Sand Grows Faster in the Spring (short story)

The ocean tumbled infinitely into the horizon, Desmond stood staring. He played with the moist sand around his toes and placed his fishing pole across his shoulders using its shaft as support for his arms. He had been gazing into the ocean for almost an hour and the sun was very heavy on his back, like a wet mink coat. He was not sun-bathing, being a rich color already, and did not burn easily. He could stand in the sun for hours, almost mockingly, and that’s what Desmond was doing: standing in the sun, fishing rod across his shoulders, supporting his arms.

He turned and walked along the shore where the sand met the tide. Every step he took, every point of pressure, seemed to drain color out of the ground below. Head down, he watched his right foot slowly come into view and disappear again, followed by his left. The further away he got from the tide the further in color his foot became with the sand. He propped the fishing rod against his house and opened the door.

His father sat at the dining table on the far side of the room. Desmond walked over to the kitchen and poured himself lemonade. Standing at the door with the lemonade he examined his father’s pencil move curiously across a piece of paper.

“Sometimes I think you lied to me,” Desmond said.

His father continued to write for some time before putting his pen down. He raised his head from the paper and focused on Desmond. Light that filtered through the window reflected off his father’s silver beard. The sound of the ocean playing nicely with the shore came through the same window.

“Why do you say that?” his father replied.

“Because I don’t know anything else.”

“That’s a good reason. A good reason to give for your case But then again, what other choice do you have?”

His father raised his eyebrows the way he does when he believes his cheeky remarks have dumbfounded someone. Of course, the only person Desmond has ever spoken to was his father, and the only person Desmond has ever seen his father interact with was Desmond, so the only person Desmond has ever seen his father raise his eyebrows toward was Desmond. Desmond only assumed his father raised his eyebrows like that in his youth, when there were other people to dumbfound.

“How do I know that human-kind didn’t exile you to this island because they thought you were a menace to society, and gave me to you for the sake of having company?”

“That sounds like a good idea. Why don’t you make it into a story?” His father smiled to himself. “Besides, there’s a flaw in your thinking. Why give me you for company when I have the cats? Or the lemon tree, for that matter? They’re just as fun.”

Desmond turned and watched the lemon tree from the kitchen window. Its branches laughed with the wind.

“Where are those damn cats anyway?” his father asked.

“Upstairs probably. All three of them were, last time I checked.”

“Well, whatever the case, I’m gonna make dinner soon. How’s fish sound?”

“Great.”

Desmond walked across the room and up the stairs, his father pencil starting its rounds on the paper yet again. He opened his bedroom door and Michael fled through the small crack, June following close behind. Andy remained on Desmond’s bed, thrashing about a pile of pillows. Andy was the strangest cat. Desmond judged, from the books he had read, the Andy was more like a dog. He followed Desmond around the house, wagged his tail, and never liked to be alone. Cats were suppose to be lonely. He reached out and scratched Andy under his chin. He then undressed and walked to the bathroom.

Looking in the mirror he ran a hand over his chest and upper shoulders, flexing his arms to feel the different dips and curves of each muscle. He parted his hair to the side and put on a grand smile.

“Hi,” he said to the mirror, and bit his lower lip and entered the shower.

He plugged his ears with his fingers and put his head completely under the running water. When he was young, he would stand in the shower for a whole hour doing this, making low grumbling noises with his mouth to imitate the sound of thunder while placing his head under the running water to simulate rain.  The island had its fair share of storms, but Desmond always thought it was more fun to have a personal one brewing in his own head.

.      .      .

The house consisted of four floors. On the top floor were the bedrooms and a bathroom. On the floor level with the sand was the kitchen, dining room, and living room, which was all one big room. One story beneath the house, where there were no windows, was the book room. Beneath this floor was the movie room. There were thousands of items to choose from. When Desmond wasn’t laying in the sun or tending to chores he was in one of these two rooms.

.      .      .

Desmond sat at the dining table and poured a glass of lemonade.

“Do you want?” he asked.

“Please.”

Desmond cut a piece of fish and plopped it in his mouth. He looked over to the cats crowded around their food bowls.

“What were you working on?” Desmond asked.

“Oh nothing…just a story.”

His father continued eating. Desmond watched the old man push shards of fish onto the empty part of his fork with a knife. He then cut a small potato into four congruent pieces, eating each independently of the other. His father was a thorough, neat person.

“What’s the story about?” Desmond asked.

“Pencils.”

“Pencils?

“Its about an alien race of pencils that come to Earth and erase everything that human beings love. Cars, television, candy, books. But things get really interesting when the pencils start to erase things that don’t have form, like politics, hunger, love, that kind of stuff. They never erase the human beings though. In the end, they’re left with nothing.”

“Are the pencils suppose to be a metaphor for something?”

Raising his fork high in the air his father said, “Bingo!”

Desmond swallowed the piece of fish in his mouth. “Sounds wonderful. I can’t wait to read it.”

“You’ll be the first to know when its finished. Unless, that is, Andy gets his paws on it first. Ain’t that right Andy?”

Desmond continued to eat the rest of his meal. His father started talking about something else.

.      .      .

After dinner Desmond’s father went to his room and feel asleep. Desmond watched television. He was in the middle of a soap opera series. The main character discovered that her husband owned a secret postcard business, and all the money from that business was being spent on another woman. He watched three one-hour long episodes. Andy sat beside him. He had read somewhere that people who were lonely usually sat by themselves and watched television. Instead of going outside, lonely people preferred to stay indoors, further adding to the chain of events causing their loneliness. They say they don’t need human interaction and actually pride themselves on it, but they’re really just living in a small cardboard box, unbeknownst to their self-inflicted damage.

I’m not lonely, Desmond thought. He turned the television off and walked upstairs and out the front door. It was night-time and the sky was clear. The moon, shining a strange bluish-pink, reflected perfectly onto the ocean. The waves danced gaily and the sand spread across the shore like a stage. The wind blew across his face, tossing hair about his forehead and whispering pretty things in his ear. It was a beautiful night. He walked away from the house, took off his shirt, and rolled it into a ball under his head. He stared straight into the night sky and made shapes with the stars; frogs jumping over chairs, chairs jumping over candles. He rested his hands on his chest. The temperature did not drop much. In fact, it was just perfect.

.      .      .

“I slept on the beach last night,” Desmond said to his father.

“I saw that.  You looked comfortable out there. Laying on the sand, spread like milk.” He was gathering a pile of clementine peels. “I’m gonna bury these.”

“Right on.”

His father walked out the door to the garden, which was visible from where Desmond was washing dishes. He watched his father claw the dirt away and bury the peels. The hole was in the shade of a small clementine plant, which was in the shade of a large oak. next to the small clementine tree, or rather the large clementine plant. Andy rubbed against Desmond’s foot. His father called at Desmond though the window.

“What’s for dinner? Fish?”

Desmond wanted to call his father a senile-old-fart, but fish was the only thing they ever had to eat.

.      .      .

Desmond cut his fish and potatoes into small pieces.

“Soon, we’re gonna have a whole yield of asparagus,” his father started. “It’ll be great.”

“Sounds wonderful.”

They sat quietly.

“Do you think we can ever go back?” Desmond asked.

“Where?”

“To the world?  To people?”

His father put his fork down.  “You know, Desmond-”

“No, I don’t know.”

“Things haven’t changed. Besides, we can never go back.”

“Don’t you think it’s a little unfair? You didn’t ask me if I wanted to come here.”

“You weren’t even born yet when I made these plans. How could I ask you?”

“You could’ve waited till I was older.”

“If that’s the case, then with that thinking, why didn’t you just ask me if your whole life was unfair?”

Desmond raised his eyebrows. “What do you mean?”

“You didn’t ask to be born either, is what I mean.”

Desmond looked down at his plate of food. “You’ve got a point.”

“Besides, trust me, that so called ‘world’ isn’t really a great place. When I was a kid, a little older than you are now, I just couldn’t comprehend how shitty everything was. But I still had hope. I thought we had at the least a few more good generations left before things would start to take an irreversible turn, but generations are long, and they go by quick. A lot can happen in one generation.

“And then there was that moment when I realized, when humanity realized that we were truly fucked, no where else to hide. We had done absolutely everything and anything to drive ourselves into a dead end. Imagine that. Imagine thinking that you were hopeless- no, scratch that- imagine being hopeless, with nowhere else to turn. Now imagine every single conscious mind on this planet thinking that, all at once. That’s some strange power right there, being one and one with people across the world, and feeling nothing but despair. That’s when your mother was in her first semester, so I took it upon myself to find an escape. And that’s how we got here. I started constructing-”

“I know that story already,” Desmond interrupted.

“I’m sorry. Sorry that you never experienced life the way I did. But if we weren’t here…who knows?”

“Well at least I have my books, right?”

His father looked at the table remissibly. Andy hopped onto Desmond’s lap.

“I’ve also got Andy.”

.      .      .

Desmond flipped through a book about motorcycles. His stomach made a loud grumbling noise so he checked the kitchen for food. Nothing was prepared. He went to his father’s bedroom to ask if he were hungry, if so, they would start to cook dinner.

He knocked on his father’s door. There was no reply. He pushed it open and found his father laying in bed, hands interlocked across his chest and silver beard shining toward the ceiling. Desmond put his fingers up to his father’s neck and found no pulse. He had thought about this day plenty of times before and had even talked about it with his father.

“When I die, I want you to take my ashes and throw them into the first bunker of hole 12 on the Diamond Country Club Golf Course.”

His father knew this would be impossible, considering that Desmond could never leave the island. So they decided on one of two things.

1: Bury his body in the garden

2: Throw his body into the ocean

Desmond figured that burying his father’s body in the garden would be the best option because it would decompose and provide nutrients to the dirt. It was as mysterious having his father’s body so close to the house as it was environmentally reasonable. But before any of this, Desmond would have to get the 180 pounds of dead weight down the stairs.

He managed to get a hold of the body with two under grips from behind. The sound of his father’s heels dragging across the ground brought life to the silent house. Desmond laughed at this thought. He dragged the body into the hallway and was at the top of the stars when he lost his grip. The body tumbled all the way down to the ground floor and, when it was over, laid face up toward the ceiling. Desmond swore he saw a faint smile, just for a second, before it vanished into nothing.

.      .      .

Desmond watched the thick stream of sand fall from his hand to the manuscript on his lap.He wiped it off and walked inside the house, throwing the stack of papers on the table. He fell lazily to the floor. He had eaten recently and there wasn’t much to do. The house was cool and he started to doze off.

Suddenly, Desmond was walking down a city street, hands in the pockets of a leather jacket. He twirled a toothpick in his mouth and watched the busy cars race to and from all sorts of places. Desmond noticed a suspicious looking SUV on the other side of the road. It was the only parked car that Desmond he could see for what seemed like miles. The stream of traffic gradually disappeared. It was only Desmond and the SUV. The passenger window rolled down and sitting at the seat was Andy. He raised his paw into the air and made a gun-like shape with his now human-like fingers. He pointed the gun towards Desmond and flexed his thumb up and down, like he was unloading a clip of bullets. Desmond woke up and rubbed his eyes, returned to the floor of his house. Strange dream, he thought.

.      .      .

The garden was flourishing. The vegetables and herbs grew in plentiful amounts and the oak tree looked healthy. He had tried to figure out where the island was based on things growing in the garden, since certain plants need to be in particular climates. However, there were many things in the garden that shouldn’t be able to grow in the same climate. There was no way to tell in what sea or ocean the island lay, and no way to explain how the plants grew. Desmond began to think that he was living in a different universe completely.

.      .      .

His head rested on his folded arms and he watched the sun shine on the spotless table. The light crept across the table top slowly, like it was hunting. It was completely silent in the house. Not even the ocean made a sound. Desmond felt a silly urge to go outside and check on the ocean, make sure it hadn’t disappeared.

He stood on the part of the beach where the water reached his ankles. The ocean was still alive. He turned his attention to the clouds but something moved at the corner of his eye. He turned and saw an object moving toward the beach. He rushed over and saw the naked body of a woman softly land on the shore. Her short red hair bundled behind her head like a pillow and her circular face was just above the water line. Her neck was delicate and neat her chest was what seemed like a birthmark. Her legs stretched into the water like two pale rays of light, seemingly going on forever, but ended near a small pile of rocks.

Desmond pulled her to a more secure place on the shore and put his finger to her neck. He couldn’t find a pulse. Not satisfied with this answer he put his head to her chest and froze.

For the first time in his life, Desmond heard the heart beat of another human being. He felt the bones between her breasts jut against his face. He moved his ear to her stomach and her soft skin pushed against his cheek. She was breathing. The smell of dry sea salt radiated off of her body as well as the whiff of something fruity. Her stomach swelled up and down, bringing his head close to the sky, only to let it fall back to earth. Light bounced off the tip of her nipple and created a small rainbow around the corners of his vision, the kind that appears if you catch light at the correct angle.

Desmond snapped out of this trance and ran to his house, returning with a blanket. He wrapped her in the blanket as best he could and picked her up, placing one arm behind her knees and the other across her back. She was surprisingly light. Desmond saw that she was small but he didn’t realize just how light she would actually be, like a small bag of feathers. For the first time in his life, for some reason, Desmond realized that he wasn’t a child anymore. He laid her on the couch and sat on the opposite chair. Andy sensed the commotion and moved anxiously around the room.

“I want to meet her too,” Desmond said out loud.

He watched her in silence. She turned and Desmond could see her back coated in sand. He laughed. He hadn’t spoken to someone in a long time.

.      .      .

The woman on the couch continued sleeping. She looked to be in a peaceful dream. The more Desmond looked at her the younger she seemed, and the more anxious he became.

Her hand moved across her spotless forehead and she started to blink. She looked over at Desmond and, startled, pulled the sheet close to her chin. Her eyes darted around the room until they relaxed on Andy, who sat motionless on the floor. Her shoulders relaxed and a suspicious look formed on her face.

“Where are my clothes?” she asked.

Desmond thought he was prepared to speak but froze in his tracks. Was she real, Desmond asked himself.

“Why am I naked?” Her voice was stern.

Desmond remained silent.

“You got a voice pal?”

“I…found you on the beach. You were just laying there.”

“The beach?” she turned things over in her head and pursed her lips. “That doesn’t explain why I’m naked.”

“Maybe your clothes fell off in the ocean? I mean…I wrapped you in a blanket. I have no interest in your body.”

“Really?”

“Who are you?  Where are you from?” Desmond voice became louder.

“I should be the one asking questions. Now, who are you? And where am I?”

“You’re-” he stopped momentarily. “You’re safe.”

“Buddy boy, you have no right. Tell me where I am.”

“You won’t believe me but…”

“Try me.”

“You’re on an island in the middle of the ocean. And this is the house my father built, the only thing I’ve ever known.”

“I should get up and slap you.”

There was a long silence between them. Desmond didn’t know what to say, he would have to explain so much.

“Look, I have some clothes for you.” Desmond held out a short sleeve shirt, shorts, and a pair of boxers. “There aren’t any bras in the house, and I hope my boxers will do. They’re all clean, trust me.”

She laughed to herself. Desmond couldn’t tell if he had said something funny. “Are you gonna look at me while I change or…”

“Oh, right.” He walked up the stairs and waited for her to change.

“What’s your name?” she shouted from below.

“Desmond.”

“You know, you could’ve just turned around. You didn’t need to run all the way upstairs. It would have made our conversation much easier. Anyway, you can come down now.”

Desmond returned to the room and sat next to her on the couch. “I’m Anna by the way. Also, can I use your phone?”

“I don’t have one,” Desmond said cautiously.

Anna got up from the couch.

“An island, huh?”

He saw that she was grasping the situation. She walked to a window. Her hands were clasped against her stomach. She waled out the front door and Demond could see her circle the entire island just from sitting in the living room, looking out of the various windows. Desmond watched her standing on the shore. She looked like a statue with real hair, which would move with the wind. The sun was near setting and the sky was turning a purplish-brown. Her hands were on her hips, and the light smell of the ocean wafted through the house. He felt as though he could watch her forever, but she walked away. Desmond remained staring at the sun.

She opened the door and rubbed her temples. Her face was scrunched like a baby.

“What you’re telling me is that I’m on an island in the middle of nowhere?”

“Precisely.”

Anna placed her hands on the ground, sat on her bottom, and reclined across the floor.

“What the hell do you around here for fun?”

Desmond thought this was a strange question.

“Well its always nice to sit in the sun. There are also plenty of books and movies to choose from.”

“Hoot hoot.”

Desmond sprang to his feet. “What am I doing! Anna! What’s it like?”

“What?”

“The world! I’ve never been there. I’ve always lived on this island.”

“It’s alright, I guess.”

“My father told me it used to be a fine place but, say, I guess about twenty years ago, before I was born, he said that it turned to complete shit. War, disease, corrupt government. He said it was unprecedented. How did you survive!?”

“Calm down. I think you’re getting the wrong impression.”

“What’d you mean?”

“The world isn’t some crazy place,” she continued. “Well, I guess it is, but, all those things, well, baby, that’s just history.”

“History?”

“I mean it’s always been happening. Wars break out like grease on skin, disease spreads like fire, and corrupt government is…corrupt government. I mean, the CIA was the biggest smuggler of heroin during the Vietnam War. You’d think people would want to know about important things, like the environment or-”

“But the way my father described it, he made it seem like some sort of armageddon, some end-of-the-world type stuff.”

“Sure, the world is becoming worse but, its always been that way. It’s always coming to an end.”

Desmond stared blankly at the space above Anna’s head. She was now sitting cross legged.

“Picture this,” she said. “You got a hole 3 feet deep. Every time a gopher climbs 3 feet it falls 2 feet. How many times does it take that gopher to reach the top of the hole?”

Desmond thought it over. “Once?”

“Exactly Sherlock. Now imagine this- same gopher. There’s a hole and its 100 feet deep.  The first time around the gopher climbs up 6 feet and falls 3 feet. The second time it climbs up 3 feet and falls 3 feet. The third time it climbs up 1.5 feet and falls 3 feet.  How many times does it take the gopher to reach the top?”

“It never does.”

“Exactly.”

Silence.

“Is that some type of metaphor or something.”

“No. What it means is that your father is a nut. The world is shitty and its always been. Maybe it’s getting worse, but why run?  Maybe try and do something about it.”

Desmond adverted his eyes and was looking at the space above Anna’s head again.

“Look, I’m sorry. It doesn’t take much to realize he’s dead.”

“Its almost two years now. Time flies.”

“If it means anything, your father was probably a smart guy. Living on a beautiful island, away from everything. Probably a great place to raise a kid. Simple living.  What do you do, watch the sand grow?”

“He used to write stories. There are enough pencils in this house to last a lifetime.”

“I’d like to read one sometime.”

Desmond rose from the couch, removing imaginary dust from his pants. “That’s Andy by the way.”

Andy had been sitting in the kitchen this whole time, watching the two interact. He seemed more like a human than he did a cat.

“Are you alright?” Anna asked.

“Yeah. I feel like I was just freed from a cage for a little, a tiny cage of knowledge. But now I’m back in it.”

“In heaven everything is fine.”

Desmond laughed.

“I’m cooking dinner in a little,” he said. “How’s fish sound?”

“Dinner?”

“Gotta eat, don’t you?”

“Fish sounds good.”

.      .      .

“How do keep things running?” Anna asked.

“Solar power. Stove is electric. It rains a lot so we collect plenty of that. Use if for showers and such. Oh. If your gonna shower try to keep it short, coming from someone who loves showers.”

“Seems like solar power is the answer to everything.”

“You bet.”

Anna played with the food on her plate. She wasn’t very interested in eating.

“What was it like for you? Being all alone?”

“Well I’m not completely alone. I’ve got Andy and June. The other one died a couple months back.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s ok. He was an ass.”

“So you’re an old cat lady?”

Desmond laughed. “I’ve read about those.”

“You just sit around watch movies and read all day?”

“I like to draw and write as well. Sometimes I lay in the sun. I also fish. Come to think of it, I do a lot of things around here.”

“Interesting.”

“Lemonade?”

“I guess I envy that.”

“What? Lemonade?”

“No. Not having any problems to worry about. You can just live without anyone saying otherwise.”

“Well I envy you. I’ve always wanted to ride a bike.”

“We can make one.” She wasn’t serious.

“Say,” Desmond put his fork down, “there’s got to be someway that you ended up in the ocean, right? What happened?”

Anna looked around the room like she was creating a scene in her mind. “I got caught up with the wrong people, let’s just say that. I’ll tell you about when we know each other better.”

“Works with me.”

“I got a story idea for you,” Anna said. “A naked girl washes up on a beach. She starts hallucinating and creates this house in her imagination. Its got all of these books and movies and shit to entertain her for a life time. But in reality she’s really just bent over a rock, scratching words onto it with her fingernails.”

“Is that it?”

“Yeah, that’s it.”

.      .      .

Anna accustomed herself to the island rather quickly, even if she spent most of the time sleeping; sometimes on the floor, on the couch, or out on the sand. Desmond thought she might have trouble sleeping in a dead man’s room but it didn’t seem to bother even slightly.

She finished books faster than Desmond, but she also didn’t write, which was what Desmond called her ‘speed advantage.’ Andy spent more time with Anna.

Desmond would see Anna standing by the shore at various times during the day. She always held her hands tight behind her back. She looked like a drill sergeant. Desmond enjoyed watching her, but soon realized that he just liked to watch he hands. Her fingers were very feminine, slender, smooth, and hairless, but her knuckles were big and boney and somewhat uneven, like she often got into fights. Desmond asked her if he could draw them.

“How much you gonna pay me?”

“For what?”

“Being your model.”

.      .      .

“Is this the one about the postcards and the dude with the mistress?”

“Yeah. You know it?”

“My grandma watches this.”

“She’s got a good taste in soap operas.”

“Do you also watch the Golden Girls?”

“I love the Golden Girls.”

.      .      .

“You’ll never ride a bike but you can have a dance party.”

She placed a track on the record player and Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree by Brenda Lee started.

“C’mon!” she shouted.

Desmond watched Anna twist her arms and hips back and forth in an old fashion sort of way. She lifted the heel of her foot off of the ground and swung it back and forth in the air, making a right angle with her knee in the process. Her legs looked especially long in the black pants she was wearing. Desmond smiled and slowly rose to his feet.

“There’s the Christmas spirit!” she shouted.

Desmond had danced by himself, never with another person. She laughed and he laughed and they ended up on the beach. They both laid on the sand, heads almost touching. Anna lifted her’s a little and looked at the moon. Desmond was looking at the moon too.

“I killed my brother,” she said. “He was older than me. It wasn’t an accident.”

“I guess we all have things we don’t like to talk about.”

.      .      .

He prepared breakfast. Andy was scratching the front door with his paws. Desmond walked up the stairs and knocked on Anna’s door. There was no reply and he found the room empty. He proceeded down the stairs and searched the house. After still finding no sign of her he walked outside. At the edge of the shore were the clothes she had been wearing the night before. Desmond walked over to the pile and picked it up, bringing it close to his face.  He could smell the vaguest scent of something fruity.

.      .      .

Desmond looked in the mirror one day and was no less than shocked. He touched his brows and felt the dips of his eyes, continuing to run the tips of his finger along his jaw until they met at his chin. He then touched the tip of his nose and parted his hair in one direction. Desmond looked very similar to his father. He couldn’t recall when these changes started to happen but here they were before him.

He walked down the stairs and sat at the table. In front of him was a piece of paper with some words on it. He read it over and recognized that it was his own handwriting. He didn’t remember writing it. A cat walked across the floor in front of him.

“Andy?”

But it wasn’t Andy. In fact, Desmond had never seen this cat before. Andy was orange, June was white, and Michael had definitely been dead for quite sometime. He looked around the room, making sure he knew where he was. It was indeed his house, the only house he had ever known. It was raining outside.

The front door opened and a boy about the age of twelve entered the house.  He didn’t recognize the boy but felt very connected to him. He had dirty blonde hair and a small face. The boy walked up the stairs without saying anything to Desmond.

Desmond put his hands to his face and squeezed his cheeks together. His skin felt dry and tight. The rain was leaking through the roof. It leaked directly into the sink. This is it, he said to himself, the alien race of pencils must have erased my memory.

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