By Laura Madeline Wiseman
The time I remember falling into a well, I am four.
Mom is at work, Lissa, my sister, taking a nap, and I’m out back playing with mud. I’ve made three mud pies and I want to try them. To eat one. Just one bite. Just one lick. But Grandpa said it would give me worms. And I don’t know what worms are in people, but I think they must be like the worms that are outside after it rains at night. Hundreds of nightcrawlers cover the porch, sidewalk, and driveway when it rains. Some are as long as sticks.
I carry my mud pies to the well. I don’t think it’s really a well, but it has water in it. When Grandma or Mom’s purse is in the house, I find their pennies and silver money and put it in my pocket. Then I throw handfuls of coins into the well. This way, my wishes will definitely come true.
I wished for candy once, and then it was Easter and I got candy. That one worked. I wished for a friend and then I met Tracy, the girl my age that lives next door. My wishes always come true. Or sometimes, I don’t wish hard enough.
Today it’s cold out. I have on my red zip-up sweater, jeans, and a green turtleneck. I don’t like turtlenecks. They never fit over my head, and my hair always comes out sticking straight up. It’s just like when my Uncle Kevin rubs a balloon on my head, my hair tries to stick up and follow the balloon.
My grandma’s yard is big. Between two trees is a hammock. I have a secret fort on the side of the house under the pine trees. There are ants next to the whitewashed chain-link fence in the back behind some more trees. But my well is closest to the house. It is in the center of my mud-pie baking place.
The well used to have this cement fairy in the center. She had large cement wings, kissing lips that shot out water, closed eyes, and hands folded on her lap. She is green, gray, and black. I think she might be the Tooth Fairy because I saw a coin once under her hand, but she covered it up when I got closer. And she doesn’t have any teeth, which is why she wants mine.
My mom told me that when I’m old enough, my teeth will start falling out and I will get money for them from the Tooth Fairy. But I don’t want my teeth to fall out. And one time I had a dream that she came and took all my teeth. Then I didn’t have any, so I cried. My mom came in when I was crying and I told her about my dream and she said that when I lose my teeth, new ones will come in. They will grow, she said. The Tooth Fairy just wants the old ones.
My mom never told me that the Tooth Fairy was in the well, I figured it out all on my own. I’m smart.
My grandpa took her away. I don’t know why. I don’t know when. But I keep wishing with the silver money that she will come back. Now, my well just has water in it, very far below. But sometimes when I throw the pennies in really hard, I get splashed. When I look down into it, I can see my reflection and the clouds.
I throw a mud pie in. Mud pies are like coins, and maybe I can wish on them too. Pinocchio makes wishes and his nose grows. Then he gets stuck in a whale. I bet a well is like a whale, wet and full of dirty water.
Three mud pies in, two more to go. They make a splash when they hit the water and they disappear like my pennies. Maybe I should make a wish. “Plompwish,” is the sound. “Plompwish.” All my pies are in the well.
I sit on the edge, crouched looking down in the water. I scrunch my eyes closed trying to think of a good wish. I make the wish after I throw the pies in because it takes so long to carry them over. My feet are half on the cement side of the well and half digging into the mud.
“Come back fairy,” I finally say. I open my eyes and try to stand up. But then I fall.
“Plompish.” Is the sound I make. Oooh, it is so cold in the water. I stand up. I’m completely wet and I try to stand up, but the water is around my waist.
“Mom!” I walk around and around. In some places I can stand a little bit taller, but I’m stuck in the well.
I bet I can climb out. I reach up and I can almost touch the edge of the well. My fingers can stick up and out. I don’t want the fairy to think she can take me away. I’m not wishing money. I have to get out before she finds me here. I better be quiet or she’ll hear me.
There are some rocks in the water, or something, and I can stand up on them. My hands can reach out of the well. I look up. The outside is a circle of gray sky and nothing else. My grandma’s house has disappeared. I start to cry. Maybe the fairy has already taken me away. Then I must escape. I start to splash. In the bathtub, mom says, “Don’t splash, all the water will get out.” I splash so that all the water will get out and I won’t have to stand in it.
“Whoosh, splish, whoosh,” are the sounds it makes around me. But I get water in my mouth and it tastes like mud pies and now I’ll get worms. What if worms are down here too? I threw worms in here to make a wish once. Okay, a couple of times. They wiggled and slithered in my hand. I threw them hard because worms are gross. That day I was wishing to go swimming and I wanted it to warm up and bring the sun. And there were so many worms. I threw worms in forever. I cleaned all of them off the sidewalk and the stairs. But I didn’t get to go swimming that day, I got to go to grocery shopping at the commissary instead. Which is almost as good because I got to eat cheese and baloney rolled up.
I try climbing and I get my hands on the edge, but my feet don’t have anywhere to go. So I let go.
“Hello!” someone says. Maybe it’s the fairy. I swim to the other side of the well just in case. I don’t think I should let her see me. “Hello!” A mom’s head pokes over the edge of the well. She is Tracey’s mom and is very nice. She lets me and Tracy build forts out of sheets in the basement. The forts are huge and cover everything.
“Laura, are you okay?”
“I fell in.”
“Are your feet touching the bottom?”
“Where’s the fairy?”
“Okay, don’t move. Can you reach my hand?”
I can, but just with my fingertips. I go over to the rock and stand on it, my whole hand reaching out.
“Good,” she says. “Grab my hands.” She grabs my hands and pulls me out of the well. She has a smile and gives me a hug. “Come on, let’s find your grandma and get you dried off.”
We walk into the house, but I think I hear the fairy squirting water, so I don’t turn around. I don’t want her to see me. She will know I escaped. It is starting to rain, too. When I get dried off, I will throw worms in.
Laura Madeline Wiseman is an adjunct professor at the University of Arizona. Her works have appeared in 13th Moon, The Comstock Review, Paper Street, and other publications. She is the cultural editor for IntheFray and the literature and arts editor for Empowerment4Women.
Photo "Pierced" courtesy of Dawn Malone, Riverside, CA.
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