Tied to every coin is a desperate wish, a conflicted prayer, a pleading scream into the void.
The water ripples as another coin breaks surface— a shiny silver coin, landing swiftly. It collides with the rough tile, smack in the middle between a penny and a leather bracelet, too old and water-clogged to ever be worn again.
A grown girl had thrown it, and now she darts out of the park like she is fleeing a crime scene. Her satchel bag whips behind her, dark hair flowing. She pushes against a family packing up their baby’s stroller, slipping out of the shade of trees and paved bike paths like a bandit.
It is not a crime to wish that she could pass her dream university. It is not a crime to wish that she could get out of this congested city and into the beautiful bricked campus, hidden from the city behind a clearing of trees. Where she can breathe and live, at last.
Seconds later, another coin lands in the other end of the fountain. A graying copper penny makes its way into the pool with nothing more than a little bubble from the surface.
A boy holds out his empty palm, announcing to his mother that he’d thrown the coin in. His mother, flipping through a tabloid, asks with disinterest what his wish is. He shakes his head, refusing to answer.
What would be the point of the wish then? he protests to his mother. She doesn’t reply, just flips at a page and tugs him along.
He wishes for his family to stay together. They are currently in a messy situation, he and his brother and sister going from their mother’s to father’s house every other week. He wishes to stop living out of a suitcase and listening to his parents’ rambles about who would be better fit to raising them.
The hour passes by, until the bored college students rush off to class and the empty fields are replaced by the local girls’ soccer team. Parents rush to their kids with towels and water jugs, handing out energy bars and coins. They point to the food stalls crowding the park, the smell of hotdogs and relish and pizzas wafting in the air.
A girl, not more than 10, jogs over to the fountain. She demurely turns around, eyeing the scene before her. Then, quick as lightning, she plops the coin in her hand into the fountain. It burbles with effort, as the gold-rimmed coin sinks along with her wish.
As naive as she is, she wants to be a princess. Even for a night, the little girl concedes. Just one night to feel like a princess would be enough.
The water clears, and she’s gone. Her soccer shoes dig a trail into the field, and she is lost among a sea of pink jerseys and black shorts. The game resumes, and time starts running once again.
Years later, those coins are forgotten. A fresh layer of coins come in like a startling wave. More wishes are made. Tourists come and go, tossing coins of their home countries and muttering in faraway accents. Town members sit on the fountain ledge, sharing greasy food from paper cups.
The middle-aged men and women turn weathered, children fit into the boots of adolescence and adulthood. A fire ravages one day in a house just by the bend of the park, an earthquake crumbles a slab from the fountain another.
Wishes to find true loves, wishes for loved ones to get well again. Wishes for good grades, wishes for that Christmas present they’ve been dreaming about. The fountain listens to every single one, but it knows it is just a prop, a sugarcoated scheme for people to place their trust in. A standing sign of this culture’s belief in fate and destiny.
The fountain knows a lot of wishes, and the fountain knows they will only come true with their fight and fury and passion.
Time turns some more. Three shadows approach its cracked granite, layers of coins inches think, and bubbling water that sounds like gasping now. The three do their business, and go back to the bustle of their everyday lives.
Left on the fountain’s ledge are three items: a college diploma, a framed photo of a family of five, and a high school prom queen tiara. They glimmer in the night, and the fountain’s work is done.