Gasmen

Crystalized tears and frosted breath were merely a morning routine by now. It was usually twenty, perhaps twenty-five, degrees below zero. But, it was of no consequence to make note of the temperature, anything less than minus fifteen all felt the same to them.

It was his second winter in the Dakotas and his daughter was to be wed the following summer. There wasn’t much to discuss with the men on the rig. Scarce and laconic statements were a godsend compared to the yammering he heard on the Texas rigs in the past. 

He shared a trailer with a young boy, not much older than his son-in-law. The boy was wise beyond his years and spoke of things that the man merely discovered a year or two prior. As young as he was, he had a wife and two children that he called twice a week, simply to check on the status of the checks he sent them. He told them he loved them, but only as a reminder for himself. 

“I wonder,” the boy would say. “What am I doing here?”

“Ain’t it for the money?” The man would reply. “For your family...”

 “Is that really worth my trouble?”

At first, the man took his leave at home, in Louisiana. But after the fourth trip, it was deemed too costly. His checks were sent directly home, save his expenses and three hundred dollars per week to blow off steam in Williston, just west of where he was stationed. The boy, like the man, stayed in the Dakotas while on leave. The man would have some drinks, a steak and saw a burlesque, like the one’s he frequented in New Orleans as a young man. He would promptly return to the trailer, drunk and full, to sleep restfully through the night and following day. It was his way of saving, never wasting or overspending. The boy often straggled along on the strip, sometimes staying the night. Other times vanishing for days, returning with little money left, in need of food and a bath. The man would never ask where he’d been, only if he’d had a good time.

He once left a picture of himself posing next to a squaw woman, perhaps at some Rez to the south. The boy had a big toothy smile that the man had never seen. It was the kind of smile that he saw in the thoughts he had of his wife. The happiness radiating from that picture pierced like the cold wind on the rig. It was a feeling he had almost forgotten. He looked at the picture for a moment and put it back, face down on the counter, paying no mind to it the rest of the day. 

The man laid on his bunk, worrying which side of her man his daughter was to marry. Was it the man in that picture or the man on the phone calling twice a week? He worried about the necessity of that truth. 

He’d return home by Easter, just in time to plan the reception with his wife and daughter. His son-in-law would later ask him how much money he could make working in the Dakotas, to which the man would reply, “Never enough.”