The Old Wishing Well

‘It’s essential to the value of the property,’ said the real estate lady. ‘The current owners insist it has special powers.’

Jennifer shrugged. She leaned over the mandatory twee brick surround and looked inside the so-called Wishing Well expecting to see a shallow puddle. Instead her heart gave a thump. Huge dark eyes in a pale, glassy face looked back up at her from metres below.

‘Cathy!’ she exclaimed.

‘What?’ The real estate agent’s eyebrows practically shot into her frizzy blonde fringe.

‘Oh – nothing – just my reflection.’ The darkness within the curved walls had erased the recent shadows beneath Jennifer’s eyes and the sad lines that had become riveted around her mouth. The reflection gave her Cathy instead – her younger sister gone a year ago to a fiery death in a car crash.

The agent showed Jennifer around the little brick and tile home. It boasted modesty, not spaciousness and wasn’t quite what Jennifer wanted. Its location in the suburb of Mt Roskill wasn’t quite right either. She wanted to be closer to her place of work in downtown Auckland.

‘I’ll have to think about it,’ she told the woman.

Jennifer thought about it. She thought about it a lot but mainly she thought of the well that revealed her lost sister’s face in its depths.

‘I’ll make an offer,’ she told the agent the next day.

In the office Jennifer thought some more. She took an early lunch alone and thought of her other loss. The depression that followed the tragic loss of her sister had nearly driven her insane and had resulted in driving away her Trevor. They were planning an engagement party. Cathy had gone to organise the invitations. Time and again Jennifer blamed herself.

‘I should have gone. I would have watched out. There wouldn’t have been an accident if I’d been driving.’

Trevor could not console her. She lost her temper with his constant reassurance and told him in a lashing storm of fury to leave her because he couldn’t and would never understand. Now coming out of that dark grief twelve months later she realised what a light she had lost in her life.

‘Too late,’ she sighed. Maybe this house would prove a new beginning. Cathy in the well seemed to auger something she could not put aside.

‘Your offer’s been accepted.’ The agent’s voice on the phone had a smile in it. ‘I’ll have the keys for you as soon as the legal side’s done.’

Jennifer moved in a fortnight later. One mover’s van and two packers brought everything in one go from her small rental apartment. On the kitchen bench she found an envelope. She opened it to a plain piece of paper on which she read, ‘This house welcomes the owner that understands its well. A spring feeds it. You can safely drink from it and you might make a wish on it. We were happy here. We wish you happiness too.’

The little note from the previous owners brought something akin to comfort to Jennifer’s heart. For the first time since Cathy’s death she slept the whole night through without waking.

After each working day she started a ritual of visiting the well. Cathy’s smile came to her from its depths. Somehow the reflection calmed the guilt away. It seemed like a message, like Cathy herself told her she was whole and happy in another place where nothing could ever harm her again.

‘I wish…’ Jennifer said. Her voice came back, hollow against the brick work like a question from another self in another world. She found she could not complete her wish. The dead could not return and neither could her dead relationship.

One night the full moon gleamed so brightly through the edges of her bedroom blinds Jennifer felt drawn to her window. The quiet garden’s shadows seemed full of secrets. In the pale light a figure moved. Jennifer caught her breath, rubbed her eyes, stared again. No one stood by the well. No man in particular – the one whose eyes had blazed her existence alight and turned her blood to fire when he looked at her in that special way.

In the morning Jennifer wondered had she dreamt that she got up in the night. She visited the well before she went to work. No footprints marked the dewed grass. She peered into the water. The sun, hidden behind the oak that marked her property’s eastern boundary allowed no Cathy to reflect up to her. The water lay dark and still.

‘I wish,’ Jennifer said again.

‘Wish,’ said the echo off the still water.

‘I will,’ she said. ‘This time.’

‘Time,’ repeated the echo in that other world voice.

‘I wish for my time again. I wish for Trevor to come back.’ A sob escaped her with the words. She had not voiced this desire aloud before, even to herself.

‘Come back,’ cried the well. The sun rose above the oak and there in the water Cathy shone again, young and whole and full of promise just as she had always been.

A thoughtful Jennifer went to work and at midday walked away from the office to take in the sea air along the quay close by the central business district. She and Trevor had often strolled along here during the working week, snatching time out of their busy schedules to be together.

How would she ever find him now? He had left New Zealand after trying time after time to reach out to her. In her stupid self-involved misery she hung up on his calls, refused to answer the door and only when she opened her e-mails found his last message.

‘One last try, Jen. I’m leaving. If you still care, come to the international airport terminal and stop me. Meet me before my flight leaves at eight this evening. I’ll look out for you.’

She hadn’t gone. Well, she had but she had left it far too late. From a distance she saw his parents hug each other at the departure gate. She had not arrived in time to even catch a glimpse of him and her chance was gone.

A month later Jennifer drew open her bedroom blinds to the moon risen full and high in the night again. The sky was so clear and open she could not resist its call to go out beneath the stars. The air lay cool on her face like a loving caress. What would the moon look like in the well? Barefoot on the damp lawn she slipped through the shadows and delighted in the pale light shining in the darkness, from the water’s surface far below.

What was that? Something – someone – not her own shadow. She looked round so sharply her neck clicked.

‘It’s you!’ They said it together.

‘Am I dreaming?’ Jennifer couldn’t believe it. Trevor stood there like some ancient god clothed in the silver moonlight.

‘I thought the house was empty. I came to make a wish,’ Trevor said as if he were speaking in a trance.


Under the electric light in the kitchen Jennifer made coffee and Trevor explained.

‘I grew up in this area. This well – when I was little the old people in the neighbourhood said it granted wishes. Jen, I came to wish for you – for us. I can’t believe it. I couldn’t find you. You’d gone.’

Quite suddenly their coffee lay abandoned as Jennifer met Trevor’s lips with hers and he clutched her to him as if he could never let go of her.

The moonlight lay over her bed where they found each other again in a tempestuous passion that shook Jennifer to her very centre. There was no time in this place, nothing but an ocean of love like she had never understood before.

‘Yes, I was here a month ago,’ he answered her question as she lay in his arms in the morning sunlight. ‘That’s when I made my wish under the light of the full moon. I came back to make it again last night. I thought I would try three times before I gave up and went back to Australia.’

‘Maybe I really never knew you…?’ She stared at him as she saw him for the first time.

‘No Sweet. You always knew me like I knew you the first time we met. I’m not one for superstition – just that I was desperate and lonely too. I thought I’d find you waiting when I came back but you’d moved and you weren’t at your old work and nobody could tell me where you’d gone.’

‘I’m not going anywhere ever again,’ she said. ‘Unless you’re with me.’

In the evening, as the first stars claimed the sky, Jennifer and Trevor stood beside the well where Trevor ceremoniously placed a ring on Jennifer’s finger.

Jennifer leant down and saw a diamond star reflected in the dark water.

‘You really do make wishes do come true,’ she said.

‘True,’ replied the Wishing Well.


Do your wishes come true? Most of mine have, but they come with unexpected conditions. I don’t make wishes any more.

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4 responses to “The Old Wishing Well”

  1. Diane Brownfield says:

    Hi Pam,

    I enjoyed this short story, thank you for sharing.


  2. TONY SNOWSILL says:

    Great writing skills – and excellent description – 10 –

    I remember her as amiable, alert, alluring and affable
    Sensible, but able to laugh, chuckle and giggle
    Pleasant, interesting, genial, gracious but wise
    Her smile and charm was my bachelor’s demise
    Talking to her became an easy experience
    Talking became an often occurrence
    She moved easily with considerable grace
    Nonchalantly, poised, somehow without haste.
    I remember.

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