Story by Troy Sebastian
Photo by Elizabeth Cronin
Story by Troy Sebastian Photo by Elizabeth Cronin

I awoke on the wrong side of a one way city, downtown, where the action laps across promises broken and those sinisterly fulfilled. Hope is cheap and life lingers like late winter sunset, shattered and unprepared.

Scalpel streams of pavement crisscross through shadow play. Scenes of town seem as though they have always been darkened from light; an inheritance of the first fortress walls of colony. The walls are gone yet the shadows remain.

Men and women shuffle and scrape their way towards evening, some with well earned bounty, others with cold, charmless affects of capital’s displacement. Joggers break sweat smug, drunks hold the bottle like it has the blood of Christ, every car is silver and impossibly corrupt in elegant emptiness. While bankers clog across the din immune to the stench of the human chaff that their wave crests upon, as indifferent as flies on high summer manure.

What elysian arms fold through these boroughs? Uneven heartache branches reach to the sky as if to ask why and when will the tender memory of summer be held as fact again. They take pause to measure a morsel of sunset glow that looks to hold the answer for such questions deciduous.

Elders know better than to linger in the afterthought of day and persist in the bauble of introspection. But I am no elder.

Down the road, around the corner and up aways, I heard that there is a table that is always set, always ready for any and all who find their peace in short supply and those who have soul to give. It is the place for hope’s resurrection, for pain’s author to forgo a second helping; a place where dreams of light come to life.

***        ***        ***
There is nowhere I can go to give myself to the order I maintain, the order of my habit. Do not come here if you shoot yourself clean, keep moving and walk on, shit in the woods if you have to but do not stay here. Keep moving. Like a shark. If you stop you die. No resurrections. But there are no woods here, only parks aligned by British design.

Stumbling through the streets I am at a loss. My eyes hold all of my disdain. An old woman pushing a shopping cart stops me, places her hand on my arms, leans forward and says

Listen to the water. It will tell you the story of all things.

My ears are always open though I hear nothing but the wind.

***        ***        ***
A score is always worth it. It helps me. But there is not solace to this day. The day is breaking within me. I walk to the ocean and listen to the water. Long ago, someone told me to do so when I was in a time of need. Soon, I wander between postcard driftwood and seagull fiefdoms when a measure of light rain gives me pause to stop near an embankment that affords some reprieve from the wind and the water.

As I approach the embankment it soon becomes clear that it is the outer folds of a beachline sanctuary. I enter seeking shelter from the rain and to satisfy the sprinkling of curiosity which grabs me so.

The sanctuary is in the shape of a tear drop with browned casks of driftwood ringing the edge of the space, and cement flavoured sand crowned as static waves masking the moisture below the surface. A smattering of blackened and broken ash charred the scene of a fire which must have been lit the night before as an acrid dusting of ash cut the ocean air.

The sound of the city is lost in that place and all that I can hear is the low, grinding tempo of waves coming ashore, as an ocean of expectation released, sublime and without pressure.

I gather myself at the rear of the shoreline sanctuary, sitting with my back to a thick shuttle of driftwood as my legs took shape upon the sands. I notice a series of sandcastles at the mouth of the teardrop, flanking the entrance. They are ornate, shocking in detail and ambition, entirely without hope from the tide of night’s return.

The beauty of this moment is the peace it affords. It is overwhelming. I cry. I cry for the safety I enjoy there and for the violence I live with outside of it. Tears come easily and my hands run through my hair in an attempt of solace.

Then I fall asleep and a dream comes to me in waves broken in dimensions. I cannot remember all that happens next but every word is true, especially the lies of necessity.

In dream, I am in the same sanctuary where echoes of shoreline reprieve sound. Where a stubble of ash reveils certain scents of ignition a fire is now crackling without a brushing of wind. There, Ka Titi sits, leaning forward, her face lost in a dream of her own crafting. She motions me over with hands as bold as my own and says “sit beside me grandson, and listen to a story.”

I don’t recall moving, or ever meeting Ka Titi as she died years ago, before I was born.  I hear everything she says even the sound between wave breaks. She sits in silence for awhile and when the time is right she says

I met a sandcastle builder who was between shorelines. I asked her if I could measure the distance of hope caught between reflections. She said that there was nothing in the face she showed me, it was only the mirrored memory of empathy that once lay between shores.

She said when one sandcastle collapses no one remembers, not even the tide. But when the shores of tides return crests upon sandcastle dreams, the act of witness is sacred and everyone remembers, especially other sandcastles.

I sit with that awhile, looking into that fire. The sandcastles I had seen at daylight are now filled with light of their own making, an alacrity of movement within their boroughs bright.

Are you listening grandson?

Yes Ka Titi.

Do you listen to the water?

I, I am trying grandmother. But it is so hard to believe.

Ka Titi sighs, and rubs her hands together, looking to her palms for some lesson of life to shed. The lines of all life and lineage are spread across the palm as galaxy grooves. Looking up to the night sky she says

When we look at the stars at night, the cosmos obscured, by city light, by civilization fright, there is a wonderment of distance. How could we get there if light travels softly as summer breeze?

We do not think of the stars as kissing cousins. They are hardly any relation at all. Suyupi name them as gods and goddesses, Andromeda, Scorpio and such. For celestial bodies of a thousand thousand years  such names can hardly observe.  They reflect.

I look from the night sky to her face and back not sure which is more impossible to believe.

Are you listening grandson?

Yes Ka Titi.

The distance of stars is long passed the memory of when their light was shed. We look to the night sky and see a past that is long gone yet only newly arrived. How far could they be? Will we ever get there? Such impossibility could make one mad.

Yet the same brow that you show confounded also reaches the peak of sweat in the light of day, under summer’s heat. The sun pierces the depth of protection and meaning. The sun shines on us, every day, yet we are not bewildered by it’s distance, question it’s sincerity nor wonder at the truth of it’s majesty. We know it is there as some manner of faith and expectation is rewarded each day when the sun shines again.

In that moment there is a peace between us that is beautiful and true.

She does not say anything for a long while. I stir next to her lost in story and the mirror of myself I see in the shape of her hands. Mine look smaller than they used to, but when I look at hers, they feel just about right.

The small campfire abates and the dark sky above is no longer as thick and deep as it once was. I can nearly make out the dark blue hues of dawn.  My mind climbs a hero’s path of questions sitting next to her, but the one that remained is the only one I ask her.

Why do they do it Ka Titi?


Why do they build them?

They build sandcastles not to temp the tide, but to protect grains of hope.

A sound of ominous reflection begins to bore out of the din of ocean swells. I cannot quite place it but it is familiar to me. Ka Titi taps my shoulder and points to the back of the sandcastle sanctuary. I turn to look and there I see myself sleeping, like a ragdoll, a cacophony of snore and slumber lore.

That sight alone is enough to wake me as resurrection, but there too is a sound I cannot possibly believe. I am damp from the light rain of dawn when I sit up from the sand and realize the teardrop is filling with the tide’s return, in long, slow rumbles of destiny. The sandcastles are as melted cobwebs, dissolution of form, absolution of truth.

What small moment of fear finds me is replaced by open eyed disbelief as a lone green bottle has washed ashore at my feet. It has a scribble of some spirits design on the glass but it is unrecognizable. The bottle is capped and there is some paper within. I pick up the bottle, feeling the smoothness of the glass against my fingertips as they tip toe to the top and try for the cap’s release. It is hard to move at first, the entire piece seems too brittle in my hand to press with such force, but the cap does give way and the script falls into my palm.

It reads-

The Order of Building Sandcastles

There is order in the practice
The body is a canvass of memory
The soul owns the minutes of erasure
Fire blesses all things
The temple is breaking
A score is always worth it
Multiplex consumption
To feed alone is ungodly
God has nothing to do with it
Death is sanguine
Dreams against the wind
All memory bleeds out
Urban tundra vertigo
Salvation is blind
Spikes cleanse within
The pavement will catch you
The hands dissolve
All tracks lead to Rome
Listen to the water

The writing is my own but the paper is faded and vintage like sandstorm fears. I take the paper, place it in my jacket pocket and throw the empty bottle back into the sea watching as the tide takes it in as backdraft mercy.

I read the parchment many times. Alone. In that sanctuary. Tremors and aches grasp my body in constriction of hollowness. Tears come and go and I weep without sound, just tremors. The words are my own but I cannot make sense of it all. Some of the words are true to me, others cut like barbed wire, leaving small holes in my apparel as I try to rip myself clean.

When I have read the lines more times than I can bear I realize that the tide has come as far it will dare. The sanctuary is safe from the raised seas and I know that there is something for me to do. I rummage through my pockets and find a set of match sticks pilfered from a bar uptown.  I strike a matchstick and place the flame to the parchment, laying it in the rubble of ash and cinder left behind from Ka Titi’s fire. It flashes, turns on itself and is soon a lone spire of smoke that reaches to the sky in cathedral ambition.

***            ***            ***

From dawn to dusk dreams are built with sandcastle hope only to be swept aside when night falls as compressed desire.

Sandcastles do not build themselves.
They do not have to. They summon builders to the shore with promises of order, of design as divination.  Where one masterpiece of soulcraft is born soon the plains of sandy beeches are shorn.

Listen to the water.

We know it is coming for us. It comes for all of us.

Listen to the water. It will tell you the story of all things.



words by Troy Sebastian, photo by Elizabeth Cronin