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The International Writers Magazine:Dreamscapes
(From Our Archives)

The Fountain 
O. Jimenez
Peter and Wendy had been meeting at the water fountain for many weeks now. They liked each other’s company. One morning, Wendy surprised Peter when she whispered to him, “I am secretly in love with a married man.”  


Wendy is a leggy brunette, nearly half Peter’s age, interning in marketing for the summer. She, of course, is young. Young in every sense of the word: firm body, radiant skin, long legs. She’s also endearingly naive. In contrast, Peter is approaching half-a-century on this earth. He shows the obligatory wrinkles around the eyes and neckline,  wears reading glasses resting precariously on the bridge of his nose, a detail that makes him look much older than he is. Peter is handsome despite a receding hairline and protruding stomach. He’s also smart, a bit-over-the-top sometimes, but smart.  He wears kaki slacks, button-down shirts without a tie, and shoes that, like himself, look like they’ve seen better days.

Wendy’s declaration, and implied confidence, had taken Peter by surprise (of course, secretly he wished he were the object of her desires.)  Despite Wendy’s five-foot-nine stature, she wore high-heels with every outfit imaginable. The vibrant colors and revealing design of Wendy’s shoes had caught Peter’s attention. He liked that. He admired her boldness. He thought it was daring for a young woman to assert herself stylishly like that, without fear or looking like a “bimbo” (his words.) Peter, however, wasn’t the only person in the building who admired Wendy. Kathryn, the agency’s receptionist whose desk faced the drinking fountain, and was rumored to have taken part in Pride parades in Greenwich Village, liked to witness surreptitiously as Wendy swayed rhythmically down the hallway and leaned to drink water from the fountain.

Peter had been preoccupied by Wendy’s confession. He had wanted to give her advice, to warn her of the impending doom of such affair. During one of their meetings at the water fountain he had decided to give Wendy his advice: “There is no ‘happily ever after.‘ Peter said, “Love ends when the story ends, and life is still there and  you still have to live it after you reach the last paragraph of the story.” He said, referring to her situation as a tragedy. He continued with his lines as if reading from a teleprompter, “The slings and arrows of daily existence, take over the lives of the protagonists and crowd out the niceties of courtship.” 

Sensing he had Wendy’s undivided attention, Peter resumed his lecture uninterruptedly: “soft whispers after lovemaking surrender to farting under the covers. Hugging after intimacy is replaced by snoring.”  His gaze fixed on Wendy’s eyes as he delivered these charged lines. He knew he was delving into dangerous territory, but he wanted to find out how far he could take it before Wendy walked away. He wanted to witness her reaction. He was testing her. 

“That’s hilarious,” Wendy interrupted with a muffled giggle. All the time playfully sliding one foot out of the purple pumps she was wearing. 

Kathryn, from down the hallway, had been stretching her neck over her computer’s monitor every so often, watching through the glass doors, trying to decipher the goings on at the water fountain. She was trying to read their faces as they chatted. She suspected there was something going on between the two. In her mind, when a middle-aged man and an attractive young woman spend so much time at the water fountain, there’s bound to be something going on between them, she had thought. But secretly, she also felt resentful, a bit jealous, she, too, wished she were the object of Wendy’s desires. 

Peter spoke with a certain matter-of-factness in his tone of voice: “athletic endurance gives way to untimely climax, followed by the ‘fake’ orgasm, which, invariably, the woman begins to master after the first year of marriage, but doesn’t admit it until the second or third child is grown and moved to greener pastures. Peter accentuated his delivery, like a preacher browbeating his congregation, by repeating his opening assertion: “there is no happily ever after.” He almost expected to hear  Wendy  cry “Amen!” Instead, Wendy was silent. Her perfect complexion turned ruddy, inadvertently revealing her inexperience. 

“Think carefully about what you’re about to do,” Peter said to Wendy, referring to the doomed relationship she was embarking on.

“I know you mean well, Wendy said breaking her silence, “but this is real love. I know it. I can feel it deep inside me; each time I see him, talk to him. I sigh, and feel warm and comfortable inside. That must be love. I don’t feel that way when I’m with just... anyone.”

“But there’s no future in it,” Peter fired back.

Wendy bit her lower lip, her eyes looked at the ceiling as if looking for an answer. “I’ve not gotten that far, yet,” she said.

The compressor from the water fountain came on with a sustained vibration. Peter instinctively reached for his Blackberry, like a cowboy reaching for his gun, he unlatched it from its holder, tapped the keyboard with his thumbs, watched images scrolling up and down the screen, then put it back into its holder with a click. “What you mean,” he continued, “is that you’re not confronting the issue because it feels good to feel good, right?” He looked up at Wendy eyes as if expecting an answer.

Wendy’s words were barely flowing, “In so many words...”

Peter interrupted her, “There aren’t that may words,” he said, “In fact, it’s almost black and white: you either see it or you don’t.” He moved his body closer to hers with his hand resting on the blackberry on his waist. “You’re too close to see things with perspective.”

“Perspective? Wendy asked rhetorically,  “Tell us your perspective, please,” she added sarcastically.

Kathryn’s head was leaning sideways peeking at Wendy and Peter. Her eyes focused on their faces, she was still trying hard to read their lips. Kathryn’s thoughts bounced all around inside her skull:  “these two are having an affair. She’s probably pregnant and rightfully confronting him with the choices. I’m sure he’s desperately trying to keep her quiet, to weasel out of his responsibility. Old bastard!  He’s probably bullying the girl into having an abortion. Old turd!”  Kathryn couldn’t keep her thoughts inside her head. She picked up the telephone, dialed a number with the eraser side of her pencil, and waited impatiently for her partner Susan to answer the phone.

After several rings a nasal voice answered, “Hello?” 

“Hey, Sue” 

Kathryn cradled the telephone receiver with one hand while cupping its mouthpiece with the other “You’ll never guess what I’m witnessing here,” she whispered into it the receiver, “You know the old bastard from accounting?  yeah, yeah, him... and you know,  the girl I told you about?  the shoes.. right; I think she’s gotten herself pregnant, yeah by the bastard, no, no, I don’t know this for a fact, but I’m looking at them right now, they’re having an argument by the water fountain,... yes, I know, I know, he’s got a kid, been married for years. I know.. right! I know... I’d like to punch him in the face!”  

Again, Peter reached for his vibrating Blackberry, this time he answered: “Yeah, still at work,”  he mouthed the words “don’t go away”  to Wendy as he spoke into his Blackberry.  “Yeah, I know, I’ll call when I’m in the car. OK, no, OK,  I’ll call you. Right.”  He ended the curt exchange with “me too.”  He clicked the Blackberry back into its holder. Wendy stared at the scene with arms folded on her chest, her entire body resting on one leg while pivoting the other on the pointy right heel for balance.

A young man carrying binders walked past Wendy and Peter, blocking Kathryn’s line of sight. Wendy acknowledged his presence with a greeting:  “Hey Robby,”  but the young man ignored her . He deliberately looked straight dow the hallway, trying hard to seem disinterested. He walked briskly, still blocking Kathryn’s view. Kathryn hung up the phone and pretended to resume her typing.

Peter resumed the conversation with Wendy, all the time thinking about his personal obligations: “Well,” he said,  “I’ve been trying to tell you for the past month or so, but you haven’t been listening to my admonitions.” He then added, “I think there is no convincing you.” 

“But I don’t know that I want to be convinced,” she said, her arms still folded over her chest.  “You’re thinking too much, that’s your problem.”  she told Peter. “You don’t have the right perspective to see that there’s an actual meaning to all of this,” 

Peter’s eyebrows arched inquisitively, What meaning?” he asked.

Wendy’s hands, clenched into fists, were now resting on her hips: “I don’t think you’ve experienced the emotions that I  feel when I’m with him.  she countered, “I feel happy when he’s close to me.”  A strand of hair fell over her eyes, she blew it away  with a puff from her pouty lips.  Peter culled her words and fired back: 

“Happy?” he asked, “Now there’s a nice meaningless word.”

The compressor from the fountain cut off abruptly sending their words echoing through the silent hallway. The glare from the fluorescent ceiling lamps made the nondescript artworks hanging on the hallway walls seem dull. The beige carpet at their feet added little to make the atmosphere feel less stagnant. People had been walking past Wendy and Peter without looking, yet surely acknowledging their presence. It had not occurred to either Peter or Wendy what their colleagues might be thinking. Perhaps because they were both innocent, but not in their hearts.

Wendy, lowered he voice, and fired back at Peter’s assertion, “Why meaningless? Haven’t you ever felt happy in your life?  she said disdainfully.

“I don’t think happiness rhymes with adultery. Unhappiness is more likely” said Peter coldly.

“Well then, go ahead” she said, “define Happiness for me.” 

“First let’s make sure you understand what you think happiness is”  he said, “you think the emotions that you feel when this guy’s near you will endure and become a form of happiness that will uplift you, give meaning to your life... Is that it?”

Wendy shrugged her shoulders in reply.

“Well, despite what you may think, I have a better grasp of the word happiness,” he said pointing a finger to his chest and leaning forward.

“All I want to do is feel happy,” Wendy replied, taking a short step back. “If happiness means feeling warm and fussy inside, then that is all I want. Why is that such a big deal?” 

“The quote-unquote big deal” said Peter, “is that you’re sacrificing someone else’s happiness for your own,” he lectured, “you think if it feels good, it must be good, despite the consequences; none of which, I’m you sure have considered.”

“Your constipated thinking amazes me!” she said impatiently. 

“All I’m trying to do, is make you see is that infidelity is wrong, that’s all. It hurts people, it ruins people’s lives,” Peter leaned lightly against the wall as he replied to Wendy.

Wendy’s eyes locked into Peter’s.

Peter continued uninterrupted: “ Let’s go back a minute,”  he said, “Explain to me what it is that you think happiness is. Or better yet, explain to me what it is that brings you happiness.”  Peter’s tried to force his point of view on Wendy without success.

“If I had to explain it, it’d be like this,” she tried to explain, “When I see his face my heart beats faster. I feel light headed, and all I want to do is smile. At the same time, my palms get sweaty, I want to embrace him, kiss him. When he’s with me I delight  on his smile, his face, the tone of his voice. I melt when I see his face smiling back at me. I sigh and feel fulfilled and... happy.”

Peter shook his head and sighed: “You’ve just described an adolescent’s idea of Love.   You really don’t have a clue about what it takes to love someone.”

“You’re not seeing it my way,” Wendy fired back.

“No?” asked Peter sarcastically.

“ Did you not ever feel this way?” Wendy’s tone of voice was rising as she questioned him.

“You just want this guy to jump your bones.” he mocked her.

 “Is that what you’ve deduced?”  Wendy replied impatiently, “Just because you’ve never experienced the excitement of romantic love; just because love is absent from your marriage, it doesn’t  mean it does not exist.”  

“I don’t think you know what love is, Wendy”  said Peter, back on his soapbox lecturing, “Love is more than physiological reactions, is what I’m saying. Love grows, and embeds itself in the heart, the mind, the soul, engendered by the interaction of  two people. Suffering can be a catalyst of love, too, and it can bring people together.  Love’s strength grows with pain. Love, is the unconditional surrender to the person you wish to share yourself with. Love, most of all is trust.”  Peter’s words had hit their target, but he didn’t  feel vindicated. He did not know if he was trying to convince Wendy, or convince himself.

 “Then why do you say that there’s no happily ever after?  asked Wendy softly.

They stood looking at each other in silence. Neither wanted to be the one to say the next word and break that silence. Wendy stood flat footed, towering over him, her eyes welling up involuntarily. Peter’s Blackberry kept vibrating on his waist.  Kathryn no longer sat at her desk, she stood at the glass doors with arms folded, staring. Peter’s Blackberry got louder. He wanted to ignore it, but Wendy broke the silence: 

“That’s your wife isn’t it.  Aren’t you gonna answer it?

© Oswaldo Jimenez  June 2011

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