Sand Castles

Elsie never knew her father. When Elsie turned five, Terese, her mother, took with a case of wondering fever. She left her daughter with Elsie’s Uncle Peter and Aunt Sophie to live on their farm. Elsie loved the farm.

Elsie loved waking up early in the morning and milking the cows. She loved slopping the hogs, and she loved the sounds they made as they ate. She loved the sleigh rides across the countryside. She loved planting the seeds and watching them grow into food. She loved the coloring of the leaves each autumn. This would have been heaven if her mother had been with her.

Each year on her birthday came a letter from her mother. It wasn’t a letter so much as a journal. Each journal began with “Dear Elsie, my love. I miss you so much.” And each year Elsie became more sure those words were not true. Then the journal shared her mother’s adventures. By her fifteenth birthday, Elsie no longer read the journal when it came.

The journal told of her mother’s sand castle collecting, for Terese called herself a sand castle collector. Not that she made a sand castle and then slipped it into a case. That would have been impossible. She made the sand castle on some faraway beach. Each time she went to the beach, gathered sand, buckets of it, and carried thm to a point the high tide wouldn’t reach. As she built the castle, she filmed it, then, like a Tibetan Buddhist monk, destroyed it.

For Terese, it was the pleasure of the process of building what she called her “sand castles”. At Brighton Beach, it was Buckingham Palace. On the Makena Beach, it was the house of King Kamehameha. On the Rhine, it was Bavarian King Ludwig’s castle. At Sochi, it was the Tsar’s Winter Palace. On the beach at Sanya, she made a copy of the Forbidden City. She’d even gone to the sand dunes of the Sahara. There she built a great pyramid ten feet high. The winds had wiped it out.

But it was her latest that was her masterpiece. At Valras-Plage, she built a miniature Versailles. Pictures of it were in all the French papers. When she destroyed it, there were several thousand people on the beach watching. Television cameras broadcast it all over France. So sad was it for the French the President of France declared a national day of mourning. That was three days before Elsie’s sixteenth birthday.

On her sixteenth birthday, a journal did not arrive for Elsie. The mailman did not bring it. It did not come by FedEx. It did not come by UPS.

Shortly after the evening meal, a car drove up to the farmhouse. A tall, thin woman got out of the taxi. The driver set her two suitcases on the ground. She paid the driver, and he went away.

Aunt Sophie opened the front door to welcome her sister. She called to Elsie, “Your mother has come. Your mother has come.”

For all those years, Elsie had dreamed of this day. Until now. The disappointment weighed down on her, and she was in no mood for her missing mother. She walked upstairs, closed her bedroom door, and went to her bed.

For three days, Elsie lay in bed, only allowing her aunt to enter her bedroom. She developed a fever. The doctor came. He shook his head and told Terese, Peter and Sophie the bad news. “She is dying.”

“Is there nothing we can do?”

“I’m afraid not.”

After the doctor left, Terese looked at her sister and said, “What have I done?”

Peter said, “You’ve done what you’ve done.” There was no malice in his voice, just tears. “Now you must do what you must do.”

“And what is that?” Sophie asked.

“God knows but I sure do not.”

Terese stood up. “I have to go up there and save my child.” Then she marched slowly up the stairs.

She knocked at the bedroom door. “Elsie, this is your mother. I am coming in.”
From inside the room came a weak voice. “Go ‘way.”

Terese opened the door. Her daughter lay in bed, her hair spread out on her pillow, her face pale as death.

Terese turned and left the room and went down to the kitchen. She made her mother’s chicken soup. Like her mother, she put in a little of this and a little of that and a little of the other. But the key ingredient was her love.

Several hours later, she walked a bowl of the soup up to her daughter’s bedroom. She sat down beside her daughter and forced the first spoonful of soup into her mouth. Elsie resisted, then swallowed. Terese gave her a second spoonful, and she sang a lullaby to her daughter. Then a third and she told her daughter of the beaches where she had built sand castles. As she told her stories, Elsie felt a little better.

Several days later, Elsie was almost recovered. Terese and Elsie sat out on the back lawn of the farmhouse.

“Why did you destroy those sand castles?” Elsie asked.

“They weren’t you,” Terese answered.

Elsie gave her a curious look. “They weren’t me?”

“You see,” Terese said, “I had to build those sand castles. I had no choice. Something inside me told me they were not enough. You were the real castle I had given birth to.

And you were so permanent.”

“So why did you not come back?”

“I couldn’t. I didn’t deserve you. When you were born, I knew that. When I left you with your aunt and uncle, I knew that. Building those castles was my way of coming to understand that a mother doesn’t earn a child. A child is a gift. Versailles taught me that.”

Elsie reached over from her chair and squeezed her mother’s hand.

“And you know what? I would sit on the beach, looking out at the sea. As I watched the sun set over the sandcastle, the colors were unbelievable. And the wonder of it all was your face written in those colors. The wonder of it all.”

Hamlet: Ophelia’s Finale

Gertrude: Sweets to the sweet. Farewell! (scatters flowers)
I hoped thou shouldst have been my Hamlet’s wife.
I thought thy bride-bed to have decked, sweet maid,
And not have strewed thy grave. Hamlet Act 5 Scene 1.

For Hamlet’s plot till now, see Hamlet So Far.

Act 5 Scene 1 (continued). Everything has conspired against Ophelia. She can’t even get a decent burial. The priest won’t bury her in consecrated soil. She was a suicide, or so everyone believes.

She is so like Shylock. At the end of it all, she is a woman without family or country or love or even religion.

She is ultimately the tragic hero of Hamlet. Hamlet has choices. She does not.

Gertrude has choices. Ophelia does not.

Everybody gets to choose. Not Ophelia.

This is why Ophelia is so hard to play.

Think about this. Ophelia’s mother is dead or maybe she went insane. Now Ophelia is at the mercy of her father and her brother. Polonius and Laertes are a lot to handle.

Again and again Shakespeare reveals the terrible plight of women. Ophelia and Juliet are at the mercy of the pleasure of their fathers. They command their daughters to marry Paris or leave Hamlet out standing in the rain. Hero is falsely accused of indiscretion in Much Ado About Nothing. Only Benedict, a man, proves her innocence. Kate in Taming of the Shrew has to marry Petruchio and then is at the mercy of his abuse. Hermia in Midsummer must marry a man she does not love. Thanks to her father. Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, too must have been commanded by her father to marry Hamlet Senior. Then there is Ophelia. Poor Ophelia. It seems daughters just can’t win.

Laertes and Hamlet throw themselves onto the Ophelia’s wooden coffin, proclaiming their love for her.

“My poor dead sister,” Laertes cries out.

“I loved her,” Hamlet cries out.

“You scoundrel,” Laertes protests, grabbing Hamlet by the throat. “You killed her. You are responsible. You did not love her at all.”

“Did too.”

“Did not.”

The two are pulled apart.

They have given Ophelia what she wanted. Love. But it’s kinda late, fellows.

 

A Marriage

“Why do you always run off to the shower after we make love?” This could be the man or the woman asking. On this particular night, it is the woman.

The man, her husband, slides back into the bed beside his wife’s naked body, reaches over, kisses her lightly on the lips. She resists his kiss.

He withdraws to a few inches from her face. “You know you can join me in the shower. It’s not like there’s not enough room.” The best defense is a good offense.

He’s not ready to give up on that kiss. He tries again for her lips.

She is having none of his attempts at getting on her good side. “All I want is to be close,” she says, moving her lips away from his.

“I’m trying to be close now.” He catches her cheek with his kiss.

She pushes him away. “It isn’t the same. After we have sex, all you do is run away.” Slipping over to her edge of the bed, she gives him her back, then pulls the sheet tight around her, making it into a cocoon.

He drops off to his side of the bed. “But … Lenore,” he protests.

“Why do you choose to call me that?” she tosses over her shoulder at him. “You know I don’t like it, Sam.”

“What do you mean? Call you what?” he speaks to her back.

“Lenore,” she says the name as if it is a curse.

“That’s your name, isn’t it?” Of course it’s her name.

“It’s what my mother calls me. But I’m Nora and you most definitely know that.” Of course he knows it. He has called her Nora a thousand times and more. Her back is now a wall and she’s not allowing any climbing over it. Not for this night anyway.

”I like Lenore. It has such a romance to it. Just like you.”

Silence. Not a sound coming from behind that wall.

After several minutes of waiting for a truce and a goodnight kiss, he reaches over and switches off the bedside light, sighs and slides deeper into the bed. He lies on his back and studies the shadows spreading out across the room as the night grows deeper.

A sob escapes through a crack in that impenetrable wall lying next to him. His wife is crying, pouring herself into her pillow. He reaches over to offer her a tender, comforting touch.

She moves away from his hand and rolls over and faces him. “My name is Nora. And just why do you always feel the need to wash me off after we have sex? Guess you can’t stand the smell of me, the taste of me, the touch of me on your skin. Bet you can’t even stand the sound of me.”

He starts to protest but holds it in.

“Next thing I know you won’t even be able to stand the sight of me.” Shoving the covers off, she jumps out of bed, grabs her robe, heads for the door. Takes one last look at the man in her bed. “Ever since Candace went away to college,” she says, changing the subject but not really. She throws the robe on and heads off down the hall.

He calls after her. “Candace doesn’t like Candace for a name, you know.” Their daughter likes to be called Dash.

“That’s her name, Sam-u-el,” she cries out into the night. She’s Candace’s mother and she can call her daughter any damned name she wants. Why doesn’t he understand that?

“And Lenore is yours,” he wants to yell back but doesn’t. She is the woman he loves, has always loved, and he knows that this is not a good time to call out “Lenore”.

He moves over onto his side and faces the wall, pulls the sheet closer around his body. He hates these dark, restless nights when nothing seems to go right. When everything he tries is wrong.

He waits in the dark and hopes. What is he hoping for? That she’ll come back to bed? That he can somehow show her that he didn’t mean for the night to turn out the way it has? Maybe that, after twenty years of marriage, things can change? That he can change? He keeps hoping but he knows. This will not be the night.

It’s one thirty and he has to get up in the morning for work. But he’s not going to get any sleep. Not till Lenore comes back to bed, and they make up.

Why does he keep calling her Lenore? he wonders in his sleeplessness. He knows how much she hates it. It’s only at times like these when he drops his guard that she she is no longer an average, everyday Nora. She is the Lenore of his best dreams and he is recalling their honeymoon in that long-ago before twenty years wore down their marriage.

He glances over at the clock on his nightstand once again. It’s two and she’s not coming back. He slips out of bed, pulls on this pajama bottoms and a robe.

Downstairs and out on the patio, she hears him slide the glass door open behind her. “I’m not mad,” she says to nobody in particular. “It’s just that, well I’m not mad,” this time she’s speaking to her husband.

There she goes. Making peace. Why does she always do that? he wonders. “I was a jerk,” he says, looking at the back of her neck. The moon throws its light across the room and he can’t ever remember seeing anything so beautiful.

“No, you were just being you.” Her voice is soft and lonely. Then she thinks, “There I go again, making peace. Why do I always do that?”

He doesn’t know what else to say or do so he waits.

She looks over her shoulder and up into his face. His eyes gaze at her the way he did that first night oh-so-many-years-before on the the beach where they first fell in love. Her hand reaches out for his, takes it, draws him to her side on the bench. “I love this house,” she says.

“It has been a good house.”

“I wasn’t sure it was the one for us.” She leans her head on his shoulder.

“I didn’t know that.” He squeezes her hand with all the affection that comes from years of loving and arguing and making up and arguing and making up some more. “I wasn’t that positive myself.”

She squeezes back. Her head feels the strength of the shoulder she has always known that she can lean on no matter what. No matter what. She then takes her head off his shoulder and looks up at the sky. “That sure is a pretty moon.”

“We didn’t think we’d we be here that long.”

“And, my god, the mortgage.” She laughs.

“We’d never owed that much money to anybody. But Dash loved it.”

“We thought we were buying the moon. Five years old and Candace knew it was for us.”

“Why do you keep on calling her Candace?” he whispers. “You know how much she hates it.”

“Why do you insist on calling me Lenore?” she whispers back. “It spoils eyerything.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” he says, unsure how to tell her all that her name means to him.

“I can see we got what we paid for.” She is back thinking about the house.

“It was a good price.”

She points toward the sky. “We got that moon too, and it is much better than the one we thought we were buying.” She looks at it for several minutes. “You think that Brett and Dash will last as long as we have?”

“I hope so. He seems to love her but not as much as I loved you then, Nora.” He kisses Lenore, not a soft easy kiss, not a deep passionate kiss, but a kiss that makes up for everything. And she kisses him. Then he whispers, “And still love you.”

She stands, reaches for his hand, and they go inside.

On the way up the stairs, he says, ”If you let me call you Lenore every-once-in-a-while, I promise not to run off to the shower after we make love.”

“Only when we’re alone,” she says from the stair above him.

He nods yes, and they are back in bed and soon asleep.

Forgiveness fills the house as it has so many times before and they continue their married life together. At least for one more day.