Sandy is in the living room; the sitting room, as her mother so quaintly insists on calling it. This had been the family home for nearly thirty years, since before she was born; she’s comfortable in this room, in this house. It’s after noon now. Already her mother has spent hours making preparations, bustling about the kitchen and living room to prepare for her guests. When the visitors start arriving later this evening, they will be greeted by small sandwiches, chips placed discretely around the room, a variety of other small snack items, a modicum of wine and beer, with liquor for those who prefer it, a pot of hot coffee put on as the first few arrive, and of course the flowers, the ones which have already arrived, placed in prominent display around the room. Sandy looks around and thinks it’s all quite nice.


The castle was in ruins, the seaward walls collapsed or collapsing, all attempts at repair failing more by attrition than by neglect; as fast as a new wall was built, another would tumble to its own base.

“Amy! You’re doing it all wrong! Can’t you see you’re doing it wrong? Oh, Amy, here; let me help!”

“No! I can do it. I can do it!”

“C’mon now, Amy…”

“Leave me alone! I can do it. Myself! Oh…”

“There!—Now you’ve done it!”

Amy began to cry.

Sandy looked at the sand castle she and Amy, her young sister, had been building; it had tumbled into during their dispute over who should build those troublesome seaward walls. Until now, she thought, it had been quite handsome. It was big, more than a foot wide by almost two feet long, walls six inches or so high, with turreted towers stretching toward nine inches. She had mostly designed it, but Amy, four years her junior at eight, had her say as usual and made several modifications to the layout. Actually, the changes were not bad. The problem was that Amy had trouble packing the sand tightly enough to maintain a shape. Too much water, not enough: inevitably the walls on Amy’s side would crumble. Finally, Sandy had just given up. She had tried to help Amy. Now Amy was crying. Sandy looked around to her left. There was nobody else on the beach; the sky and sea and cliffs stretched off into infinity, swallowing up the far end of the beach in the process. It was getting late.

“Oh Amy. Amy, you are too young. Let’s go home now. Mama will have supper ready.”


Sandy imagines Infinity slowly sucking up a stray piece of spaghetti, two small girls clinging to the strand for lack of any safer shore. Her mother is still rushing around. The postman has come with cards, which she arranges on the small table in the corner. Through the window and down the sandy road, Sandy can see autumn waves; splendorous gray horses with white manes dash themselves against the beach. The trees are still green and today the sun is bright. All in all, it is quite a nice day; just the way she had always imagined it would be.


The sewing machine had been clacking away for hours, the treadle pumping and pumping, the needle piercing and piercing, the costume finally coming together in a shimmer of satin colours. Sandy had looked up from her work with pride.

“Well, it’s done. Look!”

Amy had glanced up from the crystal ball she’d designed and only now finished making from a fishbowl and a cardboard box.

“Well, Amy? Do you want to try it on?”

“Oh yes, yes, please! Oh. It’s beautiful!”

Amy had gone to her room with the costume. Sandy had knelt on the floor by the coffee table and placed her hands upon the crystal ball, one on either side. Jokingly, she offered to tell her parents’ fortune. At 16, such games could still be fun. She made up tales of dark strangers, had her dad promoted several times, gave her mother great wealth. She felt a chill run through her body. She imagined a death. She never told that one. Feeling the cold hardwood floor against her bare knees, she rose. Amy had come back in. She was the perfect little angel in her glimmering gypsy costume.

“It’s beautiful, Sandy, it’s so beautiful!”

Sandy had smiled at her sister. The chill passed.


It was the first wedding she and Amy had ever attended, and what an affair it was! It wasn’t so much that it was an elaborate wedding. In fact, it was quite simple. Aunt Beatrice, young at thirty, had finally decided to wed. What made it an extraordinary occasion for Sandy was the ease and simple beauty of it all. Amy carried flowers. Sandy helped with the preparations. The whole family was involved. Amy cried. The wedding was held in the local United Church, the one the family had always attended; the ceremony over, everyone adjourned to a reception at the house. Throughout the day, the sea had whispered in the background. Amy was ten, Sandy just 15. For them, it was like heaven and their aunt in her long white dress the most beautiful benevolent angel they could ever have seen. They finished the day eating pound cake, forbidden by Mama but filched from the fridge while she was entertaining, as they sat happily on their beds. That was Amy’s idea. She had a way of getting what she wanted.


The flowers keep coming. The room is filling with colour. The scent is displacing the sea smell in the air. The afternoon is almost over; Sandy’s mother has decided to sit. There is very little left to do except wait for the guests. Sandy remembers how much Amy liked carrying the flowers at Aunt Beatrice’s wedding, how much she always liked flowers. Amy will like this, decides Sandy.


“I am not young!”

Amy struck out at her sister, grabbing her arm. Sandy, in her sudden effort to slip out of the way, fell to the beach, pulling Amy behind her. Amy was smaller, but she was stubborn and the two rolled over and over on the sand, crushing the majestic castle flatter and flatter, the small blonde child wrapped, arms and legs, around her older sister and refusing to let go, refusing to succumb to what was obviously superior force. Finally, hearing her mother calling them for supper, Sandy was the one to give in.

“Uncle! Uncle, Amy. I give up!”

“Amelia! Cassandra! Hurry up, supper will be cold!”

“Say it again. Say uncle again! Say it! Or I won’t let go!”

“Uncle! Uncleuncleuncle!”

Amy let go quickly and started to run toward the house, her sister close behind on the damp sandy road. Behind them, the tide was already surging, like invading cavalry, toward their small ruined castle.


Sandy sits still, watching, as the visitors come by the house, some just for a word or two, some to stay a while. She enjoys seeing them all again, enjoys hearing all their voices. She is not totally attentive, though. Her mind is on the past. She remembers telling fortunes in a fishbowl and suddenly seeing her father’s death. Two years later, he died, exactly as she had seen it. She had always been close to the family but never vocal. She had never really told her father she loved him. She had never told Amy she loved her. She had never told her mother. Another memory: Amy, only four, running to her, clinging to her on the beach, afraid of her eight- and nine-year-old costumed friends approaching in the dusk of Hallowe’en: that fear later transferred to a fear of water, of the sea. Poor Amy. Amy had never belonged to the sea, not like Sandy. The sea…Sandy remembers the dream, repeating itself for nearly two years: Sandy and Amy on the beach, wrestling young adults in the path of the incoming tide, anger of some kind, seen as though through a glass bubble under water, the edges distorted. A herd of wild horses galloping over them, then freedom. Now it’s over. Now Sandy understands.


All guests have left; Mama is cleaning up the kitchen. Amy comes in to have a visit with her sister. Amy is crying.

Amy stands quietly for a few minutes, looking down at her sister’s face. She sits on the chesterfield, hands together, shoulders rounded, head bowed, tears on her cheeks.

“Oh Sandy, I’m so sorry. So, so sorry. I didn’t mean it. I’ve always had to win, you know that. I tried to help. I hope you know…oh, oh, oh…”

“Amy, you’re too young. How can I reach you? If you could see me; if you could hear. You’re too far away, Amy. You’re too close. I understand. Uncle, Amy, uncle.”

Sandy turns to face the whispering, beckoning sea.

“Uncle, Sandy…” Amy slumps on the chesterfield, the sound of the sea at her back. Amy is crying.

Sandy is gone.