Fiction: Better Than a Sandcastle

James Bates

- James Bates

The last time I saw the Big Jerk he took Mom and me to the ocean. They'd been dating for about a month, and to say he wasn't my biggest fan was putting it mildly.
"Here," he pushed me. I stumbled and almost dropped the cooler of beer he'd made me carry. "We'll set up right here."
Man, what a creep. I imagined spending the day with him and it made my stomach turn. Dad had died seven years earlier, just after I was born, and Mom was my whole world. Why she was putting up with this guy was beyond me. I guess it had something to do him being a father figure or something. Thanks, but I think I'll pass.
Except I couldn't. The guy had some kind of hold over her that I didn't understand, but on that day it all changed.
We'd gotten ourselves situated and sat looking at the waves crashing in on the beach while he drank beer. He regaled us with stories of how he was a hotshot executive in the entertainment industry. I didn't believe a single word and got the feeling Mom was starting to have second thoughts.
Then he started giving me a hard time, making fun of my freckles and glasses and skinny body. Finally, he stood up drained his beer and called me a pansy. "I bet ya' can't even build a sandcastle," he taunted, and gave me a look like, what a pathetic little loser.
He leaned into close and sneered, "I'll judge it when I get back and it better be good." Then he wove his way down to the waterline to go swimming. I pictured the tide pulling him away from shore so he'd be lost at sea forever, the most pleasant thought I'd had all day
Mom looked at me, "I've had it with him. Let's get out of here."
They were the best words I'd heard in a long time. I guess Mom had reached her limit, and it made me happy, for both of us. "Just a second," I said."I've got an idea."
I hurried up to the high tide mark and started collecting what I needed. It took a while, but Mom kept a lookout.
In the end, I built an elaborate sculpture, a three foot high pyramid made with different sizes of rocks all balanced one on top of the other. Mom told me it was magnificent and took a photo before we left. We never heard from the guy again.
The photo she took that day came out great: my structure with the different sized rocks looked stunning, especially set against blue sky with a line of surf in the background.
That was five years ago. Right now it's hanging on the wall over the sink in our kitchen. It reminds us of that day at the beach and the best decision Mom ever made.
Best of all, her new husband, my stepdad, loves it, too. So do I.

Bio: Jim lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His stories and poems have appeared in many online and print publications. His collection of short stories, Resilience, is scheduled to be published in 2020 by Bridge House Publishing. All of his stories can be found on his blog:

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