“The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. The gods had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.” (The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus)
It occurs to me how wonderful fiction is at conveying nonfiction.
Once upon a time… No…that won’t do. Its tired and has been done to death. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… No, that is clearly a copyright violation. On a pleasant though uneventful Tuesday in February—I guess that will have to do—there was a boy. He lived with his wicked father and loving mother in a modest suburban home in a town that, back then, was as uneventful as a Tuesday. For the record, he also had a sister who was a brattier version of Goldilocks. (Here’s hoping that the story of the Three Bears is public domain.) Each night his mother would tuck him in-a Herculean effort if ever there was one-and pray that most beloved of all bedtime prayers saying, “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray to the Lord my soul to keep. But, if I die before I wake….” It was this bit of nightmare-inducing liturgy that insured the boy would most certainly not close his eyes much less get anywhere near the neighborhood of sleep. Instead, most nights, he’d lay awake on his twin bed—wondering where his twin was—in his modest room identifying the shapes of his toys backlit by a single dim nightlight cannibalized from a string of vintage Christmas tree lights. This exercise assured him that the shapes were his toys and not the monsters he felt quite certain lived under his bed. (This was way before Monsters Inc. came out so those under-the-bed-monsters were a hell of a lot scarier. Kids today do not know how good they have it.) Not every night was as uneventful as a Tuesday for one night a voice spoke to him.
“My, my, my, this will never do,” boomed a voice bigger than his room. “Who the hell are you?” said the boy. (He was often a very naughty boy and, even then, was given to mild profanity.) “Who the hell are you?” he said again. “Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?” boomed a voice now most certainly bigger than his room. “Often. And you are?” said the little boy who was given to sarcasm. “I’m a dear friend and an old friend at that,” said the voice in a hush as gentle as his mother praying. “Why I knew you back when you were being knit together in your mother’s womb.” “So you’re a gynecologist?” said the boy. “Not exactly,” said the voice, “though some would describe me as a physician.” “Get on with it! I have school in the morning and teacher prefers that I be well-rested as otherwise I am quite disagreeable,” relayed the boy. The voice continued, “I see. Well, I have a job for you. And it is a grand job, indeed. You see I own a lot of lots. I’m quite flush with real estate.” The boy interrupted, “Did my Mom put you up to this? She is always after me to rake the leaves or mow the lawn.” “No. Focus.” said the voice with well-earned irritation, “I need an artist. You see I’m something of a designer myself.” “Out with it!” said the boy. “One word, ‘castles,’” said the voice signaling the use of air quotes. “Oh, architecture,” squealed the boy, “I’d love to be an architect.” “Well…yes…but…and this ‘but’ is a big one,” the voice piped before it was interrupted by the boy saying, “I don’t like big buts, I cannot lie.” (This conversation predated the work of Sir Mix-A-Lot and is a copyright gray-area.) “Again, you kiss your mother with that mouth,” retorted the voice. “Often,” chimed the boy. “Ok, I meant two words that can be spelled as one word, sandcastles. I have some lovely ocean front property all over the world.” “Let me guess, you have the largest seashell collection as well,” joked the boy knowingly. “Yes, but I need sand castles. All kinds of people visit my beaches and they need a landmark to orient themselves and know which way to go. Otherwise it is all just sand interrupted by even more sand. Again, beaches need landmarks. So. I need Sand Castles.” “I don’t know how to build a Sand Castle,” replied the boy. With a chuckle, the voice then said, “I’ll teach you all there is to know about sandcastles.”
In time the boy grew in wisdom and stature. Ever so often, more often than a week has a Tuesday, the voice would speak to him about sandcastles. At first, the voice talked about everything from buckets to shovels. Though the voice never changed, the boy’s voice did. He began to smell funny though no one laughed. He grew hair in exotic locations. Shovels and buckets were for children, now the voice talked about trowels and levels. And the boy, now a young man, was happy. Talks about sandcastles were welcome distractions especially in weeks that felt longer than a month of Tuesdays. The voice was a constant comfort as the boy’s monsters were no longer imagined and no longer lived under his bed. The voice was with him even when the darkness could no longer be dispersed no matter how bright a cannibalized Christmas tree light shined.
In time the boy left the town that had become far more eventful than a Tuesday. He left behind his modest room in his equally modest suburban home to venture out into the great wide world destined for the coast. He discovered that the voice that was big as a room had visited many a person’s room and even people in the great wide-world that lay outside of every room. The voice visited them by day and night. And not all were children when the voice first spoke. And the voice spoke to anyone and everyone though not everyone was invited to build sand castles. (Let it be said that the voice that is most certainly bigger than a room welcomes everyone to any sand castle the voice has helped to build.) The boy, now a man, studied the work of many an accomplished sand-castler. He read books about sand and, well, castles. You’d be surprised just how many books there are about sand castles. A true sand-castler can only stand to be a student for so long, the boy wanted a beach of his very own. You’d also be surprised at the number of beaches there are in the world. There are small beaches. There are large beaches. Though most beaches are public unfortunately some people would make them private. Sometimes a beach already had sand castles to work on, but the best beaches were wide empty tracts of sand; a blank canvas.
At first it was great fun even if it was hard work. The sun would beam down all day and the man tanned. He thought of his tan as a sign of his experience in the sand. In time, he would laugh about how pale he was when he stepped his foot on his first beach. Sadly, some tans become sunburns. He wished he’d thought about the sun before he stepped on that first beach. “I will not make that mistake again,” said the man. “Yes you will, even my best sand-castlers do it,” said the voice though the sound of the nearby waves nearly drowning out the voice bigger than a room.
The sun was one thing, but the surf was another. Every day the man would build the most magnificent sand castles. He would raise turrets. He would shape parapets. The man would dig deep moats, but always with a drawbridge as these castles aren’t meant for siege. Yet, as sure as a week has a Tuesday the tide would roll in. The tide would wash the man’s work out to sea. But, the voice continued to speak as comforting as ever. The voice gave him strength enough for each day and peace about each tomorrow.
To be honest, some days the sand-castling was better than on others. But each day, there was the tide. The man tried dams, ditches and dikes. He could build until his knees were raw and his skin like leather. Dams, ditches and dikes be damned as the tide would wash his work away as sure as Tuesday is replaced by Wednesday.
Over his years there would be many beaches with all kinds of sand, but always the tide. The man’s hair in not so exotic places grew gray. He packed on a pound or two. The tide grew too. It grew louder and louder. The man grew tired of straining to hear the voice. Surf, not sun, is the enemy of all sand-castlers. In time, the man could no longer be bothered to listen for the voice. He tried for a while. He’d call out. He’d even shout. Eventually, he figured the voice must have gone to speak to another child in a distant room. Besides, he thought, I can barely hear my own voice how can I expect to hear the one that was as big as my old room. He grew older and all his ears could hear was the tide. He missed the voice. The voice that was once as close as his own breath. He aged, though earlier than he expected. He grew tired of beaches and couldn’t watch another creation be swept out to sea.
Not all stories that begin on a pleasant though uneventful Tuesday in February. Not all stories about boys who become men end with a “happily ever-after.” And how will this one end? Well, all I can’t say. All I know is that it will not end today.