The Fourth Wish


Barbara Handshy Anderson

 

 

 

 

It was Katie’s turn to pick the story after dinner. One of the most cherished of the Tunnel traditions was to have at least one story every evening. It settled the younger children before bedtime and it gave parents and other adults a little bit of spare time for themselves. If the stories were short enough and the children well enough behaved, they might even get two stories.

It had been ages since Katie had had a turn to pick the story … at least it seemed like that to the 4 year old girl. She had chosen Catherine to read the story of Snow White. Catherine felt honored.

As adults and children alike gathered around and found places to sit, Catherine handed little Jacob off to Mary in a nearby rocking chair. He settled quickly in his ‘grandmother’s’ arms.

“Ahhh, Snow White?” Geoffrey complained. “I hate fairy tales.”

Catherine smiled and put her hand on his shoulder. “More of a swashbuckling, adventure man are you?”

He gave her a wry smile. “Yeah, I guess so. I’ve outgrown fairy stories and magic. I want to hear about stuff that could actually happen.”

“Are you telling me you don’t believe in magic?” Samantha asked.

“Are you telling me you do?” Geoffrey asked in a mocking tone. “Aren’t you a little old for that?”

“Yes, I do believe in magic, as a matter of fact,” she replied placing her hands on her hips. “And I happen to know you do too. I’ve seen you when you think no one’s looking. You cross your fingers and you even knock on wood.”

“So what?”

“So what do you call that? Huh?”

Samantha turned to Catherine for support. “What about you, Catherine? Do you still believe in magic?” Samantha asked.

“What do you mean, Samantha? Like the magic that Sebastian does?”

Samantha shook her head. “No, no. Sebastian just does magic tricks. That’s not the same thing. I mean real magic. You know like wishing on a star or … Fairy God Mothers … wishing wells … magic like that.”

“Ohhhh.” Catherine nodded and thought for a moment.

The room had become very quiet. All of the children wanted to hear what Catherine thought about magic. Catherine realized that whatever she said would be taken to heart. She did not want to be remembered as the one who crushed the dreams of every child in the Tunnels.

She looked to Vincent and pleaded with her eyes for his help, but he looked just as interested in hearing her thoughts on the subject as all of the children.

 “Well, I suppose …” she began slowly, “… that I do believe in miracles, and guardian angels. I even believe that God is out there in the Universe somewhere watching us. Is that what you mean?”

“I guess it’s sort of the same,” Samantha surmised.

“But, Catherine, what about in fairy tales, like Snow White?” Geoffrey asked. “Do you believe wishing wells are actually real?” The skepticism in his voice was unmistakable.

“People all over the world believe in those, Geoffrey,” Catherine answered. “Young and old alike. Why even the fountains up in the park are filled with coins from people’s wishes. You can find magic wishing wells or fountains or pools or healing springs in just about every country of the world. There is even a story in the Bible about a healing pool that was disturbed from time to time by an angel[1]. That’s where the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park gets its name. I have thrown coins and wishes into quite a few fountains and wishing wells in my life.

“You have? Tell us, Catherine. Where?” Samantha asked.

Catherine smiled as she remembered, “Up Above in Central Park for starters. But it just so happens, that the very first wishing well I ever remember was Snow White’s wishing well when I was eight years old.”

All of the girls in the room became wide eyed and said, “Really?”

“Where, Catherine?” Katie wanted to know.

“I don’t think that one was actually a real wishing well. It was in Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Disneyland. There was a waterfall and a pond next to it. There was a statue of Snow White and the seven dwarfs there. When I threw my coin into the well, Snow White began to sing and some fish began swimming around the pond.” She laughed at the memory. “I have been hooked on wishing wells and fountains ever since.”

“Did you ever see a real one?” several of the children asked at once.

“The most beautiful one I have ever seen was the Trevi Fountain in Rome. Millions of people go there every year. It’s believed that if you turn your back to the fountain and throw a coin over your shoulder with your right hand that you will be sure to find love and you will be sure to return to Rome one day.”

“What about here, Catherine? Have you ever heard of a wishing well or a fountain here in New York?” Samantha asked.

Catherine smiled as if she was remembering something she hadn’t thought about for a very long time. “When I was a child, sometimes I would stay with my friend Nancy. Her grandmother lived with them and she came from a family that has been in New York for several generations. Since before Central Park was even here.”

“Wow, that must have been a really long time ago,” Eric proclaimed.

“Yes, it was,” Catherine laughed. “Once when I was staying with them, Nancy’s grandmother told us a story about a wishing well right in Central Park. It seems that before the park was made, there was a poor shanty town there, where a lot of poor people lived in ramshackle houses. The houses were made of whatever materials people could find to build a shelter for themselves. In those days people didn’t have running water or flushing toilets in their houses.  They didn’t even have a sewer system, so people would just throw their dirty water into the street.”

“Eeeeeeew,” the children cried in unison as they all held their noses. Here in the Tunnels, where things were much more primitive than Above, even the children understood the importance of good sanitation.

“Now day’s clean water for Manhattan comes from the Croton Aqueduct[2]. Even poor people can get clean water now. But in those days most people, and especially poor people had to get water from cisterns and ponds and wells, whatever was available. Sometimes the water wasn’t clean and people got very sick with things like yellow fever and cholera. A lot of people died from those diseases back then, especially babies and little children.

“But in the shanty town Nancy’s grandmother told us about, the people had a well that was fed by a fresh water spring. The water was very clean and tasted sweeter than any in the city. It made the people want to live nearby. They built a church near the well. Little by little they began to build sturdy wood frame houses and their little village began to be more permanent. They were still poor, but their children grew healthy, rosy cheeked and strong. Very few people in this little village died of the terrible diseases that seemed to ravage the rest of the city. The people who lived in the little village believed that there must be something magical about the water that made them all so healthy. They tried to keep the well a secret, because they knew that if the wealthy people of the city found out about their special well, they would want it and would make them leave.”

“Kind of like how we keep the Tunnels a secret?” Eric asked.

“Yes Eric, kind of like that,” Catherine said.

“Did someone find out the secret, Catherine? Did someone make them leave?” Eric sounded worried.

“No … no one found out the secret, Eric, but they still had to leave. In the 1850’s the people of New York decided that the city needed a park and so they chose the land all around the reservoir, including the land that the little village and the well were on.

“The people didn’t want to leave, but the government paid them for the land and forced them to go. Then they tore down all the houses. But before they left the people planted trees around the well and the little cemetery there and blessed it that it could never be destroyed and that it would always be there for poor people who needed the sweet healing water. The foundation of that church is supposedly still somewhere up there in the park. 

“By the time Nancy’s grandmother told us the story it was just an obscure, forgotten piece of the history of Central Park. She grew up in Manhattan and she didn’t know anyone who had ever actually found it. She told us that if we ever did find it we would get our heart’s deepest wish if we dropped in a coin and said the wish out loud.”

“Did you ever find it, Catherine? Do you know where it is?” the children asked.

Catherine laughed, “No, I never found it. Nancy and I spent all our spare time for several years looking through every inch of the park, but we never did find it. When I was a young girl I would even beg my Dad to take me to the park so I could climb the tallest trees. I thought that I might be able to spot it from up there, but I still didn’t have any luck.”

“Maybe it’s one of the fountains.” Jamie suggested. “There are a lot of lovely fountains in the park,”

“I once thought that too, but I have thrown coins into every fountain in the park… I don’t think it’s any of the fountains. I have come to believe that perhaps it isn’t like a normal well. That maybe you can only find it when you are in desperate need or if you have a pure heart. Maybe people who are greedy or people who are mean or even people who already have everything they could possible want can’t find it because they don’t really need it.”

“You’re not mean, Catherine, you’re nice,” Katie said.

“Thank you, Katie, but I have been very, very blessed in my life. Wouldn’t it be greedy of me to want more? Especially when there are people who might need those blessings more than me?”

Geoffrey turned to Vincent. “What do you think, Vincent? Do you think there is a magic fountain or wishing well up there in the park? Wouldn’t more people know about it if there was?”

Vincent was quiet for a few moments.

Catherine look up and saw him staring at her. She couldn’t quite read his expression, but she sensed that there was something important that he wanted to say to her.

Then he looked back at Geoffrey and said, “I do believe it, Geoffrey.”

“Do you really? Or are you just saying that because the little kids are here?”

“Look at me closely, Geoffrey. All of you come close and look at me.”

The children gathered around him and looked attentively into his face.

“Look at my face and look at my hands. Have you ever seen anyone else who looks even a little bit like me?”

Collectively that all shook their heads and said, “No.”

“I have,” Katie declared.

Everyone turned to Katie. Then Vincent asked, “Yes, Katie, you have haven’t you?”

Katie nodded shyly. She was a little bit frightened to suddenly find herself the center of attention.

Vincent pulled her onto his lap and asked gently. “And where have you seen someone who looks like me, Katie?”

Katie looked around the room and then pointed to Catherine.

“Yes, Katie, in the book that Catherine is holding. And what is that book, Children?”

Catherine held it up. 

“Favorite Illustrated Fairy Tales,” Samantha read.

“I know that you children wouldn’t want to hurt my feelings by pointing out that one or two of the illustrations in that book look a little bit like me. But I read that book as a child too. The illustrations are very nicely done, aren’t they?

The children nodded.

Then Vincent asked, “Now tell me truthfully, children … tell me how could you think that someone who looks like me would NOT believe in magic?

Katie put her little hands on either side of Vincent’s face and turned him to face her. “Are you magic, Vincent?” Katie asked in wide eyed wonder.

Vincent laughed, “Not as far as I know, Katie, but I do believe that there are things in this world that cannot be explained any other way. Some people may call it ‘magic’ and others might call it ‘God’. Some people may call them wishes and others may call them prayers. Some people say Fairy God Mother and others say guardian angel. But when you really think about it … isn’t it all kind of the same?”

“But, Vincent,” Geoffrey protested. “you are the smartest person I have ever known. I thought only babies and dummies believed in that stupid stuff.”

Before Vincent could respond, Mouse stood up and declared, “Hey! Mouse believes! Mouse knows. Mouse isn’t a baby. And Mouse isn’t a dummy.”

“That’s true, Geoffrey. Mouse is very smart.” Eric pointed out, “He makes all kinds of neat gizmos and stuff.”

The children all nodded in agreement.

“Knowing is more than believing, Mouse. How can you possibly know?” Geoffrey asked.

All eyes were now on Mouse and he was beginning to feel the heat of embarrassment creeping from his toes up to his face. He looked to Vincent as if silently asking for help.

“It’s all right, Mouse, you can tell us.” Vincent assured him.

Mouse then put his chin up and proudly admitted, “Mouse found it. Mouse made a wish.”

Geoffrey looked skeptical. “Are you saying you actually found the magic wishing well? When?”

“Lots of times … but only wished once,” he quickly added.

The children rushed around him all at once. “Where is it, Mouse? Will you show us? Take us there, take us there,” they all pleaded at once.

Mouse looked completely panic stricken with all of the children begging and pulling at him all at once.

“Children, children!” Vincent shouted.

The children turned to face him. “This is no way to act. Now all of you please sit back down.”

They all sat down except for Mouse.

Catherine could see how nervous he was. “Come sit by me, Mouse.”

“If you found it, Mouse. Then where is it?” asked Geoffrey.

Mouse shrugged his shoulders and scrunched up his face. “Don’t know. Can’t find it. Mouse looked. Can’t find. But Mouse did find … long time ago …” He began to rub his chin and said “… or maybe ‘it’ found Mouse?”

As Mouse sat down next to Catherine, Samantha asked, “Can you at least tell us about it, Mouse?”

Mouse looked first to Catherine and then to Vincent. “It’s up to you, Mouse,” Catherine said. “If you don’t want to, you don’t have to.”

Vincent nodded his approval when Mouse looked his way.

Mouse nodded and said, “OK Good, OK Fine … Mouse will tell.” He looked around at all the children and said, “When Mouse was small, Mouse was alone. Mouse was lost. Sometimes Mouse was cold.” Mouse’s eyes clouded over with the painful memories. “Mouse was afraid. Mouse was hungry. Sometimes eats garbage. Sometimes steals.” He paused for a moment. “Some people are mean. Chase Mouse. Hurt Mouse.”

 Catherine reached to squeeze his hand and he continued. “Sometimes night shadows are scary. Rains sometimes. Sometimes Mouse sleeps in Tunnels. Sometimes Mouse sleeps in the park. Found a good hiding place though. Better than good. Big old trees … bushes on ground, no people. Mouse can see stars. Mouse sleeps there, under bushes. Near a well. Water tastes good too. Better than good. Better than park fountains … Mouse knows … Mouse tried.” Mouse made a face to show that the fountain waters tasted bad.

“Sometimes Mouse watches people in the park. Close their eyes … throw things … coins … into fountains.” He mimicked their actions. “Mouse thinks people are strange.”

“One night Mouse hears someone. A man … no … not a man …” He looked over at Vincent and continued, “… but not a boy … like a man, but not old … young. He kneels against the well. He cries... So sad … So lonely… Mouse knows. Sometimes Mouse is lonely… Sometimes Mouse cries too … like the man. Mouse hears the man … he makes a wish … cries some more … and then … throws something in the well … a coin, Mouse thinks.”

Mouse looked to Vincent again and asked. “Is that right, Vincent? A coin?”

Everyone turned and looked with shock at Vincent.

Vincent nodded and softly said, “Yes, Mouse, that’s right. It was a coin: an 1847 Silver Half Dime.”

“Vincent?” Catherine and Father whispered in unison.

“Was it really you, Vincent?” Eric asked

“Yes,” Vincent nodded. “It was.”

“What did Vincent wish for, Mouse?” Samantha asked.

Mouse shook his head. “Can’t tell someone else’s wishes, Samantha. Not Mouse’s wish anyway. Nope… can’t tell.”

“What happened next, Mouse?” Kipper asked.

“When Vincent cries, Mouse feels pain…” He rubbed his chest and winced. “… here. Mouse walks up quiet.” He got up and walked toward Vincent and put his hand on his shoulder.

“What happened when you touched him, Mouse?” Samantha asked.

Vincent laughed. Mouse laughed too. “Mouse scared, Vincent.” Then his eyes got big. “Vincent roared… scared Mouse. Never saw anyone … that big before. Never saw anyone that sad before … except Mouse.”

“It’s true, Mouse, you did frighten me that night. Father hated it when I went above, but I was always careful not to get caught.”

“No one ever sneaks up on Vincent,” declared Kipper.

“But Mouse did!” Eric exclaimed.

“Yes, Mouse, certainly did.” Vincent laughed again. “And I hate to admit it, but he has managed it many times since.”

“Is that why we call him Mouse? …Cuz he’s quiet like a mouse?”  Katie asked.

Everyone laughed at that, even Mouse.

“Yes it is, Katie. The name fits, don’t you think?”

Katie laughed and nodded.

“Then what happened?” Samantha pleaded. “I’m dying to know the end of the story.”

“Well you already know the end, Samantha,” Vincent said.

“I do?”

 “Would you like to finish it, Mouse? You have done a wonderful job so far,” Vincent encouraged.

“OK good, OK fine.” Mouse sat up proudly. “Vincent ran. Mouse couldn’t run … too scared … No place to go anyway. Mouse started to cry. Didn’t want to be alone again. Vincent comes back. Talks to Mouse … real soft …” He smiled at the memory. “Gave Mouse a cookie...”

Everyone laughed.

“William’s chewy oatmeal,” Vincent recalled.

“Mmmmm … Mouse’s favorite! Asked if Mouse wanted to make a wish. Gave Mouse a coin. Right, Vincent?”

“Yes, that’s right. It was an 1843 Liberty Head penny.”

“Vincent, showed Mouse how to make a wish. But Mouse couldn’t talk. Mouse could only … feel. Maybe wish was no good. But Vincent said … was okay. Said, close eyes, think real hard and throw. So Mouse did.”

“Did your wish come true, Mouse?” Katie asked.

“Yeah, did the wish come true?” Kipper echoed.

“Yes, Mouse’s wish came true. Still coming true! Then Vincent brought Mouse home to live in Tunnels. THE END!” Mouse emphatically declared.

“What did you wish for, Mouse?”

“Wished for Mouse not to be lonely anymore, not to be sad anymore, wished for a friend … same wish as Vincen-.” Mouse stopped short. He looked directly at Vincent and said, “Oops … sorry, Vincent. Mouse told.”

Vincent laughed and put his hand on Mouse’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, Mouse, it’s fine.”

Mouse breathed a big sigh of relief.

“Vincent … Is that all true? Did you really find that wishing well once?” Geoffrey asked.

“Yes, Geoffrey, I have actually found it several times.”

“Can you show us where it is?”

“I’m sorry, Geoffrey, I can’t. It’s been a while since I have seen it. But in my very worst moments, times when my heart was so broken that I didn’t know how to go on, somehow it has been there. Maybe Mouse is right… maybe ‘it’ found me.”

“Have you made more than one wish there, Vincent?” Samantha wondered.

“Yes. Over the years I have made four wishes.”

“Did they all come true, Vincent?” Jamie asked.

He looked over to Catherine.

There’s that look again, she thought. There is something he wants to tell me, I know it.

“Yes, Jaime, every single one,” he said, without taking his eyes off of his love.

Then turning to the children, he said, “But if any of you ever do find it … you must always remember to make your wishes very, very carefully,” He said in earnest. “Don’t ever make foolish wishes without considering what the consequences of your wish might be.”

“What do you mean, Vincent?” Geoffrey asked.

“The first wish I made there … was a foolish, unkind wish … made in anger … and I have regretted it every day since. I even tried to take it back … but apparently once the wish is made … it can’t ever be fully … unmade.” The sadness was evident in his voice as well as in his eyes.

“What did you wish for, Vincent?” Eric asked.

“It’s very late, Eric. All of you should be in bed,” Vincent said. “That will have to be a story for another time.”

“Tomorrow?” several of the children pleaded.

“Yes, perhaps tomorrow,” Vincent replied.

“But we didn’t read, Snow White,” Katie complained.

Vincent picked her up and said, “You are barely able to keep your eyes open now, Little Princess. Do you really think you could stay awake for Snow White?”

She thought about it for a minute and shook her sleepy head. “I guess not.”

“All right then, let’s see about getting you tucked in bed, and maybe tomorrow we can read your story.” Turning to Catherine, he said, “I’m going to deliver this little sleeping beauty to her mother and then I will come straight home.”

Catherine smiled and gave her little namesake a goodnight kiss. “Goodnight, sweet Katie. I promise we will read your story tomorrow, okay?” She stroked the little girls golden curls. She felt a nameless longing as she did so. Vincent felt it too.

Turning to kiss Vincent’s cheek, she said, “Tell Lena I said, hello.”

Katie rested her head on Vincent’s broad shoulder as he headed for the door.

Catherine couldn’t help but feel a tugging on her heart as she watched him with her. Vincent glanced back at her. He could feel it too.

“That is quite a picture isn’t it?’

Catherine turned to see Father standing behind her.

She smiled. “Yes it is. He is so gentle with the children. Watching him with Katie, it’s so clear that he was born to be a father.”

“There was a time that I never dared to dream such things for him,” Father whispered.

As Mary placed a very sleepy little Jacob into Catherine’s arms, Catherine gently stroked her son’s hair and said, “With love, Father … all things are possible.”

As Catherine left the chamber with her little boy, Father said, “They never stopped believing that, did they, Mary?”

“No, Jacob, they didn’t…” was her reply. “… and it’s a good thing too, I’d say.” Then turning to face him, she asked, “Have you ever heard that story before, Father? Did you ever know exactly how Vincent found Mouse?”

Father shook his head. “No … No, I have never heard that story before. I thought I knew everything there was to know about Vincent … You know it is a shock every now and then to be reminded that I don’t know everything.”

Father didn’t see the wry smile on Mary’s face as she returned to her own chamber.

 

****

 

As he entered their chamber, Vincent removed the vest he wore over his wool knit sweater. He followed the sound of Catherine’s voice as she softly sang a lullaby. Jacob’s sleepy head lay on his mother’s shoulder. Walking up behind her, he could see that Jacob’s eyes were nearly closed and he was losing his battle with the sandman. Even though he was nearly asleep Jacob reached one little arm out to his father. Vincent leaned down resting one arm around Catherine’s waist and whispered, “Goodnight, little Jacob. May you have only pleasant dreams, my son.” He kissed him and stroked his little cheek with the back of his beautiful hand.

Catherine never got tired of watching him with their son. He was so gentle and loving. She gently placed Jacob in his crib. She covered one small candle with a ceramic dome that had holes in it. It cast tiny stars all around the room. She then blew out the rest of the candles in the nursery chamber and pulled the curtain closed as she left.

Vincent was standing at his hutch with his back to her, perusing the many keepsakes he had accumulated over the years. The treasures that had once been scattered all about his chamber were now carefully stowed behind glass cupboards and on high shelves in a hutch that had been a gift from Catherine. It made it possible for Vincent to still enjoy looking at them, and yet keep them safe from curious little hands.

She walked up and slid her arms around his waist. “Are you looking for something, Vincent? Or just reminiscing?”

“I’m looking for an old tin. It’s about this big.” He motioned with his hands to demonstrate. “It doesn’t really look like much. I’m sure I saw it when we moved all of these things into this hutch.”

“What color is it? Does this tin have a label on it?” she asked, joining in the search.

“It’s silver … it’s old and very beat up. If it ever had a label, it is long gone now, but it has writing embossed into the lid … ‘Magic’ something.”

Catherine began helping him in the hunt and soon picked up a small, ancient looking tin container. “Is this it? Magic Baking Powder?” As she held it out to him she heard what sounded like coins inside.

Vincent reached for it and reverently held it in his grasp. He sat down on the bed and turned it slowly in his hand and listened to the sound of the coins clinking inside.

Catherine could tell - could feel that something was stirring deep within him. “Are you all right?”

Vincent reached for her. She moved to nestle herself against his chest in the crook of his arm. It was her place, the only place on earth where only she belonged. They reclined quietly in each other’s arms for a while as he continued to slowly turn the tin in his other hand. Catherine instinctively knew that Vincent would speak when and if he was ready.

The only sound in the room was the intermittent sounds of the pipes, the periodic sound of a subway train passing somewhere overhead, and the sound of the coins inside of the tin as he turned it in his hand.

“I have never told anyone that story before … not even Father,” he finally said. “Apparently Mouse hadn’t either.”

She tenderly rubbed her open hand over his chest. “It’s an amazing story, Vincent … You could have run away and left him there … but you went back … you gave him a wish … and then you brought him home.”

“Yes … he looked as alone and bereft as I felt at that moment. Even though he couldn’t talk … something in him called to me. I was astounded that you knew of the wishing well, Catherine. I never imagined … that you would … that you could.”

Catherine laughed a little. “When Nancy’s grandmother told us that story …” she began, “there was something in her voice… She sincerely believed that what she was telling us was true. She made me believe it was true.” She smiled. “I’m so happy that it was.” Then looking up at Vincent, she asked, “But there’s something I don’t understand…”

“What’s that?”

“The coins … they were very old … wherever did you get them? … and … how is it that you remembered exactly what coins they were … even the dates?”

Vincent rose, reluctantly letting go of her, and walked over to his vest. Taking something from the inside pocket, he returned to Catherine’s side and held out his fist to her. When she held out her open hand, he dropped the ‘something’ into it.

Catherine sat up and examined two coins in her palm. Turning one of them over, she said, “1847 … and 1843 … But, Vincent … how? If you and Mouse threw these into the well … then how is it that you …?” She looked confused. “There is more to the story … isn’t there?” she asked as she handed back the coins.

Vincent looked into her eyes and nodded.

“Do you want to tell me? Or is it too personal? … too sacred?”

Vincent tilted his head to one side as he pondered her choice of words. Then he nodded again and said, “It is … very personal … perhaps even sacred … but I want to tell you, Catherine… you should know. It’s time for you to know.”

“All right … I’m listening,” she said, never breaking eye contact with him.

“When I was a boy there was a man who lived here Below. His name was Isaiah. He was the oldest man I have ever known. I was fascinated by everything about him. He was so wrinkled … and so wise. He was like something out of a story book.” He laughed a little. “Devin used to call him Methuselah instead of Isaiah.”

“How old was he?”

Vincent shook his head. “I’m not sure if he even knew … exactly. He used to say, ‘I didn’t see no good reason to keep on countin’ after a hundred,’ so he stopped. He used to tell us stories about New York in the ‘old days’. One of the stories he told us was the story of the wishing well in Central Park.”

“He knew the story about the wishing well too?”

“He didn’t just know the story, Catherine. He was part of the story.”

Catherine’s eyes widened in amazement.

Vincent continued. “He told us where he came from. His family lived in a little village near here. He told us of a well, with water so pure and sweet that it made the people in the village healthy and strong. Many of the people who lived there believed it was magic. But it wasn’t a shanty town, like you said, Catherine. Yes, the people were poor, but they owned the land their houses were built on and they paid taxes. He told us how the city took their land to build a park for rich people to drive their carriages and show off their wealth. They went to court with the deeds to their land to try and save the village and their homes, but to no avail. When it became clear that they couldn’t save their village they gathered at the church one last time. The pastor blessed them all and then he blessed the church and the cemetery and the well that as sacred ground that they would be protected, that they could never be destroyed and that the well would always be there for people who desperately needed it. That anyone who was able to find it would get their hearts deepest wish. Isaiah was just a child when the Police came and drove them all out. Many of the people from the village took temporary shelter here in the Tunnels. Some of them, like Isaiah, never left.

“But they were destroyed, Vincent. I have never seen a church or a cemetery in Central Park.”

“No, I haven’t either. But Isaiah swore that the cemetery and the well were still up there. And I have seen remnants of the church. It was torn down with the rest of the village, but part of the foundation is still a visible witness to what was once there. I have also seen the well.”

“That doesn’t explain the coins, Vincent.”

“Oh yes, the coins. Devin didn’t believe Isaiah’s story,” he explained.

 

****

 

“Do you expect me to believe that story, Isaiah? I’m too old for fairy tales.” Devin insisted.

“You think I’m lyin’? At my age, son, I ain’t got no good reason to lie about somethin’ like that.”

“No … I … I don’t know … If the well was really magic, Isaiah, then why didn’t the people just wish that their land would be saved? Then they never would have lost it in the first place.”

“It ain’t that simple, Devin. That ain’t how wishes work.”

“What do you mean?”

“You got ta be careful with wishes. You got ta think ‘em through. Sometimes what you wish for … well … wishes don’t always come true in the way you think they will. In the beginning our little village was just farm land. Nobody wanted it. The city was at the south end of the island. We never imagined it would grow like some kind a monster and come as far north as we lived. But it did. It grew and grew ‘til eventually it just swallowed up everything in its path. And our little village was in its path. No amount a wishing was ever gonna stop that. Nope … there ain’t ‘nuff wishes in the whole wide world to stop somethin’ like that. They call it progress.

“We did wish … We shore ‘nuff did…wished that our land wouldn’t be swallowed up by that monster rollin’ towards us… Thing is, son, we got our wish, the land is still there … The city come up and then just swept right around it on every side. Only thing is … the wish didn’t turn out the way we thought. Wishes do come true … like I said … they just don’t always come true in the way we imagine. We lost our houses, our village … but the land is still there … it’s part of Central Park now... just as green and pretty as it ever was.

 

****

 

“Isaiah showed us this tin. He dumped out all of the old coins and said, ‘these are all the wishes that people have spoken into that wishing well.’ We couldn’t understand. If they were thrown into the well … then how did he get them? He took us down to the waterfall … you know … where the sweet fresh water spring is. He told us that was the same spring that fed the well. That whenever someone makes a wish at the wishing well Up Top, the coins get swept along by the spring and come out here Below. He discovered the coins when his family took refuge here in the tunnels. Over the years he would find them from time to time in the little stone bowl under the spring. When he did find them, he knew someone up there had made a wish.”

“They must have been very poor, Vincent. Why didn’t they use the money?”

“Aaaaah, because this isn’t just money, Catherine. People have breathed their heart’s deepest desires onto these coins. They saw it as more than just money. These coins have been touched by heartaches, by faith … and maybe even by magic. So Isaiah kept them safe. They are only good for wishing. When Isaiah died, he left this tin to me. He trusted me to keep it safe.”

“Open your hands,” he said.

Catherine sat up on the bed and opened her hands.

Vincent turned the lid on the tin and poured the coins into Catherine’s hand.

“Vincent these coins … they are so old. Look … this one is from 1825,” she whispered in awe. “It feels like I am touching a piece of history.”

“Yes,” he whispered. “But they aren’t just coins, Catherine. Each one represents someone’s deepest desire. Many of these wishes … they were whispered by desperate people with broken hearts. They were washed by their tears. There is something sacred about these coins … something … magical.”

“Yes, I can feel that. Is this where you got your coins?” Catherine asked.

Vincent nodded. “Yes. When Devin doubted Isaiah’s story, Isaiah showed us these coins. He let us each choose one. He told us to keep them with us … that they were only to be used for making a wish in the wishing well, that if we used them for anything else that it would only bring us bad luck. He told us that if we did use them that we should go to the spring by the waterfall to retrieve the coins. If our coin came through then we could use it again for another wish.”

“But, Vincent, you have two coins.”

“Yes.” He became quiet again.

Catherine waited. She could feel his pain, his regret. It hung in the room like a cloud waiting to burst. She knew that he would speak when he was ready.

At length he looked up. He drew strength from the love that he could see in her eyes.

“When Devin and I fought … I hurt him. I scarred him. You already know that… and what happened at the carousel a few nights later.”

“Yes … I know about that too.”

“A few nights later I was on my way to Father’s chamber, in search of a new book from his library… and I heard Devin and Father arguing.”

Catherine knew about the argument. Devin had told her.

“Oh, Vincent.”

Vincent closed his eyes. The memory of it still fresh even after all these years.


 ****

 

Walking towards Father’s library Vincent could hear Devin and Father arguing. That in itself was not unusual. Devin was often in trouble, it seemed. But as he neared the chamber Vincent heard his name.

“… Maybe you did it deliberately! I mean, was that it? You seem to take a perverse pleasure in defying me … and exposing Vincent to danger! Did you want him to get caught?[3]

No, Father, you’re wrong, Vincent thought, Devin is my brother. He loves me, he would never …

“…was that it?” Father demanded. “Was that your way of getting back at him for your fight?”

No, no! Father you’re WRONG! Vincent was just about to intervene. I have to make him understand how it was! Vincent thought. But before he could move, Devin lashed back at Father.

“YES! I wanted him to get caught!” Devin spat the words at Father. “I hate ‘im! HE”S A LITTLE FREAK AND I HATE ‘IM!

Suddenly everything went quiet. Vincent felt as if a hot knife had been thrust into his chest, pinning him to the tunnel wall. It seemed for a moment that everything was suspended, frozen. No one even breathed.

Suddenly Devin turned and ran for the chamber entrance. Just as he exited the room he stopped short when he saw Vincent with his back plastered against the tunnel wall. His eyes were open wide and shimmered with unshed tears.

Devin stood frozen as he realized that Vincent had heard his hateful words. “Vincent …” he stammered, “I … I’m …”

Vincent felt as if his chest was on fire … that Devin’s words were burning through him and would consume him if he didn’t get out… get away … from everything… from everyone. He ran … not knowing how far … not knowing where … he just knew that if he stopped running the pain would catch up to him and destroy him.

By the time he ran into the park, he was weeping openly. The cool evening air felt good on his hot tearstained cheeks. Eventually he ran into a clump of overgrowth and threw himself on the ground in the safety of the trees and wept. He wasn’t sure how long he lay there. When his sobs finally ceased he sat up and looked around. That’s when he saw the well.

At first he looked at the well in disbelief. Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out the wishing coin that Isaiah had given him. The tears ran again as Devin’s words still rang in his ears. “I hate ‘im! HE”S A LITTLE FREAK AND I HATE ‘IM! … I hate ‘im! HE”S A LITTLE FREAK AND I HATE ‘IM!”

He leaned over the well and held the coin in his upturned palm. “I wish … I wish …” He paused and then sobbed, “I wish I never had to look at Devin’s ugly face again. I wish he would disappear and I never had to see him or talk to him again as long as I live!” and he turned his hand and let the coin slip off into the well. When he heard the coin ‘plop’ into the water, he turned and ran all the way home. He didn’t stop running until he reached the chamber he shared with Devin.

 

****

 

“When I came back Below, I went to bed and turned my back to the entrance of the chamber. I didn’t want to see him or speak to him. The pain was too deep, too fresh. But even then a part of me was already beginning to regret my wish. It took hours for me to go to sleep. When I woke up the next morning and he wasn’t here, I was relieved. I still wasn’t ready to face him. Later that day I went to the falls to think … to sulk. Before I left I remembered to look and see if my coin was there.”

“What did you find?” Catherine asked.

“I found my coin … right where Isaiah said it would be. Devin’s coin was there as well.”

“So Devin found the well that night too?”

“I knew he must have … and I knew he must have made a wish. I took both coins and put them in my pocket. I hadn’t seen Devin all day. I was beginning to worry … that perhaps he had heard me make my wish … or that perhaps my wish had come true… that something terrible had happened to him. After a few days, Father began to become very worried. Everyone Below was looking for him. Father made himself sick over it. He thought perhaps Devin had gotten lost in the maze or … or worse.

“We searched for weeks. But I knew … I knew we wouldn’t find him. I knew my wish had come true. I felt so guilty for the hateful wish that I had made, but I couldn’t tell anyone…The guilt was eating me up inside. When I was alone I would take out the coins and just stare at them … as if … they held some answer. Instead they only convicted me. It felt as if they were burning a hole right through my hand … and right through my heart.”

Catherine was silent, but he could feel her compassion for his pain.

“Finally I took them to Isaiah and tried to give them back.”

 

 ****

 

“Why are you giving these back, son? You don’t want a wish?”

Vincent didn’t respond. He just hung his head.

Isaiah rubbed his chin. “I see .... you already made a wish?”

“How did you know?”

“I’m an old man, Vincent. I seen a lot o’ hangdog looks in my day, an that is one big ol’ hangdog look.”

Vincent didn’t reply.

“So your wish … it come true? Or it went wrong?” Isaiah asked.

“Both.”

Isaiah rubbed his chin some more. “And now what? You think if you give back the coin you can undo that wish?”

Vincent looked up hopefully. “Can a wish be undone, Isaiah?”

“Didn’t I tell you you got ta be careful with wishes? Didn’t I tell you ta think ‘em through?”

“Yes, Sir,” Vincent replied.

“And is that what you did, Vincent? Were you careful? Did you think it through?”

“No, Sir.”

“An how is it you come to have Devin’s coin?”

“I don’t know. I guess he made a wish too. I found his coin with mine at the spring.”

“What was your wish, son?”

Vincent was too ashamed to say it out loud.

“Hmmm. That bad, huh? What were you feelin, Vincent, when you made that wish?

Vincent looked up at Isaiah with tear filled eyes and said, “I was mad … I was really, really mad.”

“Uh-huh … I see … A wish made in anger … it’s a powerful thing. It usually ends up hurting the person who makes the wish more than the person they are angry at. Am I close to the truth, son?”

Vincent nodded with tears running down his face.

“I don’t rightly know if’n a wish can be undone, ‘specially a wish like that. I do know it can’t be undone if you give this back. There’s only one thing ta do.”

“What, Isaiah? I’ll do anything if I can just take it back.”

Handing back the coins, he said, “You take these back and you keep ‘em with you an you think it through this time. And when you’re done thinkin’ it through, you go an make another wish. But make sure it’s a good one this time. That’s all you can do, son. And you keep Devin’s safe ‘til he comes back for it.”

“But, Isaiah, I’ve looked for the well every night since. I can’t find it.”

“You will, son. You will. When you’ve thought it through an the time is right … don’t you worry none … that well will find you.”

 

****

 

“He was right, wasn’t he?” Catherine asked.

“Yes,” Vincent whispered.”

“How long did it take to find it?” she asked.

“Seven months … seven long lonely months.”

“Did you talk to anyone about it? Father? Mary? Anyone?”

Vincent shook his head. “Just Isaiah. I was too ashamed of myself to tell anyone else. I spent those months thinking long and hard about what I had done… What was in my heart … what that said about the kind of person I was, what kind of person I wanted to be, and just how I would word my wish if I ever found it again. For seven long lonely months I snuck out of the tunnels every single night after everyone was asleep and searched the park… rain or snow. ”

“And when you did … find it?”

“When I finally found it the next Spring I had nearly given up. I sat next to it and wept. I was so thankful and so sorry.”

“And your wish?”

“Ah yes, the wish. I wished that I could undo my first wish, take it back, and that Devin would come home and know that I loved him. But if it wasn’t possible to undo the wish … I wished that Devin would be safe wherever he was … and that he would know that I loved him.”

Catherine stroked his chest in an effort to reach out and comfort the lonely boy that still lived in him. “But, Vincent, surely you know now that it wasn’t really your wish that made him go? You realize that he would have gone anyway, right?”

Vincent nodded. “Yes … a part of me does … but it wouldn’t have been the same, Catherine. The way it happened … with those last ugly things between us … that isn’t the way we should have parted.

 “If we had parted as brothers … as friends, he would have written me letters, sent postcards of his adventures. We would have included each other in our lives, known of each other’s dreams and sorrows. Father wouldn’t have grown old before my eyes with worry and regret.”

Catherine nodded. “Yes, I think I understand, but surely you didn’t believe that you alone were responsible for it?”

“At first, I did. Isaiah was right; a wish made in anger does indeed do more harm to the person who makes the wish than to the person he is angry with. With that first wish … I did great harm to myself … more harm than Devin’s thoughtless words had done. But the second wish … it did much to help me heal … to help me understand that we all played a part in what happened.”

“… and it came true? Your wish?” she asked.

“Yes.” He nodded slowly. “It took twenty years … but yes … it did come true.”

“Did you ever talk to Devin about it? Did he ever tell you what wish he made that night?”

Vincent nodded. “He tried to follow me. He ran after me, but even at that age I could run faster than any of the other boys. And in that … state … I ran even faster. By the time he reached the park, he had no idea where I had gone. He searched the park desperately trying to find me … he finally heard me crying at the well. He found me just in time to hear my wish.”

“Oh, Vincent.” She wanted to pull him closer and ease his pain.

“He waited until I left and then he made a wish.”

“What was it? Did he ever tell you?”

Nodding, he said, “He wished that I would forgive him.”

“For what he said?”

He shook his head. “No. He knew I would forgive him for that. He wanted me to forgive him for leaving … without me … for leaving me behind. All those dreams he had dreamed that included me. He finally realized that he would never be able to do any of them … that that is all they would ever be … dreams … unless he left me behind. He wished that I would understand … and forgive him.”

It was late. The pipes and the trains had gone quiet. The silence in the chamber almost hummed. Vincent reached to wipe a tear that had slipped down Catherine’s cheek with his thumb. He could feel her heart breaking for the lonely boy he had been and it touched him deeply.

He pulled her close in a warm embrace. Sometimes he just needed to feel her close. To feel her heart beating next to his. To feel them breathing together, in and out as if they were one. To prove to himself that this angel beside him was real … and that she was his.

As they embraced he said, “It’s all right, Catherine. It was a long time ago … it’s over.”

She looked lovingly up at him. “I know, but it still hurts. I can hear it in your voice. I feel it. No child should ever be in that much pain.”

“No, I suppose not, but sometimes it can’t be helped, can it?” he gently asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Think about it, Catherine. Where were you in 1968? You were only a child then too, but you already knew great pain … even worse than mine. Didn’t you?”

She looked at him in surprise. “I was twelve … yes … you’re right. That was a terrible, painful time for me. I missed my mother so much. Even two years after her death, I would still cry myself to sleep sometimes. I tried to hide it from my father, but I think he knew.”

“And it was during that time that you searched the park for the wishing well?” he asked.

“Yes,” she whispered.

“Tell me, Catherine, why did you search so long for it? … If you had found it … what would you have wished for? What was your heart’s deepest wish when you were twelve years old?” He thought he already knew the answer.

She had never spoken it out loud, not to Charles Chandler, not to Nancy Tucker, not to anyone.

“I wanted to wish her back.” She said wistfully. “Even then I knew that it was an impossible wish … that no amount of wishing could bring someone back from the dead. But I wished … I wished that she had never died … that she would come home and it would be like it had been before. That we could be a family again.”

The silence of the chamber hummed around them again as Vincent stared at her. There is that look again, she thought.

“Vincent,” she said. “Why are you looking at me like that? You had that same look on your face earlier, with the children. What is it? What do you want to tell me?”

“It’s my last wish, Catherine … I said that I had made four wishes.”

“Yes? You’ve told me about the first two … and the one Mouse told everyone about ... was that the third?”

“Yes, the one Mouse spoke of was the third.”

“And the fourth? What was your fourth wish, Vincent? Can you tell me?”

Vincent pulled away from her. He needed a little bit of distance for what he was about to say. He got up and paced back and forth and then he pulled up his chair and sat facing her as she sat on the edge of the bed. He closed his eyes and took a deep cleansing breath.

“Vincent?” Catherine was concerned.

He reached for her hands. He stared at them and then looked into her eyes. “The night of your funeral, Catherine …”

He stopped when he heard her breathe in sharply and waited. Once she seemed to catch her breath, he continued never breaking eye contact.

“After your funeral … as soon as it was late enough … safe enough … I went there … to the cemetery.”

She hated any references to that time in their lives. She hated ever thinking about it let alone talking, but she could see that he had something he needed to tell her. She nodded for him to continue.

“I was in so much pain … I shouldn’t have been Above … not in that state, but I couldn’t stay away. I wanted to be near you … even if it was like … that. I don’t know how long I stayed, but when I was making my way back home through the park … I guess I was just wandering aimlessly … I was lost, Catherine. Without you … nothing mattered anymore … I didn’t care if anyone saw me. I didn’t care if anyone caught me. I thought I would die of the emptiness and the pain.”

“Vincent,” she whispered as she tightened her grip on his hands … his beautiful hands … her hands.

“At some point I looked around me and realized that I was standing … at the wishing well.”

 

****

 

He couldn’t believe it. After all this time, after all he had lost … there it was … the wishing well. He laughed bitterly as he stood there looking at it. It mocked him … it mocked his pain. It mocked everything that had ever mattered. It mocked everything he had lost. For Catherine truly was EVERYTHING … everything that had ever mattered anyway.

“You’re too late,” he whispered as if he was speaking to a person. “You’re too late,” he said a little louder. “YOU … ARE TOO …. LATE!” he screamed. “SHE’S GONE! GONE!” he roared wildly in his anguish.

He ran at the well and began kicking it and punching it until his knuckles were bleeding and he fell to his knees sobbing against it.

“You … are … everlastingly … too … late,” he said as the sobs wracked his body. Hot tears dripped from his face unheeded into the water below. “Why couldn’t you have been here six months ago? When I could have found her. When I could have saved her.”

And then in his despair he took a coin from his vest pocket and stared at it as it lay in his upturned palm. It mocked him too. He knew that the deepest wish of his heart would never come true, could never … come true. He knew it was an impossible wish and that no amount of wishing could bring someone back from the dead. Nevertheless, in spite of what he knew to be true he whispered it anyway through his anguish and his tears. He breathed it out into the well.

“I want her back … I wish she had never died … I wish I could find our child and she could come home with us and we could raise him together and be a family.”

And then almost as if he was watching someone else he saw his hand turn and the coin, the 1847 silver half dime, slipped from his palm and into the well. He heard it ‘plop’ as it hit the water below. Still leaning over the well, he took a deep sorrowful breath, and thought he heard a voice from deep below whisper, “With love … all things are possible.”

 

****

 

They sat in the silence looking at each other in wonder with tears streaming down both of their faces. She had been squeezing his hands so tightly that her knuckles had gone white.

“I found my coin the next day … just where I always did.”

She was too shocked to respond so Vincent continued. “Imagine how astounded I was that day, when I was trying to escape from Gabriel’s basement with Jacob in my arms and I heard you whisper my name from the shadows. When I turned and saw you standing there I thought … I thought you were a ghost … an apparition of some kind. But when I reached out to touch you …”

Overwhelmed by emotion he stopped for a moment. “I refused to sleep for days after I brought the both of you home. I was so afraid to close my eyes … afraid that I would wake up and discover that I had imagined it. Sometimes I still wake up and reach out to you just to make sure.”

She was looking at him so strangely. He couldn’t quite discern what she was feeling.

“Catherine? What is it?”

She shook her head. “Vincent … I … I never whispered your name that day. I … I wasn’t going to come back to you … I … I blamed myself … I blamed myself for everything … everything that you had suffered. I believed that the only way you and Jacob could ever be safe would be if I … if I stayed dead. But when you discovered me there. When you saw me and took me in your arms … I didn’t have the strength to go through with it. Vincent … it wasn’t me that whispered your name.”

He looked at her, his eyes wide with disbelief. “If it wasn’t you, Catherine, then who could it …?”

Realizing he had nearly lost her forever, he gasped, “Oh, Catherine.” He pulled her into his arms and held her tight as he whispered her name over and over.

“I love you, Vincent … I love you.” she said, and he held her tighter.

 

****

 

They were both still quietly contemplating it all the next morning as he put the tin back in its place on the shelf. Catherine came up beside him and wrapped her arms around him. They both seemed more aware than usual what a precious gift they had been given. He kissed the top of her head.

“How do you think it works, Vincent? How do you think it could?” she asked.

“How does it matter, Catherine? I’m just thankful that it did.” He kissed her again.

“Are you going to tell the children that story tonight like you promised?”

He thought for a moment. “Perhaps I will tell them about my first two wishes. They have already heard the story of the third.”

“And the fourth?”

“No … not the fourth,” he softly replied. “I think story of the fourth wish is too …”

“Sacred?” she offered.

He pondered the word. He breathed it in. “Sacred?” And then he breathed it out. “Sacred” It sounded like a prayer. “Yes, Catherine, I think that is just what it is… sacred. I think we should keep the story of the fourth wish to ourselves. Maybe someday we will tell our children and our grandchildren about it.”

Children? She wondered if that was just a slip of the tongue or if he had said it deliberately.

“Open your hand, Catherine,” he said as he held up his fist.

When she opened her hand he dropped something into it. Looking closely she realized what it was. “Vincent, this is one of the wishing coins from Isaiah’s tin.”

“Yes. It’s the 1825 Liberty One Cent coin you picked out of the pile last night.”

“But … why?”

“Because … every now and then … I feel a longing in you. Like you are missing something … wanting something. It’s always fleeting … but I felt it last night with the children. I don’t know what it is for sure, but it is there. I want you to have this coin … in case you ever do stumble across the well, you will be ready … to make a wish.”

“Vincent, this is a lovely gift, but …”

“But what, Catherine?”

“But I don’t need the wishing well, Vincent … I have already been given so much … I already have everything … everything. I have you and I have Jacob. If I am ever given more, I will accept it gratefully, but it would be selfish of me to ask.”

He smiled. I should have known she would say something like that, he thought. He gently closed her fingers around the coin. “Keep it anyway, Catherine,” he insisted. “Just in case … in case you ever find yourself in need of a wish, you will be ready.”

She nodded. “Yes, just in case …” She smiled. “Thank you, Vincent.” Catherine reached up to pull his face down to hers. She intended to show him just how grateful she was…

 

****

 

  faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.[4]

Never stop believing…


 

[1] Holy Bible, King James Version, John Chapter 5

[3] Beauty and the Beast Season 1 Episode 16, “Promises of Someday”

[4] Holy Bible, New Testament, Hebrews 11:1

 

~

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