The black lab looked like a bounding speck of darkness on the barren soccer field filled with brown patches and dirty snow piles near the curb. The noon sun burned through cool, cloudless blue. The spring thaw was very late and the dog was a present from its owners to its owners, a man who made mistakes and grand gestures with equal measure, and a woman who trusted men even less than she knew the sources of her fits of jealousy.
“He’s a good fetcher,” the man said, his jacket zipped down, allowing for long-distance tosses toward the far end of the field.
“He’s obedient.” She stood, chilled, her hands in her pocket.
“A credit to his breed.”
“A credit to his nature.”
“They know better than us. You know. How to behave.”
“It’s instinct, isn’t it?”
“Sure. Means they can’t out think themselves.”
“What do you mean?” he exhaled as he tossed the ball.
“They know, instinctively,” she paused, “to do the right thing.”
They had been a couple long enough for either of them to make a comment without having to explain its meaning to the other. Some comments felt like waves of cuddles, leading to moments of mutual tranquility and oneness, while others hung in the air, waiting for one of them to light the fuse that would ignite a new argument.
They both made good money, money that often times turned into apologies disguised as gifts. She did not love her job as much as he loved his. Instead, she longed to give him the ultimate gift. He longed to receive it. But instead, they argued over things he would do and things she could not do.
The ball was in the air, the dog flying after it.
The man thought of things of long ago.
“I used to play on this very field.”
“Yes. With other children. I know.”
“I had dreams, you know. Can you blame me?”
“There’s plenty of blame to go around.”
“Everyone. Even her.”
“Are you serious?”
“No doubt she was a ‘good fetcher’.”
“Does that really matter.”
“I thought we ironed this all out.”
“’til the next time, I suppose.”
The dog returned and sat, its tail wagging, focused on the ball in the man’s hand. It was living a new life, by instinct.
“Can I throw one?”
“You can try,” he said as he limply handed her the ball.