Sally walked up to the tennis ball in the parking lot, saw that it was grimy, and picked it up. She held it in her hand for a while, testing it, and then threw it long for the panting mutt at her feet. Sheba bolted across the vacant lot and off into the night, returning moments later with a muddy ball in her mouth and a gleam in her eye. Sally picked up the ball again and threw it long. Sheba ran, collar tinkling like Christmas bells into the night. The empty parking lot was lit in a small radius of light around the hub of Sally’s truck. The motor was off. Sheba bounded back and dropped the ball. Sally took her by the collar and let the ball roll into a puddle.
“No hon, we’re done now. We’re going home.” Sally dragged Sheba away from the ball and helped her into the raised bed of the truck. Not too much longer to home, Sally thought to herself as she got into the driver’s seat and twisted the key in the ignition. She thought of her bed, and then the pile of bills sitting like an evil nest under the mail hatch on the front door. She felt her stomach tighten but looked herself in the eye in the rearview mirror.
“Hold on Sally, girl. One thing at a time.” Sheba clambered up into the front of the truck and into the passenger seat. Sally cleared a pile of novels out from under Sheba’s paws, still moist from the damp night. The Grapes of Wrath, 1984, The Monkey Wrench Gang. She set them carefully on the floor.
The night was a black thing. She drove through it, alone on the road. The air was cool, the maize on both sides of the road giving off the sweet stink of earth and fertilizer. She rolled the windows down and Sheba stuck her nose out, letting the night filter through her wet nostrils. It was 3am and Sally was ready to be home. It hadn’t been a successful trip. Patching things up with Bill hadn’t gone the way she’d have wanted it to. But then again, she wasn’t surprised. After he’d thrown his bowling trophy through the window last time, she’d gotten the message: this marriage was not working. In fact, it was probably already far beyond repair. Sally let the earthy night into her and let it calm her down. Nothing like a little dirt to calm the nerves, she thought to herself and thought about the garden her mother had had back home in Illinois. Beans, beets, brocoli, carrots, cabbages and chard, kale and kohlrabi. The treasures of April. The thought about picking them, the broccoli and the carrots, steaming them, sliding on a pad of butter and pepper, and eating them plain like that with chicken from the yard. It was so simple, to eat vegetables and chicken, to eat from the earth, to be in your mother’s garden. No one threw bowling trophies at you there….
The night stretched on before her. The yellow splats of bugs festooned her windshield but it was so dark she didn’t care. Sally looked sideways at Sheba, sitting on her brown haunches and facing the window, her leathery tongue flapping in the breeze. Why couldn’t folks be more like the Joads? Sally thought to herself and thought of Bill’s broken window, the shatter, the shards covering the floor like ice, the trophy somewhere in the side yard, Bill cussing, as usual, like a sailor. Sure, they had their issues, but they just kept on, no matter what. Heck, even Rose-of-Sharon came around in the end. They had fight in ‘em. They kept on. Bill had fight in him too, only just the wrong kind. That wasn’t the real fight, not like what the Joads had. What Bill had was fear. Sally didn’t know of what, but she knew it was buried deep down inside of him, root bound and bad and he didn’t want to dig it up or have her help him do it. No sir. She’d been so sure he’d run out of trophies before she’s run out of the fight to help him out. But…maybe she’d been wrong. She looked at her reflection in rearview mirror. That pair of blue eyes glimmered back in the poor light, like wet river stones. Tears slid down her cheeks but Sally would not acknowledge them; no, not even to wipe them away. She drove like they were not there.
“We’re going home, girl.” Sally said out loud. Sheba sat down in the passenger seat and rested her muzzle on the center console. Sally put a hand on her head.
“We don’t need him anymore.”