It is difficult, pulling water from the well: the rope is heavy, her arms tire; it must be done slowly or the water will slosh out and fall back and it will all have been for nothing, all this effort. (It is such an effort.) It must not be done too slowly, either, though, or the water will begin to evaporate—float up hissing—and if this happens her effort will, likewise, have been wasted. Every day, twice daily, she pulls water from the well, draws it up, in just such a way.
But it is difficult, carrying water to the fountain: the bucket is heavy, and her legs tire; she must walk slowly, but not too slowly (this also, a tremendous effort). Every day, twice daily, she carries water to the fountain, pours it in, with a sigh.
The fountain fills slowly: sometimes the bucket slips from her hand, spills, and the water is lost to her. When this happens, she weeps, or she casts the bucket aside, saying: I am done. It will never be full. It is an effort to regain her sense of calm and retrieve the bucket, but the fountain is beautiful, and she wishes it were full.
It has been this way for a long time, but not forever. It has been this way—with the drawing up and the carrying to and the pouring into—for a very long time. She does not remember a time when day did not begin at the well, but she thinks, sometimes, as she is pulling, evenly, on the rope, or as she is walking, steadily, toward the fountain, that there may have been such a time. It is at these moments that the rope slips or she stumbles and the water is lost to her, so she hardly tries to remember anymore. Yes, it was a very long time ago, the before, and it hardly matters.
She pulls water from the well; she walks to the fountain; she empties the water from the well into the fountain; she returns to the well. She returns to the well, and then she returns to the fountain. To the well; to the fountain; to the well.
Yesterday, the rope broke, in the well, and the bucket fell, water and all, splashing, beyond where she could see, beyond where she could reach it by any means. She would have jumped in after it (even this would have been a tremendous effort, such a feat), but she thought and said: there are other buckets; there are even other ropes, and, soon, after looking for a while, she found both, found another bucket and another rope, and she hung them in the well where the others had been, and there was little difference. It was a momentary interruption, this loss, this search; she has continued on, after it, after the interruption, pulling, carrying, pouring, without pause, she has continued, and now it is today.
Watch her now as she draws forth from the well the clear water. Watch her. Look. She has broken her arm. See how it bends unnaturally back and the bone juts into the flesh? She has broken her arm; she pulls the rope with her teeth and one hand. The movement is less fluid; the rope jerks, the bucket jumps and the water spills over the edge.
She has broken her leg; she hops to the fountain, or crawls. The bucket drags along the rough, uneven ground between well and fountain as she crawls and the water spills over the edge.
More water is lost to her, now; it is inevitable.
The fountain fills slowly, very slowly: often, now, the bucket slips from her hand. When this happens, she weeps, or she casts the bucket aside, saying: I am done. It will never be full. It is an effort—such an effort—to regain calm and retrieve the bucket, crawling, one leg dragging, one arm limp, but the fountain is beautiful. The fountain is beautiful and there are days beyond counting stretched out ahead. She can hardly think of them, as she can hardly think of those before well and bucket, water and fountain, pulling and walking, pulling and walking, but she thinks of the fountain. It is beautiful. Perhaps, full, it will be more beautiful still. She has only seen it so in her mind; the thought delights her.
She pulls water from the well; she carries water to the fountain. It is difficult, a tremendous effort; it is difficult; she continues. She pulls water from the well, every day, twice daily, she pulls water from the well.
Kate Brittain holds an MFA from NYU and lives in Brooklyn with her dog, her bicycle, and never enough books.