It isn’t what you think.
A five-year-old girl with pigtails
wearing a bright blue sundress with big,
bright flowers on it, immodestly
lifting the hem of it up
so that anyone can see her frilly green panties.
What do five-year-olds usually do in a sandbox?
They make piles.
They bury themselves and each other.
She’s piling it pretty high,
like she’s building a mountain.
But it doesn’t look like a mountain for long.
Or a pile of sand.
It rises in a single uniform cylinder,
and soon has a turret on top,
and she starts working on a second one.
She is building a castle.
That’s normal, isn’t it?
Kids build castles in the sand,
castles with turrets and windows
you can almost see the kings and queens through.
They have contests on the coast,
prettiest one gets the prize.
(How is the sand sticking together?)
Something strange is going on here.
Who is this little girl?
Is this your daughter?
Where is the sand coming from?
She has got to be scraping the bottom of the box.
“Five minute warning, Cathy.”
The castle is huge now.
Almost twice as big as she is.
How long has she been working on it?
The sand it’s taken to build it draws from every
crevice, leaving bare wood and dead grass beneath.
The wind brushing the walls makes currents in the sand
(How does it hold its shape)
as though there are things, living things, moving within…
“You almost done, sweetie?”
“The queen is looking for her pet hamster, but she can’t find one, because the castle is so big!”
“That’s great, Cathy. You ready to go home?”
Maybe we should take a picture before we go
Nobody is going to believe this.
But before there’s a phone in a hand to snap it,
Cathy reaches up and flicks the tip off one of the highest towers.
It’s such a swift,
such a casual gesture,
and yet so all-consuming.
That first little puff of sand shoots off the tower-top
like a lightning-strike
causing an avalanche.
The tower crumbles.
Chunks fall from the parapet.
The shockwave of destruction expands
in an entropic ripple.
A moment of panic.
Your daughter is in the middle of this.
Your daughter is right next to this castle as it
Why isn’t she crying? You are.
So much beauty, with just the flick of a finger.
Instead, she’s giggling, like it was a three-tiered house of cards
or an intricate domino-design,
only built to be demolished.
And wasn’t it?
Wasn’t it just a castle in the sand?
“What’d you do that for?”
“Castle go boom, crash, krmbrshtpfl!”
“But it was so pretty! Why’d you take it down?”
The question seems to disturb her deeply.
“You said we’re leaving.”
“But why did you take it down?”
Her lip quivers in confusion. “Can we take a sandcastle home?!?”
“Well, no, we can’t, Cathy, but you could’ve left it
for someone else to play with.”
“Why would they want to play with my sandcastle?”
Because it was the awesomest sandcastle that had ever been built!
“All the sand was gone,” Cathy protests.
“Wouldn’t they want to make their own sandcastle?”
You don’t know why this question feels you with an existential dread.