Fade to Black

Tim Barton
Equipment Editor
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It was a long while ago, but the memory never faded. He remembered thinking he should have deadheaded out of Salt Lake into Arizona for the load of lumber. But he did not like lumber. It was cheap and needed tarp, and some of it was slicker than ice.

So he’d waited, but now he had to move. There was no other freight, and the load of Gilsonite was going back to Ohio where he could get a load home. He had not been home in six weeks, and it had begun to change in his mind like an old Polaroid photograph that someone had forgotten to coat with preservative. Behind the picture he could hear his girl’s voice getting smaller and fainter, imagining him, the man who took the Polaroid and forgot to use preservative.

He had come up Parley’s Canyon out of Salt Lake and gone down into the valley to the mine. It was a long way off the road, a hole in the ground with a dock that opened into a small building where the powder was bagged. He backed in and climbed onto the dock. Where the door had been was a black hole. The walls were covered with soot, and the floor looked like it had been burned. He could not see into the mine. The forklift driver climbed down and ratchet jawed at him, nattering about how the powder would not explode. “You’ve got to put some other chemical with it, and then it’s dynamite.”

“Sounds like my girl,” the driver said, and the lift driver laughed.

It was a cold, bright day, and the hills behind the mine looked like the moon, its cold, reflected light shining through the sky, cutting through the sunlight. He wondered if his old Polaroid would even show the moon. He pointed it up into the sky and pushed the button. The moon was there in the picture, a pale, tiny globe. He found the preservative and coated the picture before it started to disappear. He put the picture on his dash next to the faded one of his girl. He took a picture of the dock. The black soot showed up well against the gray walls. He was satisfied with himself. He could show his girl the places he had been and the important cargo.

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He ran hard out of Utah into Denver and stayed on I-70 all the way into Ohio, and the three pictures stayed on the dash. When they began to curl, he glued them to a piece of cardboard.
When he turned south just west of Columbus to find the dynamite factory, the cardboard shook loose and fell, and he had to leave it on the floor until he stopped at the gate. When he bent to pick up the pictures, he saw his girl first. He noticed for the first time her smile was crooked. He had seen her smile many times, had looked at her picture many times, but he had not seen her lips curl up to the left like that in a shy little twist. She was shy, really, he thought. It was her temper he had always seen before, but she showed that only when he smiled at someone other than her. That and her sadness when they parted was what he always saw. She made no fuss. She would only smile. This was her smile, the shy curl of the lips that hid everything.

The picture of the moon was gone. Even the preservative had done nothing to keep the cold sunlight from fading the moon and the sky together. And the dock was black now as if it had sunk back into the black mine. He wondered why it was the girl’s picture, the oldest, that stayed the same.

He unloaded and called dispatch to tell them he needed his home time. He found a little restaurant and went inside and called his girl. She was home. He heard her smile and looked at her picture to see it. He wanted to tell her that hers was the only picture that had survived. He had wanted to show her the moon and the mine, but they were gone. His stories were gone, and all he had was her. But she was all he wanted to have.