Short Fiction ~ Nathan Alling Long
Honourable Mention, Strands International Flash Fiction Competition - 17
I was a child when I first met Angelo Sorento in the village square. I was trying to fish out coins from the fountain, my body resting on the low wall, my hand stretched across the water.
“Don’t take away someone’s dream,” he scolded. “Or one day, someone might take away yours.”
I didn’t know what he meant, but he had such authority in his voice that I sat up and turned away. It was the only way to keep myself from thinking about the coins.
“Good boy,” he said, patting my back. “Each coin,” he added softly, “is a wish a person makes. If you take the coin out of the water, you take the wish away.”
“But my father throws a coin in every Sunday, and he says his wishes haven’t come true.”
“Perhaps,” Angelo said. “A coin in the fountain won’t make a wish come true.”
I nodded, though I was confused.
“But,” Angelo said, raising a crooked finger at the sky, “to take the coin is to steal the wish. The wish may not come true, but it’s the wish itself that’s valuable. The fountain holds them for us, like a bank.“
I didn’t know what to think of that, but I liked the idea that my father wasn’t just throwing away our money, but keeping something alive within himself.
Angelo then asked me what I wanted money for.
“A candy,” I said, though really I didn’t know.
“Then you must earn it. Come.” He stood up, motioning me to follow.
We walked slowly up the hill to the top of the village. Along the way, he asked what was my name, how far had I ever traveled, what was the largest thing I could think of?
When we got to the top, he handed me a few coins.
“But I didn’t do anything,” I said.
“You walked me home,” he said. “If I had fallen, you would have gotten help. And you told me about yourself, which I might use one day in a story.”
At that I smiled. I was always inventing stories, but I never thought I’d be in someone else’s. I took the money then and ran down to the store.
That night, I told my parents what Angelo had said about wishes being kept alive.
“If the fountain doesn’t make wishes come true, then nothing can,” said my father, a farmer. “What does he know?”
“Well, he is a famous author,” my mother said.
My father shook his head. “Who needs stories?”
But I knew then that I did. So, sometimes after working in the field, I met Angelo at the fountain and talked. Occasionally, he’d pay me to do an errand. But as I grew older and more able, and he grew older and less able, I came to visit him nearly every day, bringing groceries, helping him sort papers, repairing a window or chair. Some nights, we ate together, and Angelo would tell me of the places he had traveled, the men and women he had loved. I always wondered why, despite all his adventures, he returned to our little village.
One day, as a teenager, I asked Angelo for one of his novels. I took it home and read it through the night. At first, I was disappointed. I thought it would be about his life, but it was only about a village very much like our own. The main character was a farmer who was too poor to follow the woman he loved. She had left the village for a more worldly life. Every day he dropped a coin in the village fountain, hoping he would strike rich, or she would come back to take him away.
Gradually, as I read on, I realized that Angelo was writing the story of my father.
“How did you write this?” I asked him the next day.
Angelo had always been open with me, but this time, he bowed his head and said nothing. He changed the subject, and soon said he was tired, that he needed to rest.
I went on to read all of Angelo’s novels, which were equally beautiful stories about the lives of people in our town. No wonder he returned here; he came to gather our stories and writing them down.
I was so moved by his books that one day I did something I’d never done before: I took a coin to the fountain and threw it in, wishing that one day I’d write like Angelo.
And now, years later, Angelo is on his death bed, having just told me his secret.
“I wrote nothing,” he confessed, less than an hour ago. He handed me a small bottle.
“Pour the ink from it and your story will be revealed,” he said.
So I took the bottle and poured the ink onto these pages.
I wrote none of this. I have not touched a pen. I’ve only sat here and watched these words form, as though the paper had channels guiding the liquid. I don’t understand how this can be, but I am elated. With this bottle, I will be a writer.
Still, I wonder how it is done. I go over to Angelo’s bed to get an answer.
“Forgive me,” he whispers, and then he is gone. No longer of this world.
I pick up the bottle and shake it. There is no more ink, but I feel something shift inside. Through the dark hole I see, resting at the bottom of the bottle, a small coin.
I know which coin it is—the one I threw into the fountain years ago. The ink must draw out the wishes from the coins and write them out. And so, it is only by taking my coin from the fountain that Angelo has made my wish come true.