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The Perfect Tower

Updated on October 23, 2012

A short story about the importance of stomping on sand towers

Taylor was three, with serious dark eyes and rambunctious curls tied up in a white sunbonnet. His family visited our beach place on a day when clouds skirmished across a hazy sky. I remember that day because it contained one of the really rare times in my life when I asked exactly the right thing at exactly right time. And--I'm not kidding--the clouds opened and the sun burst through.

Taylor’s father walked gingerly down the path to the shore. Seams seared his slacks and he carried three bottles of sunscreen and a new plastic beach bag.

“Don’t take off your shoes, you’ll get sand between your toes!” he said.

He was a surgeon, and had all the qualities you’d want in a surgeon: acute intelligence, intense concern for the welfare of others, and fanatical desire for absolute cleanliness and precision in every detail.

Taylor’s hand fit completely, fingers splayed, inside the round opening of our plastic sand pail; I could only reach in with my fingertips. I showed him how to dig down past the dry fly-away grains, through the sand layered thick as cake, until we reached what worked best for sand towers: a mixture of seawater and sand gooey and tenacious as molasses. We filled the tall green pail, Taylor smoothed the final layer, brushing off extra grains so that the top was perfectly flat. His head, protected in his little bonnet, bowed over his exacting project.

“Make sure it’s even,” said his father, watching from the safety of a large beach blanket. “Or it will be structurally unsound.”

On a flat spot where the wind barely rustled in the long dune grass, we smoothed the sun-warm sand with our palms. Taylor and I laid the full bucket down carefully horizontal. Then, hearts in mouths, making mock-scared faces at each other, we flipped it.

My big and his tiny hands curved around the green plastic and we lifted. Slowly. The dune grass shushed, the waves stopped crashing. No sags, no fissures, no flaws; the pail revealed a perfect sand tower.

“Beautifully done, son,” said Taylor’s father, turning a page in a medical journal.

Taylor studied the tower, conical and dark with seawater. He brushed sand off his hands. Without thinking I asked if he would like to do what, to me, was just the next logical thing to do with sand towers.

“Would you like to stomp on it?”

A tower, even a sand tower, is a safe place from which watchful eyes may peer; it is a lookout made with care and vigilance. Taylor stared at me in astonishment. He glanced at his father, who turned another page but gave a small, bemused nod. Taylor’s face burst into lightness. His hands flew up into his hair, knocking the bonnet askew, and he squatted, dimpled knees to chest, ready to spring.

It would be silly of course to think that one small question changed his life. But every time I hear from Taylor’s parents now, telling me how clean and handsome he is, how hard he’s working and what his grades are, I see again the look of joy on his face when he realized the best expression of perfection is one that can be--for even a brief moment—utterly abandoned. I feel the sun on my cheek, hear again a cry of laughter louder than gulls, and watch toes plunge deep and wiggling into the freedom of wet and sticky sand.


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