“What’s that you’re doing?” George groused, irritated by the constant splashing. The boy by the fountain didn’t respond, and the splashing and his youthful cries of disappointment continued.

It was quite impossible for George to continue to enjoy the nice weather from the bench or even think of feeding the birds when he was thus irked. Groping for his worn fedora, he stood up–carefully, as his back had a tendency to go out with too much sudden movement. He walked over to the fountain, waving the cane that he kept more for the purpose of swatting things than any real need for support.

“I said, what’s that you’re doing, boy?” George said. In the old days when someone’s elder addressed them they wouldn’t have had to repeat themselves. He was sure to keep a decent distance, though; the rise of perverts on every conceivable area of society made people weird about their kids and George wasn’t about to be caught up in a shouting match with some overprotective helicopter parent.

“I’m throwing pennies into the fountain,” the boy said. “For wishes.” He couldn’t have been more than six or seven; George bristled at the idea of a kid that young being left by himself, but that was the way it was with career moms and latchkey kids these days.

“Why are you doing that? Save your money. It’s annoying and you could drop hundred dollar bills in there all day without getting what you want.”

The boy tossed another dark penny into the water. “Nuh-uh. The kids at school say if you throw the penny just right the lady will catch it and you’ll get your wish.”

“The lady? Her?” George thrust his stick at the statue in the middle of the fountain, some 1930s conception of Columbia with flowing robes or other nonsense. “She’s made of marble, kid, and hasn’t moved since the day they hoisted her into place. Save your money; that’s the real way to get what you want. And for chrissakes stop all that noise.”

“I think a wish is worth a few pennies,” said the boy. “I have lots and Jimmy Feldman says he got his wish for a new bike.”

“For the love of all that is good and edible, kid,” George cried. “Listen to yourself! There’s no such things as wishes or spirits or anything besides what you see with your own two eyes! Your friend probably got that bicycle because his parents bought it for him, not by dumping perfectly good money into the drink.”

“You’re just saying that,” the boy said, flipping another coin into the water, “because you’re too cheap to try it.”

“Too cheap?” George reddened. “I’m just saying that because of a lifetime of being stone disappointed whenever I trusted in anything but myself to get what I wanted!” He fished a penny out of a coat pocket. “You think I’m too cheap to waste a penny on a goddamn fraud? Look at this!”

George flipped the penny–a 1947–using a variation of his old marble-shooting grip. The coin arced smoothly toward toward the water with the old man and the boy looking on.

A marble hand shot out and snatched the coin from midair. “What do you wish of me?”

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