Contest: The Tower

I loved her, and she loved me. We were in love. We were a very happy couple—everyone said so.

We were married in the last week of May. We rented a horse farm west of the city, at the foot of the mountains. The snow had melted, and the mountains glowed green.

Our family and friends and coworkers sat on white folding chairs in a field. We stood in front of them, beneath a wooden arch, and promised to love each other, husband and wife, for the rest of our lives. A photographer crouched by my knee, his camera clicking away.

After the ceremony, we went into a big tent. Our family and friends and coworkers formed a line, and one by one, they congratulated us. We thanked them for coming, and they told us how beautiful everything was.

“It’s the happiest day of your lives,” said my aunt.

The photographer stood behind us, clicking.


            My wife and I spent the night at the farmhouse. The house was green and white, with narrow windows and a high gable. From our bedroom, we could hear the sounds from the pasture—the hooves pounding the grass, the horses galloping in the dark.

We were very tired. I turned out the light, and we checked our phones one last time.

Her mother—my mother-in-law, now—had posted wedding pictures on Facebook. There we were—crying, smiling, dancing. The pictures had a lot of likes and comments. Everyone said we looked really happy.

“It’s the happiest day of our lives,” I said.

“What?” said my wife.

“The happiest day of our lives. That’s what my aunt said.”

“Oh,” said my wife. “I think I remember that.” She looked at her phone. “The rehearsal, the ceremony, the reception—it all runs together.”

“Yeah, it was a blur.”

I put my phone closer to my face. There was a picture of me eating cake off my wife’s plate. I guess I had eaten cake off her plate at some point. I looked really happy, eating that cake. I must have been happy.

“Did you feel happy?” I said.

“What do you mean? Look at the pictures. We both look so happy.”

“Right. But at the time? Did you feel it then”

“Yeah. Of course. I think so. It’s hard to say.”

“It all happened so fast,” I said.

She scrolled through a few pictures. “I guess that’s why you get the photographer. You’re too busy to feel it all, as it happens. But then you see the pictures, and you realize how happy you were.”

We looked at our phones.

“It can’t really be the happiest day of our lives,” I said. “That’s depressing, when you think about it.”

“Of course not. We’ll be happier than this.”

“We’re going on our honeymoon.”

“We’ll slow down.”

“We’ll enjoy it.”

“Of course we’ll be happy. We’re going to Charivaria.”

We looked at our phones for a few more minutes, and we fell asleep very quickly.


We had discovered Charivaria on the internet.

It was in an article called TEN UNFORGETTABLE HONEYMOON DESTINATIONS YOU HAVE TO SEE. The article was a slideshow—ten pictures of ten different unforgettable honeymoon destinations.

The picture of Charivaria showed a high cliff jutting out over the sea. At the edge of the cliff was a tall narrow tower, made of white stone. The tower seemed to hang there, at the edge of the cliff, to float over the water.

It was perfect and beautiful—like something out of a Disney movie. It was a place where a princess might stand and look at the sea and sing, or where a knight would climb to meet his love.

We had looked at a lot of these slideshows, and seen a lot of unforgettable honeymoon destinations, but none of them seemed as unforgettable as Charivaria.

We googled it, and found that Charivaria was a little island in the middle of the Mediterranean. It had a very complicated history—I read the Wikipedia article twice, and I still couldn’t figure out who was in charge of the island today. (It was either France or Italy or Britain or the Prince of Charivaria—or some combination of them.) At one point, Charivaria had been a Roman colony, and in the Middle Ages, it was ruled by a group of Crusaders—the Knights of St. Martin. It was the Crusaders who had built the tower. The legend said that from the top of the tower, you could see all the way from Spain to Jerusalem.

We scrolled through Google Images. We saw Charivaria—its beaches and forests, its towers and cathedrals, its caves and ruins, its French cooking and Italian hospitality.

How could we not be happy?


            The morning after the wedding, her father drove us to the airport. I sat in the backseat, and they talked to each other.

This is my wife, I thought. This is my father-in-law.

I kept thinking that. This is my wife. This is my father-in-law. Those words had meaning for me now. It was very interesting.

We flew to Paris and changed planes, and soon we were high over the Mediterranean. From our window, we saw the sea beneath us, blue in all directions. For a long time, there was nothing but blue, but then, suddenly, a little dot appeared on the horizon. We put our faces to the window and squinted, hoping to see the tower.


Our room was on the thirty-ninth floor of the Charivaria Hilton. We dropped our bags on the ground and stared at the bed.

We had been on two long flights, and we had not slept at all. The bed was very large, and piled with pillows. We stood there, staring.

“We can’t,” said my wife.

“No,” I said. “It’s two in the afternoon. If we sleep now, the jetlag will only get worse.”

“And it’s our honeymoon. We didn’t fly across the world to sleep.”

We agreed: we were going to go out into the city and enjoy ourselves. My wife wanted to change her clothes. I went onto the balcony.

Our balcony faced the sea, and looked down onto the old fort. Flags flew over the walls of the fort—the British flag, the French flag, the Italian flag, and, biggest of all, the flag of Charivaria, yellow and white stripes crossed by the sword of St. Martin.

I stood there, leaning on the railing, watching the flags blow in the wind. I closed my eyes, just for a second. The sunshine warmed my face, and I felt myself drifting, somewhere, toward something.

I jolted awake. I shook my head a few times, pulled myself off the railing, and went back into the room.

My wife was sitting on the bed, purse in her lap, asleep. I stood there. After a few seconds, she twitched and opened her eyes.

“I wasn’t asleep,” she said.

“I know. I wasn’t asleep on the balcony.”

I splashed water on my face, she did some stretches, and then we went down into the city. We were in Charivaria, and we were going to be happy.


            We weren’t going to the tower—not yet. We had decided to save it for our last day in Charivaria—it would be the climax of our trip.

Instead, we went to the cathedral.

We walked along the wall of the fort, picking the flowers that grew between its stones, until we came to a big square. The cathedral loomed over it, casting its huge shadow on the pavement below.

The square was full of outdoor cafes, their tables shaded by green Peroni umbrellas. We sat at a table, ordered two espressos, and looked up at the church.

“I read about this on Wikipedia,” I said. “It’s significant, for some reason. The architecture, maybe.”

“It’s Gothic,” said my wife. “I think. I used to know this—Gothic, Romanesque, Baroque. I used to be able to tell them apart.”

“It has a spire. I think that means it’s Gothic.”

“Is it a spire? Or a steeple?”

“Oh. I don’t know. Maybe?”

“Is there a difference?”

We sipped our espressos. The spire—or steeple?—cast a long shadow, a thick black line that divided the square in half.

I took out my phone, typed “What is a spire?” into Google, and tried to read the results. But looking down at the phone was hard. Gravity pulled my eyelids further and further down.

When I woke, my face felt funny. I looked across the table: my wife was sleeping, espresso in hand. I tapped her elbow, and she woke up. She looked at me and laughed. I had fallen asleep on the table, and the metal grid had left its pattern on my face.

“The coffee didn’t work,” she said.

“We just need to stay on our feet.”

We left a few euros on the table, and crossed the square, walking in the shadow of the spire (or steeple). Above the door of the church was a stone arch, carved with the heads of hundreds of little angels and devils. The angels smiled, and the devils grinned. We passed beneath them and into the church.

It was a massive building, and full of light. Two rows of high white columns ran the length of the church, from the door to the altar. We squinted upward, trying to see the tops of the columns, but they disappeared into a blur of white stone and sunlight.

We walked a few laps around the church. The walls were lined with tombs—stone boxes with sculptures of the dead lying on top. Most of them were knights—the old Crusaders—dressed in their armor, clutching long stone swords. My wife and I leaned over the tombs and read the names aloud to each other.

There were other tourists in the cathedral. They took pictures of the tombs, the columns, the stained glass.

“Do you want to take some pictures?” I said.

“Not really.”

“Me either.”

We bent over another tomb.

“But we probably should,” she said.

“Yeah,” I said. “Probably.”

“It’s the first day of our honeymoon.”

“I know. I’ll regret it, if we don’t have the pictures.”

“And our parents—they’ll want to see.”

“We’ll only take a few.”

“The bare minimum.”

“We’ll take more tomorrow. When we’re enjoying it more.”

We stood in front of columns and statues and windows, and we took pictures of ourselves. We even stopped a priest, gave him our phones, and asked him to take our picture. (He didn’t speak English, but we acted it out, and he got the point.) He tried to show us the picture, but my wife and I didn’t want to see.

“I’m exhausted,” said my wife. “I bet I look terrible.”

“I probably still have the table-grid on my face.”

We sat in one of the pews.

“Just five minutes,” said my wife.

“We’re just resting our legs. That’s it.”

I leaned my head back, and tried to see the ceiling through the sunlight. I squinted and squinted, and soon my eyes were closed.

We only slept for an hour. It wasn’t even a deep sleep. I had a little dream about horses, but it was very short.

When we woke, we felt even worse. Our bodies were as heavy as stone knights. Our legs had fallen asleep. We helped each other to stand and dragged ourselves out of the cathedral.


            We watched the sunset from our balcony. The sun fell slowly into the sea, and the water turned wine-purple. It was beautiful—and even more beautiful because we knew that when it was over, we could go to bed.

The sun set, the sea went black, and we went inside. I turned out the light, and we checked our phones one last time.

“Did you post the cathedral pictures to Facebook?” said my wife.

“No,” I said. “Did I?”

I had.

“I don’t remember doing this it all. I was half-asleep. Force-of-habit, I guess. How terrible do we look?”

We scrolled through the pictures. They had lots of likes and comments. Everyone said we looked so happy, that we must be having a great time.

And this was the strange part: we did look so happy. We were smiling and holding each other, the stained glass glowing behind us, the columns rising up infinitely. The drowsiness, the discomfort, the table-grid on my face—those were all gone, replaced by this strange happy couple.

“I wish I was there,” said my wife.

It didn’t make any sense, but I knew exactly what she meant. I wanted to be there too. I wanted to feel what that strange couple was feeling.

“I wasn’t unhappy,” she said.

“Me either.”

“It was just another blur.”

“Maybe it’s like jetlag,” I said. “When you fly across the ocean, your body has to catch up. And maybe when something important happens to you—like marriage, like Charivaria—your insides have to catch up.”

“It’s only our first day.”

“Exactly. There’s always—” I yawned. “There’s always tomorrow.”


            The next day, we went to the beach.

The sand was white and soft, the water calm and blue. We rented chairs, lay in them, and listened to music on our phones. My wife looked very beautiful, and I told her so. She said I looked pretty good myself. We had both spent a lot of time at the gym, to prepare for the wedding.

The jetlag was gone. The sun and the wind played across my chest and my legs. I was here, on a beach, in unforgettable Charivaria, with my beautiful wife, at the beginning of our life together. I was very happy.

Wasn’t I?

That night, we ate dinner at the hotel. We traded phones and looked at the pictures we had taken at the beach.

There I was, sitting in my chair, listening to my music. There I was, standing in the sea. There I was, strong and smiling.

I looked so happy.

And I was. I had been happy. But had I been this happy? I looked at the pictures, and I saw some excess—some thing I had not quite felt at the time, some little chunk of my own happiness that I couldn’t remember.

I wanted to be there. I didn’t want to go back—I didn’t to be there again. I wanted to be really there, fully there. I wanted to feel the happiness that the picture showed, the happiness that people saw when they liked and commented.

I turned off the screen and put the phone on the table. My wife had already done the same.


            On the third day, we went to the Roman ruins. We walked between the broken columns and under the old aqueduct. On the fourth day, we took a bus out of the city and into the hills—the wine country of Charivaria. We wandered through terraces of grapes, and we drank wine poured from the cask. The fifth day was for the market. We went stall to stall, haggling with the merchants, buying jewelry and assorted leather goods.

We took pictures.

I had a good time. I knew I was happy. But all the same, I couldn’t help thinking about our pictures. I kept wondering if I was happy enough, if I was getting it all, if the pictures would again show me the little chunk I had missed.

Each night, we turned off the light and check our phones one last time. Each night, we saw the likes and the comments, and the impossibly happy faces of that strange couple. Each night, we wished we were there, in the place we had been.

We looked at them, that man and that woman, that husband and that wife. We zoomed in on the pictures, and we put our faces close to our phones.

What did they have that we didn’t?

“Are we being dumb?” I said.

“Yeah,” said my wife. “But that doesn’t change anything.”

It was dumb. But we still felt it.

We tried to change our pictures. We made stupid faces—stuck out our tongues, twisted our shoulders, pushed our heads into our necks.

It didn’t work. We got even more likes and comments. Our friends and family and coworkers told us we looked playful and happy. And they were right. Even in the bad pictures, there was some thing that exceeded what we had felt—that stubborn little chunk. We saw those pictures, and we wanted to be there, making those stupid faces. We wanted to be ourselves.

“There’s always tomorrow,” I said.

“There’s only two more tomorrows.”

That was true. But I wasn’t worried. We still had our tower, waiting for us.


            On the sixth day, we went on a day-cruise. There was a little island, half a day from Charivaria, with some interesting rock formations and a waterfall.

The sun had just risen, and we were in our room, dressing.

“I had an idea,” I said. “It might sound a little crazy.”

“Is it about the phones?”

She had thought of it too. I knew I loved her.

“No phones today,” I said. “No pictures. We’ll go out into nature. We’ll have a natural day.”

“It could be interesting.”

“I feel bad, of course. It’s our honeymoon.”

“We want pictures. We want to remember it.”

“But all the same, we want to feel it too. We want to be present—fully present.”

“Remembering doesn’t matter if you didn’t make a memory in the first place.”

We turned our phones off, put them in the room’s safe, and walked to the dock.


            It was all too much.

The enormous sea. Charivaria behind us, sinking into the horizon. The little schools of silver fish that jumped around the boat. The other island, with its interesting rock formations—fingers of stone grabbing at the sky. The waterfall, plashing onto the rocks. The sun, passing through the falling water, bursting into rainbows. The thousand other details that flooded our brains.

We sat at the base of the waterfall, letting the water hit our bare feet. We watched the other tourists take their pictures.

“It’s very beautiful,” I said.

My wife sighed. “I know.”

“There’s a lot of pressure, without the camera.”

“We have to remember it all.”

“But there’s so much.”

“I see it, and I feel like it’s passing out of my head. It’s there for a second, and then it’s forgotten.”

“I wish we’d brought them,” I said. “Not just for the pictures. I keep having this weird thought. I keep wondering if my dad died.”


“He’s fine. I have no reason to think he’s dead. It’s just—under normal circumstances, if he died, I would know. Immediately. I’d get a text or a call. But now I can’t know. He could be dead right now, and I’d have to wait until we get back to the hotel to find out.”

“He’s probably not dead.”

“I know. Still. I wish we’d brought the phones.”

“But then—”

“I know.”

“We’ll bring them tomorrow.”

“To the tower.”

“To the tower.”

            The water fell on our feet, and the rainbows continued to burst.


            When we came back to the room that night, the first thing we did was go to the safe.

“Can I tell you something?” said my wife. “This is my weird thought. On the boat, I started thinking about our phones. I started to worry that they had been stolen.”

Her words made me feel something strange—a vibration at the top of my spine. “That would be terrible,” I said.

“Of course. But I kept thinking about it. I imagined the maid getting into the safe, taking them.”


“That’s it. They’d be gone. We wouldn’t know what happened to them.”

“That’s awful. Our pictures, our happy memories—gone.”

We stood there, looking at the safe. I entered the combination, the door swung open, and there they were—our phones, safe and unstolen.

I exhaled, and realized I had been holding my breath.


            It was our last day in Charivaria. We were going to the tower.

The tower was on the eastern coast of the island. It was surrounded by a nature preserve—miles of forest and hills. We would have to hike a few hours to reach the tower. But that only made it better—rarer, more perfect. We would work for it, we would quest like knights, and we would feel it, fully. We would storm the tower and win our love—who was, after all, ourselves.

We laced up our hiking boots. We packed sandwiches. We charged our phones.


            We took a bus across the island. The entrance to the preserve was a big wooden arch, and behind it were miles of green.

A notice board showed all the different paths. They crossed and recrossed each other. Some went down toward the sea, others toward the caves in the north, but one struck out straight, eastward and upward.

We knew which path was ours. We passed under the arch and into the forest.

At first, we walked side-by-side, but the path narrowed as it rose. My wife went first, and I followed. The ground got steeper and steeper, and soon we were walking almost bent-over.

After an hour or so, we stopped to rest. We sat on a flat rock and sucked water from our bottles. The forest was quiet, but I heard the sound of my own blood, pumping through my head.

We hiked for a few more hours. When we got hungry, we sat in the hollow of a big tree and ate our sandwiches. We didn’t speak much—there wasn’t much we needed to say. I could still hear the beat of my blood, and that was enough.

            We climbed, and soon we smelled the salt of the sea.


            The path came to a little stream, and divided into two. One fork followed the stream, sloping gently down. The other fork kept climbing. And so did we. We climbed. The path was almost vertical, and we pulled ourselves up by roots and branches. We scratched and blistered our hands, and the sweat ran down into our eyes.

Suddenly, it was there.

The tower surprised us. A part of me, I think, never expected to reach it. But there it was, huge and white, pushing itself up into the sky, the sea all spread behind it.

We stood there, staring, breathing hard.

We were alone. We had only seen a few other hikers, crossing our path as they went down to the sea. We were the only ones climbing. We were here, and the tower was ours.

The door was small—its handle was an iron ring. We pulled it together, stooped, and entered the tower.

Above us, spiraling upward forever, were stairs. They ran along the sides of the tower, as far as we could see.

I smiled at my wife, and she smiled at me. We raced to the top.


            It was a tie. Together, we came out of the staircase and into the open air.

The top of the tower had no roof. A little railing was the only thing between us and the big world below. The sun was, it seemed, just a few feet away, huge and hot.

We braced ourselves against the railing and panted. We tried to catch our breaths, but then we looked. We saw.

Beneath us were hundreds of feet of smooth stone tower, and beneath that hundreds of feet of cliff face, and beneath that, finally, the sea. Miles and miles of it, in all directions. Charivaria was a speck. The world was there, Spain to Jerusalem. The horizon seemed to bend, as if we were seeing the curve of the earth. We had seen things from above, of course. We had been in airplanes. But we had never seen them like this—out in the air, a little point suspended above everything.

We couldn’t catch our breath after that.

I felt every drop of blood of my body, flowing perfectly through every vein and every artery.

“We’re here,” I said.

“We’re really here.”

We knew what we had to do.

We used my phone. I held it in my left hand, and raised my arm as high as I could. I centered our faces, and then tilted the phone up and down, trying to catch as much of the scene as I could. The wind tugged at the phone, but I held tight.

We looked at the picture immediately. We bent over the phone and stared. My body was covered in sweat, and it seemed to freeze all at once. I shivered.

There they were, with their beautiful faces, their perfect teeth, their smiles, their huge blue world. There they were, still—that happy couple.

I could already see the likes and comments rolling in.

“I want to be there,” I said.

“We are there,” said my wife. “What did we do wrong?”

“I thought I was feeling it. My heart was racing. I could feel all my blood.”

“I had goosebumps. My teeth were tingling.”

“But it wasn’t like this. It wasn’t like the picture.”

“Maybe if we zoom in,” said my wife. She flicked at the screen, and the faces got bigger. She flicked and flicked, and soon the picture showed just a few pixels of someone’s tooth.

She kept flicking.

“That’s not helping,” I said.

“It makes me feel better.”

“Well, do it on your own phone.”


“It’s—I don’t know. It’s annoying. I’m annoyed. I’m trying to think of how to solve this, and you’re being distracting.”

“You’re trying to solve it? What’s your solution?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t thought of anything yet. But if you’d stop zooming in for one second—”

She looked me in the eye, and flicked at my phone.

I felt sick. We were fighting—on our honeymoon, in our tower. We had already had the happiest day of our lives, and we hadn’t even felt it. This would be the rest of our lives—looking at these pictures, flicking at our phones, clicking through slideshows, forgetting unforgettable places.

And then, the miracle.

She flicked again, and I pulled the phone away from her—hard. Too hard. One second it was in my sweaty fingers, and then it wasn’t.

My heart jumped.

We ran to the railing and watched it glide downward. Ten, fifteen, twenty seconds it fell, until it bounced off the cliff, splashed into the sea, and was gone.

My pictures, my apps, my life, my self.

My chest felt like it was full of air—as if I were empty, as if my lungs and stomach had gone into the sea as well. I didn’t feel good, but I didn’t feel bad.

We stared down into the sea for a long time, and then looked at each other. The woman who had been flicking the phone was gone. So too was my wife. There was someone else there.

“Oh, no,” she said. “How terrible.”


“All those pictures, gone.” She was smiling.

“But we still have your phone.” My cheeks were burning—I was smiling too.

“Oh, good.” She took it out of her pocket. “Let’s take another one.”

“We have to be careful.”

“Of course. Very careful.”

“Let’s get another angle this time.”

“I was thinking the same thing.” She leaned over the railing, holding her phone out in front of her. “Something like this?”

“Exactly. But let me help you. You don’t want to drop it.”

I stood behind her, and put my arms over hers. Our fingers braided over the phone. We leaned forward, together, and felt the wind.

The phone was in our fingers, and then it wasn’t. We watched it hit the side of the tower and break into pieces. The case went one way, the screen another, and the SIM card fluttered off in the wind.

“Whoops,” she said.

“We’re both clumsy.”

“It’s terrible.”


She had turned to me. Our faces were very close, and I felt the heat of her cheeks and her mouth.

We were not happy, but now we understood: we had not wanted to be happy. We were grinning, hugely.



Ryan Napier lives in Massachusetts. He is a graduate of Stetson University and Yale Divinity School. His stories have appeared in The Cossack Review, The Burrow Press Review, Stoneboat, Per Contra, Lowestoft Chronicle, and others. More of his work can be found at

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