The guttural purr of the Ford clunked into silence well before Johnny and Earl made it down the drive. Grace put down the dress she was hemming and went to the screen door.
She shaded her eyes against the glare of the setting sun on the yellow fields. The Model A was still a good twenty yards from the safety of the garage, but judging from the sounds it had made, it wasn’t going to get there on its own.
“Finally out of gas?” she called as she stepped out onto the porch. The dry planks creaked underfoot.
“Yep.” Johnny and her brother had already hopped out, opened both doors, and started pushing. “Wasn’t sure we’d even make it home.”
Earl freed an arm to point through the empty car at her husband. “You owe me a quarter.”
“Can I help?” Grace asked. Johnny hesitated, and she didn’t quite blame him. When they’d married four years ago, she was frail thanks to childhood illness. But the drought had no mercy on the frail. Times like this, everyone had to pull their own weight, no matter what.
“Just take it easy, Gracey.”
Johnny ushered her to his place on the driver’s door. He planted a gentle kiss on her cheek before dropping back to apply his weight to the bumper. Grace settled her hands into the prints her husband had left in the dusty window frame and pushed.
Her back and palms and legs ached by the time they reached the shade of the garage. She slammed the door on the dead Ford and leaned against it, catching her breath, ignoring the fiery catch in her lungs.
“So,” she said. “Now what?”
“Head to California, turn migrant?” Earl suggested. He took off his cap and wiped his brow. “I hear it’s not so bad in Salinas.”
“It’s bad everywhere. Besides, how can you turn migrant if you can’t move?” Johnny kicked one of the cracked tires.
“But how are you going to get to the employment lines without the Ford? How are we going to deliver my sewing?” The catch was turning into a tickle, threatening a coughing spell. “How are we going to eat?”
“If we sold the tires off the Ford, we might – ” Earl stopped suddenly, staring at the car.
“I was just thinking,” he mused, “we could do what the Johnsons did.”
A laugh burst out of Grace before she could contain it, and it turned quickly to coughing. She checked her hand – no blood this time. Ignoring Johnny’s concerned expression, she turned to Earl. “That ridiculous thing? You trying to kill our mule, too?”
“It’s not that heavy!” he insisted. “Once you take out the engine, it’s much lighter. Even the windows could go. You just –”
He darted to the front of the car and tapped on the bumper. “Just fix the tug here and Izzy can haul ‘er like a cart. It’ll be slower, but we can still transport your mending, and we can keep going into town to wait in all those lines.”
Johnny raised an eyebrow. “It’s not the craziest thing I’ve heard.”
Earl pressed his advantage. “We could even get Grace to town for medicine. If we sold a few things, we could just afford it.”
“If we do this, though,” Johnny said slowly, “we got no way of going to California. Izzy can’t get us there. The car can’t get us there – even if we did have gas, if we take the engine out, it’s done. We have enough saved for bus fare, but not enough to survive in a new place.”
For a moment, Grace envisioned California as it had been in the magazines: America’s Eden, green, breezy, with an abundance of crops instead of endless dying oats. Maybe it wouldn’t be as dusty there, and her lungs could get better…but there still wouldn’t be enough to eat. There still wouldn’t be enough work. The land, the languages, everything would be different – yet not different enough.
“We stay,” she said. “It’s gotta rain sometime, and once it does, we should be here. This was my granddaddy’s farm, and I’m not quitting on it.”
She opened the Ford’s hood. “Now how do we get this thing out?”