Martin and Modge drag the dome back closer to the dunes late Saturday where they have now decided to sleep, and after recounting the day’s events around another bonfire, we all manage to rest soundly during the second night.
Today is Sunday morning. The sun has been up for less than an hour when I find Martin sitting on the hood of the Opal. Both car doors are open, and Modge is laying on his back, sprawled across the front seat. Martin glumly tosses a Frisbee up in the air.
“Where are all these girls you promised?”
An old brown sedan stops on the beach road between the car and the surf. Frank is behind the wheel, and he saves me from an embarrassing explanation when he calls out,
“I’m heading over to Laguna Madre for a couple of hours. Anybody want to come along?”
Frank knows a great place to fish, he tells us, so Alicia and I decide to leave the two teens behind and let them fend for themselves for awhile.
“Sure, we’ll go with you.”
The two of us then spend the rest of the morning wading barefoot out in the shallows of the huge lagoon while Frank stays closer to shore, casting his pole. Windsurfers glide by us as she and I search the murky waters with out toes.
Then Alicia calls out excitedly,
“I have another one!”
While she stands still, I carefully feel around her feet until I catch the little thing, and then as I hold it up, we both let out a cheer.
This makes almost a dozen of the blue-eyed scallops we have caught so far, and the creatures seem to be laying on the bottom everywhere.
“Here’s one! Here’s one!”
A jeep pulls up next to Frank’s car and stops, and then a ranger gets out. By now our count has nearly doubled.
The man acts friendly when he asks,
“What are you folks catching today?”
We proudly open my knapsack to show off the amount of shellfish inside.
“Do either of y’all happen to have a fishing license on you?”
I look at her and she looks at me.
“But we aren’t fishing.”
And I quickly add on,
The ranger is a friendly sort, and he proves it by letting us off with a warning.
“I really should confiscate those, you know. Those are technically considered fish here in Texas, since they never anchor themselves to the bottom like clams do.”
He goes on to explain how the scallop will propel itself through the water when threatened.
Maybe our taking a big interest in everything he had to say saved us, or maybe he felt compelled to let the two young lovers escape unharmed, or maybe our promising not to collect anymore did the trick. In any case, we three return to Malaquite afterwards, and with a bag of fresh and very delicious scallops to steam and enjoy.
Monday morning, Frank follows the Opal with his car as we drive in search of a mechanic. After a twenty-minute wait inside a local garage, a bearded man stands beside the engine compartment where he gives us the bad news.
“This might take a couple of days just to locate the parts.”
I can live with that. Alicia seems to be fine with it, too.
The only bad thing about the next two days is that they fly by much too fast, but every hour -- each and every minute -- she and I spent together.
She looks at me dreamily as we consider what to do.
“You could come back to Illinois with us.”
I think about how I look, and who I am.
Hi, mom. Hi, dad. Look what I found laying on the beach down in Texas.
“I don’t think anyone would approve, do you?”
My next words sound hollow, and she looks doubtful.
“Maybe I’ll come up later. I would have to get a job here and save up some money first…”
On the way to pick up her car on the last day, Frank speaks his mind.
“He is acting a lot more friendly ever since you got here, Alicia.”
Martin and his pal Modge climb inside the packed Opal, and both are ribbing me good-naturedly about the girls who never once showed up. I give the driver a goodbye kiss, and then watch as the little white car leaves the beach for the last time.
Frank brings two beers by my tent later.
“You should have went with her, dude.”
He pops open a can and hands it to me.
“I still have the sand castle contest coming up in a few days, Frank. And besides that, I’m broke.”
He raises an eyebrow.
“Want to make some cash?”
I take a long drink before answering.
“What do you have in mind?”
The week passes by quickly. Anxious to get back to my project, a giant octopus made down on the beach is followed the next day by a huge spiraling whelk, and as the final weekend approaches, I fashion a larger-than-life-sized mermaid, which lays seductively close to the water. Her gloriously nude form faces out to sea, and she looks just gorgeous.
I stop building after that, confident that by now I know the sand well enough to do the subject I have in mind on the big day Saturday.
I have also been busy looking for aluminum cans for several hours daily like Frank suggested. The recycle place in town pays a premium, he claims.
However, I did turn down his other idea of visiting the blood bank there. That is twenty dollars I would never want to earn, and besides, sorting through trash bins is easy.
Usually I collect only soda cans that were sold here at the beach. Those each have a small label attached that identifies where the can was purchased. The people at the pavilion came up with their nickel exchange idea to discourage litter out here on the beach, but since most tourists usually bring their own anyway, the trash cans are always filled with empties that I would normally overlook.
So by the end of the week there are two huge plastic garbage bags laying behind my tent, packed with aluminum cans.
I wake up early Saturday morning, and I am excited and ready to go. After filling up a plastic gallon jug with enough tea to last the day, I head down to where the crowds are starting to gather. There an official assigns me a number and a my own spot, and soon after, while sitting along side of about thirty other contestants, I begin to scoop out my final pit in the damp sand while the sun bears down hot on my back.
I know exactly how I want this subject to look. I have been giving it lots of thought over the past few weeks. Oblivious to gawkers standing around, or to the comments from passers-by, or to the heat or the steady breeze blowing, or to even the laughing gulls floating overhead, I work steadily on my pile of sand for a couple of hours before taking a break.
I stop to pour a cup of tea to take with me, and then I quickly blend into the throngs of people strolling around. I want to check out the competition. In a short time it becomes obvious that most are amateurs at this, so I feel pretty encouraged with what I have made.
Most plots have at least two people busy working on something. I come to a spread-out sand castle where a father-and-daughter are both involved, but the thing lacks good details. Farther on, three teen-age girls have fashioned two figures in bas-relief, but the proportions are all wrong. The only thing I can find that looks half-way interesting is a huge cityscape scene built by a group of college students from Corpus Christi. Most of them are mad at work adding some finishing touches to a giant-sized bug when I turn to go back to my site.
I started my project by first making an oblong pile of sand, stacking and packing the mound firmly using only my hands. My plan is to make a large, detailed crab sitting in a defensive position.
He now waits on me to complete an undercut beneath one of his fierce claws, so using a pair of scissors, I begin to carefully remove damp sand from below the one that is held highest in the air. The claw itself is poised open.
At both ends of his shell, two long horns protrude, upturned slightly. Along his front side, a ridge of sharp teeth adds a look of realism. His two massive claw arms are both flanked with a set of segmented and pointed legs, while a pair of flattened swimming legs balance him from the rear. His two round eyes, mounted on thin shafts of sand, stare at me as I lay on my side and slowly cut away and remove the excess sand.
Over my shoulder I can see three judges who have gathered around the sand castle display next door, and they all hold clipboards and take notes.
Just a little bit more, and I will be finished.
There. It looks perfect now, so I sit back and dust my hands off as the two men and one woman approach.
That is the moment when the claw decides to fall off, and a gasp goes up from the crowd as it splatters on the ground at my feet.
The judges all three witness the act, and I can tell by their expressions that they are truly disappointed.
I don’t know how I might have felt later if they had merely turned around and walked away then, but one does confide to me before they leave,
“We were considering yours for first prize.”
I did receive a new tee shirt for my efforts, but the college students down the beach took the winner’s place with their version of The Giant Cockroach that Ate Corpus Christi.
Next: A FAREWELL