In the middle of a large open plaza stood a dry circular fountain. The sun was shining intensely that day, making the surface of the fountain shine like a giant mirror. People walked through the plaza, in little groups of two and three, talking without pause and only sporadically looking at the trees that surrounded the fountain or at the fountain itself. A couple of older women sat on a green bench a few feet away from the edge. They talked in whispers and looked around every so often, as if to confirm through direct observation their soft little statements. In the middle of the fountain, there was a smaller fountain that held a bird bath. The bird bath was dry and there were only a few black birds that came to play in its concave surface out of habit and inertia. The air seemed to be touched by the brown color of the dirt and the little dry trees and the surface of the fountain; the brown made the air a little thicker, a little more opaque, as if a very faint cloud sat on top of the plaza, surrounding all the people that moved through it. The sound of cars could be heard in the distance, only partially covered up by the music of an old man playing a strange violin.
Inside the fountain, there were three children playing. One was a thin little girl with long blonde hair tied in a pony tail. She was wearing a long pink dress, tied around her waist with a soft belt of the same color. She also wore little white shoes that clicked and clacked on the hard surface of the fountain as she ran back and forth. Another was a little boy with blonde hair and lost eyes. He wore a pair of blue jeans and a checkered blue flannel shirt, which was mostly unbuttoned. The third was a little girl, smaller than the first, with long black hair, also tied in a thick pony tail behind her back. She wore a blue and white button up shirt with long vertical stripes and blue jeans. Her eyes were bubbly and bright as she scanned the many fun possibilities that opened up around her.
At this moment, they were holding hands near the bird bath. The little blond girl would say "jump!" and all three would jump together, or mostly together. One of them might stumble and then they would all laugh and get back into formation. Then the little blond girl would say "jump!" again and it would all repeat and the laughter would be just as fresh and free as it ever was and, after the sound of their voices had faded off into a faint echo that bounced off the distant corners of the plaza, all three of them would return to their original places and the game would start all over again. Without any warning, after one of the rounds of jumping, the little blond boy walked off and started to wander around the fountain, flapping his arms around like a marionette cut loose from its guiding strings. His head would also shift back and forth, as if the muscles of his neck had been released from their normal functions and were now moving in all directions without cause or reason. When the girls saw him move like this, they laughed harder than ever and the little girl with black hair said: "Look at him! He’s crazy!" The little boy did not respond but just kept on shifting around aimlessly around the perimeter of the circle, wandering close to the short little curved wall that formed the edges of the fountain.
As he moved around and around, his head sometime shifted so drastically forward that he would look momentarily over the edge and his eyes would focus on a leaf or a pebble or a piece of wrapper that was lying on the ground. The little girls kept on laughing and the blond girl said, as if she had just thought of it: "He’s gone crazy! Look at him!" The little boy kept on circling and his body was swinging so wildly that he came to rest his full stomach on the curved edge of the fountain. Then he stopped and the little girls looked at each other, wondering what had happened.
The little boy extended his whole body over the edge and reached out with his hand toward the ground outside the fountain. There was a little rock there that was shining in the sun. He reached as hard as he could but his arm wasn’t quite long enough and he couldn’t quite reach it. He pulled back and looked around himself to see if there was any other solution. Coming to the conclusion that he couldn't leave the fountain, and also realizing that he had to get the rock, he extended his body over the edge once again, trying harder this time, grunting with the effort.
The girls looked at each other once again. The little girl with black hair said: "I wonder what he’s doing." The little girl with blonde hair said: "I don’t know what he’s doing. I want to sing." The little girl with black hair responded: "Yes, if you sing, then I can dance. I will get him so we can dance together while you sing!" The little girl with blonde hair nodded happily and watched while her friend ran towards the grunting little boy.
"Come over here! Leave that alone! We want to sing and dance and I want you to dance with me!" she said and, as she said it, she tugged the little boy by his left hand.
The little boy did not respond but he did not give in. Instead, grunting harder, he extended his little body even farther and he moaned softly with the pain of stretching his right arm so far. The rock was still a few inches away from his fingers.
"I’m telling you! Come with me! I want to dance with you! Leave that alone! You can’t reach it! Come and dance!" and she tugged on his left arm a little harder.
But the boy would not budge and he leaned over so far that it looked like he was about to slide over the edge and land on his head on the ground outside the fountain. The two older women looked over with a slight look of alarm on their faces. The little girl with black hair turned to look at her blonde friend who shrugged her shoulders and shook her head. Then the black haired girl released the little boy and walked away, shaking her own head in disbelief. As the little boy felt the release on his left hand, he reached even farther and his finger closed around the shiny surface of the rock. He immediately pulled back with one swift motion and he landed on his feet inside the shining circle. He dropped the little rock inside his shirt pocket and smiled with satisfaction. His shirt was covered in light brown dust and his face was covered in thick sweat which made his eyes water.
He turned around towards the bird bath but the girls were gone. He could see them walking down the path towards the big buildings beyond the plaza. He burrowed his forehead, wondering why they had left. Then he heard the sound of his mother’s voice, coming from the opposite direction and he started to run. He skipped over the edge of the fountain easily and he ran past the two older women and the man with the strange violin. He was smiling as he ran and the little rock was rubbing against his sweaty chest through the thick fabric of the flannel shirt. The fountain was lonely once again, except for the few birds that still came, out of habit and inertia.