Friday, November 30, 2012

The Letter, Part 3

Today, the story turns back to Amy and her plight: locked up in the attic of a brothel.  When we last left her, she had found a scrap of paper, written a letter to her mother and slipped it through a crack between the boards of the building.  What follows, is what Amy's mother did when she received the letter.  Hope you enjoy!
Amy's Mother: I Would Rather Have Wings

I would rather have wings then sit in this cold, slow train. The landscape slides by as if it is on ice.  Outside, trees jut like questions out of iced swamps and  fog breathes near the surface.  The rolling hills are covered in bare trees.  The whole landscape seems to foretell this terrible tragedy.  William and I sit still side-by-side in the train, silent, as if we are afraid to speak.  William, who as a pastor, turns first to the lord’s word as guidance.  His finger is stuck in his worn bible, as if by touching the verse he'll be able to connect it's meaning, to our terrible cause.  It has only been 18 long hours since we received Amy's letter.  A small part of me feels relief to hear she is alive.  But the rest of me is so worried I can’t think straight.  Time seems to be nothing but an enemy now. Who knows how and when she posted the letter.  But her circumstances are dire and we need to get to her as quickly as possible. 
We had little to go on, a post mark from a city we've never heard of: Pithole, Pennsylvania. My memory of that moment is blurred - riding Amy's roan horse furiously into town to find William and to tell him the news.  Then, running up the wooden steps to the little lean-to office at the back of the Methodist Church where William sat engrossed in his studies in the low lamp light. When he saw my face, which must have been white as a ghost, he looked alarmed. 
"What is it?"  He said.  I couldn't speak, and instead handed him the crumpled letter I didn't know I had been clutching until then.  When he read the words, he sat down hard in his wooden chair, muttering low, "no, no."  He was paled as I was but stood up almost directly as if suddenly possessed to lead a charge.  “We have no choice but to leave immediately.  We have to find her.” 
Within half an hour we were at the train depot ticket counter. William was breathless when he spoke as if he had been galloping, not the horse.  "We need tickets to this place," he said pointing to the post mark.  "You know how to get to place called Pithole, Pennsylvania, fast?"
The ticket master just looked at us strangely.  We must have looked a sorry pair! My hair was had fallen down in wisps and moons of sweat grew beneath my arms.  William was red-faced and equally drenched in sweat. The man at the ticket counter just shook his head from side to side and then slowly looked down into his books. After what seemed like a hour, he muttered back up to us without looking up, "hmm…looks like that city is near Oil City, Pennsylvania, but there are no trains to that town.  Closest I can get you is Oil City.  Quickest way I can route you there is this: take the 5:00 pm train to New York City if there are still seats left.  Let me check. Yes, looks like there are a couple of seats.  Then, you’ll need to transfer to the Pittsburgh line from Grand Central Station.  From Pittsburgh there’s a train to Oil City leaving the following morning."  He said in one long continuous breath.

"We'll take it.”  William said reaching into his billfold,  “two tickets please." After he passed the money through the iron grates he looked down nervously at his pocket watch.  It was 4:45 pm.  It was at that moment that I realized I hadn't muttered a word.  I'd only shown him the letter, and then followed his lead.  The train whistle screamed behind me startling me and tearing me awake from the dazed shock I’d settled into.  "Amy" I said, under my breath. "We are coming to save you."

Now we are here, my head against cool glass, William's free hand grasping mine, staring at the mute trees rising from the swamps somewhere in Pennsylvania.  According to our tickets we should arrive in Oil City in less than an hour.  From there, we have no idea how to get where we are going.  According to the ticket master in Pittsburgh, there are no trains to Pithole from Oil City, there are only coaches and wagons to hire. 

The farther north we travel the more the passengers on the train change.  There are less and less women.  Before, most of the seats were filled with ladies wearing proper attire, carrying themselves in fine dresses, their male companions or chaperons and occasionally, a few children. There had also been men but they were properly dressed in suits and usually reading newspapers.  Now, the train is filled more and more with hollow cheeked men with dirty coats and dead eyes.  There are still a few women, but less and less are accompanied more and more look as hollow and lost as the men.  The closer we get to this town, the more I began to realize where we must be going.  I'd read about these places in the papers: a boom town, a place where men go to get rich, a place were morals and food and lodging were scarce.  I can only imagine what a terrible place our Amy is in. 

With that thought spinning though my mind, I turn violently to William grasp his shoulder and look him pleadingly in the face.  "Oh William!  What will we do?  What kind of place is this that we are going to?  What has befallen our daughter?”  William, instead of being startled, just smiles, clutches his hand in mine. I can see the cool calm in his eyes that’s settled so many people at their time of need.  I think of all of his parishioners who have come knocking on our door late at night, begging for strength in their times of need.  In his deep water voice he says, “Let’s pray dear.”  So, we both look down towards the ever moving floor of the train, toward the orange peels and dirt and discarded shells.  "Dear Lord," he says as we close our eyes, “please guide us with your everlasting strength.  Please grant us our greatest joy, our daughter, and let us find her in whatever circumstances that have become her.  Grant us the courage and strength to rescue her from whatever has befallen her in this place."

With these words we sit in silence.  I will my mind to think only of love and strength and memories of home.  I close my eyes again and try desperately to will that love and strength to Amy, to reach her wherever she is now.  And just the thought of this action makes me feel as if the train is traveling a little faster, makes me feel hope pushing us along.


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