Sitting in the cafe, sipping hot coffee, she absent-mindedly swung her feet, first quickly and then more slowly, whilst thinking. She had a deadline for a short story for a women’s magazine where she worked as one of their freelancers. She knew what she was supposed to write about but didn’t have a single original idea.
Across the road from the cafe was a park. It was a crisp late-November day awash with bright watery sunshine that often happens in the Autumn. She could see smiling mothers and children hanging around the Fountain, kids leaning over and splashing the water with their tiny hands, whilst mums hung on tightly to their offspring to ensure their safety. Surrounding the Fountain were benches and numerous little shops outside the bench circle. The shops comprised: confectionary; florist shop and stall; and magazine and newspaper stands. From the cafe, she could see her buddy Kwan who ran the florist shop; she was deep in conversation with a good-looking young man whom Bridie had seen in the park before.
She sighed deeply, pushed her empty coffee cup to one side, and did one last search in her brain, confirming that there was no story. No, all was inert. Bum. She looked again at the Fountain. If she sat outside and briefly chatted with Kwan, that might help. She paid up and left. Carrying her bag in one hand and her exercise notebook in the other, she crossed the busy road and walked into the park.
She waved to Kwan, a small Asian woman who ran the florist shop; Kwan, still in deep conversation, waved back. The Florist was a lovely shop and rarely empty of customers. When sitting by the Fountain, the beautiful aroma of the many fragrant flowers would gently blow over and add to the ambience of the lovely seating area in the Park.
Sitting on a bench, she pulled her notebook to her knees and started jotting. At last, some ideas began to flow. The notebook was her ‘jotting’ filing cabinet, ideas and subjects that just one day might develop into the story that would set the world on fire.
‘Hi Bridie, how’s the writing going’? Kwan said, walking the short distance from the shop to the bench.
‘Struggling. The brain won’t work. I’ve got to submit by midnight tonight, and I haven’t got anything yet.’
Kwan laughed. ‘You always say you have nothing to write, yet somehow, something always appears. I reckon it's the magic of the Fountain that inspires you.’
‘If only the Fountain were magical. I’d be here every day, rain, hail or shine. I think the only reason I manage to write in the Park is that deadlines are beginning to loom by the time I get to the Fountain.
Kwan sighed: ‘I watch people come here and throw coins into the water, and whatever they are asking for: career; inspiration; the partner of their dreams, they seem to believe the Fountain will genuinely give it to them. What would you wish for?
‘My story to be written.’
‘Is that it, Bridie? Nothing else? What about a partner? I often think, why doesn’t such a stunning-looking woman have a boyfriend? Why don’t we try and find you a partner?
‘Nah Kwan. No partner’.
‘Frankly, I never see handsome men my age whom I might fancy, and if I did see any, they would never fancy me. They would prefer much younger women.’
‘What’s this week’s story about?’
‘It’s a romance’’, she said, feeling strangely embarrassed. ‘A man/woman romance.
‘Well, no wonder you can’t write it. You have convinced yourself that you can’t find a man you fancy; how do you propose writing a love story?’
‘Either you can write or you can’t. You don’t have to live the story.’
Kwan noticed that customers were beginning to collect around her outdoor flower stall and busily returned to her shop. She called over her shoulder:
‘Why not throw a coin in the Fountain? We’ll do a catch-up next week. Send me a text’.
Bridie scrabbled in her purse; thinking, ‘Why the hell not?’, She clasped a coin and looked at the children throwing small value coins into the Fountain with as much strength as they could muster, accompanied by the encouraging sounds of adoring mums shouting ‘Wish, wish’. Walking to the Fountain, clutching her small coin, Bridie, copying the children, threw it with all her might into the reservoir, squeezing her eyes tightly shut and wished hard. Feeling decidedly foolish, she quickly opened her eyes and turned to walk away but immediately felt something was wrong. She looked at her hands and saw a naked finger that her gold signet ring should have adorned.
She swung around on the balls of her feet so quickly that she missed her footing and nearly fell headlong into the reservoir. Catching the outside rim of the Fountain, she slid helplessly to the ground, grazing her knees and hands as she fell. The children stopped and stared, and mothers took steps forward to offer a hand. Feeling more foolish than hurt, she felt a pair of strong arms round her waist lift her slumped body to her feet. Thinking it was a mum, she leaned into the body and thought, ‘What a strong muscular body for a woman,’ and was surprised to hear a man’s voice saying, ‘You OK?’ Where the hell did he come from? There were only women when she arrived at the Fountain.
‘Bridie, you OK?’ said Kwan’s voice.
‘I made my wish at the Fountain Kwan’, she answered shakily, still slightly unsteady on her feet.
‘It was a wish for a man to come into my life.’, she whispered to herself.
‘Well, Bridie, if only you’d wished for a man, your wish would have come true. This is Manny. He’s the handsome guy hanging on to you.
‘I’ve accidentally thrown my ring into the Fountain and was going to retrieve it when I lost my footing’, Bridie said to the handsome man who was still clinging to her.
‘Let’s get you over to the bench. Are you hurt?’ Manny said. ‘Kwan, she’s lost her ring in the Fountain. Can we get hold of the guy who clears out the coins and see if he can retrieve the ring?’
‘‘Honestly, I’m fine,’ said Bridie. Damn, why is he so good-looking. He looked at her and smiled. ‘I’m Bridie, by the way,’ smiling back at him.
‘That’s a pretty name. I don’t know any Bridies.
‘I don’t know any Mannies.
‘It’s Emmanuel. Is Bridie your full name?’
‘No, it's Brigitte.’
Just then, Guy the Park Keeper arrived carrying his long-handled spade and began fishing in the Fountain for her ring.
‘Got it,’ he said. ‘Were you throwing a coin?’ She nodded. ‘Well, depending on what you wished for, you know that you must confirm your feelings by midnight tonight - or you lose him. That’s the saying, and it apparently never fails. I’ll throw all the coins back to ensure yours is returned until I clean out the Fountain tomorrow. Good luck.’
Manny and Bridie thanked Guy and waved him farewell.
‘Well, I think a hot drink for shock will really help you, shall we go to the cafe and have a drink? You’re not hurt, are you? Here put your hand through my arm and lean on me.’ They explained to Kwan that they were going for a coffee. Kwan promised to phone later so that she could have an update on how Bridie was faring, and the two set off arm-in-arm to the cafe.
He was years younger than her. She may be an attractive and smart-looking 60-year-old, but she guessed he was only in his late 30s or 40s. This wasn’t quite what she’d had in mind when she’d wished for a man to come into her life.
‘Can I ask what’s in the Notebook? I noticed you were writing before you decided to throw yourself into the Fountain’, Manny said.
‘I’m a freelance journalist and have to write a short story by midnight tonight. So I was jotting down ideas.’
It turned out that Manny was an IT specialist and thought it cute that someone still used a notebook and a pen for jotting down thoughts and draft outlines. She quickly pointed out that it was their age difference that probably related to their different working methods.
‘So you’re an ageist?’ he said.
‘What d’ya mean?’
‘I wondered if our age difference would ruin things, and it only took one comment about your writing in a notebook before the age difference was mentioned.’
She felt her face flush. What did he mean by ‘ruin things?’
‘How old are you?’ she asked.
‘I’m nearly 60.’
‘I hope that doesn’t mean that being 40 makes me boring, completely lacking in any interest for an older woman?’ he said. ‘Although I think 60 is just great, you don’t look 60’.
They seemed to be in the cafe for the planned ‘quick coffee’ for hours. Another round of coffee was ordered. They had a similar sense of humour and spent most of the time just laughing. By the time the second coffee was finished, her eyes were shining, and her face was lit up and animated through the pain of her facial muscles aching through so much laughing.
‘I’m sorry, but I must go; my story needs writing. Thanks so much for looking after me, but I must go.’
Manny looked at her and said: ‘You’re a good-looking woman. No boyfriend?’
Bridie longed to say something clever and alluring, but she was entirely out of the practice of flirting and just sat there tongue-tied, thinking this couldn’t be happening.
Eventually, she said: ’No, divorced and single. What about you?’
‘Single, broke up with a girlfriend a couple of months ago. Can we exchange phone numbers?’ he asked.
Trying to pretend that this was the most normal thing in the world that a 40-year-old would show an interest in her, she showed him her number and wrote down his in her notebook, knowing she would never use it.
‘You’re not going to ring me, are you?’ he said.
‘Manny, I can’t,' she said in exasperation. ‘You’re young enough to be my son. I’d feel so silly trying to organise a date with you’.
‘Oh, that’s a shame. I felt a ‘buzz’ coming from you when we were laughing and chatting. Sorry for my mistake. I’ve seen you often in the park when I’ve been buying flowers. Kwan has always pushed me to ask you out, but it seems Kwan and I were both wrong’.
She took a deep breath: ‘Manny, it’s not that I don’t fancy you; it's just the age difference. I feel certain you are teasing me.’
‘You’re Brigitte, aren’t you? My full name is Emmanuel. So interesting’.
‘We have the same names as President and Mrs Macron - the President of France’.
‘Is that significant’?
‘Mrs Macron is at least 20 years older than President Macron, and they look pretty happy. I don’t see any major issues in their relationship based on age. I’m not going to push or stalk you, but you threw the coin in the Fountain, didn’t you?’ She nodded. ‘Ok, you need to write your story and submit it, but after submitting, you need to look at your clock. Remember what Guy said: “You must confirm your feelings by midnight tonight - or you lose him. That’s the saying, and it apparently never fails”.
She raced up the road to her small but cosy flat, her head buzzing with excitement over her encounter. At last, she had something to write for her magazine assignment. What an exciting afternoon.
She was polishing off her story and was still left with plenty of time to do the final edits before sending it in for approval when the phone rang. It was Kwan.
‘Hi, did you have a good coffee with Manny?’
‘Yes, it was good. ’
‘I spoke to Manny after your coffee. He’s a good friend. He says he doesn’t think you like him that much because he’s too young. But I saw your happy face when you went for coffee, and I felt you were very taken with him.
‘For God’s sake, Kwan, I must have looked like a silly old woman, hanging on to a young man,' said Bridie, feeling her toes curl with embarrassment.
‘Well, you looked like a very handsome couple walking through the Park. Mrs Macron, don’t let age mess up a perfect relationship.’
Bridie laughed, 'Oh he told you about President Macron? Kwan, thanks for being a good friend. I think I need to go, I have a very important phone call to make.’
She looked at the phone number Manny had written in her notebook - took a deep breath, and began tapping the numbers. Looking at the clock hanging on the wall, she saw it was well before midnight.