Building Castles In The Sky
(And Watching Them Come Crumbling To The Ground)
The sun was bright and hot as it shone down on the beach. Shouts of other kids running around filled the salt-scented air, while a summery ocean breeze breathing in from over the water provided the only other relief from the heat apart from teh activity of swimming.
Gregory House, not more than seven years old, sandy-coloured hair and a gap missing in his top front teeth where his tooth had fallen out a few days earlier, was crouched down in the sand, building a sandcastle. Beside him was another little boy, a boy by the name of Stanley. He was six, or so he told Greg. Stanley had red hair, freckles across his face and had prominent front teeth.
Greg was never good at making friends. He never stayed in one place long enough to really have any; always shifting from place to place, too intelligent for most kids, spent a lot of his time overseas instead of home, here in America. Where he belonged. Where he wanted to stay. Stanley had approached Greg when he saw him filling up his plastic blue pail with sand and asked if he could help. Greg had said yes after studying the kid cautiously, and soon they were then diligently filling up the bucket, deciding they were going to make the biggest sandcastle ever, with dragons and knights and lions. Like in that book 'The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe.'
Grinning broadly, Greg patted the sand down with the spade, and tossed the spade aside and then picked up the pail. Shifting in closer on his knees, he counted out loud with Stanley, "One. Two. Three," and flipped the pail over, slamming it down onto the sand. He carefully wedged the bucket back up, revealing another sand tower, and Stanley let out a sound of triumph before Greg handed the bucket to him so he could build the next tower.
"We're on vacation," Stanley said as he shovelled up sand with the blue plastic spade. "We live in- in, um… Massach… Mass- M… Mass-"
"Massachusetts," Greg finished for him as he leaned over and plucked up a stray twig lying in the sand.
"Yeah!" Stanley replied. "Are you on vacation, too?"
Greg shrugged, concentrating on spearing the twig into the summit of one of the towers. His father had a brief transfer to California, but it was only going to be for a few weeks before he was being moved across to Japan. Which meant Greg was going, too, along with his mom. So, maybe this could've been classed as a vacation. But Greg didn't want to talk about that. He just wanted to build a sandcastle.
"You live here in Cali- Calforna?"
"California," Greg corrected him simply, reaching for another twig.
"Yeah, Cali- um, fornia."
Greg shrugged again. "Maybe. I don't know." He stuck the twig into another tower.
"What d'you mean, you don't know?" Stanley asked, scooping up another spadeful of sand.
Greg shrugged yet again. "Doesn't matter." Snatching up another twig, he pointed at the sand castle. "There should be a knight to man the keep."
"The keep. This thing here." He pointed at the imaginary keep in front of him. "A knight. With a white horse."
"A black horse," argued Stanley.
"No, not black. White. Only evil knights ride black horses."
"Yeah." He stuck another twig in another one of the towers. "You lived in Massachusetts all your life?" Greg abruptly asked, turning his attention to the pail Stanley was filling.
"Yep. Mommy is a school teacher, and daddy is a dentist."
"I didn't ask you what your mommy and daddy do," Greg replied simply, stretching his hands out for the pail.
Stanley seemed oblivious to Greg's blunt remark. Instead, he handed the bucket over promptly. "What does your daddy do?"
"He's a pilot," Greg said without expression, tipping the bucket over to make a new tower.
"Wow!" Stanley replied, awed. "A pilot!"
Greg just shrugged. Shrugging was a good way to answer questions he didn't really want to answer, or to respond to something he didn't really want to talk about. His father being a pilot wasn't anything incredibly special to him; it was all he'd ever known. He focused on lifting the bucket from the ground to reveal another bucket-shaped tower, to which there was another triumphant shout from Stanley. "We never stay anywhere for very long," Greg added once he'd finished admiring the tower he'd made.
"Why not?" Stanley asked.
"What about your friends?"
"Don't have many friends."
Again, Greg shrugged. "Just don't."
Stanley squinted at him. "You go to school, dontcha?"
Greg nodded as he scooped more sand into the bucket, though he didn't want to talk about it anymore. "What do you want to call the castle?"
"Um…" Stanley replied, instantly sidetracked from what they were talking about, and soon they were talking about what else would be in the castle, Greg losing track of time, his skin burning in the sun's rays as it crept into mid-afternoon. And when Stanley's parents eventually called Stanley to tell him it was time to go home, Greg sat by the sandcastle they'd built, watching Stanley walking off with his mom and dad.
Another kid he'd never see again. He turned his attention back to the castle and began to imagine to himself what it would be like to have friends. Not that he could really imagine it because he didn't know what it was like to stay in one place long enough to make any. But it sounded nice. He liked the idea of it, sort of like the kind of friends Frodo Baggins had. Samwise Gamgee. Greg wondered what it would be like to have a friend like Samwise and soon he was pretending that the castle was the dark castle of Mordor before he heard his mother calling him.
"Time to go, honey," she said, approaching him with all their beach stuff gathered in the basket.
He squinted up at her. "I don't wanna go," Greg replied.
Blythe gave him a perfunctory smile and said as an attempt to distract him, "That's a lovely sandcastle."
"I don't wanna go," he repeated.
Blythe shifted her sunglasses on her face and smiled again. "I'm sorry, honey. Daddy says it's time to go."
"But I don't w-"
"Gregory," Blythe cut in warningly.
He instantly stopped bothering to argue, though he had a highly displeased look on his face; that tone of voice meant she was serious and Greg knew he was pushing it if he kept up with arguing with her. Reluctantly, Greg got to his feet and Blythe took to dusting his pink skin down to remove excess sand clinging to him before she took his hand and began to lead him away from the sandcastle.
Just as his father, John joined them, Greg glanced behind him and saw a kid kicking his sandcastle down.
Greg felt a flare of anger rise in him. 'Hey!' he wanted to shout. 'That's my castle! I made that! Leave it alone!' But as his parents led him further away from the sandcastle, he watched the sand monument made of bucket-shaped lumps being crushed to ground. Another kid joined in destroying Greg's castle and within minutes it was nothing but a shapeless mound of sand.
Greg faced forward again, feeling upset but saying nothing, even though he wanted to tell his mom and dad that his sandcastle had been ruined. Instead, he glanced up to John when his father asked Greg if he wanted an ice cream, and he nodded with a toothy smile.
It wasn't like he was going to stay here. Dreams never lasted. Just like friends. Just like sandcastles on a beach.
Just like everything.