Wishing Well(?)

Calliope Sands stared down into the well, even as she threw the the coin. It fashed once, flipping over in the sunlight before that wholly gracious reflection, too, disappeared forever. Pondering the depth of the old well was sort of a town hobby (or, joke). The cold, gray, stone structure had been here before anyone in living memory and, yet no one, in all of Terra (it was a small town, anyhow) had ever heard a coin hit the bottom. It was, indeed, a curious subject.

She strained, stretching her neck to almost inhuman, even, comic book character lengths, to try again and gauge its depth. As always, nothing. Calli came to the well twice a week, or so, to sit in solitude and (one day, maybe?) hear the tiny ‘clink’ of irrefutable evidence that might, at last, solve the mystery of the imperceivable abyss.

Half the time, she wasn’t even sure what she wished for. She’d just drop the coin, absent-mindedly and out of habit, then sit down to think, most days. For some reason, the question of the well’s depth concerned her exponentially more than her actual wishes. There were, of course, the obvious wishes; those for her family’s happiness and her own, everyone’s well-being, the once a month cheeseburger and chocolate bar. She looked down at her body, sighing an unhappy breath. Those wishes never came true. In fact, few did and those were easier to attribute to pure coincidence.

Once, she’d wished for beauty. She had almost let the coin fall, too, and would have, had it not been for the nagging voice in the back of her mind, insisting that vanity wasn’t worth a wasted wish. It had been so strong and calm, almost like having God, as her own personal conscience. She’d grasped the coin, pulled it back, and held it to her heart, as if to search, there, for a more noble desire. Fearing she didn’t deserve one, she had settled for clearing her mind and dropping the coin, purely for the hope of hearing it hit.

One of these days, she mused, back in the here and now, she’d have to bring a tape recorder, or a pen. Some of the stuff she thought up, out by that old well, was worth saving. She looked up at the cloudless sky and dreamt of worlds away.

* * *

“Why is it raining, all of the sudden?” Drew opened his newspaper, to use as a hasty, makeshift umbrella.

Ceilia shrugged.

“You got nothing?”

She shrugged, again, as they reached the door and he reached to open it for her.

“Aww, shucks. Thank you, ever so, you big strong maaan,” she joked, in her best Scarlett O’Hara drawl, before ducking inside.

He grinned. That woman definitely had an answer for everything. He could see the wheels turning, behind those baby greens, of hers. She had a theory about the rain, alright, probably wrapped up in some metaphysical conundrum. He just wouldn’t hear about it until after work, at the watering hole. After all, it was Friday. Recently, it had somehow evolved into a weekly ritual to hit the local bar, a block from the lab, every Friday. It started a couple months back, the day after Ceilia got dumped at dinner, by her longtime boyfriend. Drew had met the guy a couple times…total douche. But, wasn’t that always the way of it? Nice, smart girls always ended up with daft jerks, while nice guys, well…were mostly gay. That was Ceilia’s joke-slash-theory, anyhow.

“Did you forget which floor, buddy?”

Drew was pulled out of his reverie by Ceilia’s voice, biting, and witty, and (against all odds) somehow, charming. He smiled and punched the button. “I was just trying to perfect some of your theories.

She laughed. “If anyone could, it’d be you.”

He nodded. It was true. She was a brilliant woman, and her actual theory on men and women rang pretty true. It merely had no controlled results, or unbiased evidence, to support it. Her theory was that polar opposites in temperament, where procreation is a concern, generally attract to each other, naturally, to form a more perfect balance in each succeeding generation after they mate. To look at humans as simply another species with no complications, other than almost pure evolutionary characteristics, was sort of weird, for Drew. Mathematically, when one broke it down, the particulars didn’t make as much sense, as the overall hypothesis did, and this was always where Drew and Cilia disagreed.

She complained, incessantly, insisting that Drew only need “look past the math”, to make most of her ideas work. He simply didn’t see how this was possible. Math wasn’t just something you overlooked, to get to a solution. Math was the only route to a Universal, plausible, non-arbitrary solution. As a fellow bio-chemist, Drew was fairly appalled even to hear Ceilia talking this way. She’d always hated her job and, truth be told, Drew did, too. Nothing killed the ideal of changing the world, through curing cancer, or the elusive daydream of a Nobel Prize, quite like brewing up babies for bored, rich women. Many a bar night, had begun with this very topic of discussion, in fact. The typical protocol being; “I never thought I’d be doing this, when I was in Grad school,” chased with a shot of tequila. Of course, followed by a couple of beers (usually, whatever was new on tap) and general pontification.

Ceilia was often cerebral, hardly ever rational, occasionally downright morbid, and always opinionated. Drew loved talking to her, mostly for all those reasons (although, the morbid got to him, sometimes). She wasn’t just another gorgeous moron, who threw out big words without ever really saying anything, either. She rarely held the ‘popular’ opinion, or talked about something, just for the self-centered satisfaction of hearing herself talk. She spoke of nearly everything, with equal passion and intelligence. She just knew things, other people didn’t bother to look for, ever. And you could tell, if you watched her carefully, and really listened, that she truly thought things through. Things most of us were afraid, even, to recognize, like death, and God(s), and (supposed) reality. He shook his head, as he looked at his watch. A quarter to five. Good…it was almost cocktail hour. He could hardly wait, for what was on the agenda, today.

He would change his mind pretty quickly, once they were a few beers in. Cocktail hour? Right…it was more like the witching hour, Drew found himself thinking, as he stared at his co-worker. He couldn’t beleive his ears. Or eyes.

“It’s just illogical,” he found himself saying. Slurring, actuallly. One shot had, somehow, turned into several. It was the only thing that remotely explained the gist of their conversation. Drunken science.

“See?” Ceilia took a long, slow sip of her beer. “You just don’t see things the way I do, Drew.”

“It’s a good thing, too. Otherwise we’d both be crackheads.”

She laughed. “Don’t you mean, ‘crackpots’?”

“Nah…I don’t think anyone uses that word outside of books, wackjob. Speaking of which, you know, our whole personality dynamic supports one of your theories, anyway.”

“Oh yeah? Which one would that be?”

“That you and I, being polar opposites, should probably procreate.”

She laughed again, wryly.

“Yeah,” he agreed. “You do see a lot of things, other people don’t.” He paused, tapping the bar napkin with his index finger. “It doesn’t make you right about this, though.”

“Look again, Drew. I’m right. Not to mention, it’s the simplest math of all time.”

He gazed down at the napkin again, which looked even more surreal against the backdrop of the heavy wood counter, supporting it. ‘The God Equation’, she was calling it. He didn’t believe in God and, according to his Catholic upbringing, God especially didn’t believe in him. Science and math were the answer to the puzzle of our Universe, not some weird, arbitrary bearded guy in the sky. Sure, her ‘simple math’ added up, but, against what, exactly?

“God, man,” she said, as if she’d read his mind.

He jumped at her voice. “You’re drunk,” his voice came out loud, awkard, accusing. He sounded like a little kid who didn’t want to play anymore because he’d been picked last.

She threw her head back, laughing wholeheartedly, this time. “Okay, Pot. Fair enough. But, you’re a little blacker, or, drunker, as it were. What are you? Trying to work up the courage to hit on me? We both know I’m not your type, honey.”

Drew smiled a small, sad smile. “We both know, it wouldn’t work.”

“That’s true. So, hit on the waitress.”

He glanced at the overworked girl, as she pushed a dark loch of hair off her forehead. He shook his head, turning his gaze to the beer in his hand.

“I doesn’t hold the elusive meaning of life,” she’d read his mind, again. She did that a lot. Freakishly, a lot. If he weren’t a man of science, he’d swear she was psychic. She’d always had his number, since day one, when he thought he was so great at keeping everyone out. He looked back at Ceilia, almost afraid of her.

“Collective conscious,” she quipped. “Plus, you’re pitifuly easy to read.”

He grinned, some more. “Pitifully, huh? Am I at least lovable, like a Pound Puppy, or a My Little Pony? Or, maybe, the little kids who learn a valuable life lesson, at the end of every G.I. Joe?”

Drew felt a perpetual need to poke fun at Ceilia for her TV-on-DVD collection. She revered those old 80’s shows, bad camera, and all, to the point that it made her physically angry for anyone to remake them, for an introduction to the next generation. She threw a peanut at him. Her secret shame was Jem; who could blame her?; after all, Jem was ‘truly, truly, truly outrageous’. Three truly’s…that had to be legit.

“You forgot Brandon. You’re more of a Brandon. Especially, with that red hair.”

He ran a hand through it, involuntarily. “It’s not red. And who the hell is Brandon?”

“Punky Brewster’s dog. What is it, if it’s not red?”

“Auburn. And you would know the name of Punky Brewster’s dog.”

“Whatever. I made you laugh, anyway.”

“You usually do.”

Ceilia summoned the waitress. “Let’s get outta here, kid.”

“No problem, Bogie.”

She loved those old movies, too. She was the only grown woman he knew, who still watched the old Hayley Mills version of ‘The Parent Trap’, and she owned every Marilyn Monroe movie, ever made. Not to mention the whole Bogie and Bacall collection, ‘It Happened One Night’, ‘Dr. Strangelove; Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb’, and countless others. Ceilia was a metaphysical conundrum, he supposed, in and of herself.

* * *

Calliope slung her backpack off of her shoulder and threw it to the ground. She never lost her cool. What was wrong with her, today? Oh, yeah; she knew what it was; that damned math quiz. She’d failed. She was sure of it. Math was simply horrid. So limiting, with no room for imagination. How many times, she wondered, had she wished she was at least capable at math? Countless. Truly, an insurmountable quantity of coins had been flung into the abyss, with this very name on them. She fished around in her pocket for another one, this time, with rain on her mind. She dropped it, straining, again, for the sound of surety, only, again, to be disappointed at the silent descent. Slumping against the well, Calli gazed up at the cloudless sky. Still, no rain. Still, no hint of a bottom in the old well. It wasn’t shaping up to be a good day.

Meanwhile, back at the lab, Ceilia had managed to grant a bored, rich housewife, quintuplets. What would happen, from here on, was completely out of Ceilia’s hands, but, it didn’t stop her from speculating at the terrible, yet likely, fate of four little people. Ceilia had always been pro-choice, and completely okay with someone who found herself in a jamb, using abortion as her last option. It wasn’t birth control. It damn sure wasn’t appropriate for a woman, stirring the pot, to have babies genetically engineered for her, then tossing the extra embryos, like they were nothing more than used up tissues. That, Celia mused, was most certainly a horse of a different color. She couldn’t imagine that this was what ‘free will’, if such a thing truly existed (which, her profession seemed to prove), was meant to be.

She wondered what Drew thought about all of this, but, she couldn’t really ask. He was touchy, even with subjects that only danced around the idea of any brand of God(s). Free will, was pretty completely, a God(s) argument. She’d had enough of those for this week. It was awfully tiring to argue with a supposed atheist about something he’d grown up around and activey chosen to refuse to ever acknowledge, again. Celia had always believed in a Higher Power, but , on her own terms, alone. She couldn’t bear to box God in, with a little book, in a little steeple. Drew; he couldn’t even come to his own terms with any Creator/God figure.

Celia just preferred to think of the human race as one, of many, manifestations of a pure and perfect Energy/Universe/Creator. She’d figured, long ago, that they were all the same thing. People had always been uncomfortable, talking with her about theoogy. She was labeled, in her family, an atheist. She didn’t really mind. They just didn’t understand her and she, well, she just didn’t understand anything. But, at least she was smart enough to know, she knew nearly nothing. She couldn’t help, but, feel like she had a little in common with God(s), what with her petri dishes and celluar construction. It was hard to imagine that everything had fallen into place, this way, without a guiding hand, of some sort, by whatever name. Still, lost in her thoughts, she stepped out into the rainy afternoon for a long overdue lunch. Where the hell was it all coming from, anyhow? She felt like she was in a tropical forest, during the rainy season.

Calli gazed up at the sky, longing for a single drop, of life-giving rain. She perked her ears and tossed the coin, with a wish for water, preseed against her lips. She coudn’t imagine how Terra would survive much longer, without any rain. It wasn’t as though her town was a desert. She looked around, sitting cross-legged at the foot of the well. The town was starting to look sad and dull, almost like a ghost town, in the old Westerns. When was the last time, she’d seen anyone at the old well, Calli wondered. When, in fact, was the last time she saw anyone…anywhere? Something very strange seemed to be going on, around here.

Drew couldn’t understand what was bothering Celia, so. And, to make matters worse, she was remaining uncharacteristically close-mouthed about it. He eyed her, from behind the beer glass, as he took a swig. Yes, it was Friday, again. It had a way of coming around regularly, like that.

“What?” she’d caught him, staring at her.

He shook his head. “Just wondering what’s up, with you. You’re so,” he paused, “quiet.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Anything you want to talk about?”

Now, she shook her head. It was going to be a long night, at this rate. Without Celia to entertain him, tonight was sure to be a bust. He realized, then, how much he looked forward to her zany concoctions, regardless of his cynicism. She kept him light.

“Now, I’ve got you thinking, huh?”

He nodded, raising his glass, again.

“If science and religion ever shut up and agree to meet, in the middle, I think I’ll be happy.”

He nodded, again. “I just don’t see how they can.”

“Yeah,” she mused. “Nobody seems to. That’s just the problem. I’m the only one who sees a little of it, which makes me automatically wrong.”

“You got that right.”

She smiled.

“See? That’s what I was missin’. Are you thinking about Levine?”

He’d hit the nail on the head, although, she fet a lot like the proverbial nail. She was, in fact, still worried about the four “extra” babies, she’d inadvertently cooked up, for Mrs. Saul Levine, III. Honestly, she’d expected more from the woman, considering her faith. You’d think God’s chosen people would be smart enough to realize there was a reason they weren’t chosen to have kids. But, all of it was truy out of her hands, now. Some lab tech had probably already disposed of the miracles lying unwanted, in their dish.

“Yeah,” she admitted, “but I’d rather not dwell on it.”

“Fair enough. You need someone to talk to, you know where to find me. In the meantime, I gotta take a leak.”

“Well, I’m not going to come looking any time soon, then. Damn.”

Both of them laughing, Drew excused himself, leaving Ceilia to her own thoughts, which inevitably wandered to this unending question of morality in a society devoid of even a hint.

For no reason that she could name, Ceilia looked up, just then. She was startled, to discover there was no ceiling, only a long (seemingly endless) tunnel, raising straight up, above her head. A dim, dying, gray glow reached toward her, never to touch her world. Ceilia blinked, once; twice; but the tunnel stayed and kept glowing, ever so slightly. It never wavered. This was impossible. Surely, she was dreaming. There was, simply, no other explanantion; logical, or extraordinary.

She turned her attention back to her drink, still waiting for her, just as she’d left it. In fact, she could feel the icy liquid, just beyond the glass, and the sheer layer of condensation; wet droplets of sweat, against her palm. All was as it should be. The bartender, sullen and bored, as he poured another to drown the sorrows of a patron who refused to shut up about them. The usuals, jammed up at the bar to catch the game their wives wouldn’t let them watch, at home. A couple of weird guys she’d never seen before, hanging in the corner, talking amongst themselves.

On any regular night, Ceilia would have willfuly and readily made up a witty dialogue, for two such chracters. It was her favorite part of any bar; letting her underused imagination tke flight. Married couples, boyfriend-and-girlfreinds, guy parties drunk on alternate man-love and battles of testosterone. These guys would have been fun. One had on a trench coat, dull and gray, and Ceilia found the theme to ‘Inspector Gadget’ running through her head, unwittingly. They were talking in hushed tones and Ceilia figured they were probably up to no good, at a bar miles from where they lived, to discuss the hit the preppy guy wanted Inspector Gadget to carry out. It was probably Richie Rich’s wife, he wanted offed, and every now and again, his eyes scanned the room, paranoid squirrel style, to lock with hers and scamper away, uncertainly, again. She smiled with about as much joy as the bartender, and looked down into her glass. Half, maybe a third, full. Drew had downed his, before retiring to tend to his business, she noticed. All was truly, as it should be. Except, for that far-reaching tunnel, the hole, and its glow.

She didn’t mean to (again), but, found herself wondering about what she’d seen, prior to actively distracting herself, this way. She supposed her thoughts had to come full circle, sometime. It wasn’t as though she was drunk enough to forget. She was, truth be told, pretty sober. They didn’t start with a shot, and this was only her second beer.

Wait! She’d looked away; turned her attention to the people in the bar. The tunnel had to be gone, now. It was the oldest trick, in lucid dreaming, to turn your attention elsewhere, when something was about to wake you up, or, shatter your illusion of life, as you knew it. At any rate, the tunnel must have disappeared. She looked up, tentatively. Still there. She found herself transfixed, by what would go down in the record books, as the most surreal, insane thing, that had ever happened to her. The tunnel stretched out, into Infinity, into that glow of Heaven, or whatever it was.

Was it a wormhole? Ceilia wondered. Certainly not, she remedied, realizing that the walls of the tunnel were so clearly man-made. The gray and beige cobblestone walls sparkled, at points, in the poor light, to suggest quartz, or, even limestone. The blocks were rough, uneven, thrown together and adhered with mortar. It actually didn’t look quite like the factory made stuff, you could buy at Home Depot, but more like, the old school formula of; contained sand, clay, traces of calcium carbonate, and a high percentage of lime. Ceilia marveled at the detail her mind was absorbing and simultaneously recalling, in only instants. She absolutely had to be dreaming, she again convinced herself, it was only a very well-calculated, detailed, and constructed dream. Then, it happened.

As she studied the walls, a figure came into the light. A silhouette of someone, or, something. God (maybe)? She wasn’t sure, but, the pure, raw emotion; the instant connection and love of someone she didn’t know and never really could; suggested that this could only be God; that, or, she’d just given birth, without realizing it. This face, however, wasn’t the face of a God, Who’d been painted throughout the centuries, by the classical greats and the common Wo/Man, alike. This was no Sage; no old, wise, timeless bearded man, in the sky, reaching for cherubim from a cloud of perfection. This face was the epitome of Youth; plain and pretty. This face bore the small, adorable snub nose, characteristic of early childhood, and high cheekbones ready to emerge from the last remnants of baby face…

“CEILIA!” Drew said, sharply, as though this were the umpteenth time.

She turned to him, with a start, confused at his sudden presence. Oh, right; her head cleared; he’d gone to the bathroom, only moments, before.

“Are you drunk?”

She shook her head, dumbfounded.

“What are you looking at?”

She pointed up and his gaze followed. He shrugged, as if to say; Really-what the hell are you looking at?

Ceilia looked up, expecting the tunnel to be gone, at last. It wasn’t. Tunnel, glow, young girl (Ceilia wasn’t sure when, or how-but she’d decided it was a young girl, that God, up there); all, still there. Ceilia gazed into the glow, at the face she could barely make out, as a coin flipped, end-over-end, past Ceilia’s uplifted visage, to clink into Drew’s empty glass. Outside, thunder crackled, and the Monsoon season began again, for today.

In the two days since she’d noticed, Calli had seen no one else, in Terra. Where her books, or backpack came from, she’d no idea. Whom she never seemed to talk to, she didn’t suppose she’d ever find out. Wandering around, aimlessly, had only led her here, back to the old well. Confused, she fished a coin out of her pocket and tossed it absent-mindedly, straining to hear, knowing she wouldn’t, as always.

She wished, only, to know who she was; to know where this was; to know what it all meant, after all.

Clink.


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