Author: edenfalling (Elizabeth Culmer)
Warnings: background off-screen death of an original character
Prompt: 68) The extravagant gesture is the very stuff of creation. After one extravagant gesture of creation in the first place, the universe has continued to deal exclusively in extravagances, flinging intricacies and colossi down aeons of emptiness, heaping profusions on profligacies with fresh vigor. The whole show has been on fire since the word go! -- Annie Dillard (born April 30, 1945), Pulitzer-prize winning author, poet, essayist and critic.
Summary: This is how you build a castle. This is how you build a life.
Author's Notes: This is not the most belated thing I have ever written -- that dubious honor goes to a fairy-tale retelling I once promised my family for Christmas and did not deliver until Thanksgiving of the next calendar year -- but it's still pretty ridiculously late. :-(
When Ariadne is five, she has three sets of colored wooden blocks, none of which quite match each other. She uses the big shiny ones for the towers, the older, faded ones for the gardens, and the plain brown ones for the outer wall. The day after her birthday, she steals two white pillowcases from the linen closet, spreads them on the bare floorboard along the edge of her bedroom walls, and builds a castle. Then she steals the Polaroid camera from the cabinet downstairs.
She used to build castles with Daddy, but Daddy's gone now so she takes a picture to show him. Then she knocks the castle down and starts again. Maybe if she gets it right, he'll come back.
When Momma comes upstairs to tell Ariadne dinner is ready, she looks at the row of pictures on Ariadne's bed and makes a strange noise. Ariadne ignores her. She's trying to make a round tower instead of a square one, but the blocks keep sliding against each other and falling down.
Momma tries to sit on the floor and help Ariadne build, but she's not Daddy and it's all wrong. Ariadne stacks the brown blocks crisscross, higher and higher and higher until they fall over, and won't stop until Momma picks her up and carries her down to dinner. Momma has to lock the blocks in the attic to make her go to bed.
At daycare, she build another castle with the big, plain blocks the other kids use to make mazes for the class's pet rat to run through. She draws a picture of it since she doesn't have a camera. When she gets home, she sits at the attic door until Momma unlocks it and gives her back her blocks.
After a while, Momma buys Ariadne her own camera and an album to glue the pictures in.
Daddy stays dead.
When Ariadne is six, Momma gets a new job in New York City, so they leave Toronto and their house and everything Ariadne knows. The first thing she does in their new apartment is build a castle. Momma watches from the door with a not-quite smile on her face. She asks if Ariadne is telling Daddy where they live now. Ariadne stares at her finished castle and knocks it down without taking a picture.
When Ariadne is seven, Momma marries Sam, the tall, silly man who she kept bringing over to visit on weekends. Ariadne is a flower girl, and they use one of her castle drawings on their invitations. Sam's big sister -- Ariadne's new aunt, she says -- teaches her to build houses of cards during the reception party after the wedding. She says Ariadne's really good at it for a kid. Ariadne tells her she has a lot of practice. Sam's big sister asks what else she has a lot of practice at. Drawing, Ariadne says. Her new aunt thinks that's cool. She says that Ariadne might be a big sister soon, and it will help to have some tricks her little brother (or sister) will think are cool.
Ariadne's not sure she wants to be a big sister. Especially not here in New York, with Sam instead of her father. But maybe if her little brother (or sister) thinks she's cool, like Sam thinks his big sister is cool, it might not be so bad.
When Ariadne is eight, she gets a new little sister. At first Penelope is the most boring baby in the entire world. All she does is eat, sleep, and cry, and steal all of Momma's and Sam's attention. But after a while she learns how to roll over and sort of wiggle across the room, and she blinks and stares at Ariadne like she's the coolest big sister ever, and she laughs and tries to clap her hands when Ariadne tells her stupid stories. She likes to chew on Ariadne's old blocks. Ariadne doesn't mind too much. She's too old to play with blocks and cameras now. Drawing is more fun anyway, and she can play tricks with lines and perspective she can never copy in real life.
Sam seems to realize she feels left out now that Momma's busy with Penny. He talks to her about art and on weekends he takes her to museums to look at different kinds of paintings. He's not her father, but that's okay. He doesn't try to pretend it's the same. That's why Ariadne likes him. She likes that he makes Momma laugh. And she likes that he gave her Penny.
Sometimes she still dreams that Daddy comes back and says it was all a mistake, he didn't die in the car accident, they can all go home to Toronto (Penny can come too, of course), but even while she's asleep, Ariadne knows it isn't real. No matter how many impossible castles she draws, no matter how many fairy tales she reads to Penny in their shared bedroom at night, nothing can make time unhappen. But it's nice to pretend sometimes. She draws pictures of her father's hands holding pencils, holding blocks, holding her own hands. She draws pictures of castles with him in the tallest tower, waiting for her to rescue him from an evil dragon, or a witch, or an ogre.
Then she tears them up, because dreams aren't real and she doesn't want to make Penny feel like Ariadne doesn't love her. She shuts her old photo album away in her sock drawer and forgets about it except when the dryers at the laundromat eat her socks and she can't find any that match.
When Ariadne is thirteen, Penny asks her to make a castle for her Fischer Price people to live in so she can act out fairy tales.
Ariadne tells her to ask Momma. Ariadne tells her to ask Sam. Penny shakes her head and stamps her feet and gets red in the face as she starts to cry. She wants her sister to help, to play with her. She thinks Ariadne can do anything. And she's found the old photo album in Ariadne's sock drawer.
She runs into their room, pulls it out, and throws it to the ground as proof.
Ariadne picks up the book and opens it, slowly. Every page has a picture. Every castle is a little bit different, a silent plea to the universe to give her father back, make her dreams come true.
She has different dreams now.
Ariadne spreads a white pillowcase over the carpet in the little room she shares with her sister. She takes her old blocks out of the closet. She turns them over in her hands, remembering the feel of her father's warm fingers brushing over her skin, guiding her as she placed block on top of block in shaky, unbalanced walls.
She won't copy her old castles. Penny deserves something new.
Ariadne puts her pictures away, and she starts to build.