Some said it would have been better had Winifred Wright never been born. These were ignorant folk, none of whom had ever met Winifred. Those who knew her, knew she’d packed more into her fifteen short years than most women did in a lifetime. Born and raised in Ada, Ohio, she made the trek to Allentown, Pennsylvania in the last year of her life. She walked most this distance, catching what rides she could, but these were few. Winifred was distrustful of lone traveling men, so would only join families (or in one case, an elderly couple). She slept rough, and had little food, money, or possessions.
Everything she owned could be bundled into a small pack: leftover food, clothing, a slender book of verse, a thin blanket, a brush, combs for her hair (enameled with worn fake ivory), and various toiletries. She also carried two small knives, seven smooth stones taken from a stream, and a sling. She did not need more. She was not dependent on the goodwill of others to keep herself fed. No stranger to work, she did basic chores in exchange for meals. She refused all charity and would hunt and scavenge when needed. She could take down birds quite easily, mostly ruffed grouse or quail, and she occasionally got lucky with a rabbit or squirrel, but she never killed anything larger.
It took her a little more than a month to transverse the five hundred miles. She was sure she could have done it in less time, but there was no hurry. There was only all the time in the world.
“I am free!”
Winifred had no idea what there was for her in Allentown. All she knew was there was no longer anything for her in Ada. She had one reason for believing her future was in Allentown. Born and raised in an orphanage, Winifred allowed herself few connections, since getting attached to other people always resulted in vulnerability, only invited loss. Books were her companions, though these were few in the orphanage: the bible, some basic primary readers on grammar and spelling, arithmetic, Latin, geography, and one of fables. Her prized possession was a small worn book of poems by Montgomery Stevens given to her on her 11th birthday. She had every poem in this slim volume memorized, and often thought of what she would say to Montgomery if she were ever to meet him.
“I don’t want you to want me, don’t need you to need me, but I would love for you to love me. I want to be your muse.” She imagined kisses and poetry written just for her, imagined flowers and chocolates and tastes of wine, night caresses and seduction. She craved intimacy. ”I’ve traveled hundreds of miles for your love.” Winifred believed Montgomery knew her completely. It was apparent with his every word. His verse spoke to her soul. His poems weren’t exceptional by any means, or even particularly good. In fact, they were often quite awful, but they got her through some equally terrible times in her life.
Ever since she was a little girl she fantasized about someday meeting Montgomery Stevens. She would touch his hand and he would recognize their connection. She would whisper in his ear, and they would go for long romantic walks about town. They would fall in love and he would provide for her. ”The world is a dangerous place,” he would say, ”Allow me to care for you. Allow me to be your protector.”
When she finally did meet him, she was not prepared for how old he was. She was taken by surprise. He was an old man with imposing facial hair, and looked nothing like the dashing young man of her fantasies. He seemed frail and broken. The first thing to come out of her mouth was, ”I should very much like to see the ocean. Perhaps you could one day take me ?” They married shortly after this encounter.
Less than a year later she was dead. She never saw the ocean.