Weekend Fiction: Places We Fracked

We grow up with habits demanding upgrades, into lives needing sustainable liquid assets. Iphones. Sega Genesis. Craft beer and coolers. Season tickets. Big cars with Bose speakers and space for possible gun racks. The culture is petulant and consumptive. Our parents went to college and worked hard. Our parents skipped college and worked double shifts. Our parents played guitars and sung about unions. Our parents tucked heirloom tomato seeds into the freezer. What our parents did before us doesn't matter. By the time we're born, their parents’ faces sag like helium-drained balloons. We try not to stare because we don't want to pity them. Feeling sorry for the bunny in the road makes you wish for a bullet to end its misery. The sun sets in bars across the vinyl carpet. We vow ourselves elsewhere.

*

When the shiny yellow billboard appears up the road from our high school, we imagine the money before we make it. Earn over $80k in one year without a high school diploma! Opportunity knocks. Opportunity shimmies. Opportunity licks her juicy lips at us. We glance at our hometown and see nothing happening. Our hearts darken with fear of what we might miss. What if this is a chance? What if we have futures? We churn with regret, horrified by opportunities that might escape us.  

*

We have brothers who joined the Army and never came back from deployment. At dinner, the brothers wear headphones to shield their fragile thoughts from television noises. On holidays, the brothers disappear into local V.A. tornado shelters. Long metal bunkers bear thousands of soundproofed brothers broken by fireworks. Brothers smothered by bomb-marks. Brothers pocked with bullet holes. Brothers buttered in scars invisible to the average family eye. We learn how to whistle rather than ask. We discern the hair-trigger of ploy crouched inside "deployment".

We are nobody’s playthings. Our brothers are gone with nothing to show for their lives. Friendly folk thank brothers for their service and wonder when we aim to liberate Iran from war-hungry Muslims. Brothers lay there like lost rubberbands. Brothers crouch in the grass of public parks as if they are land mines. Brothers dwindle into possible war crimes.

We know the ending of any story is a timed jig. We know a foot in the wrong place is over. We dial the number on the billboard and close our eyes.

*

We ride a bus to Williston, North Dakota. We have girlfriends and wives waiting for money. We tell them love is no match for however many miles. We kiss them across digital networks and tell them we can’t believe North Dakota resembles the moon wished on in childhood. The wind howls. We can’t hear their voices.

Speak louder, we beg. Their voices stay soft. Often the wind steals our words before they reach the woman on the other end. We huddle near gas station corners with our palms cupped around our phones, making sure the I love you survives. We are being brave and growing stronger. We ask them to mail jackets because it’s cold as fuck out here at night.

*

In Pitchfork, Wyoming, we wait for the company bus to carry us out to the assigned frack pad. We don’t know one another and lack nametags. A girl washes her bike. We have nothing to say and so we watch the girl, her hair the warm, muffin-ready color of caramel cake. Imagine sugar mingling with silk on our tongues. If we had words to say it.

The girl sprays her turquoise bike for ten minutes before changing the water pressure to a light spritz. We admire a rainbow which sprouts inside the drizzle. The water cascades into the cement drain near our feet. We watch twenty minutes of water, twenty minutes of childhood memory in a front yard, rendering a bike pristine. We think of what this might cost us. Think of bikes and girls back home. Think about waste and how to include them. Think of time as money lost. Think of water smashing over creekbed rocks when the clouds finally shimmy their hips into rain. We let the rain touch us. The girl is upset. She glares at the sky disbelieving, disgorges a prim expletive. The rain is unexpected but we don’t mind getting wet.

The bike clatters onto the pavement as the girl races to hide beneath a metal awning, hands shielding hair, so many parts of a person involved in seeking cover. The rear wheel spins slowly as the bike lies exposed on the pavement. A puddle forms near the handlebars. We watch it get washed again and again.

*

In Killdeer, Wyoming, we live in tents lining the roadway. These tents are managed by corporations specializing in temporary housing. Amenities include video games, 24-hour gyms, a cafeteria, postal service, streaming porn, and bunk beds. The janitors refer to us as roughnecks. We refer to our residence as man camps. After twelve hour shifts we chat with the cafeteria service. A man who operates the deep fryer says he spent time in Iraq. We mention our brothers. The deep fryer chuckles. Everyone’s got a brother who never came back. The deep fryer is manning the cafeteria as a favor to the owner whose name is Richard. They served together overseas. Halliburton made a killing on the temp housing in Iraq. Richard decided he’d beat them to Bakken. We wait on our fries patiently -- there is nothing for us to do except call our wives at their office. The deep fryer explains how Richard got word there would be lots of shale to mine in North Dakota. He started a company to house and feed the workers. We wonder whether to thank him for his service until the deep fryer describes Richard's million-dollar-house. We thank the deep fryer for serving us fries and chew carefully so as not to choke on our freedom.

*

We keep moving. We follow the jobs and joke about the billboards. We know Opportunity isn't as sweet as she looks. We've tasted enough lips to know they'll start asking for something.

We go to Silt, Colorado and fight with Mexicans.

We hop a rig to Pavilion, Wyoming. Work peters out thanks to contaminated groundwater.

We ride trucks and wait for buses. We surrender our thoughts to the colors of spinning wheels.

*

We go to Rifle, Colorado and shield our noses from the unmonitored methane flare. At night, the stars disappear in the bright glare of trucks and the massive flume. We grow used to the aromas because we prefer not to be the whiny ones. We grow rich with the company of men, our heads swollen with expressions and acronyms, lines borrowed from the internet's manosphere.

There are no women in Rifle to argue for safety. The company gives us helmets and windbreakers with Energen labels on the front pocket. We wear the helmets and pretend we are miners. When we wear our windbreakers into town, the locals keep their distance.

The chief engineer says we own this place. We’re putting these little towns on the map! They wouldn't exist without us. The words economic development are enough to hush any liberal.

Only the occasional environmentalist hippie dares confront us--Do you have any idea what you're doing to us?

We shrug. Do you have any idea that isn’t an agenda?

Idealism is a privileged route. We can't afford their yuppie responsibility, their beach house rentals, their symphony tickets. We hear the road promising horses, the meadows filled with machines, the world on fire with market transactions.

Cobwebs develop in corners of the man camp. We watch tiny spiders spin separate webs from the mother's. Their new webs are flimsy and lopsided. For a spider, spinning a web is like learning to write. It takes practice. We wonder about our kids and whether they’re the wimps on the playground. A spider's web sticks to anything, including Teflon.

*

We take a bus to Paonia.

We refer to one another by nickname--Slap, Pig, Iron, Flail, PussyHawg, Tricept, Bald Shit, Lard Lord. Our eyes sting from the fluids with invisible fumes we inject into the wellbore to fracture the shale. When we ask what’s in the water, an engineer says it's a trade secret. We could get sued if he tells us. He’d be happy to tell us but seeing as how its proprietary he doesn’t want to get sued. He makes a joke about his wife’s vagina. We laugh. High fives. Fist bumps. In our bunks we discuss college sports and the role of the Illuminati on U. S. foreign policy. They think they can trick us but we’ve schooled ourselves outside trusting.

Canadian geese migrate like movies. We remember how nighthawks twist when they fly, their wings uncorking. We remember the birds of our hometowns.

It’s late summer and we haven't seen a single overhead boomerang formation. Time oozes past, these mines become known markers. Places we've been.

*

We hitch a ride to Parachute, Colorado. At the pub, we run into old-fashioned coal miners who call us upstarts. Go home, they mutter. Get out of our town. Don't fucking come near our daughters.

The coal mines are owned by billionaires with fitting last names that sound like Coke. More Koch signs than cola in Hotchkiss where they want to open another mine.

Old miners spout off numbers. Old miners hold their liquor. Old miners narrow their eyes and mourn old miner days. In 2011, 58 spills contaminated Colorado groundwater. In 2011, streams have been contaminated 18 times. There is no way to fix a stream once it's been touched by fracking fingers. We couldn't get laid in this town to save our lives.

*

We hear of work in Denton, Texas.

We hear of rigs in Ponder, Texas.

Operations in Vernal, Utah.

Hot mines in Bluff, Alabama.

Free lodging in Garfield, Kansas.

Great camps in Riverton, Wyoming.

These are little towns on the flesh of our homeland. Places we've been. Places we left. Places we fracked.

We say God bless America and remember our brothers.

Say God bless America and forget our mothers.

Say God help us and think of our wives.

It takes 1,322 truck trips to frack a well. It takes 1,473 truck trips to frack a well. It takes 1,560 truck trips to frack a well. How many truck trips does it take to frack a well? Depends on which well you're fracking, sonny. What's in the trucks that frack wells? Oh just water. A little water. Millions of gallons. What you don't think to miss until a little girl in pigtails asks what's wrong, daddy, daddy, what is wrong?

Alina Stefanescu was born in Romania, raised in Alabama, and reared by various friendly ghosts. She won the 2015 Ryan R. Gibbs Flash Fiction Award and was a finalist for the 2015 Robert Dana Poetry Award. Her poetry and prose can be found in PoemMemoirStory, Shadowgraph Quarterly, Parcel, Noble Gas Quarterly, Minola Review, and others. Objects In Vases, a poetry chapbook, was published by Anchor & Plume in March 2016. A poem from this chapbook, "Oscar Dees, No Apologetics Please", has been nominated for a 2016 Pushcart Prize. Alina currently lives in Tuscaloosa with her partner and four friendly mammals. 

 

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