Buy the book at Amazon
Brigit seems determined to sleep in, and Jack can no longer wait her out. He slides quietly to the edge of the bed, and takes a moment to study her face. Over the past ten days, this has become a favorite recreation. As beautiful as Brigit may be in daylight, in the unguarded serenity of sleep she is ravishing.
He summons the high-def and rolls past a dozen channels before he lands on Big, a movie in which a kid makes a wish to be a grown-up and wakes up in the body of Tom Hanks. Hanks’ boy-man fusion plays against a cast of so-called adults adopting all the strait-jacket poses of the corporate world. Jack comes to a horrible conclusion: That was me. The world of numbers that had once been his personal playground began to change in college and by his second year in Silicon Valley the fun was gone. The numbers were different now; they could make people rich, could destroy people, could help to launch world-busting waves of technology, could rip people off or cause great scandal. The numbers got too important, and this gave Jack the illusion that he was important. He never would have thought to accuse himself of being an egotist, but there it was on the high-def – he was one of those people.
Paradoxically, he isn’t egotist enough to think himself capable of coming up with an idea like this on his own. He suspects it’s something that Ben has planted in his head, like an injected microchip. The immediate incarnation of this thought is a trip to the pantry, where he breaks into an area previously considered sacrosanct: the region of children’s snacks. When Brigit comes down the stairs, she finds Jack sitting on the floor before a coffee-table spread of strawberry fruit rollups, apple juice in a box, and frosted blueberry Pop-Tarts with pink and purple sprinkles.
She rubs her eyes and looks at the screen. “Oh! I adore this movie. I had the biggest crush on Tom Hanks. Why are you sitting on the floor?”
She comes around to sit on the couch above him, ruffles a hand through his hair, but stops when she spots his breakfast.
“Oh! I get it. You’re living out the movie. In reverse.”
“I think I already lived out the movie,” says Jack. “Brigit? I think I have a project for us. Want a Pop-Tart?”
“Delighted.” She reaches across to grab one off his plate.
The beach is veiled in mist, nearing on rain, but the weather only seems to bring more focus to their work. Jack uses a half-size shovel from Thompson’s garage to dig a trio of concentric circular trenches just out of reach of the breakers. After that, he begins at the bottom of the innermost circle and digs a trench toward the water. Afterward, he leans with a foot on the shovel blade, breathing hard.
“Are you seeing it?” he asks.
“I think so. But… why don’t you tell me?”
“Well. Once the tide begins to rise, and the breakers come in higher and higher, the water will enter this central trench, then branch off into the circles at either side. If it gets real wild, it might even go all the way up and meet at the top. That would be cool.”
“It would,” says Brigit, though it’s clear she’s distracted. “Would you mind a suggestion?”
“That’s what you’re here for.”
“Well. Like any great public works project, you need some ostentation, just to show the taxpayers that their money is being wisely spent.”
“Anything in mind?”
“If I know the Flores family, I’ll bet they have just what we need.”
On the deck, they find a large plastic trunk stuffed to the gills with beach toys. Brigit finds a set of molds in the shapes of various medieval castle-sections and sets to work on the central circle, constructing a palace of Disneylandian elegance. The process is composed mostly of shoveling damp sand into a mold, picking out a target area and slamming it upside-down to the spot. Several of her subsequent lifts reveal walls and towers with missing fragments, but this only adds a quality of ancient ruination. Brigit adorns the battlements with gull feathers, inscribes the tower walls with narrow pathways, and even places pebbles here and there to create the illusion of villagers and sentinels.
Duly inspired by all this construction, Jack forges a bridge of driftwood sticks across the “moat” to the castle entrance. Remembering Suzanne’s little trick, he then assembles a grove of trees between the first and second trenches by dripping gooey sand into conifer-like piles.
“That is so Tolkien,” says Brigit.
“Stole it from a friend.”
Jack decides that a little reinforcement wouldn’t hurt, so he finds a rectangular plastic Tupperware container and uses it to forge a wall of sand-bricks along either side of the seaward opening. He then uses more driftwood sticks to form two bridges, one at ground level, the other joining the tops of the walls.
Done with their efforts, Jack and Brigit stand at the opening, reciting the minutes of their mutual admiration society.
“That castle is simply… smashing!” says Jack, trying hard to sound British.
Brigit attempts to return the courtesy: “And that thurr wall is a might purty piece uh work.” Then she returns to her real voice: “Now what?”
“Now we wait for disaster.”
“How long will that take?”
They turn at the sound of thunder and find a breaker steaming in at their feet. Brigit dashes left, Jack right, and the water cuts between, rushing into the trench, taking out Jack’s lower bridge and climbing all the way to the second circle.
Jack stands next to his already-imperiled walls, hands on his knees, and laughs.
“It’s life, Bridgey. Disaster is never far away.”
The rules have changed. Jack and Brigit sit in the hot tub “starkers.” They’ve positioned a patio umbrella over the edge to spare them from the rain, which peppers the water at the other side of the tub.
“So all of that perfidoodery today,” says Brigit. “That was all inspired by that movie?”
Jack gives this a good mulling over. “I think it also comes from this general track that Ben has me on. He’s trying to get me to remember how to play.”
“He told you that?”
“I think he did. And you know? Why shouldn’t adults play? We’re so much better at it than children.”
“Oh! Preposterous little morons.”
“Just look at that wondrous creation we came up with today,” Jack continues. “Do you think a couple of third-grade punks could come up with such ingenious hydro-engineering and granular architecture?”
“We Brits pop out of the womb designing castles. It was marvelous, by the way, how those trenches operated. Once the water started whooshing around the circles like that, I imagined myself the tragic queen, perched atop the tower, wondering whatever would become of me if the floodwaters took out my beloved castle. I fancy it’s all gone by now.”
“I think so.”
Out of nowhere, Brigit takes on the expression of a tragic queen. It’s too real to be acting.
“Bridge? What’s the matter?”
“Oh Jack. I have to leave. I talked to my assistant manager today. Sharon. She’s been covering for me all this time, but her family vacation’s coming up and I can’t ask any more of her. I feel… I feel like I came down here for one man, and now I’m losing two.”
Jack slides over on the bench and wraps his arms around her. She leans her head back on his shoulder, and he strokes her damp hair.
“Okay. Listen to me, because I’m the mathematician here. Number one, you cannot lose a man you never had, so the Thompson equation is zero minus zero equals zero. Number two, I like to think that the two of us meeting in this odd way represents a completely unexpected profit; let’s call that variable x. I also don’t think we’re done, so throw in a variable y. So any way you look at this, you are ahead of the game by a factor of x plus y.”
“Are you saying I’ll see you again?”
In the morning, he sees her off, riding along to the security gate and then waving in long, slow sweeps as the black ‘Stang disappears around the leftward bend. He has no idea what to do with himself, so he jumps the railing and heads across the beach.
The trenches, the drip-forest and the castle walls have all been reduced to smooth memories. The only survivor is the central tower, pockmarked by rain but still, clearly, a human creation. Jack crouches beside it and sees, for the first time, the Barbie doll that Brigit has placed atop the battlements, surveying her ravaged kingdom.
Photo by MJV