Monday, December 24, 2012

500 Days - What the River Carried on it's Back

It's been a few days since I've had a chance to log on and post the latest installment from 500 Days.  I teach five classes, so needless to say, there has been a lot of grading to do!  Plus, we are getting ready to celebrate Christmas as a family and I am living with my two very excited little boys.  But, I'm back with another segment.  In this piece, Amy has an epiphany that will change her life forever. Hope you enjoy!  Happy holidays!

Amy: What the River Carried on its Back

Try not to think about chickens but the sound of the damn birds is everywhere.  We are staying down in Oil City tonight.  There is no train out until the morning and so my mother, father and I are stuck staying at this hotel that's located right next to a chicken slaughtering operation.  How can these small birds be so loud?  Their clucking seems to penetrate my skull.  It's as if they know about their impending doom.  It's as if the combination of their sound escalates their fear.  Just a day and a half ago I was the one trapped. I was stuck in a wooden cage.  I was poked at.  Now, I am freed but my mind still feels caged in.  I'm not sure how to let it out.  Every noise I hear swells to the sound of Ben's large boots.  Every touch reminds me of his weight on top of me.  Every time we get farther away from Pithole, the more I think about the other girls that have been trapped like me, like these damn chickens that cluck and wail around me.  How can I leave others to a fate I escaped?  The air here is heavy with the smog of industry.  In front of our hotel slides a wide, grey river.  My mother said that river flows all the way to Pittsburgh.  Out on it are huge barges filled with barrels and barrels of oil.  That black substance that will forever pour down my throat, will forever darken the world between before and after in my mind.

At first light I decide there is no going back.  There is no way to leave and not at least try to help those who may come after me.  The letter was a fluke.  It won't work twice.  Besides, who else would be deluded enough to think that a letter, written on a scrap of paper and slid through a crack in the wall so that it falls to the street will actually reach its destination.  The chances of the other girls escaping are unlikely.  Unlikely, that is, unless I help them. 

As the idea comes to me, so does the first smile I've smiled in weeks.  I feel it spreading across my face like the first light that begun to illuminate the room.  That's what I'll do.  I'll go back to the church.  I’ll enlist Reverend  Steadman to help me bring down French Kate and Ben.  I'll work with him to make sure this doesn't happen again.  The way he slung that shotgun around during my rescue I can tell he doesn't think too highly of Kate's operation.  Or, at least about the way she gets her girls. I think he'll know how to help me.

I shake my mother awake first.  "Ma" I say, "There's something I've got to do."  She looks at me confused at first.  Then, relief washes over her face as if she is again just registering that I am indeed safe.  I know my idea will trouble her, but I also know if I tell her how much it means to me to do it, how if I don't do it I will never be the same, I know she will understand.  As the chickens shuffle and cluck, I tell her my plan.  With each word, I watch her face carefully for reaction.  Her face remains slack as a river as tears well in her eyes and slowly begin to roll down each cheek.

"I understand this is something you must do."  She says solemnly after a few minutes.  "I will stay with you and help you."  I smile back at her.  When I glance over at my Pa.  My poor beaten Pa who just up and left his own church in Millerton to come save my life, my Ma sees my look and sighs.  "You're right," she says, "he won't be able to come with us.  It would be better if he went home to recover." I know at this moment she is torn in two. 

"I can do this alone if I have to" I say boldly.

"I know you can Amy.  I reckon you can do just about anything now, after what you've been through. I don't know if I'd ever forgive myself though if I left you to go it alone."

When I look back at her all that had been between us:  all of the fights, the annoyance I carried with me about her, the differences we have at our very core, melted away.  It was as if the river had risen up and swept all of those feelings out of the room and all that was left was love and the sound of chickens.

Friday, December 21, 2012

500 Days - Amy Leaves Pithole

The joy of writing this story is getting to save more of the lost girls who washed up in Pit hole thinking that they would be working in hotels as maids only to find themselves enslaved into prostitution.  I realize I'm not actually "saving" them.  The past is done and what's happened has happened.  But by digging up the past and telling some of the stories that have been forgotten, I feel like these girls are being remembered.  Today, Amy leaves Pit hole with her parents, but not before she has a transformational experience.  Hope you enjoy!

Amy Leaves Pithole

My mother tells me that I awoke screaming but I have no memory of waking up.  The air is warm from the hearth.  The Reverend 's wife is busy getting herself and her children dressed.  My mother and father have asked me to come with them to church as well.  The idea of walking amongst the people of this town even in a church fills me with fear.  My mother assures me that the Steadman’s are good folk, that if it weren't for him I'd never been saved.  But it is so hard to trust anything here.  My parents are outside, minding the children.  My father doesn't even look like himself.  He is beaten so badly.  I know it was the man, the dark, tall man who treated me like an animal who beat my father.  But, I have no words yet to share.  Neither for comfort or fear.  Instead, I curl around myself and sit here at the hearth watching the flames curl and eat one another. They spell destruction, then escape.  Each flame, an eager hot tongue.

The air in the church seems stifled and pale.  I sit upright in the front pew next to my mother and my poor, hunched father.  I pleaded with the Reverend  not to mention we were there.  Fear licks my veins.  Reverend  Steadman agreed not to mention our presence, but he said, word has already traveled fast and many who will be in attendance will have already heard about my imprisonment and subsequent escape.

The church is small, much smaller than our church at home in New York.   When his words begin they are loud and firm.  He fills the wooden space with sharp spokes of thoughts that weave between those seated in the pews.  My mind is drifting out of the window with the light layers of white clouds that seem spread across the sky.

After the sermon, we walk together slowly back to the depot.  We will catch the 2:00 PM coach out of town.  Then, we’ll take a train back to Pittsburgh, New York City and finally return to Millerton.  What will it be like to be there again in this, my new self?  I haven't had a chance to see myself in the mirror but I know without looking that I am changed.  I am like another girl.  A part of me has been buried somewhere underneath.  I don't know if I'll ever know myself again.

As we walk to the train station, my mother is thanking Reverend  Steadman profusely.  But I am still mute.  Words seem wrong.  Like they don't fit my thoughts.  My father looks deep into Steadman's eyes when we depart and offers his words, "I'll never be able to thank you enough for what you have done." 

As we board the coach I can't help but watch who gets off before us -- the new residents of Pithole and sure enough out step several young girls doe-eyed and unknowing what sort of snake den they are about to walk into. Just as we are about to board the coach, just as my father is lifting me up, I turn around quickly and follow one of the girls.  I have to know where she is going.  I can't let another girl go through what I have just gone through. 

When I catch her and grab her arm she looks at me strangely.  I'm sure I look like a ghost of a girl.  I washed up last night, but my hair is still wild and my eyes are still tangled in the fear I just left yesterday. 

“I just need to know where you are going.  Are you coming here for a job?  Where were you hired?”  I ask desperately. 

“Excuse me? Who are you?”  The girl says. 

I say, grabbing her arm with more pressure. “ I said, where are you going?”

 The girl looks at me hard and strange as if she can't quite understand what I am doing. “ I just got a job at the Dew Drop Inn. I'm to be the new girl to work in the hotel.  It's all been arranged.”

 When I heard these words I went pale.  “It's not what you think.”  I say.  “I know you won't believe me, but I beg of you not to go there.  I can understand you not believing me.  So if you don’t then don’t take my word for it, take the Reverend s’. You see that church up on the hill?  It’s the Methodist church.  Please go there first.  There is a Reverend  there named Steadman.  Tell him Amy sent you.  Tell him you came to town to start a job just like me.  Just promise me you’ll do this.”  I say, looking her straight in the eye. 

She looks at me real scared because I know I seem crazy.  “Okay,” she says.  “I will.  I'll go see him first.  Now, can you let my arm go?”

It will be weeks before I will hear from the girl.  Hear how she did go to see Steadman first, hear how he stopped her from going to see Kate and Ben.  Hear she took the next coach out of town and was saved.  I just hope none of the other girls who got off that coach were going to the same place.  I just hope someone stopped the same thing from happening again and again.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

500 Days, The Letter Continued

Today, Veronica reflects on all that has happened in the last day.

Veronica Wakes to Find Her Daughter Asleep

The next morning is Sunday.  We’ve slept in Reverend Steadman’s own home.  His wife and two children all slept together in the same bed, and Reverend  Steadman slept on the floor just so that Amy could sleep in their bed.  I tried to lie down next to her but as soon as she felt my body settling down next to her she jumped with a start and screamed in terror.  I stroked her head then lay down on the floor next to her.  The Reverend ’s wife was kind enough to give us piles of wool blankets to sleep on.  Funny thing is by the looks of their supplies I don’t reckon we are the first strangers to wander into town and sleep on their floor.  The night was long.  So many hours of Amy waking to fight away invisible enemies that attacked her in her sleep.  How can so much have happened to her in just a few weeks?  Then, next to me my husband, who the doctor bandaged up, is moaning in his sleep.  We are a sorry trio that awakes to Reverend  Steadman’s wife’s sweet trill voice speaking to the children by the hearth.  She offers me a steaming cup of black coffee and I take it in both hands and sit down at a chair by the hearth.  I let Amy and William sleep, while I sit still and drink coffee and gather my thoughts and worry into a gossamer ball.

Reverend  Steadman has already left the house by the time I wake up, no doubt to prepare his 9 AM sermon while his wife is left busy tending their small children: a five year old girl and a nine year old boy.  The boy is already outside chopping wood while the young girl sits at the hearth playing with her handmade doll.  How long ago was it when Amy and her brother played like this at my skirts?  Oh, Joe.  His memory comes back to me like a cold breeze.  I haven’t thought about him in so long I feel guilty.  It was another life and it feels so far away.

I startle to William’s voice.  He is by my side, his face an awful discoloration of blue and red.  One eye still swollen shut.  Pain etched into his jaw.  But, he is awake, and standing, which by comparison is a huge improvement.  Mrs. Steadman sees him standing next to me and also offers him a steaming cup of coffee.  He gingerly squats on the floor next to me without saying a word. 

After a while he asks, “How is she?”  Nodding over in Amy’s direction. 

“She’s sleeping, and she’s back with us.”  I say.  I’ve already told him about how we went back.  How Reverend  Steadman had gotten the man, Ben, to stand down and let him gather Amy from the attic where she was locked up.  He had just looked at me relieved as the doctor gave him the medicine that put him to sleep.

When Amy sits bolt up in bed we both startle.  She is screaming, but soon realizes she isn’t in danger. 

“Ma, Pa, I’m so sorry.”  Is all she says, tears falling from her eyes.  “I’m so very sorry.”

We rush over to her and hold her in our arms begging her to stop crying, to not worry.  Telling her there is no way she could have known that the people who advertised the job were crooks. 

“You are safe now Amy.” We both say to her.  And we all cry.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

500 Days, Why Pithole?

Everyone is always asking me why I write about Pit hole city.  It seems unlikely that a Californian would be writing about an Oil Boom town in Western Pennsylvania   But, once I heard the stories about the town, once I visited the site where it once stood, I felt the need to dredge up the stories that happened there and bring them to light.  I think places hold the residue of their history (told and untold) and there are some places I visit, or I live, that have so many untold stories that I can't let them go.  That's what happened the day I visited Pit hole (or what's left of it).  These days there is just a broad open field, and a small visitor's center (that was being closed due to budget cuts). The day I visited it was closed, but a few of the staff were there and they offered to give me a tour.  It is then, walking around the small visitor's center, looking at the diorama of the booming city, that I heard the story of Amy--her imprisonment  her letter and her rescue.  It's then when I heard Widow Ricketts and how she struck oil. It was then when I heard about the all of the young girls who were forced into prostitution there and I knew I needed to tell their stories.  So, this hybrid collection attempts to tell.  It attempts to dig up and find what hasn't been told.

In today's passage, Amy awakens freed from her ordeal at the Dew Drop Inn.

Amy Awakens

The scent of dust and oil makes me nauseous.  It’s all that I can smell mixed in with the doctor’s smelling salts when I come to.  Mama is looking down at me and the blue sky blooms out from her hair.  Her hair has so many wisps it is half down.  There is dried blood on her cheek and her right eye is half-closed and swollen.  There is a halo of shadow glowing around her face.  “Amy, Amy we here honey.  We are here.”  She says over and over. 
A man is standing next to her.  Not my Pa.  I look around me.  I’m lying on grass next to a white washed building that looks like a church.  The sun is so bright it makes everything around me seem dark. 
“I don’t think she can see.”  The man says.
“No, no I can’t.”  I say, but the sound that escapes my lips doesn’t form the words I intended.   Instead,  I hear a low moan.  I look around to see what animal has made this terrible sound before I realize it has come from me.  The noise has arisen from my own throat. 
How can it be?  I think.  How can that silly letter I wrote, how can that dumb hope have gotten all the way to New York. It seems like an impossible journey.  What hands had to pick it up off the ground.  What person had to have had the sense to pick it up, take it to the post office and pay the postage, and mail it off to my Mama?  Who would have done such a thing?  It seems impossible.  But here she is looking down into my face like I’m her newborn child.
“Water.”  I rasp.  And it’s clear that they understand me because the man stops his gaze to lean back and dip a tin cup in a wooden bucket. 
“Here,” he says, handing me the cool, dripping cup.  “Drink this!” 
And I take a sip.  And then sink back into another darkness.  But not before I let out a deep breath.  Not before I let the worry wash out of my face as my mother strokes my cheek.  “It’s alright Amy,” she says as I slide back into the dark.  “Everything is going to be okay.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

500 Days: The Letter Continued

And now, Amy's mom's perspective on her daughter's rescue...
Veronica’s Joy

Nothing can describe the joy I feel at seeing Amy carried out the door by Reverend  Steadman.  I don't know how he did it, but somehow he got that evil man to stand down and Amy was released.  The air is thick with sun and dust.  She sees me and then falls to the ground.  I am so filled with joy and fear at the same time I feel as if I will go mad.  I’m screaming her name even as she has crumpled to the ground in front of me.  Steadman picks her up in his arms and carries her to the church. We lumber slow up the street.  Men hang from doorways staring at our slow procession as if we are on parade.  Perhaps, only an hour, maybe two has passed since we entered this town, but as we walk up that street to the church, my daughter limp in the Reverend ’s arms I feel like I’ve just walked straight out of hell. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Weekend Without Words and Another Passage from 500 Days

All weekend I found it impossible to write.  After hearing about the horrific events in Connecticut, after watching President Obama's news conference, I could not bare to be online, or to read the news.  Like many Americans, I kept seeing my own community inside of the one that had been shattered.   I kept thinking about the darkness that must have gathered in each parent's heart.  I kept thinking of the joy that passes through a Kindergartner's face.  I kept thinking of all of the incredibly hard working educators I have in my life who would, without thinking, give their lives for their students. I kept thinking of those children and the faculty who were mindlessly slain and it broke my heart in two. I was without language.  But, I wept with the President.  I appreciated the weight of my boys bodies as they hugged me when I picked them up from school that day.  I baked chocolate chip cookies and rocky road fudge.  I cooked chili and soda bread.  I cleaned out the boys rooms and we snuggled together reading books.  On Sunday, we went to our church and the boys participated in the Christmas pageant.  The entire church was filled with people coming together.  The sadness was palpable.  It hung in the air like a low fog.  We remembered the names of the lost children and educators.  We prayed for them.  Then, we knit our voices together loud and strong and sang and cried.  I sang at the top of my lungs until each word felt like an individual prayer.  After Church, instead of rushing off to the grocery store, we gathered and drank coffee and talked about our lives.  We signed up to serve lunch to the homeless, or to buy clothes and presents for children in our community who will not otherwise receive presents.  And after, we drove home singing songs loud together as if shouting words out to the universe might fill us with joy again.  We repeated: Love, love, love, under our breath, even as the storm gathered and darkness pushed hard against us.

Love to all of you.  Thank you for being a part (even virtually) of my community.  Here is the next section of 500 DaysIt feels good that today is the day Amy gets rescued from the brothel:

Amy: The Rescue

The man who rushed into the room is different than the man who had his way with me the last few days.  My first thought is, oh no not another one.  But then I remember I've given up and I just look away, back to the darkness of the corner. 

"Are you Amy?" I hear a voice say.  And I look up, because no one here has ever bothered to call me by my name.  "I said, are you Amy?  If you are, there isn't much time.  I'm here to rescue you.  If you are Amy stand up.  Your Mamma is waiting outside." 

With these words the darkness that has been choking me recedes just enough for me to feel a pinprick of hope.  I stand up quick but my whole world spins in front of me.  My legs feel as if they are made of rubber and I stumble back down. 

“Here,” he says, putting his arm around my waist.  “I'll help carry you down the stairs.”  With all of these days pouring into one another, with all of the horror I've faced in the last few days I'm amazed at how quickly we descend the stairs and walk out into the bright, hot day.  There is no Madame.  There is no large looming man blocking our way, only a clear path to an open door that glows with sunlight.  I close my eyes as we walk over the threshold and when I open them again my mother is standing in front of me like a mirage.  When she sees me, tears pour from her eyes as she mutters, “Amy, Amy is it really you are you really safe?”

There is nothing I can do or say, I am so overwhelmed that the sky seems to turn over and over then it goes dark as ink.

Friday, December 14, 2012

500 Days - The Letter

Today's story takes us back to Amy and her mother and father.  When we last left her, Amy was still stuck in the attic of the Dew Drop Inn (which is actually a brothel).  Her mother and father received a letter she had miraculously mailed and they had come to rescue her.  However, the rescue did not go well and Amy's mother and father went to the church for help.  At the church, they met Pastor Steadman.  Pastor Steadman is based on a historical figure and Reverend D.S. Steadman who was a gun slinging church leader.  This segment of the story is what Steadman does once he has heard Amy's mother tell the story of Amy's kidnapping. Hope you enjoy!

Veronica: Everything Seems to Break at Once

With Pastor Steadman standing in front of me, in front of my broken husband who is bent over, covered in his own blood, his eyes swollen shut, everything seems to break in me a once.  I am beside myself in racking sobs.  “Oh Pastor Steadman,” I wail.  “I know we do not know each other, but I am in desperate fear of what those animals will do to my child.”  I can see Steadman's eye twitch with these words and at once know he, too, is a father.  I have spent the last hour telling him the story of Amy, right up to the last few hours we've spent fighting to rescue her from the brothel where we assume she is being held captive.

“If what you say is true,” he says, “and I believe by your reaction it must be, there is nothing to be done but act.” 

With these words he strides swiftly out the back of the church to a door in the back.  I'm left to calm myself, to soothe William.  A few moments later, Pastor Steadman strides in with a 12 gauge shot gun thrown over his shoulder and I am surprised by how little his gun shocks and frightens me.  Steadman is the type of Pastor who preaches in a town where guns are the law, not God.  He looks me straight on and says, “it's probably best ma'am if you stay here. This rescue might get ugly.”  With these words, he turns on his heel and strides out of the door. 

But, I have no choice but to follow.  I cannot sit by as someone else goes to rescue my daughter.  I tell William I'll be right back, but he has fallen unconscious.  Quickly, I follow a few steps behind the Pastor as he strides confidently down the street towards the brothel. 

With one swift kick he open the already broken door.  “I'm here for the girl,” I hear him shout with force.  Then, I hear a loud snarl from the strong man. 

“What the hell you talking about Steadman.” 

“I said, I'm here for the girl.  The one you and Kate have locked up in your attic.  Her mother just came up to the church and told me the whole story.  Now, I don't usually mind your business, but this time, you've gone too far.” Steadman says.

From the street, I can see how he is looking at the strong man straight on.  “I don't know what the hell you talking about,” says Ben.

“Alright, if that's the way it's going to be, I'll shoot my way in.”  With these words, he sets his shotgun on his shoulder, releases the safety, and sets the site directly on the Strongman.

“Well, wait here just a second,” says Ben.  “I don't want to cause any trouble.  She's up there.”  He says, pointing to the stairs I'd tried to climb just an hour ago.  For what seems like an eternity, I hear him climb the stairs then nothing.  Just the beat of my heart thundering in my ears. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

500 Days - The Girls Who Would Be Birds

Today, we skip ahead a few days.  Emmy, Diana and Amy have been working hard getting the oil out of the well and shooing off suitors who want to marry them for their wealth.  Amy (whose backstory you will hear about tomorrow) and Diana have been given the money they need to buy themselves out of prostitution from Emmy sharing the wealth from the oil.  In this segment, Amy go to see Big Ben and French Kate in hopes of buying their freedom.  Hope you enjoy!

Diana - Out of the Ashes

The story I read last night, the last one I read before I fell asleep, was about a bird.  A bird that flies so fast it turns into bright burning flames, then, crumbles to ash.  Unbelievably, from that scattering of ashes rises a new bird.  “A phoenix” the book called it.  Emmy loaned me her book, it’s the one I first started to read after the fire.  She called it Metamorphosis.  Said it was a collection of tales they used to tell long ago.  The tales are magical, like the fairy tales my Momma used to read to me each night before I fell asleep.  The book had been a gift from her father.  He’d brought it from Germany.   My favorite had always been the story of the miller’s daughter: the girl who weaves straw into gold but who’s almost tricked by that arrogant troll. She survives because she doesn’t give up and she listens.

Yesterday, after we’d sat with Emmy and made our plan, Jane and I left while Emmy did her paperwork and got her laundry accounts settled.  We took a walk back to the Chase hotel.  I hadn’t been back since the night it burned down.  Since the night I walked into my own darkness and then back out.  It still stood, black ember boards covered in grey ash.  There wasn’t much left and by the looks of it (ashy foot prints everywhere) many have already picked over anything that was left unscathed.  I thought I would feel sad looking back at this place, but instead it is a nothingness that fills me.  Not the darkness that threatened to let me walk into the flames, but a nothingness of no regret of not feeling anything for this place.

Jane and I walk on past the ruins of the hotel.  She is nervously biting her nails.  I loop my arm in hers as we walk down the tight streets. She’s worried she’ll run into Big Ben.  That he’ll see her and make her come back.  But, I assure her that whatever the cost Emmy can buy her out now, that we safe.  We gettin’ out.  But, she still bites her nails and looks at the ground as we walk.  All the joy that had been slowly washing back into her face has washed right back out.

When we walk past the hotel where Jane once worked, I can feel her arm start to shake in fear.  “It’s okay,” I say. “ I got the paper.  We gonna be okay.”  But she still shakes.

Strange thing is when we walk up we find the door kicked in.  Ben is in the parlor.  But he don’t look so tough.  He’s got a bloody lip and he’s pacing back and forth on the floor. 

“What the hell do you whores want?”  He say as we walk up.

“We are here to buy ourselves out.”  I say trying to look tall as I can. 

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” He says. “ Kate!”  He yells.  “We got another runner.”

By the look of Ben, by the sound of these words, I know that something bad has happened.  Kate steps slowly down the wood staircase in her high heeled boots.  She is (like always) dressed to the nines.  Her body is held tight in a red velvet bodice.  Her breasts spilling out of the top.  Her hair is swept up and her face is painted like a china dolls. 

When she gets to the bottom of the stairs she says.  “Well, well, well, what we got here.  Another transformed whore?  We were wondering where you went off to Diana after the fire.  And Jane you take care of your problem?  Or, you need another visit from Big Ben’s fists?”  With these words I can feel Jane shrink to half her size. 

“No ma’am.  We here to buy back ourselves.”

“You ain’t got that kind of cash.”  Kate cuts back.

“Oh yes Ma’am we do. Just after the fire, Widow Ricketts struck oil.  She’s offered to buy us out.  I’ve got her letter here.”

“I don’t care you got a signature from President Lincoln himself.  You two is my whores and we got some men who want your services so you get your pretty little selves cleaned up so we can make some money.”

“I don’t think you understand.  We got the money.  We want out.”

“I don’t think you understand.  I got a business to run.”

Two days ago, before the fire, before I’d seen what would happen if I’d stay, I would have backed down.  I would have dropped my eyes and said a quiet, yes, ma’am, sorry, ma’am.  But not now, not today.  Anger bloomed in me hot as the fire I’d escaped.

“We not here to negotiate.”  I say, handing Kate the folded paper Emmy had written out.

“Ben, Ben you believe this one?” She say

But Ben don’t look himself.  He still cursing under his breath and blood is streaming down his face. “I don’t give a fuck what them ladies want Kate.  I need a fucking drink”  And with these words he strolled right out the door.

“Well, I never!”  Kate says under her breath, her face flushing.  She opens the parchment and looks down.  I see her reaction real quick before she can fix it.  She looked surprised by the numbers Emmy has given her for us.  But she a good business woman and she correct herself real quick. 

“Well, we’ll have to see if this figure will work.  You girls get out of here now before I change my mind.  You’re lucky I have one hell of a headache this afternoon.”  And with these words she folds the paper into a tiny, tight note and stuffs it into her huge bosom.

I grab Jane’s arm too tight and spin her out of that place fast.  We walk as quickly as we can down the street back to the far edge of town where Emmy lives.  As we walk I can feel the air around me grow lighter and lighter.  As if a cool breeze had suddenly picked up and washed over us.  We walked through that wind, arms linked, feeling lighter than air, the dust swirling in the air, the ash of the burnt hotel back to the shade of them hemlocks on Emmy’s property where she sitting and shouting out to us,  “Well? How’d it go? You free yet?  Cause we got us some work cut out for us today!”

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

500 Days - The Girls Who Would be Birds Continued

Yesterday, I had a bit of an a-ha moment in regards to my story.  For the past year and a half, as I've been working on this hybrid manuscript, I've been trying to figure out what is missing.  But yesterday when a friend asked me why I didn't have any sections in the voices of the male characters I realized what it was.  The men.  I need to add in the back stories of Ben, Pastor Steadman, Crocus.  I even thought of adding a chorus (Greek style, not Broadway style) of the hollow boys - a lyric voice of the young boys who work in the derricks. It was a wonderful, inspiring inspiration.  Today though, you are hearing from a woman.  In this section, Widow Ricketts continues the story.  She's just awoken from her reoccuring nightmare where she recalls her husband's death.  Hope you enjoy!
Widow Ricketts – Aubade

This morning, dawn struck the sky dumb with amazing colors.  I was so startled when I walked outside in the dawn light that I almost forgot the nightmare I’d just been immersed in.  The one that I can’t ever shake – the one where Henry kisses me one last time on the lips then walks across the street to the dock, steps gingerly into his wooden boat and pushes off into the grey deep that will be his grave. 

Each time I dream it, I know at the second our lips touch that he will die, but something happens to me: my legs freeze, or they feel glued to the floor.  Or, a glass wall descends and holds me back so my screams of stop, don’t get in the boat, or you’ll die, never carry across. Or, a ghost descends, a tattered grey of a shade that billows around me holding my wrists and ankles, covering my mouth with the cool grey gauze of its form so that my words become nothing but lost air.

But today the stain of dawn washes away that grey dream, the gray waters that would wash him farther and farther away.  The dawn washes it away with the hope of the sight of the well directly in front of me.  A well that has become a fountain of oil.  What luck!  Who would have ever believed that was possible. 

I step back inside and look into the front room where the girls are curled up on pallets on the floor.  Diana, her hair swept out around her head like a golden wave of fire, her face pinched in worry that never seems to wash away even with sleep.  Then, right next to her, the new girl Jane, who sleeps tightly bound like a field mouse.  Her brown hair pulled tight into a braid down her back.  They are floating in their own worlds now.  Worlds that are tangled in a web of stories I’ll never know.  In a few minutes, I’ll wake them and their faces will melt into the daily masks they wear.  No trace of history will pass across.  Only the face of the daily, the everyday.  I know it is only a survival, as mine is, but how I wish we could all just open our mouths and let our stories pour out, like clear, clean water. 

The pink begins to fade from the sky and a sort of yellow glow starts to grow. The shift in color reminds me that we got a lot to do today.  Yesterday afternoon the girls and I sat at my round oak table and made our plans.  We gonna get as much oil out of that well as we can.  We worked out shifts and a system for selling our oil in town.  Then, we made ourselves a pact.  At the end of all of this we are going to ride this big dark wave of oil and leave.  We are going to leave this dust and these hollow boys.  We are going to get in my wagon and ride all the way down the hill to Oil City where we'll catch trains out of here.  I don't know where the girls are going, don't even imagine they'll be telling me, our friendship here is just too tied up in their awful present.  A present I don't reckon they want to go telling their families and friends about.  No, I'm not going to be anything but the lady who helped get them out of this place. 

Me, I don't know yet where I will go, somewhere green and lush, somewhere far away from here.  My sister lives up in Maine.  I haven't seen her in so many years, but she writes me letters every few months about the ocean and the way the air smells heavy with salt.  The way she describes it, Maine sounds like a clean place.  It sounds like a good place for a fresh start.  Hell, I was only in Franklin because of Henry.  Now, what good is it to stay around here?  Especially, now that all has changed.  Especially, now that this dark black wave is going to wash under us and carry us out of this place.

I put the coffee on, then I walk over to the girls to wake them up.  I give Diana's shoulder a shake.  Then, Jane’s.  “Time to rise and shine,” I say. 

And they awaken.  Diana flutters awake like a small bird.  Jane sits bolt upright, a look of terror across her face.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

500 Days - The Girls Who Would be Birds Continued

Diana’s Pigeon
There aren’t many animals in these streets except for the hairless horses that hall the heavy loads through town.  The dust and soot must choke them out.  Every once in a while a bird, like a pigeon, will swoop in and land.  How strange a bird like this looks in this universe!  Yesterday, as I was walking to the creek, I saw one swoop down from the hemlocks.  There he sat, gray and feathered on the muddy ground, his head jutting from side to side, as if to question what sort of place he had landed in.
“Poor bird,” I think, “you got no idea what you got yourself into.”  Of course I’m not really talking to the bird, I’m talking to myself. I’m talking to all the girls who fly in here unawares and don’t know what they’ve gotten themselves into. 
When she walks up the path, her eyes are down cast toward the ground.  As if she is walking very carefully.  As if she is afraid she will step on the wrong stone.  I see her coming up the path from the house.  I’m still smiling when I see her, smiling from that poor fool who tried to propose to Emmy Ricketts once he realized she’d struck oil.  She sure showed him!  Don’t think he’ll be coming round again unless it’s to fill her orders for equipment.  Something tells me he ain’t the last one that’ll be botherin us either.  That’s one thing men can smell around here, oil.  They always looking for it.  Hell if there’s a woman who’s got it, she start to look like a real attractive woman, alright.
When I see her walking up the path though, my smile fades. I know that’s not the way to greet her.  She a shy girl.  She had it hard.  We got to ease her back.  Funny thing is, I can’t remember the last time I smiled before today. Seems like that fire gone and burned away all the darkness I thought was swallowing me.  Burn it off into the dark night. 
I walk down the path to meet her.  “Glad you decided to come,” I say.  “You know Widow Rickets?” 
“I heard of her.”  She says in her quiet voice, almost a whisper.
“You looking for work?” I ask.
“Yes, I am now”. 
“My name’s Diana, what you called?”
“My names Jane.” 
“Nice to meet you” I say.  “I’ll bring you up to the house to meet Emmy”
I don’t ask a lot of questions because I know she don’t want me to.  It’s one thing to talk about your life here, but the life you left, or the one you lost before you got here, that is private and something that is unspoken around here.  The unspoken rule is you don’t ask questions you don’t want somebody asking you.
When we walk up to the white-washed house, Widow Rickets is bent over the well, arms slick with oil to the elbows.  “Get over her,” she hollers, and we rush over fast.  “Can you girls help me set up this line?  We spilling oil all over the place.  We might as well tearing up bank notes at this rate.”
So, before I can even introduce Jane we jump in and help her set the line to collect the oil.  Once it’s set, the pump rises and falls like a heartbeat.  “Let’s go in and get cleaned up,” she says.  “I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure of meeting you,” she says, extending her arm to Jane and then looking at it covered in oil, thinking better of it. 
“Hi,” Jane says quietly.  “It’s nice to meet you.  My name is Jane.  Diana here said you was looking for girls to help you work.  I’m looking for work.”
“Well you’re in luck because I’m just about up to my ears in oil!  Let’s go on into the house and get some lunch and talk about how we gonna set up this operation.”
With that, we follow Emmy into the house.  Just as I reach to close the door, I see the pigeon rise up into the air and take flight.  He gone.  Smarter bird then I thought! I think and smile to myself.