It wasn't the concrete fountain that was magic, that's for sure. It simply stood in the center of the Church Park, slowly collecting long forgotten pennies, quarters, dimes, and discolored nickels. A girl with red hair tossed a nickel in once, probably wishing for a boy or a new top. Her father threw a coin in too, likely in the hopes that the boys of the future wouldn't be too much trouble. A widow dropped in a coin, maybe a single hope for a new life beyond her recent loss, closing her eyes as it clinked at the bottom of the pool. Whatever the wish may have been, the change fell to the bottom and snuggled in with the rest.
The money slept quietly there for many years until one evening; as the sun stooped low to the treeline, a man ambling by sat in the wrought-iron bench adjacent to the towering fountain. Christopher called himself a "traveling man", although no one these days bothered to even make eye contact with him, much less ask. So, he sat alone on the park bench, opened up his ziplock bag and pulled out his tuna fish sandwich. He ate slowly, meditating on the way the last remnants of sunlight cupped the underside of the heavy clouds overhead. As the street lights flickered on, Christopher pulled out his heavy duty sleeping bag and wriggled inside. He stared up at the starless sky and waited until slumber unwound the fear and hunger that twisted knots in his stomach.
The sky lazily brightened that next morning, but the sun never showed its face behind the soggy clouds. Christopher woke to the drip-dropping of sprinkles on his face, the only part of his body not protected by the sleeping bag. He jumped up, rolled his sleeping bag up into his hiking bag, and sat back on the bench, protected from the trickle by a tight bunch of oak trees. His stomach growled, and he looked to the fountain. Maybe he did it because of his hunger; maybe he did it to save towards a pack of smokes, since they didn't let you have any at the shelter. Whatever the reason, he suddenly threw both arms into the water, splashing as he scraped up all the change in sight. As if on cue, the rain picked up, and Christopher sprinted towards his rucksack. He tossed the bag onto his back and jogged across the street into a diner.
Drenched and hungry, he collapsed into the first booth he saw. The vinyl upholstery squeaked under his slight frame, and a curly haired waitress walked his way.
"How are ya, sir?"
"Well, you've come to the right place! What can I get you to drink?"
He felt the weight of the change in his pocket. "Water." She sauntered off.
A few minutes later she returned with his glass. "Are you ready to order, sir?"
"I'll just have a bowl of soup." he replied, and with that she left again. He sat in silence, listening to the sizzle of burgers on the stovetop, sweet tea being poured, onions being cut. He liked the warm, classic feel; he slouched in his seat, resting his arms on the red table. When his vegetable soup came out, he spooned slowly, letting the rich, hearty flavors slip across his tongue.
After he finished, he asked for the check, to which the waitress replied, “Oh honey, don’t worry about it. We’ve got it covered. The manager also told me to let you know we have a position open as a dish boy, if you’re wantin’ work that is.”
“Absolutely!” He said, without a hint of hesitation. The thoughts of having reliable meals, maybe even getting out of the shelter were swirling in his eyes. He filled out paperwork and spoke to the manager, and by the end of the night he was an employed man. Later that night Christopher sat up, half inside his sleeping bag, beneath the open night sky. He sat the bottle of whiskey next to him on the patch of grass and whispered, “Never again.” There he lay, counting stars until his insomnia finally subsided. For the next week he worked all day and walked back the three miles to the shelter at dusk. By the end of the day, his arms and legs ached, but he was happier than he had been in a long time.
One day that next week a waiter pulled him aside after his shift ended. "Listen, I've got an older hatchback that I don't need anymore since I got the new Caddy, and I was wondering if you'd like it before I sell it.”
"Sure! How much you want for it?"
"Nothing for a friend," he replied with a smile.
"You're sure you don't want me to pay you anything for it? Surely I can give you something."
"Yep. My gift to you, man."
He slid his thumbs into the belt hooks of his work slacks and sighed. "At least let me buy you dinner," he said, his face turning a deep pink.
"Sounds like a deal."
They ate together at the closest sit-down place they could find, which ended up being five intersections away. They spent a few hours talking and laughing, and when Christopher pulled out his new leather wallet at the end, his new friend Matthew yanked the bill from his hand, slipping his credit card in. "Don't worry about it. Just get the tip, ok?"
"What about the deal?"
"Don't worry about the deal. I'd rather give it to a friend than sell it to a stranger. I know my baby will be well taken care of." And with that, Matthew handed the bill back to the waiter. In under ten minutes the waiter returned with the card and they got up, pushed their chairs in. Matthew began to walk away, but stopped and turned around. "Are you coming?"
"I'll just be a minute," Christopher said with a sigh, and dug the change from the fountain out of his pocket. He spent a moment just looking at it. It must've been at least seven dollars, which was a reasonable tip. He just didn't know if he could part with them. They had been with him through the upswing, the happiest moments he had felt since he ran away from home and started hitchhiking at seventeen. Maybe they were witchcraft or something, to have brought him such a swift turn of events. Maybe not. He probably also knew he didn't need them anymore, the talismans tied to his newfound security, his new life. He set them on the table and turned away quickly; in one swift swoop it was gone. His future was in his own hands now.
Lane Scoggins is a student at Vol State College. She won first place in the 2018 Tennessee Magazine Poet's Playground in the 19-22 category. She has contributed poetry reviews at Sacred Chickens. Lane is working on a chapbook at this time.