Hearts in the Heat

Tim Barton
Equipment Editor
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There was a thick fog on the big hill coming out of Chattanooga. We had come down in bright sunshine yesterday, but now we had loaded just below Lookout Mountain and were moving toward Knoxville and then west again into the Midwest – dispatched on a crazy zigzag LTL nobody else would load. The fog had come in with the sun that morning. It turned dawn into a dripping, lightless, August wave.

Our air-conditioner was down, and all night we’d fought to sleep in the little bunk. We left the windows open until the mosquitoes were so thick we kicked and swung at them and at each other in crazy frustration. About midnight we got up and started looking for a motel. It didn’t matter then how expensive or how dirty it would be. All that mattered was escape from the sweat of the bunk and the blood-filled, dead mosquitoes spotting the sheets.

Even in the cool room we hated each other with the hatred of lovers who had come to the end of themselves, to the end of their ability to consider the other in a world of infernal heat and sucking insects. We sweated still and did not speak until sleep finally came.

In the morning, we ate, bought bug spray and started up the mountain. Somewhere the sun was pouring light into the air above us, turning it to water, turning our silence deeper, our rage lessened only by the crawling truck pulling its 73,280 pounds up out of the valley, up where perhaps there would be air. Snowbird’s white hair was swept back away from her face, her eyes blue as steel searching the road for slow rollers and a break in the fog. When the fog finally lifted, it rained. Snowbird turned to me in the rain, the wipers slapping, the steam coming off the road, and she smiled her sweetest smile. It was a smile I had seen many times, and it turned the lifting fog to a vapor, a memory with no blackness and no heat. I knew she meant that smile. She was incapable of lies, and a smile she did not mean would be a lie.

We had six stops from Knoxville back through Nashville and up into Kentucky and then over to Iowa – maybe three days of hard driving. It was still hot but the humidity was gone, and when we dropped in Knoxville, it was early enough to make Nashville by mid-afternoon and a few hours later to be close to the next drop in Florence, just below Cincinnati. After Florence, we could run all day and make Bettendorf, just across the Mississippi, and relax a little. It was supposed to be cooler there, and we would have two drops the next day in Monticello and North Buena Vista, Iowa.

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We had begun to talk again. It was hard with windows open and the 425 growling through the old Kenworth cabover. At night it was easier to sleep, but we had not managed to share the bunk easily. There was still a thick layer of resentment between us. It was the memory of how we had failed each other when the heat overcame every impulse to fight it together. It drove us apart into separate searches for relief. In the cold we would have been drawn together. Threatened from outside by nearly any other force each of us would have looked to the other for help. But the heat turned us inward looking for a clean cool space somewhere in a brain already cooked.

When we made our last drop, we parked across from a little diner. There were no trucks and only a few cars, and the sun still glowed behind the neon sign and the fluorescent lights above the door. We were clean, and the glue of three days hard running was gone thanks to a little truckstop with good clean showers a bit south of us. Over dinner Snowbird talked about home, a distant place 1,300 miles to the east. She was happy, and her voice bounced in my ears like a song. Everything was delicious. We finished and went out to the truck. In the bunk, the sheets were clean, and it seemed much bigger. There was no reason not to touch.

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