by Sir Various
A couple go on a search for a legend and discover a family secret.
|I gaped at my fiancé. “You can’t be serious?” Of course he could, though. Pablo was never one to exaggerate, but I was still skeptical.
“I know, I know,” he said. “But, I can prove it.” He grabbed his old ragged briefcase and dropped it on the coffee table.
“Hey, that’s an antique,” I said. It wasn’t, really, although I had it forever. Many nights were spent studying or eating on its decrepit but friendly surface, so naturally I had some fondness.
Pablo didn’t reply, rummaging through his sorry sack of leather for whatever bauble or trinket that would proclaim his evidence. This should be good, I thought.
“And?” I ask, dropping indelicately on the couch, another beloved friend from college.
He ignored me, which was fortunate, because I had a whole slew of witty responses ready. I’ll save them for later, I thought. The pile of miscellaneous junk grew at a rate that was surprising considering the size of his bag, but Pablo always was a bit of a packrat. He was muttering in Spanish now. He always does a bit of that when concentrating or agitated.
“You know I can’t understand you, right?”
He glanced at me and mumbled. “Perdóname...”
“Like that. What is that? What does that even mean?”
Still focused on his search, he sighed. Always so formal. We’d been together since college, but he still pretended to get annoyed at my mouth.
“Chido, there it is!” He pulled a rather ratty book and proudly held it before me.
“This is my proof, Jen. Proof that my family discovered the Fountain of Youth.”
Normally this is where I guffaw, pat my fellow clown on the back, and we both chuckle at our merry joke. However, Pablo was not a clown, nor a joker. He would not make such a proclamation unless he truly felt it relevant. At the very least, my interest was piqued.
“Okay,” I said. His family had a rich Spanish heritage, which I was subjected to every third Sunday. With such great food, and his father a famous historian, I would not be surprised to find out someday that he would be related to some famous conquistador.
“Ponce de León discovered it.” He walked around the messy coffee table and sat next to me. “Now, hold on, I know what you’re about to say. I took the same classes, Jen, I know what history says.” He leaned in close to me, close in that warm comfortable familiarity that threatened to distract me from his story. I sighed and ignored the tug I felt. He wouldn’t appreciate it right now.
“Alright, so, Ponce de León kept a private journal, a diary,” he continued. “It’s been in our family, but locked in Papa’s safe. I knew we had some artifacts in there, with all of Papa’s history trips, but he had this tucked away in the back and covered.”
“Okay, and?” I settled back. This would probably take a bit.
“I’m getting to it. History says-“
I sighed again and waved my hand. “Fontaneda, curative river, blah blah.” Oh, I love annoying him.
“Since you’re so knowledgeable, Jen,” he stated, “you’ll also know Fontaneda discounted his story about de Leon’s search for the Fountain of Youth, and we all just accepted that as truth.”
Pablo opened the journal. The leather had hardened and was no longer supple. The pages were crips and delicate, yellowed and brown with centuries of storage. Despite my intention to make fun of him, this still was very interesting. I leaned in to look closer.
“If you look here, he writes of his landing, and the otherworldly and youthful beauty of the natives,” said Pablo.
I pretended I could read the faint 16th century words as if it was clear English. “Oh, yeah!”
“And,” he cradled the pages as he turned them, “here he mentions the,” and he said something I couldn’t understand, “which means ‘River of Life’. Then, he quite plainly tells us where it is.” He pointed at a faint drawing that might’ve resembled a map.
I didn’t say anything, but of course I remained skeptical. Florida is well-populated, and I was pretty sure if there was anything like he mentioned, it would’ve been found by now. He looked at me, and I could imagine the wheels turning in his head. He knew I’d be critical of any “evidence”.
“We’re going to find it,” he proclaimed.
I sighed. How could I resist those brown eyes when they were set so resolute? Well, I wasn’t really one to pass up a trip, I had some vacation time, and St. Augustine is a pretty area. “Okay, then,” I said.
“That’s it?” I asked. After hiking for hours, and not even getting a chance to do some shopping, I was a bit irritable. “I know you know everything, Pablo, but I’m not seeing this fancy river.”
“It should be right here,” he mumbled, comparing a map we bought at a gas station in St. Augustine to the journal.
The area we arrived at was wooded, a few miles southwest of Lake George. There was a clearing that centered on Pablo’s marked location, but there was no water or fountain. Nothing but grass and humidity. I smacked my neck as a mosquito began to snack.
“Yeah, okay. Um, just call your dad or something; see what he has to say. He’s a historian, after all.”
He looked up sharply at me with a horrified expression. That was understandable, since he did swipe something from the family treasury without permission. I couldn’t help but giggle.
“Jen, this isn’t funny.”
“Actually, it is. Look, we’re already here, it’s already done, just bite the bullet and call him,” I said.
He groaned, but he put his backpack down and fumbled around in his pocket for his phone. Knowing that he’d probably get a lecture and that it might take a while, I explored a bit.
The clearing was well-rounded, and there were no small trees or bushes that broke the meadow-like center. The trees cut off at the edge of the clearing, with no small saplings or undergrowth. It was a bit odd, actually. The grass was especially green, much greener than the surrounding plants, and very healthy. The thin blades were soft, as if they had just begun growth, but they were still tall and densely packed. I reached down to pull up a few strands or three so I could try to find some for my lawn.
Yet, as I pulled the grass out, the hole where I had pulled filled with thin threads of green, replacing the dirt almost immediately. It was the grass, replacing what I had taken, filling in the empty hole, growing at an exponential rate.
He rushed over, still holding the cell phone. “You won’t believe it, Jen. Papa is-“
“The grass, it grew back!” I interrupted.
That caught him off guard, although he was already flustered from his call.
“Look.” I held out the clump I had pulled, and gestured at the almost-filled cavity at my feet.
His eyes widened and he dropped to his knees to get a closer look. “Fascinating,” he said, sounding just like his younger college self.
We both watched the strange effect finish, the newly replaced grass thin and wispy just like a newly seeded lawn, but thick and soft.
After a moment, I remembered his phone call. “What did your Papa say?”
“Oh. Yeah. Well, this will surprise you. He’s here.”
“Here? Like, here here?”
“Yeah, he knew where we were. He said he was about ten minutes away. How strange is that?”
That was peculiar. Why would his dad come here?
As if on cue, something I was horrible at myself, Papa (or Dr. Juan Pablo Francisco to his students), entered the clearing near us. He was impeccably dressed, as always. His neatly trimmed beard was something I always wished Pablo would grow. I think he refused just to spite his father.
“Jennifer, always a pleasure, my dear,” he greeted me with his thick but swoony accent. He held up my hand and kissed it, right out of a cheesy romantic fairy tale. Pablo was never like this, and even now, he was glaring at his father. Still, a girl had to take her fairy tales when she could.
“Papa, why are you here?” Pablo was irritated, as he was never so direct with his father.
“Felicitaciones, mijo. You have discovered our family secret.” Dr. Francisco strode out to the middle of the field and spread his arms. “This is all that remains of the río de la vida, the River of Life.”
“This?” said Pablo, incredulous.
“Of course. Did you not witness the glorious rebirth of the grass? It is vibrant, full of life, always in a state of new growth, never maturing.”
“Doctor,” I began.
“Call me Papa, mija,” he said with a wink.
“Okay. Papa, where is all the water?”
“Gone. It has been gone just one generation. Too much civilization, too many changes to the land. The soil here is all that remains.”
Pablo asked, “Why was this a secret? Why could we not have shared the water with the world?” He seemed upset to me. Perhaps he felt left out of the family tradition. As much as his family always stressed heritage, I could understand. I felt so bad for him, finding out something so important this way.
“Because, mijo, our family protected it. It would have been misused, abused, and dry long before now. It was not easy. Do you understand the necessity?”
“I, I understand,” Pablo said, his brow furrowed as he processed that.
I thought this new detail was pretty cool, honestly. The Francisco family rocked. I made a mental note to mention that at their next dinner. Something bothered me though. “Pablo, let me have the journal.” He handed it to me, and I thumbed through the delicate sheets. At the back, the last few pages, I found what I was looking for, a drawing of a man. I held up the drawing to the doctor.
“Who is this?” I asked.
“That, mija, is Ponce de León.” He smiled, quite pleasant, but with years, many many years of history and knowledge hiding behind the eyes and beard.
I showed the drawing to Pablo. His eyes widened as he looked back and forth between his father and the drawing. I could tell he came to the same conclusion I did. I walked over and wrapped my arms around him, hugging him tight.
“And now you know the entire family secret,” said the doctor.