There was a legend about the well in the garden and he knew about it from whispers here and there but his grandmother told him that he would be told the whole legend when he was ready.
“When am I ready?” he asked, spooning another dip of cereal into his mouth.
“Well, Saraf, ” his grandmother said, looking sternly at him. “It’s not a matter of when. It’s a matter of If.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Sit and eat, child. Don’t stand there and chew. Sit at the table like a proper young person.”
Saraf sat at the table and started moodily at the flowered tablecloth. It really was rather unfair. He knew he was ready. Why didn’t she? He was 13 and very mature for his age or at least that’s what everyone told him. His older sister already knew. She was 16 and she had known for at least a year. He wanted to know too.
He cornered his sister in the drawing room.
“Come on, tell me, sis,” he hissed urgently. “It’s not fair that I’m the only one who doesn’t know.”
She looked at him gravely. “You DO know that it’s a family secret, don’t you? That nobody outside our family has even been told? It’s a sacred secret. Perhaps that’s why you haven’t been told yet. They don’t think you can keep a secret.”
“That’s just not true,” he said hotly.
“It’s up to our Grandparents,” she said. “They are the passer of the legend. You’ll have to wait until they think you are ready.”
He fumed for a moment and then went out to the garden to look at the well. It was in the far shady corner of the large garden under a bower of blooming fruit trees. As he’d done many times before he peered down into the deep shadow and dropped a pebble in. It was a deep well so it was a few seconds before he heard the little splash below.
“Hello hello hello,” he called down into the well. “Hello hello hello” his voice echoed back up. He saw a glimpse of his sister walking down the path towards him and he skittered back behind some bushes. She went to the well and looked into the depths. She took an object from her skirt pocket, kissed it, and tossed it into the well.
“Clear skin!” she called into the well. “Clear skin,” the well echoed back. As she rested her hands on the edge of the well the charm bracelet on her left wrist came loose, and with a clatter it fell into the well. “Dang!” she said. “That was quick! Oh well, a small price to pay to get rid of these awful zits.”
Saraf jumped out from behind the bushes. “What the hell was that?” he said.
His sister shrieked. “Why are you hiding! What did you see?”
“I saw everything. NOW you have to tell me.”
“Oh for Pete’s sake,” she said. “You have to SWEAR that you won’t tell anyone. And act surprised when Gran or Gramps finally tell you.”
“I Swear! I do!” he said, excitedly.
“This well grants wishes,” she said. “Really, truly. You have to bring a silver dollar and kiss it and drop it in the well and your wish will be granted. But there’s a catch. You get something and you lose something. And the size of what you lose depends on the size of what you ask for. So be really really careful. Promise me. Be super careful.”
“I’ll be very careful,” he said. “I probably won’t even wish for anything for a while.”
And true to his word, he didn’t. He had a silver dollar that his Grandpa had given him for his last birthday tucked away in his shirt drawer, and while he’d take it out occasionally and hold it in his hand, dreaming about things to wish for, he never used it, until one evening at dinner. His mother was talking excitedly about an upcoming lecture at the college where she taught when she suddenly stopped talking and began to choke, her face turning red. There was much screaming and yelling and people jumping around trying to help her and he ran to his room and grabbed his silver dollar. He darted out of the house and down the path to the well as fast as he could. He stood at the edge and kissed the silver dollar and threw it in.
“My mother healthy for 30 years,” he called into the well. “My mother healthy for 30 years,” the well called back.
He ran back to the house and into the formal dining room. He saw his mother across the room and she was standing and breathing but she was also crying and looking down behind the dining table and there was his grandfather lying on the floor, his face quiet, his eyes open and not moving.
His sister came over to him, tears streaming down her face. “It all happened so fast,” she said. “Mom was choking on a piece of steak and Gramps got up to give her the Heimlich and he just suddenly fell over…it was awful. Where did you go? Why did you run……oh god. Oh no. Oh you didn’t.” Her eyes widened as she looked at him.
He looked at her and he looked at his grandfather and he looked at his father in a wheelchair and everything clicked into place. The bus accident which paralyzed his father but gave him a million dollar settlement. It all made sense now.
Be careful what you wish for.