Monday, July 21, 2008

Polly Escapes

Polly watched Amy pushed the cart down the center of the dormitory. The nightly collection never slowed. As it got heavier, it moved on its own. Amy’s night shirt stuck to her sweaty body. Each girl carefully dumped her chamber pot to avoid splashing, but Polly could already see brown and yellow stains. Unlucky Amy drew the day after laundry and would have to shower in her night shirt to remove the worst of it, but the odors would be with her for two weeks waiting for the next laundry. Polly stood patiently waiting for her turn. When Amy drew close, she mouthed the word, “Thank you.”

At the far end of the dormitory, Sharon did a little dance with her pot held high over her head like trophy or a spring bouquet. Polly maintained her focus on Amy and the approaching cart. Just as the cart reached her, she heard a crash and the lights went out. She knew Sharon had dropped the pot and hit it the light switch. She felt sorry that Sharon would also be showering in her gown tomorrow morning. Without a pause, she dropped her own pot and vaulted into cart.

The contents splashed. The smell urged her to remember the plan. She took a deep breath and pressed one hand over her mouth and the other pinched her nose. She closed her eyes and submerged herself in the muck.

She imagined Amy guiding the cart down the dormitory ramp and coasting across the yard to the warden’s garden. Her lungs burned and her ear rang. She felt like she was spinning, but didn’t dare loosen the grip on her mouth and nose. The slimy mixed oozed between her hands and her mouth. She pressed her lips so tight they hurt. The cart bounced. “Push Amy. Push faster.”

She moved towards the front of the cart, safely hidden. Waiting. Wondering if she’d die, drowning in the cart. The thought of swallowing gave her courage. Two bumps gave her hope they were in the garden. The cart tilted and she was poured out on the ground. She didn’t move, except to make a small slot for fresh air. This time the muck entered her mouth, rolled over her tongue, but the air felt fresh and clean. She wouldn’t die tonight.

When she heard the garden gate shut, she crawled to the orange tree. Camouflaged in brown, she climbed up the tree trunk. She reached out to the last orange, and a long thorn stabbed her. She watched the blood drip off her palm, washing away the dirt. She silently shouted. “Thorns? What else can happen?” She shinnied out on the branch carefully balancing because her camouflage made it slippery and those giant thorns were everywhere. Then she heard a gun shot.

She woke up on the ground with a sharp pain in her back. She rolled over and, not seeing any blood, realized that the branch had broken and several thorns impaled her back. But, none of this mattered; she saw the orange within reach.

She grabbed the smooth fruit and ripped it in half. She pushed it against her mouth and sucked the sweet juice. This is what freedom tasted like.

Guards came running. The garden gate opened and their flashlight beams circled the orange tree. By this time, Polly had run across the yard and approached the barbed wire. This time she didn’t pause, the barbs were tiny compared to the orange tree thorns. By the time the guards starting shooting she was lost in the night.

Not lost in the night; free in the night.

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