Sand Castles

Voice Card  -  Volume 11  -  John Card Number 5  -  Sat, Dec 16, 1989 5:20 PM

This is a response to Vol 10 John 4 ("Dolphin")...

[This is part three of "Dolphin & Melanie"]

The strange child with the fiery red hair and a trident on his heart soon became a strange boy. His parents forbade him to swim in the sea with the other boys, but he was forever watching the water, and building great sand castles on its edge. He claimed to believe in mermaids and said that he could hear their voices calling to him. And because he was so different, the other boys jeered and broke his castles with their feet. For not even sharks can be as cruel as little boys.

And he was strange in another way, a way that bothered even his parents: he liked witches, and he spent much of his time fetching and stirring and mending for the three witches who lived on the cliff. They told him many stories and taught him many lessons and in particular they taught him how to dream.

First they taught him to remember his dreams, and this was hard work, for remembering dreams is like dragging blankets from the bottom of a lake: the dreams are waterlogged and would rather stay beneath the surface. Then they taught him that he had the power to make choices in his dreams, and they warned him never to run from a dream monster. Every morning they asked for his dreams and if he had run from a lion or hidden from a shadow they scolded him. They also warned him never to sleep with cats, for cats are magical and can change the dreams of men.

Of all the witches his favorite was Grace. She was the oldest, but had the youngest eyes, and there was always mischief in those eyes. One day the two of them were walking along the shore and he asked if she believed in mermaids.

"My heart does."

"I hear the fishermen talk about mermaids."

"And what do the fishermen say?"

"They say that when they have been away from their wives for a long time, the fish begin to look like women. And when a ship breaks on a reef they say the mermaids lured it there with their songs. And when a man drowns they say he has been taken by a mermaid and lies forever in her arms at the bottom of the sea. Their lies make me angry."

Grace laughed. "You are small to be angry at such things."

"To hear them talk you would think that a mermaid was just another word for death and drowning and loneliness. That is what my mother says and all the other women too. But mermaids are beautiful. Death is not beautiful. Loneliness is not beautiful."

"Why do you not swim in the sea with the other boys?"

"My parents forbid it."

"There is no other reason?"

"Grace. I am afraid of the sea."

The boy bowed his head and waited to be scolded, as he would be for running from a dream lion. But Grace smiled at him and walked into the water. When the waves were at her ankles she lifted her arms and the sea drew back. The water receded and revealed many strange treasures on the sand. But then the water rose up into a towering wave and Grace was a frail old woman lost in its shadow. For a moment the tip of the wave turned green and tossed emeralds against the sun and the boy cried out. The wave fell on her with all its might.

She stood up and spit the sand out of her mouth. Her dress was soaking wet and there was salt in her hair. She was such a sight that the boy couldn't help himself and he laughed. Grace shrugged her shoulders. "I got wet," was all she said.

They continued walking along the beach and now the old witch's shoes squeaked with every step.

"Fear is my compass," she told him. "Whenever I am afraid of something I turn toward it and if it runs I chase it. My fear leads me to places that most people never see. And that is the secret of being a witch."

"It is said in the village that I am fated to finish in the arms of a mermaid."

"That is so."

"If mermaids are as real as I am, then that means I will see something beautiful, something that most people never see. But if there's no such thing as a mermaid, then my heart is a liar and I will surely drown. Tell me, Grace, which will it be?"

"That, I think, is between you and your heart."

And that is all she would ever say on the subject of mermaids. She did convince his parents, though, that he should swim with the other boys. If there were mermaids in the sea he would need to swim in order to find them. And even if there were none, a boy who can swim is still less likely to drown than one who cannot. But once, after a storm at sea had smashed the lives of ten brave men, Grace turned to him and said "I, too, am afraid of the sea."

So the boy swam every day and became so great a swimmer that the other boys called him "Dolphin" and the name stuck. He continued to believe in mermaids, much to the amusement of everyone in the village, and even after he grew into a man he continued building sand castles. But at last his castles were so beautiful and so intricate that even the meanest of bullies could not bear to kick them down. Even so, the sea eventually swallowed each one, as it always does.