October 24, 2020

An Experiment in Providence

posted on: Thursday October 8, 2015

by Abby Johnston ’17

Portfolio Staff

Joyfully yellow sunflowers mocked me as we sped past them. They grew wild between the orange orchards and highway 5, stretching their limbs every which way and tossing their bright faces in the wind.

I turned away and checked my phone for reception. Still untethered, adrift in Nowhere, California. Also, my stock app hadn’t been checked since yesterday. I hit the refresh button.

“Re-lax, girl!” Leah’s sun-tanned hand reached across from the driver’s seat and pushed the screen away from my face.

Lesser eye-rolls than the one I gave my best friend since high school have been known to send their owners searching blindly. “I still can’t believe you kidnapped me without a plan.”

“I can’t believe you’re still worrying over that screen. Three hours through the land of plenty, with the pristinest of blue skies overhead, and the friendliest of sunflowers waving to us, and you’re still addicted to that app. Really, Katherine, you should be thanking me.” I had to laugh a little at that; it was classic Leah: The Philosophical Poetry Major always acting like my mom.

“Or three hours to the middle of nowhere and we don’t know where we’re stopping to eat, and we probably aren’t dressed right for whatever it is we don’t know we’re doing.” I looked skeptically at Leah’s favorite sparrow-print skirt and my jean capris. We were supposed to have gone to the mall, where it was air-conditioned.

“This is what’s called a ‘summer adventure.’ And you can’t plan those. If you have to analyze the heck out of it, think of it as an experiment in Providence. Besides,” and her voice dropped its teasing peppiness, “We’ve hardly talked in ten months—how was your freshman year?”

I sighed, letting myself deflate into the seat. August had suddenly turned into May, and I was none wiser than I had been in high school as to how that had happened. I surreptitiously hit the “refresh” button and glanced at my phone. No luck.

“It was good—my grades were even better than in high school.” I really was proud of them. “Econ went especially well. Also, you will be interested in knowing that there is this absolutely gorgeous guy who sits next to me at work.”

At word of a possible man-of-interest for her friend, Leah had me convey all my college guy friends via their celebrity alter-ego, which led to a half hour of us belting the sassiest Miranda Lambert songs on my phone, precluding checking it for reception.

After those ran out, and somewhere in the middle of Johnny Cash’s version of “Cat’s in the Cradle”, I was reaching to turn up the volume when a shadow passed over the car, Leah yelled “shit!,” and my head almost hit her shoulder as she swerved into the right-most lane to avoid a big rig that had shoved its way over. My hand hit the “skip” button instead.

“Are you OK?” She yelled, blindly trying to clasp my shoulder while keeping her eyes on the road.

“Ah, yes. You can stop petting my ear now,” I laughed.

“Sorry—I swear he came out of nowhere.” She sat up straight, smoothed her feather earrings, and glanced at the whizzing traffic, solid lines, and highway sign that read “CA-180 E to Tranquility, Exit Only.” “But, Fate has now intervened, and, my fellow pilgrim, we have our marching orders…And they’re just what we needed,” she added quietly.

Whoever had named the town of Tranquility had made poor use of a thesaurus. Perhaps it was the heat, which radiated off the endless pavement and drove everyone inside, or the slow pace of the pick-up trucks that trundled along with over-sized loads, but “Drowsy” or “Lethargy” would have been more honest. I quickly checked for mobile data; no such luck. Well, if the second Great Depression was happening, I could rent a farmhouse here.

The main street was lined with a nameless factory, Renaldo’s Auto Parts, a combined gas station and liquor store, and various other small shops in concrete or brick buildings with flat roofs and slight rust stains dripping from the wrought-iron windows. Ads decorated the fronts: “40% off Coors Light!”; “Find Tranquility with a pedicure.” One slightly larger cube, Sparrow’s Café, had switched in wooden frames for iron and had curtains in the window. That’s Leah’s favorite bird, so we wandered in. The dining room was decorated with black and white pictures of Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, and we had barely finished our Reubens before Leah had picked Sandy Cove, Hume Lake as our destination from among the photos.

“Looks beautiful!” I said, getting the wifi password from the menu and looking up directions. I passed on checking the stocks, wanting to get on the road; besides, I’d done my homework. “Let’s go—daylight’s wastin’.”

Leah gunned it through Fresno City and past more farms, and opening the windows and sun roof, we stuck our hands out and let our fingers “ride the airwaves” until the road started to wind its way up into the Sierras. The setting sun tinged the red firs a warm, firey orange.

By the time we found Sandy Cove, a crescent moon hung over the lake which was still and cold as a mirror. I took my phone out to save the beauty for later, but its plastic eye couldn’t see the varying shades of black. Out of habit, my thumb went to check for reception but I threw the phone into the backseat and jumped out of the car just in time. Leah already sat perched on a rock in the water, staring at the stars and occasionally jotting something in her notebook. I wandered into the cold black liquid and found the stars glittering on its surface. “An experiment in Providence.” Gulping in the pine air, I turned, opened my arms, and trust-fell backwards. The water rushed over me for two seconds before I surfaced to see the Milky Way arched like a midnight rainbow above the world.

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