WHEN THINGS WEAR AWAY OTHER THINGS
by Michael Melgaard
Moira played with the ocean, chasing the waves as they pulled back into themselves. Her pink rain boots splashing through the water were the only color on the wet, rocky shore. She turned to her dad and laughed while a wave came in behind her. It covered her feet and was over the top of her boots before she noticed. She watched the water pull away and then looked up at her dad. She started to cry.
David walked over and picked her up. He told her it was okay and just water, then turned her away from the ocean and asked, “Do you see how they built a wall there?” He held her on his hip in the crook of one arm and pulled her boots off with the free hand. She was trying to tell him about her feet being wet between exaggerated sobs. He said, “Over there. Look. Do you know why they would build a wall on the beach?”
She didn’t say anything but did look where he was pointing. David went on, “A long time ago, before they built the wall, there was a graveyard here, where we’re walking.” He dumped the water out of one boot, then the other. “Back then where we’re standing was underground.” He moved her onto his other hip and tugged off her socks. “But the waves eroded the ground away.”
She asked, “What’s ‘eroded’?”
He turned back to the water. “See how every time a wave comes up it pulls some rocks back with it? That’s eroding. It’s when things wear away other things. Eventually, the waves will wear through the wall and wash away the city.”
Moira looked at the wall and then the ocean and then at her dad. She asked, “Really?”
“Yup.” He said, “Hold these,” and handed her the boots. He wrung out her socks as best he could. “Eroding takes a long time, though. Hundreds of years. But anyway, back before the wall was built the waves were eroding the ground, wearing away the graveyard’s dirt, and you know what’s under the dirt in a graveyard?”
“That’s right. So all these coffins were getting uncovered and they started floating out to sea. After bad storms the bay would be full of them, like little boats bobbing around in the water.”
“It’s true. It was a real problem. And, of course, no one wanted coffins floating around the bay, so they built the wall to keep them in.”
David pulled Moira’s socks and boots back on and dropped her on the ground. She went up to the wall and asked her dad, “Really?” He nodded. She ran her hand along the wall. It was pitted and rough, small rocks stuck out where the concrete had been worn away around them. She grabbed one of the rocks and pulled. It came off in her hand.
“See,” David said. “Just like the coffins.”
She held it up close to her face. When she went to show her dad, he was staring up the beach. He said, “We better catch up with your mother.”
Katherine was far enough ahead that he could only see her outline against the rocks. It looked impatient. Moira didn’t want to go. She whined and planted herself on the ground. David said, “Bye, have fun,” and walked away. She ran to catch up. But once she was with him she climbed up on the driftwood logs piled at the high tide line and started walking along them, hopping from one to the next. David asked, “Could you please try to hurry a bit?”
She said, “I can’t put my feet down because of the lava!”
“We don’t have time for that.”
Moira kept going on the logs until she got to the end of one that was too far from the next. She stopped and said, “Help, Dad, the lava.” David went back and bent down in front of her. She climbed onto his back and they headed toward her mother.
Katherine put out her cigarette when they got close. She said to David, “You took your time.”
“I didn’t realize you got so far ahead.”
And Moira said, “Dad told me that the ocean took the coffins out to the sea because of eroding and all the coffins floated away.”
“Why would you tell her about that?”
David put Moira on the ground and crouched down in front of her. He said, “See, I told you it was true.” Katherine tilted her head to one side and gave David her are-you-fucking-kidding-me look. He smiled at Moira, then tickled her and said, “Let’s build a sandcastle!”
She looked around the rocky beach and said, “There’s no sand.”
“Then we’ll just have to make do with what we have.”
David pulled a driftwood stick out of a tangle of seaweed and wood and tossed it on the ground. He found another that was the same length and threw it on top. Then another. Moira asked what he was doing, and he shrugged and kept pulling out sticks, breaking long ones so they were all the same length. Once he had a pile, he carried them down to a flat part of the beach and started driving them into the ground. When Moira saw they were going to make a circle, she said, “It’s a wall!”
“You got it. Can you grab me some more wood? Like this.” He showed her a stick. She concentrated on it, and then ran over to her mom, grabbed her hand, and told her to come help.
She was back a few minutes later with an armful of all-too-short sticks. She dropped them off and left to find more. Then Katherine was there with her own load. She added them to the pile and didn’t leave. David focused on making sure one stick was in the ground right but eventually had to turn around to get another. Katherine was staring down at him. He smiled at her. She said, “You think it’s funny?”
He shook his head and drove another stick into the ground. “This is ridiculous. You’re mad at me because you walked ahead of us?”
“I’m mad because this was supposed to be a day of us all together and you kept her with you.”
“We were having fun and you didn’t stop.”
“What do you get out of this?”
David said, “Almost done,” to Moira, who was coming up behind Katherine with more sticks. Katherine rolled her eyes at David and then walked over to a driftwood log to sit. Moira and David finished the wall. He stood up and waved a hand over it, “Behold, my queen, your ramparts are complete.”
Moira looked it over and said, “There’s no roof.”
“But there will be. And a moat. And a drawbridge. It will be the finest sandcastle ever created!”
“Daa-aad. It’s not made of sand.”
“Neither are sandwiches, but we eat them anyways.”
“That seems to be the consensus around here.”
“Consensus is when everyone thinks I’m silly.”
David started digging a moat with a flat piece of wood. Every scoop out made more pebbles and rocks fall back in. The best he could manage was a shallow, wide ditch. While he worked, Moira leaned sticks up against the wall, trying to fill in the gaps. Katherine smoked and looked out over the ocean. Moira got bored with trying to fix the wall and started waving around one of the sticks, commanding David to work faster in a voice that was meant to sound like a queen. David played along, groveling and shoveling faster. Once the moat was as good as it was going to get, he said, “My queen, I’m going to find a roof.”
Up the beach he found some rope tangled up with some driftwood. He pulled it out, but there wasn’t enough with which to do anything. There were some old planks and what looked like a palette, and then, a little farther along, he found a piece of plywood. He lifted one edge off the ground and gave the crabs time to find new shelter. It was waterlogged and heavy, and he had trouble getting a good grip. He took a lot of breaks dragging it back.
He saw that Katherine had left her log. She was crouched on the ground by the castle, and Moira was running around picking things up. Moira held something out to Katherine, and they both laughed. By the time David got back to them, they were both sitting on the ground. He said, “A roof for your castle, your highness.”
Moira said, “Look, we made a garden.” They had arranged pieces of shell and wave-worn glass in spiral patterns all around the entrance to the castle. There was a little path too, and small twigs stood upright with seaweed wrapped around the tops. “Those are trees,” she explained. “Mom made them.”
David said, “That’s very clever.”
He lifted the plywood over top of the wall and let it down slowly. The castle shifted a bit to the left. Katherine got up and wiped the pebbles off her pants, and David found a few large rocks to prop up the side that seemed most likely to give out. He stood back and admired their work. Moira was focused on her garden. He said, “Nothing left to do but move in,” and crawled in through the little opening.
He tried to sit down without knocking the whole castle over. Moira gave up on the garden and followed him in. David had to pull up his knees to under his chin so there was room. He said, “I think it’s nicer from the outside.”
Moira had just enough space to stand. She said, “I like it.”
“I’m not saying it’s bad. I just wouldn’t want to spend the night here.”
“It’d be cold.”
“We could make it better.”
“I don’t know. It’s getting pretty late.”
“It probably won’t be here tomorrow.”
“It will be washed away by then.”
“It’s like the graveyard. It will get eroded away by the waves when the tide comes in tonight.”
She thought about that. David stretched his legs and rubbed his lower back. Sand sprinkled down from the ceiling. Through a crack in the wall he saw a freighter passing by on the horizon. The water had darkened to the same color as the clouds. The ship looked like it was cutting through the air. Moira asked, “Can we stop it?”
David took a moment to realize she was talking about the erosion, not the freighter. “I don’t think so. We’d need to reinforce it with something. Concrete maybe. Do you have any concrete?” She shook her head. “Then I think we’re out of luck.”
Moira sat down across from her dad. Their knees touched. She shivered, and David pulled her around so she was sitting on his lap. He rubbed her shoulders.
Outside, Katherine said, “We should get going.” Moira said no, and Katherine said, “Come on, it’s getting cold out.” Moira said no again, and David didn’t say anything. Katherine stared at the castle. She said, “Five minutes,” then sat back down and lit a cigarette.
David kissed the top of Moira’s head. She shivered, and he wrapped his arms around her, and they listened to the waves drag the beach into the sea.
Michael Melgaard is a freelance writer and an editor at an independently owned Canadian publishing house. He has contributed to several print and online publications, including Potluck Magazine, The Torontoist, and the Maple Tree Literary Supplement. He lives in Toronto.
Image credit: Paul & Hien Brown on Flickr