“Words in Water and Stone.” Fiction by Joan Haladay.

     I am privy to their secrets: The cooing of pigeons.  The heavy breaths of laden down housewives hoisting a grocery sack under each arm and a child on their back.   The mutterings of old men on their way to cheat at cards.  The laughs and lusts of young husbands on their way to or from the office.  The fantasizing of laborers eating lunch in the open air.  The mating cries of cats in heat.  The abundant eyes and lips of lovers.   The shouts, cries, and laughter of children.   The whispers of adulterers.   The rustlings of squirrels.   The wispy wings of passing angels.  The plots behind the blaring voices of politicians.   The coquettishness of girls.   The bravado of adolescents.   The barking of dogs.   The moaning of wind.   The ravings of drunks.   The prophecies of lunatics and saints.  The warm-up scales of street singers.   The seductiveness of hawkers and vendors.   The temptations of devils.  The germ manifestos of artists and bohemians.  

      I am the first to know of rebellions and elopements, the meeting places for trysts, scandals, financial shocks, shifts in weather, divorce, illegitimate births, abortions, clandestine meetings, murder, theft, mercy killings, war, marriages, incest, broken hearts, poems, and jealousy.   Shit upon and cooed at by pigeons.  Hosed down by the park cleaner in the dry season and by torrents in the rainy months.  A first memory of snow, it was one of my purest erotic experiences.

     Along the way, I learned the sounds and words of nature and human speech.    Alone during the darkest wee hours, I practiced the sounds with the tools of water, marble, and stone until I had a replica and an enhancement of their languages.  Some might call it onomatopoeia, others the language of the fountain or water poetry.

     Along the way, I learned the sounds and words of nature and human speech.    Alone during the darkest wee hours, I practiced the sounds with the tools of water, marble, and stone until I had a replica and an enhancement of their languages.  Some might call it onomatopoeia, others the language of the fountain or water poetry.

     My life is both unchanging and varied.  I can’t travel, but I live vicariously through eavesdropped lives and tales.  My admirers have been many and my lovers regenerate even as I age.  Some leave me gifts: bouquets, garlands, helium balloons, New Year’s finery, jewels, party leftovers and favors, goldfish and turtles, food treats, hats.  I have tasted pumpkin gelato, Portuguese red wine, hot chestnuts, Thai takeout, and a myriad of seafood. 

     For a brief interval, a summer subletter made me a new chapeau every night.  They were woven and sewn, glued and folded.  Some were fabric and wool, others straw and paper, or bits of lace that she called a mantilla.  Few lacked ornaments: plumes and feathers, vintage hat pins, silken flowers, metal buttons, ribbons and scarves.  I was much photographed then.  Sketched too- especially by their creator who kept a blank book visual diary of my heady adventures.    

      When the artist left, she donated the headwear as the nucleus of a museum exhibit.  She made me one new replacement as a parting gift- a stylish all-weather helmet.  I wore it proudly until a passing cyclist claimed it to avoid a ticketing spree on the avenue that night.   He promised to return it, but so far I’ve not caught sight of it or him.   I can’t really fault him.  It was a charming good-luck helmet with sun and moon replicas and tiny lustrous stars in a celestial blue firmament.  It would suit any traveler in need of aesthetic protection.  And I can’t travel. 

     One night, while confiding my plight in soliloquy to a full moon, a voice responded.

     “Cool.  A talking fountain.”

For the first time in my watery life, I exchanged words with a human being.  I had mastered their language and been understood.  Over time, this adolescent became a friend.  In late night conversations after he’d leapt over the low, locked grillwork gate, we shared hopes, dreams, wishes, longings, desires, and ambitions.  He taught me written language through chalk pictographs and on-slate words.  My experience should lack nothing, so he rubbed board and fabric books against my marble and stone before moving on to parables, stories, and tales.  In exchange, he was eager to hear all my overheard accounts of life experiences that he could still only imagine.  I learned of nuance, taboos, illicit experiences, subtlety, and age appropriateness.  They were social rules and fruits of his literary experience. 

     “A lot of it’s hogwash,”   he said. 

      He had to explain that word for me.  First, he drew the creature.  Next, he explained the swill part.  Kitchen scraps for hogs. 

       “Sort of like me?  I get a lot of food remains too.”

      “Nothing like you.  You’re  a gazelle of fountains and never spout nonsense.”

      “But I’ve a lot to learn.  Travel would help me.”

      “Travel?”

   “A lot of the daytime bench people talk about vacations in foreign countries.  They use words like breathtaking, exotic, authentic, quaint, charming, and old country.  They show each other photographs.  I’ve seen many other far-away fountains.   I’d like to meet them.”

      “This sounds like roots, an identity search.  Maybe you’ve studied the daytimers so well that you’re starting to mope after the wrong things.”

     “But a city of fountains must be a sight worth seeing, no?”

    “Yes, but you’ll hold your own in it.  You’ll stand out and star.”

     I felt proud in my friend’s admiration, but still wanted to see for myself.

     “Maybe we can go together.”

     He was silent and pensive.  Then, added, “Perhaps.”

     The next night I saw him, he questioned about my past and memory.

     “You might’ve been created and brought here from somewhere else.”

     I’d never thought about it before, but he was right.

     “Do you remember anything about your birthplace or transport here?”

     “No.”

      “But you can imagine it as travel foundation.  You did travel here.”

     Once again, he was right.  Even if I still couldn’t think about my past, I could dream numerous origins.

     I was cemented in, but had multiple parts.

     “You’re sculpture.  You’re art.”

One night, my friend told me the story of Pygmalion:  The origin myth and the later poetic and dramatic adaptations.  

     “Your story might be a variation of one of these.”

      Later, I dreamt that my sculptural part- the reclining woman- came to life while my basin and all the water-related fixtures became her implements.  Sometimes she was a sea goddess rising out of whitecaps with colorful tubes, blow-up boats, and animal floats.  Other times, she was a water seller who came to fill her jugs or a green-thumb gardener with watering cans and hoses.

     When I told my friend, he said simply “See, it’s working.”

     Instead of just the usual books, he began to bring picture-heavy art, architecture, and travel books too. With the help of a flashlight, we examined the contents after dark. The photos and drawings stimulated my imagination, satisfied some of my cravings, and increased the urge for wanderlust.  Italy, Spain, and Portugal were prime lands for ornamental fountains. 

     “Your own version of the grand tour.”

     He laughed.  He was right. 

     One day, my friend suggested there might be a way to establish a sister fountain for me along the line of sister cities.  He explained the idea in depth.

     “Only after I come back from travels.  That’s how I’d choose my sister.”

     His next idea had greater appeal. 

     “I’ll carry you.  Just the figure, not the basin.”

     “But I’m marble- heavy.”

     “I’ll find a second porter.  You’ll see.   It’ll  work.”

     He was graduating from high school and due for his own meander of self-finding.   We could combine two tasks/twin longings/form a duo of desires and ambitions.

     “”It’ll cost a lot,” I protested.

      “We’ll do an Internet fundraiser.  You’ll see.  Just wait.”

     I’d been waiting since before I could speak.  Mine was the patience of stone.  It was only my encounter with him that had made me both hopeful and truly restless.

     “The money’s flowing in.  People think it’s amazing, chill, goofy great.  If we don’t want cameras following us, we’ll have to be careful.”

     I had to wait some more.   Spent my nights imagining that somewhere in a tiny Portuguese or Italian village, I might find my separated-at-birth twin or a grandmother.   Maybe I was an immigrant too- like so many who filled the benches in the park.  It was a wish, a dream, a desire, a hope, but I’d take in whatever sights came my way.

      There was also the question of the second porter.  My friend and handler decided to enlist local on-the-ground assistance for various stages of the journey.  More Internet efforts on his part.  There was also the question of communication.  Detached from my basin how would I speak?  In the localities, they’d put me down near a fountain whose waters I might use for assistance- leaving space for language and cultural differences.     It would be a bit strange, of course, but I could only say yes. 

     At night, after my friend finally retired, I’d sleep and dream of upcoming adventures.  Sometimes, I sprouted wings.  Other times, I was carried by birds.  In dreams, it all seemed seamless, fluid, possible, but upon waking my hopes and doubts would return as if unresolved.  I needed a sign to bolster my faith.  One night, it finally came.

     It was just past dusk.  The night crew had already locked the little gate that was more a symbol than something that could keep anyone out or in.  I saw a shadowy figure securing his bike to the fence.  Then, he leapt the gate just like my friend, only it was the cyclist from months before.  He was carrying my gift helmet. 

     “It brought me much during travels.  I hadn’t meant to keep it so long.  So, I’ve added some souvenirs to show I remembered you.”

     Among the stars of the firmament, he had lacquered on tiny fountain decals, a record of his travels.  With this portent back on my head, I felt packed and ready.  We’d really go. 


Joan Haladay studied literature and Portuguese.  Her short works have appeared or are forthcoming in Interim,The Inquisitive Eater, Silk Road, the tiny journal, Under the Sun, Travelers’ Tales The World Is a Kitchen, The Brasilians, Small Press, and other publications.  Her novella, The Book of Men, was a finalist for the Eludia Award at Hidden River Arts.  She is currently working on a novel. 

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