Polaroids

Kathryn Ordiway

There is a man at the county fair who will take a special picture of you if you know how to ask. One from the back. One that shows right where you’re going. But only once. No redos if you don’t like the image, no coming back next year for more. One and done. He keeps track of his customers in a grubby little notebook. He wears a tattered jacket, eats fish and chips with his fingers on the wharf, shouts “Funnel cake, deep-fried Oreos,” when he remembers what he’s paid to do.

He doesn’t accept money for the pictures, though it is understood that a corn dog needs to be purchased after the click of the camera. Tough if you’re vegan, vegetarian, just don’t like corn dogs. And you don’t get to pick the pose. He’ll say, “Hands on the railing,” or “legs dangling off the pier” (a pose the boys hate) and you just have to obey.

It’s easy to see who’s done it. A backglow in the eyes—warmer or cooler based on what they’veseen. And some people post them on Instagram, #countyfairpierpic, but they don’t upload well. A cell phone picture of a polaroid is never that good. Grainy, faded, splotchy beyond editing. You can never share them, not really. You can try, but what you see fades into the mist that always hangs over the lake, and people call you crazy, call you silly, say come on, the future is yours to control.

No one talks about whether it comes true, what the pictures show. They just pocket the info, save it for later, and try to focus on the gut drop of the Pirate Ship ride, hair sticky on the back of their neck while they throw darts at balloons, a hand in a hand or in a pocket, the stars, the lights, the present. If it doesn’t, a carnival hotdog is cheap. And if it does, well, it’s the crack at the center of certainty. A fraying at the edge of reality. A dark box with a white frame you tuck in a dictionary out of fear.


Kathryn Ordiway is a technical editor and a fiction writer. She studied English, with concentrations in Creative Writing and Literature, at Saint Vincent College. Her work has appeared in Mud Season Review, Digging Through The Fat, littledeathlit, 805 Lit + Art, New Flash Fiction Review, and Francis House. She lives with her husband in Oklahoma, where she’ always waiting for it to rain. She’s on Twitter @KatOrdiway