And yet on the day Gillian came home with her hair cut short, Sally was shocked. She hadn’t even consulted with Sally before she’d gone through with it. “How could you have done this to yourself?” Sally demanded.
“I have my reasons,” Gillian said. She was sitting in front of her mirror, applying blush into the hollows of her cheeks. “And they are all spelled C-A-S-H.”
Gillian swore that a woman had been following her for several days, and had finally approached her that afternoon. She had offered Gillian two thousand dollars, there, on the spot, if Gillian would accompany her to a salon and have her hair clipped off to the ears so this woman with short, mousy hair could have a false braid to wear to parties.
“Sure,” Sally said. “Like anyone in their right mind would ever do that.”
“Really?” Gillian said. “You don’t think anyone would?”
She reached into the front pocket of her jeans and pulled out a roll of money. The two thousand, in cash. Gillian had a huge smile on her face, and maybe Sally just wanted to wipe it right off.
“Well, you look awful,” she said. “You look like a boy.”
She said it even though she could see that Gillian had an incredibly pretty neck, so slim and sweet the mere sight of it would make grown men cry.
“Oh, who cares?” Gillian said. “It’ll grow back.”
But her hair never grew long again—it wouldn’t reach past her shoulders. Gillian washed it with rosemary, with violets and rose petals and even ginseng tea—none of it did any good.
“That’s what you get,” Sally announced. “That’s where greed will take you.”
But where has being such a good girl and a prig taken Sally? It’s brought her to this parking lot on a damp and dreadful night. It’s put her in her place, once and for all. Who is she to be so righteous and certain her way is best? If she’d simply called the police when Gillian first arrived, if she hadn’t had to take charge and manage it all, if she hadn’t believed that everything—both the cause and the effect—was her responsibility, she and Gillian might not be in the fix they’re in right now. It’s the smoke emanating from the walls of their parents’ bungalow. It’s the swans in the park. It’s the stop sign no one notices, until it’s too late.
Sally has spent her whole life being vigilant, and that takes logic and good common sense. If her parents had had her with them she would have smelled the acrid scent of fire, she knows that she would. She would have seen the blue spark that fell onto the rug, the first of many, where it glittered like a star, and then a river of stars, shiny and blue on the shag carpeting just before it all burst into flame. On that day when the teenagers had had too much to drink before they got into one of their daddies’ cars, she would have pulled Michael back to the curb. Didn’t she save her baby from the swans when they tried to attack her? Hasn’t she taken care of everything since—her children and the house, her lawn and her electricity bill, her laundry, which, when it hangs on the line, is even whiter than snow?
From the very start, Sally has been lying to herself, telling herself she can handle anything, and she doesn’t want to lie anymore. One more lie and she’ll be truly lost. One more and she’ll never find her way back through the woods.
Sally gulps her diet Coke; she’s dying of thirst. Her throat actually hurts from those lies she told Gary Hallet. She wants to come clean, she wants to tell all, she wants someone to listen to what she has to say and really hear her, the way no one ever has before. When she sees Gary crossing the Turnpike, carrying a tub of fried chicken, she knows she could start her car and get away before he recognizes her. But she stays where she is. As she watches Gary walk in her direction, a line of heat criss-crosses itself beneath her skin. It’s invisible, but it’s there. That’s the way desire is, it ambushes you in a parking lot, it wins every time. The closer Gary gets, the worse it is, until Sally has to slip one hand under her shirt and press down, just to ensure that her heart won’t escape from her body.
The world seems gray, and the roads are slick, but Gary doesn’t mind the dim and somber night. There have been nothing but blue skies in Tucson for months, and Gary isn’t bothered by a little rain. Maybe rain will cure the way he feels inside, and wash away his worries. Maybe he can get on the plane tomorrow at nine twenty-five, smile at the flight attendant, then catch a couple of hours’ sleep before he has to report into the office.
In his line of work, Gary is trained to notice things, but he can’t quite believe what he’s seeing now. Part of the reason for this is that he’s been imagining Sally everywhere he goes. He thought he spied her at a crosswalk on the Turnpike as he was driving here, and again in the fried-chicken place, and now here she is in the parking lot. She’s probably another illusion, what he wants to see rather than what’s right in front of him. Gary walks closer to the Honda and narrows his eyes. That’s Sally’s car, it is, and that’s her, there behind the wheel, honking the horn at him.