storm, and the Caribbean now protested that earlier violence by thrashing at the shoreline. In contrast, the sky had grown clear and the wind had calmed. Hours past noon, the air sat heavy with suffocating humidity and heat. The woman frowned briefly, considering how the photographs in the travel brochure had presented an idyllic image somewhat incongruent with the uncomfortable reality.
“Where are the kids?”
Her husband glanced up only briefly from his tablet. “I thought you were watching them.”
“I am,” was the automatic response, then in a movement that was almost languid, the woman scanned the beach, finally identifying several small, pale figures rendered amorphous by the heat radiating off the sand. “Oh, there they are. I think they’re building a sandcastle.”
“A sandcastle? The waves will just tear it down.”
At that same moment, the couple’s oldest daughter was staring back down the beach toward the rented villa where they sat. She was searching for any sign of an adult presence, and she saw nothing.
For the past half hour, her attention had been focused upon a pit which she had just finished digging into the sand a short distance from where the waves crashed. Ignored by her, and ignorant of any danger, her two younger siblings had been attempting to wade into those waves. The surf had punished them with indifference, but neither had been pulled under. Somewhat battered, they had just been called up onto the shore by their older sister, and they now stood in a small group.
This older sister studied her brother and then regarded the shallow pit. The hole was roughly six inches deep, two feet across, and five feet in length. At its edge, beside the mound of quickly drying sand, a blue, plastic bucket lay on its side, looking very much like a child’s innocent plaything.
“It has to be you, Ernest. Hope is too small, and I’m too big.” His older sister spoke loudly to be heard over the surf.
Ernest’s mousy face twisted a little. “You dug it,” he mumbled futilely, for he already knew that Summer would get her way. She always got her way.
At fourteen, she was the oldest and had full authority over her two siblings. She was already becoming beautiful, with an infectious smile and bright, intelligent eyes. Her teachers loved her, and their father believed she could do no wrong.
It wasn’t so with Ernest. The three of them were each spaced roughly three years apart, yet even though he was the middle child, his family treated Ernest like the runt of the litter. He was taller than Hope, but his shrunken chest and bony shoulders made him seem somehow smaller. Ernest knew that Summer hated his weakness, and he in turn struggled with mingled fear and envy at her perfection. Even Hope, with her blonde curls, triggered within him brief moments of anger.
“Climb in, Scarecrow,” Summer insisted.
Ernest looked hopelessly toward the villa, where as yet no adults had emerged from its shaded countenance. His shoulders slumped, and casting a look of veiled hatred toward his sister, he stepped down into the pit.
As though to steady him, Summer curled a hand around his sunburned neck and pressed him down. Once he was laying flat, both Summer and Hope knelt beside the pit and began pushing the mound of sand over his body.
The woman was sipping a gin and tonic and reading a newspaper that she’d found folded into the handle of their front door. It was an island issue—hardly worth reading, but she had already exhausted the books she’d found on the shelves in the villa.
“What are you thinking for dinner?” her husband asked without looking up.
“Do you want to stay in or go to town?”
“Huh, you call that a town? Let’s stay in.”
“I’m not sure we have much to work with.”
“There’s pasta. I’m sure I saw some pasta, and I think there’s a pizza in the freezer.”
“Not exactly local cuisine.”
“No,” he said absentmindedly, for a headline on the webpage he was reading had just caught his interest. “It looks like there was a school shooting this morning.”
“Yeah, single shooter.”
“Where this time?”
“Midwest, some town I’ve never heard of.”
“Let me guess: Some maladjusted misfit was being picked on for being a maladjusted misfit.” She swore and took a gulp of her G. and T.
He raised an eyebrow, then shrugged, “Yeah, pretty much.”
“Since when did being bullied become an excuse for mass murder?”
“About fifteen years ago, I should guess.”
“Too bad those guys didn’t commit suicide before they started shooting other people.”
“Some probably do.” He looked up from the tablet, but she was already back reading her paper. “Anyway, this guy was shot by another student.” He sipped at his drink, shook his head and made a noise somewhere between a grunt and a laugh. “Thank God for the Second Amendment.”
“I have to pee.”
The sand was heaped so high that Ernest could no longer move his limbs. Once they had exhausted the piled sand at the edge of the pit, Summer had instructed Hope to dig from around the growing mound and throw the sand on top. Ernest lay beneath so much sand that he was finding it difficult to breathe. Only his head was visible.
“I have to pee.”
Once the sand had reached sufficient mass, Summer had used the plastic bucket to gather sea water and then pour it over her imprisoned brother. The weight of the sand had increased, almost crushing the eleven year old, and ironically, given the heat of the of day, Ernest had grown cold enough that his lower lip trembled and turned a slight shade of blue.
“I have to pee!”
“Shut up, Scarecrow. Pee in the sand.”
“Try to get out. That’ll warm you up.”
“Summer….” Hope’s small voice was almost swallowed by the pounding waves.
“You want to be next?”
Hope looked down, shaking her head and muttering something inaudible.
Summer stood up, towering over her siblings. She studied the indistinct mound of sand, then knelt down and began to sculpt. In a short time, the outline of a body began to take shape. Rather than the emasculated form of her unfortunate brother, Summer fashioned the thick shouldered body of the brother she thought she deserved. She pushed sand around Ernest’s head so that only eyes, nose and mouth were left uncovered. He was crying now, but she ignored this and used her fingernails to etch the sand, giving it a semblance of hair.
When she stood and appraised her efforts, she realized that her vision exceeded her talent, but the rough shape was recognizable—tall, with broad shoulders and thick arms. Looking so small protruding from the mass of sand, Ernest’s thin, bluing face made her frown, and after a moment of consideration, she took the plastic bucket to the water’s edge and filled it with moist sand.
Hunched on the beach, all but forgotten, Hope watched Summer’s machinations with increasing horror. In desperation, she stared with squinting eyes back toward the villa and quietly gasped when she saw the distant figures of two approaching adults.
Oblivious, Summer returned to Ernest and set down the bucket of sand. Between his muted sobs, Ernest began pleading with her to let him go. She stared at him, seemingly transfixed by his suffering. In silent calculation, she turned away from him and then sat backward, resting her weight upon his chest. Ernest continued to weep, but as he struggled to draw air into his pressed lungs, shallow gasps now punctuated his tears.
Hope also began to cry, and even with the surf, the small sound caught Summer’s attention. She turned her head slowly and fixed the child with an emotionless stare. It was at this point that Summer saw the approaching adults—quite close now. They were not her parents, just two joggers who had made the mistake of venturing out into the punishing heat. As soon as she saw them, Summer stood up and attempted to block Ernest from their view.
The couple slowed as they drew near, and when they glimpsed Ernest, both of them stopped. Summer stepped up to the man and smiled. “Good afternoon, you must be very hot. We have a bottle of water if you would like some.”
Disarmed by her smile, the man shook his head, “Thank you, but we….” He looked over Summer’s shoulder. “Is he all right?”
“Oh, yes. We’re just playing. He’s my younger brother, and I take care of him.”
Summer nodded knowingly, “It’s Hope’s turn to be buried, but Ernest doesn’t want to come out.” She stepped closer to the man, put her hands on her hips, and then tilted her upper torso, making her small breasts thrust forward. “Sometimes kids are like that.”
He laughed uneasily, “Don’t I know it.”
The woman pulled at this arm, “Come on, let’s keep going.”
Made uncomfortable with Summer’s close proximity, the man backed away and nodded at his companion, “Okay. Let’s do it.” As he turned to leave, he called back over his shoulder, “Take care of those two.”
And they were gone.
Hope discovered that she had been holding her breath, but when the adults jogged away, leaving her and Ernest alone with Summer, her voice erupted in sobs. Little noise arose from Ernest.
Summer watched the couple grow more distant, then she looked back down the deserted beach to the villa. Finally, her gaze returned to her incomplete sand sculpture.
It was time to finish it.
Moving with calculated slowness, she walked to the top of the sand figure and knelt beside its head. She lifted the blue bucket above the unfinished face then turned the bucket over and dumped out the sand. She patted it down and smoothed out the uneven clumps.
Lastly, she began sculpting the perfect features.
All the while, Hope was screaming.
“Are you sure you want to stay in?”
“Honey, it’s whatever you want.”
She finished her third drink and rattled the ice. The heat had made her uncomfortable, and there were no interesting articles in the imported paper she was reading. She folded it and tossed it on the tile-topped table, then she frowned, picked it up again and quickly flipped through the pages. “There’s nothing here about the war. How current do you think this paper is?”
“It’s today’s headline.” He swept back on the tablet. “Yeah, they started shelling last night. Smart bombs, very precise.”
“That’s what they tell us.”
“That’s what they tell us.”
“I don’t know why they bother. Better to just drop a nuke and get it over with.”
“That’s a little harsh, don’t you think?”
“Sure, but we didn’t start all this. We’re the victims here, and if you’re not willing to face the consequences, don’t go blowing up our planes. Like the Good Book says: ‘You reap what you sow.’”
“Huh, I suppose there’s some truth in that.” He looked up from his tablet and glanced lazily at the Caribbean. “What do you think the kids are up to?”
“They’re still down there playing on the beach. I’ve been watching them.” She rose into a crouch and looked over the railing. “Oh, they’re coming back. No, wait, it’s just Hope.”
For the first time that day, her husband set down his tablet and turned to check on his children. “It is Hope,” he said. “Why is she running?”
“You know,” his wife said, “I think I’ve decided. We should go out for dinner tonight.”
Kenneth D. Reimer
Author’s Page on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/author/kennethdreimer