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.