He constructs the walls and erects the towers. She carves the decorations and styles the treatments. In the safe, shimmering heat of the beach, the boy and girl build the sandcastle.
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 sleight double curve of her lips, the symmetry of her face, and the delicate slenderness of her legs. Something intangible in her whole resonates with him, an electric aura 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 a system of French drains, but decides against either delaying tactic. The castle isn’t meant to be permanent, only an afternoon fancy to be briefly enjoyed. The structure and design would rest in their memory for 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 door of sand. The twisted faces and gargoyle torsos seem too complex for the medium, but in youth, under the magical summer sun, anything is possible.
“Wow. You’re really good at that!”
A sunburn disguises his blush. However, deep in concentration, she ignores the compliment, continuing her work in silence.
Her indifference thrills him.
The boy continues undeterred, “Who should we have living here? Maybe talking starfish . . . or how about mermaids!”
Still etching her crooked compositions without pause, she absently responds.
“Not mermaids—murderers. And the madness in insanity’s heart. And cursed human threshers with spinning blades made from the most dreadful nightmares sharpened by whetstones of misery.”
He grins wildly luxuriating in the words meant for him and only him.
Finishing, the girl stands, her narrow shadow falling over the door. A dark spark is struck. Her shade doesn’t dull, but rather animates the contorted figures stitched into lintel and jamb. Nonetheless, she only manages a bored sigh as if disappointed. She turns to the parking lot squinting back into the lowering sun.
“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 as ordered. In the setting sun and emptying beach, he makes his parents and brothers 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 before finally agreeing to go to the prom wasn’t as pretty. Neither was the brunette in the philosophy class with whom he had a crush freshman year, nor his junior-year roommate’s blonde girlfriend. And despite the many wedding day compliments she was afforded for 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 the office wasn’t as beautiful. So too, wasn’t the secretary with whom he had an affair. The beauty of his second wife also fell shy.
No one measured up to that 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 content in following her whimsical itineraries.
On yet another excursion to another old, historic city—he lost track of the name and significance—the old man lags behind the tour as usual. Without warning, on a plain street lined with a most ordinary wall, there is cut a most magnificent door. He has seen it before. The bronze figures and anguished faces that jut from the portal remind him of those carved from wet sand.
Pressing his weathered hands on the heavy iron, he feels it give. This door has no lock, begging to be opened. If he had once been told what resides behind, he has forgotten. However, it doesn’t matter. Only her face, her shining green eyes, and the sparkle of the golden sun dancing in her hair matters. A longing that had never washed away kindles and burns.
He hears his name being called from down the street. The shrill voice belongs to a strikingly ugly woman dressed in an awful tourist outfit similar to his own. He doesn’t heed the call of the old woman, rooted in 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 loosing those beautiful, wailing wonders within.
(Story originally published by FlashFictionMagazine.com 3-11-17)
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I couldn’t help rereading Beauty of the Outgoing Tide while posting it here and making some edits/changes. As this is one of my first stories of mine to be published, it makes me happy that I can self edit and improve this, my writing knowledge and awareness becoming more advanced in the last year and a half. I revived this story here as I have another flash fiction piece recently accepted by Flash Fiction Magazine. My story Tickle Jar will be published online on October 1, 2017. Again, it deals with obsession (a common theme of mine apparently): what starts as a curious hobby threatens to become a real handful. Hopefully, my new story will show a jump forward in my writing and story building skills. I believe Tickle Jar flows much better and is more natural.
Thanks for reading. If anyone is interested in two other companion flash fiction stories concerning the sinister aspects of Beauty please check out A Broken Oath (Spelk Fiction) and Last Meal of Adonis (Deadman’s Tome).
Also, I hope everyone enjoys the summer. And for those young, optimistic romantics heading to the beach to find love, I will leave with Sartre’s words of wisdom about love…
‘I know that I shall never again meet anything or anybody who will inspire me with passion. You know, it’s quite a job starting to love somebody. You have to have energy, generosity, blindness. There is even a moment, in the very beginning, when you have to jump across a precipice: if you think about it you don’t do it. I know I’ll never jump again.’ – Jean-Paul Sartre
– S.E. Casey