Ellen ran down to the shore. She knelt by the edge of the frozen stream, caught her breath, and then held it. She listened. There! What was that? Soft, but distinct; it was definitely a scratching sound on the ice. “Amy! Oh my god, Amy!” she cried. The scratching seemed to be moving slowly downstream. Ellen saw the spot near the end of the dock where the ice was broken up. “Amy! This way, girl, swim this way!” Ellen’s thoughts raced. How could Amy know which way to go or how to get back to the open water? Ellen certainly couldn’t go in after her.
No one else was around; the other places all boarded up for the winter. They had only come out to check on the summer camp and to get away for a few days. A cold rain was falling when they arrived and Ellen had joked, “Geez, it’s raining cats and dogs. How do I know? I just stepped in a poodle!” Amy had groaned appreciatively and shook the rain off her coat in the mud room. It had been lovely to build a fire in the drafty old stone fireplace, heat a can of Spaghetti-O’s in the coals, and take a long nap. The heavy gray clouds had parted and allowed the sun to break through while they were sleeping. The snow had glistened and beckoned them to come out for a walk in the crisp air. It was the perfect escape from the grind back home - until now.
What could she do? Ellen’s fear kept her paralyzed on her knees, listening and watching, willing Amy to reappear. She pictured her bumping her head up against the ice and frantically clawing at it with her nails. She must be disoriented, confused, her energy waning. Melting snow seeped through Ellen’s jeans.
The first tear seared its way down Ellen’s frost-nipped cheek. She lowered her head into her mittens and wept. She wept for Amy and for her own ineptitude. She wept for her unfulfilled dreams and mediocre life. She wept for her Grandpa and Nana, who had built the family camp with their own know-how and labor. She wept for her country, so divided and divisive. She wept for people everywhere whose lives were destroyed by hatred, hunger, and ignorance.
But mostly she wept for Amy – poor, good Amy who had been with Ellen through the joys and the sorrows of the past eight years. She had endured three moves, four boyfriends, and two changes of career. She kept Ellen active and made her leave work on time each day. Amy was Ellen’s best friend and constant companion.
Ellen’s thoughts settled and sobs subsided. She realized there was a rustling in the woods. As she lifted her swollen eyes and blinked away the crystallizing tears, Amy bounded from the shrubs and ran circles around Ellen. She barked excitedly and licked Ellen’s salty face. She had gotten lost chasing a scent and was thrilled to be reunited with her mistress.
Ellen hugged the wriggling dog tightly, too surprised and happy to think clearly. She got to her feet and clipped the leash to Amy’s collar for good measure. Not knowing whether to say “good girl” or “bad girl,” Ellen simply said, “Time to go home, Amy.” With one last look at the frozen river, Ellen vaguely wondered what, if anything, she had heard. She turned and walked away, leaving the tears and fears of a billion souls swirling beneath the ice.