by A.E. Weisgerber

 

Once upon a time near Fort Fred Steele in Wyoming—on a pretty spread west of Medicine Bow—lived Chai, Wyatt and their gitchi-goo baby. Although Wyatt expected to move up the ranks as a mechanic at Bakken-Shale, desert princes and kings of faraway lands thought not. Wyatt started thinking the Gulf had all the money. The North Platte River glittered golden, Chai said, “We can barter, we have gardens, we have books,” but Wyatt, ticket in hand, bade copper dirt goodbye.

*

All of the following are characteristics of fairy tales EXCEPT

A. Pretend and make-believe

B. Things in threes

C. True Facts

D. Once upon a time

*

Wyatt trailed 1600 miles of debit transactions to Crescent City. A Russian foreman offered him work, fixing rigs offshore. Wyatt flew back and forth with the tool pushers, drillers, and derrickhands, ferried alongside diamond bits, hookers, and ice, taxiing on and off his two-week shifts like a roughneck. Baby and Chai wanted nothing but Wyatt’s company. Chai fished for their supper.

*

How do young mothers occupy themselves on remote Wyoming ranches?

I. Couple and uncouple heavy gate latches on the way to and from home

II. Watch for interlocked twining snakes underfoot on hills and buttes

III. Think of Fort Fred Steele’s history, its copper-colored, singing fish

IV. Imagine husband pressing relentlessly into self while observing the North Platte’s forceful curve into the Medicine Bow’s south bank.

A. I and IV

B. I and III

C. II only

D. IV only

*

Baby grew fast, soon walked, held hands. Thanks to Wyatt, family dollars schooled in the Credit Union. One day when Chai went to the river to fetch tortilla and tea water, she dipped her bucket and it filled with tiny copper fish. Baby smiled with baby-seed teeth and sang “maw maw” and “gitchi-goo!” Little fish held heads aloft at the water surface and sang a song, too: “Aidez-moi! sis-boom-bah! tick tock Puppah Puppah yah yah yah!” Chai laughed and released the little fish.

*

How can you tell if your partner is cheating? Check all that apply.

___ goes out with ‘the girls’ more often?

___ mentions new friends with a neutral names, like Chase and Sam

___ has on evening makeup after ‘fishing’

___ only Skypes you from the bathroom and the riverbank

*

Next morning, as Baby napped, Chai went alone, bringing crumbs to feed the singing fish. When she dipped her bucket in the river, in jumped one big beautiful fish with copper scales and a charming accent. The fish said: “Puppah! You dere! mahrry meeh girleh! Tell yah pahpah, you mahh Puppah girleh!” She patted the Puppah fish and said, “Nice-nice Puppah fish! Thank you but I have a husband who brings me gold.” She spilled him back into the river. Puppah fish kept his head high and sang, “Cherreh carreh dat girleh bucket huppah! She gonna be mah queen girleh Puppah!”

*

Fossil fuel is ________________________________.

A. accurately and reliably priced by those who grossly misrepresent its scarcity

B. measured by barrels, like desperate sex when monkey business is permitted

C. how OPEC scions plan to choke Bakken-Shale’s royalty out of business

D. the compressed, super-heated remains of animals dead for millions of years

*

Baby colored pictures at the kitchen table while Chai hummed. Wyatt banked his second million, and decided to come home. Chai was spending more time at the river now. As she banked and reclined, Puppah fish made kissy-noises, pup pup pup; Chai laughed and tenderly pulled old hooks from his mouth, and pat-patted him while Puppah and the baby puppahs stayed near. Puppah would nudge sparkling stones and Indian arrowheads to where Chai could reach them.

*

Paragraph scramble. When Wyatt’s plane stopped-over in Chicago, there were mechanical problems, and his connection was missed.

C. The airline put the travelers up at the Super-8 with a meal chit, and provided a morning van service back to the airport.

A. Though tired, Wyatt would not sleep in that motel until he saw its owners; the owner’s wife was tending bar, and her husband managed the downstairs kitchen.

D. Wyatt saw the bartender was one of the young whores from the Gulf; he was alarmed to find her husband was a syphilitic old man, stooped and leaning on a broom.

B. The owner of the motel was murdered, and his gold-digging widow framed another businessman who was passing through.

*

In Casper, Wyatt encountered three red caps at the taxi stand whose shifts were ending. They saw his bulging wallet, and said, Man! Come with us to Sky Bar before your long drive home and we’ll drink your good health in farewell. Wyatt said no, farewell, and good-bye—and waited for his ride. The three red caps were later robbed and beaten.

*

With which of the following aphorisms would the author be in strongest agreement?

A. Life grants nothing to us mortals without hard work.

B. Only when we come to the end, we decide whether the path was correct.

C. Our nature consists in motion; complete rest is death.

D. We would often be sorry if our wishes were gratified.

*

Puppah fish had given Chai a honey cake, home baked, and told her to keep it wrapped until she would share it with her true husband. She drove to Caspar to fetch Wyatt. On the way there was a stranger sitting on a copper-colored suitcase, whom she gave a ride to town. Wyatt helped the man out of the truck and into the station. Chai told Wyatt about the singing fish on the South banks of the North Platte River, and that night before supper Wyatt searched for the Puppah fish but the Puppah fish was gone. “Shall I sing to you now?” Wyatt asked his wife and baby. Chai divvied up the honey cake, which was filled with floury notes, and Wyatt sang as he gathered up the millions in his arms.

A.E. Weisgerber has recent fiction in Shotgun Honey, SmokeLong Quarterly, Entropy Magazine, New South, and her story “Sleeping Beauty: Markson Fangirl” is a Best Small Fictions 2016 Finalist. Previous stories of hers published in The Airgonaut include “How to Meet Marc Chagall” and “Mothers + Sons.” She’s writing her first novel, and keeps things up to date at anneweisgerber.com.

 

 

 

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