It starts with the bowling ball in the trunk.
Max and Sally have just eaten shrimp salad on the deck. Max rises out of the striped patio chair. "That garage is driving me crazy, I've got to start cleaning it out," he says, slamming a French door behind him. He leaves Sally with a bowl of green grapes, a glass of white wine, and the Sunday paper's Living section.
Sally folds away the paper, drinks more wine. Tomorrow is their eighth anniversary and she reminds herself to wrap the watch she bought him. She stands up and walks to the other side of the house. Max is in the middle of the double garage, hands on hips. He's moved his car into the driveway. There hasn't been room for her car for months. He is looking at the shelves that line the garage. Tackle box, rolls of gift wrapping, a cluster of shovels.
"What else can go?" he asks. His eyes stay longest on her stacks of brown boxes next to him.
In the open trunk she sees the ceramic planter that once held the jade tree she killed by overwatering, the pasta maker they bought after the trip to Florence, the red Pendleton blanket moths have feasted on. She lifts her old camera tripod from a wall hook and puts it in the trunk. Her contribution.
Max begins to lift bowling balls from the bottom shelf where his extensive collection of rolling luggage is supposed to be stored. "These can go, right?" he says, after loading three.
She has to agree. Sally had a big plan to display groups of the balls around their yard – sapphire blue, forest green, blood red – next to the fountain, lining the row of roses, between the box hedges. But her project only got as far as three balls listing on galvanized pipes next to the purple dwarf rhodie.
As Max loads the balls into the trunk, Sally walks to the rhodie and pulls the balls off the pipes because she's tired of looking at them, then yanks the pipes out of the dirt. She drops the pipes into the garbage can, and sets the balls in the trunk. That's when Sally notices Max's old bowling ball among the other balls she's found at Goodwill and the Lions Club rummage sale.
Sally had stumbled on that caramel-swirl Columbia 300 at a vintage store with the word collectables misspelled on the sign outside. Five dollars she paid for the ball and matching bag in gold and white two-tone. That was ten years ago. Max still married to his first wife.
"This bag looks just like my father's," he'd said when she presented it to him, after making love on her double bed during a Wednesday lunch hour.
They drove to Big Strike Lanes and had the former owner's finger holes plugged. The pro re-drilled the ball to fit Max's sprawling hand. 'MAX' was engraved above the logo. On Friday afternoons they left work early and bowled a few games, before he had to return to suburbia. He was trying to get brave enough to leave his family.
The trunk yawns wide with their junk but all Sally can see is the caramel ball. She tries to lift the fall of her expression before Max notices.
Hands at his waist, head cocked, he says, "Oh, that. You want me to keep it?"
"No," she says. "No. It's your ball." She blinks and blinks and finds it hard to stop – too much for just a bowling ball. Over the past month, she's found her birthday and Easter cards to him in the garbage. Vacation photos and xeroxed love poems in the same place.
"I'll never use it," Max says. Sally knows it's true because Max has a new ball, one she gave him last Christmas.
*The car is packed and Sally goes upstairs to be alone for a few minutes before they leave. She remembers the thrift store exactly, how she only had six dollars with her that day. The way, alone in her apartment, she printed his name and address in blue marker on the new ID tag, using her address. How they used to stretch like cats across her bed after making love, pretending they had leisurely lives.
Of their male friends who are divorced, all are on their third wives. Once she heard a woman in the grocery line tell a friend "I'm just saying, most men are three-peats. They divorce once, quickly marry someone they screwed at work, then end up not finding the right one until marriage number three. It's a cycle." *Sally wipes her eyes and walks downstairs.
Max shuts the trunk as she enters the garage. "Ready?" he says.
Sally nods, wishing she had her sunglasses.
"We'll do the rest next weekend," Max says, looking around the shelves as if he needs just one more item to take. Sally wonders what else she'll be asked to give up.
She opens the passenger side door and sits on the leather seat. She isn't centered, but closer to the door. Max tosses something into the back seat. Sally flips down the visor mirror, careful to see nothing but her eyes blinking back.
About the author:
Martha Clarkson is a fiction writer and poet. During the day she is a corporate office designer. Her work can be found in Cranky, Seattle Review, Dicey Brown, and forthcoming in monkeybicycle. She receives mail in Kirkland, Washington.