I Noticed the Roads Were Empty

Author: Janet Shell Anderson

I married for money, wasn’t much good at it. I used to hunt.

Last week, driving west from Valentine on 20, I noticed the roads were empty. Not a stock truck, horse van, pickup. Not an old rez beater, though we’re pretty far south of Pine Ridge. There’s not much population up here, but some. It was odd. I turned north at Merriman, crossed the state line. No one waited at my house. Divorce is lonely country.

Matthew and I got divorced last month, and the neighbors must have disapproved or something. I haven’t seen any around.

Well, they knew what I was.

Now I’m going south on Highway 81, just screwing around, left the outfit for a while, bored, and still, no traffic, unless you count plate-sized turtles sunning on the late-evening, still-warm blacktop, and five very stubborn pronghorns, young males that refuse to give me right of way. They stand there, all five of them flicking their tails, and look at me with eyes glassy as if they’d already been turned into trophies on some wall of some Twin Cities’ dentist.

They know I don’t hunt them.

I texted Matthew this morning because I thought we were going to split the money from the three mares we sold. He owes me a check, and he’s a good guy about things like that. Got nothing back from him.

He’ll pay me. It’s fair. I used to hunt in the big coastal cities. Mostly money. Not always. We’re all what we are.

The sky’s full of sunset, high strawberry cumulus, ruby-red cirrus above the arc of the Earth. Long shadows. It’s June. Late. Lavender sky overhead that will fade to a nameless color.

Pheasants whistle. Settling in for the night?

Odd there are no lights at the Wickmann house as I pass it. The big trees around their homestead have heavy shadows, night in there already, and all the birds gone to their nests. Not even one swallow slices through the windless sky.

On a whim, I cross the state line, drive to Merriman. I don’t really know anybody there but Grant, with his gold earring and too-good looking face. He might be at the gas station, somewhere playing cards, drinking at the casino up by Mission. I don’t know.

No lights on in the twenty houses. The gas station’s closed. Jacob Scott closes it down whenever he feels like it, which is whenever he’s going to the casino, so I figure he and Grant are there. The town looks odd. Dark.
A late hawk whistles down over the cottonwood trees by the little creek, dives on roadside prey. Rabbit? Probably.

A robodog, looking like the plastic articulated skeleton of a small bear, made of thin white pc pipe and plastic ties, with twenty legs and a blunt snout, digital, intelligent eyes, trots onto the highway, lifts its pale head, vocalizes. It sounds almost like a coyote but is much bigger. Matthew had one, but it was savaged by something, a cougar, we thought. The robos aren’t aggressive, can’t fight, even to save themselves.

Sunset’s lighted half the western sky now, rays of cerise, purple shoot up, Venus glitters over the dusky rose prairie.

The plastic creature comes to the door of my truck, puts its strange feet on the fender, wants to get in. I open the door.

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