THE OREGON TRAIL
by Mike Itaya
Today I am eleven years born! We McClelland Family, Pa, Ma, Sis, and me (plus Joseph, our Mormon frontier scout), strike out from Independence, Missouri. The Oregon Trail is bright before us, our ox-pulled Conestoga laden with sundries (except for the calico dress Ma wanted). Ma grumbles that she should have married the Banker from Boston, while Pa pretends not to hear, but it is an otherwise perfect day.
At Fort Laramie, Ma runs off with a cowpoke. Sis, who is laid low beneath a blankie (she caught dysentery from a vegan hot dog in Columbus), says “I think we’ve been here before.” And Joseph, forever gloomy, mumbles, “Wherever you go, there you are.” Ma appears again (with her hair mussed), so Pa stalks off to hunt, and I no longer feel in charge of my life.
Pa, who has something to prove to Ma―she was unimpressed with the 1,663 pounds of buffalo meat he shot back in 1888―chooses to ford Snakehole River against the protestations of Joseph, who says, “Last time we forded Snakehole River, every one of us drowned and we had to start over in Independence, Missouri.” And Ma says, “I’m never going back to that Missouri hellhole.” And Pa says, “Who’s driving this Conestoga? Me, or you assholes?” So we ford the Snakehole River, and every one of us dies.
I have been eleven years old and on this godforsaken trail for twelve goddamn years―it ain’t natural to know the needs of a man in a boy’s body―and the last time we start over, our family scatters six ways to the wind. Here is how we lived and died: Pa drank himself to the grave; Ma married her cowpoke in Laramie; Sis lit out back east to join a vegan commune; Joseph opened a mink farm in Baker City. I am still in Independence, where we began all those years before. I am lonelier than you will ever know.
Mike Itaya lives in southern Alabama, where he works in a library. His work appears or is forthcoming in New Orleans Review, New World Writing, and Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, among others. He studies fiction at Pacific University and is a member of the arts collective, Mobile Canon.
Cover Design by Karen Rile