09/19/2021

Kim Chinquee ~ Wildcat

They’re going to the moun­tain. He let his ex-wife bor­row his GPS, so the three of them just wing it: Elle and Jim and the dog named Doodle. Jim says he knows the way, dri­ving through Viroqua, Westby, Cashton, places where he has to dri­ve for work, towns big on farm­ing and the Amish. Hills. Most of the towns are Norwegian.

Elle sits there in his Blazer. Doodle, in the back, with his paws on the com­part­ment between them. Doodle pants, look­ing hap­py. The sunroof’s open, and the win­dows. The wind blows in. Jim dri­ves around the bends and up them. He knows where he’s going. Every now and then he lights a smoke, hold­ing the wheel with his elbows. Trust me, he says. We’re going to the mountain.

When his phone gives off his brother’s ring­tone (some kind of cow­boy theme) he flips it, says, Oy, hoy! And talks about the trip, about how he’s loaned his GPS to the ex, say­ing he’s prob­a­bly too nice of an ex, that it prob­a­bly piss­es off Elle.

Elle looks at Jim then, his one cig­a­rette hand on the wheel, one hand with his phone, at his head that’s bald­ing. At his lips. He has nice lips. She’s always loved his lips. His eyes. His eyes are blue.

They end up in a place called Norwalk. They seem far from any moun­tain. There’s a bar with a Schlitz sign. The bar is called The Thing. They leave Doodle in the Blazer with the sun­roof open. Jim needs some direc­tion. Maybe some­one in the bar can help.

At The Thing, Jim orders a Bud Light for him­self and Elle can’t decide what she wants. She orders what’s on tap.

The bar­tender looks about the size of a dozen peo­ple and when Jim asks how he is, he says, “Living the dream! Every day’s a hol­i­day! Every pay­check is a fortune!”

The Thing is old and dingy. A tav­ern, real­ly, like the ones Elle knew as a girl in the town called Advance, which now is owned by the neigh­bors of her childhood.

Here, there’s a pool table and a juke­box, a pic­ture of two Bud girls in tight tops and long hair, their boobs almost touch­ing. A sign offer­ing a Sno-Cone, and a swirl, a girl at the end of the bar with leath­ery skin and fraz­zled hair and a cig­a­rette says her name is Wendy. The oth­er old and tooth­less bar­tender asks Jim and Elle where they’re from, so they pro­vide the same sto­ry they present to every­one these days: she lives in New York and he lives in Viroqua. They are high school sweet­hearts who have reunited.

The bar­tender says, “That’s sweet.”

He writes out direc­tions to the moun­tain. He says, “You’re lost. You’ll have to pass the meat plant. You’ll know it when you’re there. It smells bad.”

When Jim and Elle final­ly arrive, Jim dri­ves to the top. He didn’t fol­low the bartender’s direc­tions. Rather, he drove back to Cashton, where he and Elle stopped at a lunch place where he always goes when he’s work­ing in that office. There, he had a Bloody Mary and a chas­er, and Elle sipped her beer, too full to even drink it. They got some water in a bowl and brought it out to Doodle, and Jim said he had a bad feel­ing about the moun­tain, that some­thing in his gut told him not to go there, that he had to pro­tect them.

He says, I should have brought my rifle.

At the park’s office, Jim gets a stick­er to put on the Blazer to last for the sum­mer. He also gets some info on the camp­ground and canoe­ing. While he does that Elle waits in the car with Doodle, sigh­ing every now and then, think­ing of her home back in New York, prob­a­bly get­ting dusty. The bills. The rent. Her oblig­a­tions as a teacher. Her back feels knot­ted. The dog drools.

When they find a spot and get out, Jim puts Doodle on his leader. Doodle runs to a bush and smells it. He lifts his leg and pees.

Jim and Elle fol­low a path, a trail that’s marked off so no one can dri­ve there. Jim says, “We final­ly made it.”

Jim says, “We’re mak­ing memories.”

Elle walks with him to the top and looks down at the view, at the trees, the val­leys, the homes.

Everything. So far away and distant.

This piece appeared in slight­ly dif­fer­ent form in Gargoyle, June 2011

~

Kim Chinquee’s new book, Snowdog, from which this work is tak­en is avail­able from Ravenna Press in January 2021. She is also the author of the col­lec­tions Oh Baby, Pretty, Pistol, Veer, Shot Girls, and Wetsuit. Her work has appeared in hun­dreds of jour­nals and antholo­gies includ­ing NOON, Denver Quarterly, Conjunctions, The Nation, Ploughshares, Fiction, New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction, Notre Dame Review, the Pushcart Prize antholo­gies, and oth­ers. She is an edi­tor at New World Writing, asso­ciate pro­fes­sor and co-direc­tor of the Writing Major at SUNY-Buffalo State, and she serves as AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) Northeast Regional Chair and as a mem­ber of the AWP Board of Directors.