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In Montana, Alone by Ace Toscano
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On the far side of the hard-frozen yard, Doug Ferguson and Fish, leaning against opposing fenders, yanked off their gnarled, ice-crusted gloves and laid their cold hands flat on the warm hood of Bailey's old blue flatbed. Mid yard, the grading crew swarmed around the sputtering, gas-powered conveyer, heaving trees on and dragging them off, as they worked their way through one last mound of Christmas firs.

"Yella. Yella. Yella heavy. Blue," shouted the foreman as trees yelped past on rusty rollers. One girl, poised at his side with a pencil and clipboard, kept the count with hasty strokes, another deftly stapled colored tags to the lower boughs. "Pink heavy. Pink heavy. Yella heavy. Blue."

Dan and I sat on the tailgate of my brown, '64 Ford pickup sharing coffee from my Thermos and "toll house" cookies his Mary had made. Dan refused to use the term "chocolate chip" on account of this feud he was waging with the folks at Nabisco and, usually, when he offered up a "toll house," I'd break into a laugh; but, not this day. I looked up from my coffee and stared vaguely out past the graders, past the two men warming their hands, and past the distant peaks of the northern Swan.

"Mary and I'll be movin' out tomorrow," Dan had just said, "first to Eugene, then down to my brother's in Palo Alto."

It didn't make sense. So what if the damned harvest was almost over. Two boxcars still had to be loaded and maybe three semis. A guy might hang on for another three days. Hell, the boys laid off would've run bare-assed through the brambles for half the jack.

I brought the red plastic cup to my mouth and warmed my lips on the rim.

I'd been kind of hopin' that when the work was really done--when the yard was bare and the old blue flatbed was back in Bailey's barn--Dan and I might ease on back awhile, together, and maybe one day, if the road was still open, we might make that trip we'd been talking about up through Glacier to St. Mary's. Then, on the way back into town, we could've popped into the Rainbow, shot a little high 'n' low and guzzled mugs till we couldn't crawl.

That wasn't going to happen, now. And there would be no more conversations about writing? About everything?

Yeah, I could think of a lot or reasons why Dan shouldn't go just then, but I didn't voice them. I just stared out over the yard, missing him already and uneasy with the feeling.

Doug Ferguson and Fish jerked their heads toward the office-shanty. The yard boss was coming.

"I've got your address," said Dan. "I'll write."

"Yella heavy. Yella heavy. Yella heavy. Pink."

"Break's over," I said, throwing my last splash of coffee down onto the ground. I screwed the cup onto my Thermos. "Better get back to work."


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