When I go into the garden, there she is.
The specter holds up her arms to show
that her hands are eaten off.
She is silent because of the agony.
“There She Is” by Linda Gregg
Saturday mornings for Sandra and Harriet were sacred. Sandra woke up on this morning and got out of her bed in her dark room. Harriet’s side of the bed was empty and the thick, blue and white striped curtains were drawn taught over the window. The sun shone victoriously through the cracks around the blinds. Sandra lay in bed for just a moment, blinking and feeling at peace. Saturdays in of themselves were wonderful, but a Saturday with Harriet was absolute bliss. Lately, Sandra and Harriet had been going on Saturday adventures. On this particular day, they had plans to trail run next to the ocean. She could hear Harriet rummaging around in the kitchen and decided to slide out of bed into her ratty old pink bunny slippers.
On this morning, Sandra walked out of the room quietly and stood at the doorway to the kitchen, watching the way that Harriet moved in the world, and she felt it. She felt the nearness of her, she watched her fill the coffee pot and her hands were beautiful. Sandra was smiling to herself when Harriet turned around laughed, and said, “What the fuck are you smiling about?” Sandra, not usually one for verbal expressions of mush, could not hold back when she answered, “I just love you, that’s all. Do you have a problem with that?” Harriet stood at the sink laughing her beautiful laugh, standing in old plaid pajamas pants and a ripped, stained, faded tee shirt with a growling grizzly bear on the front. Her short brown hair was sticking up on one side. Sandra was overcome, Harriet just said, “Wow, you are feeling all of the feels today aren’t you?” “Don’t you dare patronize me!” Sandra said in a passively angry, playful tone. Harriet said, “Awwww!!! Baby got her feelings hurt?” Sandra said, “I take it back! You’re the worst!” She tried to run away, but Harriet caught her, and they kissed in the pool of sunlight that flooded in from outside. The sun rising in victory over the earth, was making its way into the darkest spaces.
That day was as close to perfect as one could be. They headed out and stopped for coffee and doughnuts along the highway. They were going to try out the Ray Miller Backbone Trail off of the Pacific Coast Highway. They drove their little black Subaru Outback down the highway, windows open, Mariah Carey blasting on the radio. Not giving a fuck about anything but feeling everything. Sandra insisted on driving, claiming, however falsely, that Harriet’s driving made her carsick she did not want to admit to Harriet that her driving scared the shit out of her. Harriet should know by now that she was a terrible driver due to her myriad of tickets and close calls, but she would never admit it. Harriet drove like an old lady wearing protective eyewear after a cataract surgery.
The sun was still hugging the horizon when they pulled off the highway at the trailhead. The heat of the day had not yet taken hold while they stood with the back of the car open and changed into their running gear. The trail was a 5 mile out and back trail with beautiful views. The ocean was sparkling in the mid morning sun. They made sure their running pants were pulled up high and their water bottles were full and ready to roll. They set out on the trail and Harriet casually said, “What do you think about going on a road trip next month?” Sandra said, “Yes please. Where were you thinking?” “I have been wanting to drive north, go to Yosemite, Crater Lake and then end up at Olympic National Park.” Harriet said without hesitation. “How are we going to get out of work, Harriet?” Sandra asked a little frustrated that adult responsibility stood between her and adventure. Harriet said, “Pump the brakes Andretti, I have it all figured out.” “Ok, tell me.” Sandra replied.
“I promised we would write at least two articles about how families can maximize their travel time during road trips. I think one should be called, “Pit stops, when to pee and when to hold it” or “Where to find the best gas station bagels. Or maybe even, 7 of the best places for your dog to poop.” “You are so gross!” Sandra yelled, tripping over a rock as she was laughed. Sandra had never met someone who could make her laugh the way that Harriet did.
Sandra had to admit, she admired Harriet’s ability to get what she wanted out of life. They followed the trail back down, when they got to the bottom, they sat in the very back of the car and shared a beer. Then they changed into their swimsuits and spent the rest of the morning swimming in the sparkling blue ocean. There was a tiny little restaurant overlooking the water a few miles from where they were. So, they threw on their swimsuit covers and drove a ways down the road. The sand was itchy on their legs but it didn’t matter. Not a lot did on that beautiful day. It was about three in the afternoon, they were tired and hungry. They walked into the restaurant and the sudden darkness made it difficult for them to see. They stood at the front counter and waited for the bored looking hostess to seat them on the deck off of the back of the restaurant.
The afternoon passed languidly. Sandra and Harriet looked at maps and campgrounds and tried to frame out their road trip a little more. The afternoon took on a deep golden tone, the sun seemed to burn away all of the sadness and darkness that saturated Sandra’s existence. And so they sat, across the table from each other, honest, vulnerable, blissful. They were there so long, the sun began to set over the horizon. Harriet looked at Sandra and Sandra looked at Harriet they thought, “This is the meaning of life, this is why we are here. Because in all of the fucked up darkness, there can be these blindingly beautiful moments. And those needed to be saved up in your heart or the dark days will swallow you up.” She always regretted never saying that to Harriet, so many things were left unsaid between them.
They watched in silence, sipping their fancy margaritas as the sun sank beyond the horizon. The sky turned a beautiful soft, cotton candy pink and the wisps of clouds turned a deep, blistering hot magenta. At that moment, the world they existed in became an alternate universe, the spell was so binding, it was another dimension, one where anger and jealousy and hatred and pain had to stand at the gate and was not allowed entrance to the sacred space only they had the passing privilege of inhabiting. And they watched the sun sink behind the crashing ocean waves in peaceful silence.
Sandra fell asleep in the car on the way home and dreams began to play out in her slumber. Sandra was standing on the top of a mountain, it was getting dark out and she looked out over a vast valley of wilderness. From where she stood, she could not see any sign of civilization, not a house or building or smoke from a campfire. The trees began to blow in the wind. At first the wind softly blew Sandra’s hair across her face. The wind felt like silk gently caressing her face and arms as she stood, in awe of the landscape. As she stood witness to the wilderness, the wind began to blow harder and harder. Sandra looked around to find a place to stand away from the edge, the wind began to howl, it tore at her face. Sandra felt terrified, the wind grew stronger, there was nowhere to go. As she turned around, she could see that she was on the edge of a cliff, out on a ledge, there was no way out. Just then, a strong gust tore across the face of the mountain and knocked her off of the cliff, as she began to fall, she woke up with a scream.
A week later, Harriet disappeared.
Harriet left for work early on that Tuesday. They usually had driven to work together, but on this day, Harriet had a significant deadline and wanted to get in early, she set out alone carrying her silver mug of coffee. She had taken her running gear, on the high pressure work days, Harriet would go for long runs. Sometimes Sandra went with her, but not always. Sandra did not go with her on this day because she had happy hour plans with a few of her friends from college. So there was Harriet, working away at her desk when Sandra arrived, and working away at her desk when Sandra left for the evening.
It was unusual for Harriet to be gone running past dark, but Sandra also knew that there were times when Harriet would get caught up in something and need to explore her freedom. They had been together long enough for Sandra to know and respect Harriets need for space every once in awhile. She was concerned when she had still not returned at 9pm. But Sandra had been out with friends, she was tired. She fell asleep waiting on the couch. Her alarm went off at 7, she was still on the couch, she called out for Harriet and got no response. Harriet was not home.
Sandra began frantically calling all of Harriet’s friends and family. No one knew where she was. When Sandra called the paper, the secretary, Jenine, told Sandra that Harriet had left at 6:30 in her running gear. It was only about a 20 minute drive from the paper to Griffith Park where Harriet had planned to go running. Sandra called the police. The officer that answered the phone directed her to the missing person’s desk. The officer who picked up at the missing person’s desk had the deepest voice that Sandra had ever heard. The man said, “Missing person’s can I help you.” Sandra explained, “I was transferred over to you, I am calling for information on the disappearance of Harriet Samuels.”
There was a long pause before the deep voice asked her to hold. Sandra was scared and confused. When the man came back on the line, he made it clear that Sandra needed to come in to the police station immediately. When Sandra asked why, he just said, we have some news for you. Sandra ran out to her car, she didn’t realize she was still in her pajamas, she drove to the police station, parked her can out front and ran inside. She could feel it, she knew she was going to find out what had happened to Harriet at last.
When she walked into the station, the officer at the front desk directed her to a chair by the front window. The officer had bright, white blonde hair pulled tightly into a bun. She looked severe, her voice was severe and she didn’t bother to look at Sandra again after the initial conversation. Sandra didn’t notice, she would not have noticed if an elephant had sauntered in, sat down next to her and struck up a conversation about why Die Hard is the best movie ever made.
When deep voice walked in, Sandra thought she was going to fall over. She could not breathe. He took her into a conference room and asked her to sit in one of the old mauve colored chairs lined up along the table. Sandra sat down with her hands in her lap, the rough material of the chair scratched her legs below her shorts, and knew that she would find out her fate in moments. The officer with his voice that seemed to rise up out of the depths of Hades, gave Sandra the information that she had desperately waited for, but it was not at all what she had expected. The officer with the deep voice rose up and stood to introduce Sandra to the depths of hell itself.