“You have five hours.”

“That is all?” she blanched, squinting up from haunches, brushing her hands to remove clumps of wet sand. The broad figure above her stood in silhouette against August’s aggressive, equatorial sun.


The figure shifted to cast a relief of shadow across her shoulders, then turned and tromped toward the dotted line of pool beds and volleyball nets along the resort’s edge. The broad figure stumbled and pitched in various directions. She relished its clumsy feet struggling against the fluidity of dry sand.

“Five,” she muttered, a sneer tugging her upper lip. Dolores Gay plunged her hands back into the sand to probe for the cool, packed grains that felt more like molding clay. She had decided–some time prior, whilst waiting in a line–to build sand castles. In summer, she cruised beaches for resort contracts and did well for herself, until today. Dolores never expected to encounter him, the barreling figure barking time restraints. In the sand, she spelled out ‘5’ to trace the letters within the number. F-i-v-e. Five digits fingering beneath the surface. The youngest of five siblings (not all blood related). A five hour time limit. It has been five years since--

Dolores shuddered, and squinted down the shoreline to count the pop-up clusters of bodies bobbing in rhythm with lackadaisical waves. The sun, about to descend, bleared the distinction between cloud and horizon, causing her pupils to ache. Five hours. Less time than anticipated, so Dolores sighed and returned her focus to the underbelly of paradise’s granulated top layer. Her fingers probed deeper. 

Jimmy Abilene produced a low grumble once his boots reached the concrete slab of the resort’s pool deck. Bulbous beads gathered at his temples and his knees ached. He kneaded two thick fists into his lower back and mouthed, “Bitch." Eradicating the perspiration rolling down his blotched face with a sleeved shoulder, Jimmy tucked himself underneath an umbrella’s shade. Some time prior, Jimmy had opened his eyes to a void apartment, took an aimless wander, landed on temporary resort employment. But today, Jimmy Abilene stared down the beach at Dolores Gay, hunched over sand, her figure minimized by a vast backdrop of ocean.

He tasted Dolores’ dismay at the five hour time-limit with a sour tongue roll. ‘How hard is it to make a sand castle?’ Jimmy snorted at the thought. Then he wrenched into a wide smile and nodded as his director passed. Once gone, Jimmy snarled. His director decided to hire a sculptor because his director did not have to manage the patrons or the raking crew or the nature preservationists who crawled out at dusk to rope off pathways for birthing turtles. The director also ordered fire throwers to arrive in six hours, and their contract demands a hard, erect stage. Not sand platforms built by that woman.

Jimmy Abilene glared once more at the kneeled figure next to the sea then picked up abandoned daiquiri glasses off a poolside table. He straightened and grinned to greet a family weighted in backpacks and jeans. They stood stupefied by the scenery. “Welcome to paradise, family!” Jimmy chesired, wiping his sleeve over brow sweat, "our entertainment tonight boasts of flame swallowers and magnificent sand houses. See you later!” Jimmy bowed and slipped away blowing expletives under his breath.

Three hours passed and the lumbering figure had yet to return to announce time limits. Dolores Gay kept scanning up and down the resort line in anxious expectation, only to discovered him absent. She was grateful for that. Sighing, Dolores ran her hand along the smooth sinews of sculpted gardens as a collector of cars to a rare, vintage model's frame. She stood and stretched, her knees spit and spat in revolt at being straightened. Dolores clasped hands behind her back and folded over. “Five hours,” she sneered with flared of nostrils, “I did it in three.”

Dolores clapped her hands together so tiny mounds of sand pelted a design of pockmarks around her feet. She stepped back and stared down the coastline, counting fewer bodies bobbing against the increasing size and intensity of waves. The low, swollen sun illuminated, with more precision, a hairline crack between sky and ocean.

“Beautiful!” an oiled, bare chested man panted as he jogged perpendicular to the shore. Dolores put her hand to her brow to block the leveling sun and called after him, “Thank You!”

“Beautiful,” she whispered to herself, kneeling, once again, next to the sculpture. She folded hands into her lap and studied each divot and crevice. Her eyes traced the lines finely feathered by her fingernails. She tracked each reflective dart of tightly packed grains and breathed a sigh of relief. “Keep quiet,” Dolores Gay whispered to the sand trap-bridges, for deep within the castle’s center she buried a diamond ring. 

Five years since--

Dolores shuddered. From the resort’s boundary, she could see the bumbling figure stomping toward her, his knees knocking in a battle over physical girth and pliable earth. She heard his labored puffs before the swishing of sand under lumbering foot. She relished his ineptitude.

“Finished!” She sang, shielding the sun with her hand.

“It’s…” Jimmy Abilene halted beside her, pressed his thick knuckles into his thicker thighs, locked elbows, chased after breaths. He wiped his forehead across his shoulder, and muttered, “It’s… quite… majestic.”

Still seated, Dolores Gay placed both hands back into her lap. Her pupils grazed the spires and turrets. Jimmy noticed, for the first time, her freckled jawline and the thin skin across the bridge of her nose peeling. Something compelled him to lower to his knees, his khakis soiling in wet sediment. Attempting to sit cross-legged, Jimmy toppled sideways. He wrangled mounded knees into his chest, planted balance, grunted.

The two studied the sculpture in silence.

Jimmy Abilene shifted and coughed, “Fire dancers will arrive soon. You'll want to rope this off. There’s nylon string and stakes at the lifeguard stand.” He pointed. 

“That won’t be necessary,” Dolores turned her gaze in the opposite direction. Down the shore, she watched the waves begin to froth at the tips and slap at a few remaining bodies bobbing. Dusk nipped the horizon, threading a deep navy stitch between the sky and ocean.

“You’ll want payment?” Jimmy Abilene spoke, startled by the softness in his voice. He adjusted body weight. The sand's moisture seeped through his trousers. His eyes remained fixed on the latticed alcazar before him.

Dolores nodded.

Jimmy's knees slacked in opposite directions. His eyes traced the base of the fortress, followed the curve of the moat, swung across the fortified perimeter, and landed on Dolores’ hands folded atop her lap. Her skin was tan, bones thin, fingers bare, nails dirty under the beds. Jimmy rubbed his cheek across his shoulder, “What happens when the tide rolls in?”

“It disappears,” Dolores spoke to the carved drawbridge, then turned and locked gray eyes on his.

“Why do you do it? I mean, why build if it is guaranteed to be destroyed?”

She kept her pupils connected to his and felt a release in her shoulders. Dolores noticed, for the first time, the lower pout in Jimmy’s lips and the small lines etched, like parentheses, along the corners. She turned her hands over in her lap and looked down at her palms, “I don’t know. Penance?”

An elderly couple hollered, “Beautiful!” in unison. Without looking, Jimmy knew they walked perpendicular to the shore, arms linked together. He released a long sigh through his nose, closed his eyes, and leaned back on his elbows. The sand’s moisture saturated his shirt. Jimmy’s right leg spread straight, his left leg bent. He opened his eyes to rest, once again on Dolores’ bare, dirty fingers.

“Paradise,” the word tumbled from Jimmy’s mouth. He sprung spine rigid in an attempt to catch it falling out. Then Jimmy Abilene stared sheepishly into hands empty and open. 

“I hate it here.”

“And I build sand castles,” Dolores retorted.

Dolores turned, studied the distance down the shore and counted one lone body bobbing against the pummel of twilight’s swells. The space between air and water cleaved a chasm, leaving the sunset in dark bruises. Dolores turned back to Jimmy, “In under five hours,” she added, gray eyes flashing.

“What did you do with the ring?” Jimmy asked, fixating again on the fingers coated in remnants of building fleeting palaces.

“It’s been five years—” she stopped. Shuddered.

“I wanted to love you better,” Jimmy Abilene resisted the urge to grasp Dolores Gay’s fingers, weave them, once again, through his. Instead, he pointed to the sand castle, “It is beautiful. Truly.”

Dolores nodded.

September 08, 2023 23:33

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Marty B
18:33 Nov 26, 2023

Their relationship can be seen as a sand castle, built up only to be washed away by the tide. 5 years later and neither can move on, both stuck in the sand. 'returned her focus to the underbelly of paradise’s granulated top layer.' This story shows how even in paradise there is trouble, and dirty daiquri glasses, and time limits until the flame throwers show up. Note- I build sandcastles too, and the impermanence of the sculptures is one of the best parts ;) Thanks!


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Amanda Lieser
00:38 Sep 21, 2023

Hi Éan! Oh what a beautiful story. I loved these characters and found my heart breaking for them. You had such great lines-about penance, about the way that love works, and the repetition of the number five. I adored the way this piece held tragedy in its heart and beautifully allowed us to see into the narrator’s soul. The imagery was beautiful, sand castles feel like such a symbol of innocence so to see them as a motif for this piece was interesting. Nice work!!


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Kevin Logue
07:00 Sep 11, 2023

A very somber piece. At first I thought it was about a child playing in the sand. Interesting perspective on paradise for some is torture for others and how easily relationship can literally wash away.


Éan Bird
22:37 Sep 14, 2023

Thanks for giving time to the piece. Much appreciated!


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Emilie Ocean
16:11 Sep 10, 2023

Thank you for sharing Divorcing Sky from Ocean with us, Ean. I really enjoyed it :)


Éan Bird
22:35 Sep 14, 2023

Thank you for taking the time to read it!


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Mary Bendickson
21:59 Sep 09, 2023

Castles in the sand... So much revealed in so few words.


Éan Bird
22:38 Sep 14, 2023



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