The Fountain of Need
by Claire Rogers
Sometimes instinct tells you to do something; this time, I acted on my inner voice a little too late.
On a rainy July 3rd in Anchorage, we drove to the library to try to get some work done. We found it was closed for the Independence Day weekend, but we parked anyway to make use of the Wi-Fi network. As we sat in our motorhome, connecting to the outside world, we watched as waves of hopeful people approached the entrance, only to leave in disappointment. At lunch time, we took a break and watched the beautiful Mrs. Jack M. [Kay] Linton Memorial Ice Fountain with its seven plumes dancing like quill pens hovering over an ink well.
I marveled out loud to Bob how lucky we were to have the luxury of eating when we wanted, more out of out of loyalty to a clock than in response to hunger.
We moped through the gray afternoon, napping to the shush of the fountain and studying maps to prepare for some sunny day. Throughout the day, a lone figure moved around the park, sometimes contemplating the fountain from a lonely perch on a park bench. As others came and went, this boy stayed. I imagined that he’d planned to study in the library and was stuck waiting for a ride home once a parent got off work. He looked to be a teenager, but he wasn’t talking on a cell phone or listening to music, he was just sitting.
We stayed in the parking lot through a nice dinner of fresh halibut and mustard greens that we’d picked up at the farmer’s market this morning.
All the other park visitors were now gone and only the boy remained, now hunched at an empty picnic table. Still, he stared straight into the fountain. It was well past what would have been the closing hour for the library and no one had come to pick him up.
Too late, I wondered aloud if he’d had anything to eat. Too long, I hesitated: What could I give him? Too much, I worried: What if he was deranged?
As I haltingly put together snacks I would like, I stumbled over options as Bob kept watch of the boy. When the boy moved out of sight behind the motorhome, I hurried out the door with a small bag of cherries, blueberries, raisins and granola bars, still fretting that I hadn’t come up with a suitable source of protein.
Panicked that I’d missed him, I rushed around the motorhome. When I did see him, I realized with a pang that I’d hesitated one minute too long. The boy had just successfully fished a Styrofoam tray of unfinished food from the garbage can. I called out to him and my prepared script left me. He waited patiently as I stumbled around trying to ask if he’d eaten. To avoid looking at the greasy tray of salvaged refried beans and rice, I looked up into his face and saw crusty eyes and a boyish softness. He seemed relieved when I spoke to him; his body relaxed and he even smiled as I handed him the meager bag. Bob followed with a cold can of soda.
He thanked us, we wished him well and he turned and walked away.
Epilogue: The plaque at the memorial fountain reads: “In dedication to a volunteer extraordinaire, whose spirit inspired so many in our community to live by her motto: ‘Find a need and fill it.’”