Nelson County, Kentucky
A raw cry pierced the silent woods, black and blanketed with snow. Gutteral moans, a scatter-shot of despair, alerted an owl. Its take-off a shudder, a wing-sweep, cued Abbey to follow the terrible sounds. On her way home, she’d been thinking only that the hour was late and she would have to endure her mother’s questions, her older sister’s rebukes. She’d have to tell where she’d been, a secret she’d kept for years, but not a serious secret. Rather, a possessive one. Snow weighed down her boots, her pulse quickening as a kind of keening rose now through the trees.
Instinct, or memory, told her the animal distress was not a deer, not a calf. When she reached the bank and looked upstream at the swollen river, she half-recognized the shape she saw standing in silhouette.
A gray weight seized her, stopped her. She sensed that what she’d always known to be normal in her seventeen years was about to collapse around her: the hierarchy of roles, the family home and its loosely ordered ways, her own rituals for navigating life up to now.. For a millisecond she sought some escape. It seemed right not to intrude on that strict sister who brooked no intrusion into her affairs, ever.
But of course she had to stay. She had to try. “Jeanne!” she shouted, and the wailing changed—anger cross-hatched with despair. Abbey clinched her hands, stiffened her body, as though she could, in this way, hold herself together. But now there was no going back.