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Rated: E · Short Story · Contest Entry · #2193625
A day at the beach for Peg and her parents.
If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way.
-- Napoleon Hill

“What ‘cha up to, Peg-a-belle?” Peg’s father crouched beside her in the sand. His six-year-old daughter barely looked up from her task.

“Sandcastle,” she replied.

Her father raised one eyebrow and tried not to laugh. “It’s a… what’s this?” He pointed to the water-filled pit his daughter had dug out of the center of a rounded mound of sand.

“It’s the well.” She reached into the hole, cupped water and sand in her hands and let it drizzle over the sides of her construction. As the water ran away and sank back into the sand, it left deposits of mud in daubs and dribbles that stood up like coral spires. “These are the towers.”

“I see.” He nodded seriously and she glared up at him.

“It’s not a regular sandcastle,” she said with some heat in her voice. “It’s MINE. And I like it.”

“I like it, too,” her father chuckled. “I like it because it’s yours and it’s different.”

Icy lake water washed up over their toes and Peg looked at it in concern. “There’s no tide in the lake, right? Lakes don’t get tides.”

With a sheepish smile, her father stroked her unruly strawberry curls away from her face. “I wish that was the case, baby. Lake Superior does get tides. They aren’t as big as ocean tides, but it’s a large enough lake for the moon to pull on it.”

“Tell the moon to stop,” Peg said in a mocking whine and her father chuckled. She peeked at him to smile, sharing the joke. She plunged her hands into the well again, sloshing water up against the sides. Sand wore away quickly with the motion and one of the walls began to cave in. “No!” Peg tried to push the castle’s crumbling wall up with one hand. More sand fell into the well, washing away another side. “Daddy! Help me!”

Her father darted forward to push his hands into the hole. It looked like a lost cause and he bit his lip at the distress in his daughter’s face. “Honey, why don’t you start over farther away from the water? Besides, you need to come back to the blanket for more sunblock. You’re turning into a lobster.”

“I need the water, though,” Peg protested, angry tears starting to trickle down her face. “For the towers. It doesn’t work with dry sand. I tried.” She rubbed her face with the back of one hand, leaving a gritty streak of mud on her cheek.

“Blanket,” he sighed. “Sunblock. And then I’ll help you make some building plans, alright?” Sniffling, Peg stumbled away from her ruined castle and climbed the dune to where her mother was sitting sensibly under a massive beach umbrella and reading a paperback book.

“What’s the matter?” her mother asked and put her book down on the pages to hold her spot. Peg’s father made an irritated sound and glared at her until she put a bookmark in it and laid it flat on the blanket. “Sorry, mister big-shot-librarian,” she huffed playfully, then reached her arms out for Peg. “What’s wrong, baby?”

Peg all but threw herself into her mother’s embrace and started to cry harder. Her father crouched nearby and said, “Structural integrity issues. The well washed away the castle walls.”

“Mmm.” Peg’s mother nodded seriously as she rubbed her weeping daughter’s back. “Well, let’s get the architect into something more sun-resistant and maybe have some lunch. Peanut butter and jelly or cold grilled cheese?”

“Cheese,” sniffled Peg. Her mother reached for the Igloo cooler and retrieved a can of soda and two triangles of cheese sandwich in a plastic baggie, which she handed to Peg. Peg started to eat the sandwich slowly while her father located the sunblock and started rubbing the greasy, sharp-smelling lotion onto her bare shoulders and back. “Why won’t it stay up?” Peg asked around her sandwich. “Our well doesn’t collapse.”

“The land we dug our well into isn’t as sandy as the beach,” her mother explained, stroking her hair back. She took the bottle of sunblock from her husband and added a streak over her daughter’s forehead and another down her nose. “Don’t forget her ears,” she added to her husband.

“Nope.” He rubbed thumbs and forefingers over Peg’s ears. “Or her neck. Last time she got burned under her chin from the reflection.”

“We all did,” chuckled Peg’s mother. “We rolled in aloe vera for days after that.”

“Any ideas for improving the castle?” Peg’s father asked, then kissed the top of her head.

“I need seaweed,” she muttered, eyes half-closed as she chewed her grilled cheese.

“I don’t think there’s seaweed in freshwater lakes.”

Peg looked up, her eyes squinted half-shut and her nose wrinkled in intense concentration, lips pressed tightly together. Then, she stuffed the rest of her sandwich into her mouth and sprinted back down to the water’s edge. “Peg?” cried her mother in surprise.

She floundered into the water until she was covered over her waist and then dunked down. “So much for thirty minutes,” her father sighed and ran down to the water after her. He plunged in just as Peg popped back up to the surface, her hands covered in thick, greenish slime.

“Seaweed!” she cried in delight, holding it out to him.

“Okay,” he replied, eyeing the slime warily. “I think it’s algae but I’m not going to quibble semantics. What are you going to do with it?”

“Bring me a bucket,” Peg replied imperiously, looking back into the water and moving her foot around. “There’s lots more right here.” Her father cleared his throat sternly and Peg blushed, peeking up at him. “Please?”

“That’s better.” Instead of wading back to the beach, he yelled, “Kim! Can you bring us the bucket?”

“Why?” Peg’s mother called.

He shrugged his shoulders, his arms out wide in an exaggerated motion. “Seaweed!”

With an overdramatic, long-suffering eye-roll, she got up from the blanket and picked up the small beach bucket. She joined them in the cold lake water and handed the bucket to her husband. “There’s no seaweed in Lake Superior, right?” she whispered.

“It’s algae. Close enough for what I think she wants to do.”

Peg began slopping handfuls of slimy green algae into the bucket, her face alight with excitement. “This isn’t going to work,” her mother whispered.

Her husband looked at her quizzically. “So? She’s six, Kim. If you can’t build castles, make better mudholes.”

Together, they followed their daughter back to the shore and watched as she started enthusiastically digging another hole just at the edge of the highest waves. When the walls started to topple back into the hole, Peg grabbed a handful of the slime and pressed it against the collapsing wall, then packed more wet sand over the patch. After almost half an hour of this, the algae-packed walls did indeed stop collapsing and Peg moved her attention to building the castle’s mounds and towers. “I can’t believe that worked,” whispered her mother.

“It won’t stand for a million years,” her father chuckled, “but I’m impressed. Good job, kiddo. Where’d you learn to do that?”

“School,” Peg replied without looking up. “The Indians made bricks of mud and straw, then baked them so they got hard. I can’t bake these but I can make the mud thicker.”

“I’m getting the camera,” her father grinned and kissed his wife’s cheek. “Our kid’s a genius!”

Her mother chuckled and dropped into a squat to study the walls her daughter was building. “I’m really proud of you,” she said. Peg looked up, eyes wide and head tilted in confusion.

“Why? It’s just a sandcastle.”

Her mother held out her arms and Peg came to snuggle against her chest. “You had a problem and you figured out something to try to fix it. You weren’t afraid to try something new. That’s hard for a lot of people.” She kissed the little girl’s forehead. “You should build things when you get bigger.”

“I build things now,” snorted Peg.

“I mean big things.”

Peg shrugged as she squirmed out of her mother’s arms and continued drizzling muddy water over the sides of her castle. “Maybe when I’m big I’ll make big things. Right now, little things are more fun.” She looked up and grinned at her father as he returned and clicked the camera shutter. “I just want my little things to last.”

“I think you’ll figure that out, no problem,” her father said and kissed her forehead. “Now, how do you make those layered walls? Show me again. I think I missed it the first time.”

Word Count: 1,433
© Copyright 2019 Linn Browning (kijilinn at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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