Philanthropist Bleeds to Death in Attempt to Amputate Own Legs with Nail File After 17 Days Trapped in World’s Smallest Oil Well


Many cameras, anchors from all regional stations, their exfoliated noses, camerapersons. It is Monday. The Cancer Kids sit on the floor bald, or in wheelchairs, and wait. The temporary podium remains talking headless. The head will belong to: Barbara. The architecture of her name sublimates the man she stands behind: Chief. Whose ongoing sale of Montana oil and coal to Chinese markets precipitated Chief’s and Barbara’s ascent into the highest class of billionaire philanthropists. A penthouse, a chateau in Texas, a personal chef, etc.

This is Billings.

Barbara. The related image proved astute, the bloggers dubbed her Bee. Even Chief traded his favored Barbie for this more marketable moniker. Expensive coiffure, reconstructive surgeries unskilled enough to make them evident. Gold shoes and buttons; white slacks and fingernails and smile. From the corner of the Hospital’s Play Room she glances over the invalid and economically disadvantaged youth. She reflects: rich children do not grow so weak and pathetic. These sullen gazes, accusing. And the cameras’ eyes behind, watching. She maintains the smile; she recalls something she is forever trying to forget.

Then all is flashes and she becomes the smile, it consumes her head. She sets her notecards on the podium and pauses, nods to the black, bulbous mic. She speaks. Her voice bifurcates and strains, but she continues. Community, hope, the fight, etc.

She knows the children are not listening—one on the ground has something hidden in his fist. Or is it her? They all are hairless, emaciated, filthy. The little shits. In two minutes it will be through, it is through, and the children are paraded away, or wheeled. The cameras close upon her, a few concluding remarks? The anchors’ slick smells mix with her own. She pictures the hotel art bolted to the wall, her feet above her head, the moist sounds, and grunts. She hears the words suck, fuck. As we hear polite chuckles. The questions have been written in advance.

In the backseat Bee lets herself relax for the first time since touchdown yesterday noon. Beneath her hand the cool beige leather. There is an unopened miniature bottle of water in the cup holder beside her but she doesn’t look at it. Beyond the window there is a river, and she vaguely remembers: oil spill. The river looks immaculate now, drinkable. Which just went to show. She smiles and turns. But another oil refinery obscures the bluffs. The refinery like an alien city. A proliferation of emaciated spires, the frothing smoke, the eternal flame. She turns her face away. They should build a wall to hide it from the road. Artists could come and paint a mural, or landscapes.

This is the free place, the West, where a man can make nothing out of nothing, something out of nothing. She slips her feet from her pumps, her bulbous toes, blood-red nails, encased in translucent, imitation-white-woman-hued stockings. Beyond the window the land: shadows, sage and brush. And then trailers, trailers, trailers, junk cars and broken strollers, torn blue tarpaulins windswept, dirt yards, chain-links like prison bars. She thinks: mightn’t they want to forget what bore them: the cell? But no the poor, the poor, she lays a hand upon the driver.

Wait, she says. Before the hotel. Take me somewhere clean.

Only now does she see: the driver is a woman. Fortyish, her hair a waving helmet, her wedding ring yellow-gold and new. There are other rings, and bracelets. The reflection of the black-rimmed eyes in the rear-view. She might’ve been pretty once. Even her hands are dark but for the white knuckles on the wheel. Which knuckles Bee does not see, for all her feminine observance.

The sun has bleached the road a tepid gray, and it protrudes blandly forth, aiming for the dry, dumpy hills. Bee has seen the glaciers, the long, lush larch and the impossible mountains reflected in the mirror stillness of lakes at sunset. What she wants is true beauty or better yet, sublimity. But this is neither, just hills and dust. The driver frowns. Bee sips from the plastic bottle of water.

They are far from the Highway now, from the trailers. The dry land vast. The river reels slick and shimmering in the inhuman bright before it churns frothy, ravenous. Bee could not say why she should be afraid of a river. Presently the driver stops just nowhere. The leather protests when she turns to speak.

There’s a trail starts here, she begins. A local secret.

She coughs lustily, phlegmatically, into her fist. Bee looks unconvinced.

Might not look like much from here, she says. But its real pretty once you get back in. Used to be you’d see all kinds of bison.

So Bee walks timidly in her pumps. The driver lights up, leaning on the hood. Soon Bee is hidden by the brush and sage, which have also hidden the tiniest oil well in the lower forty-eight. So small that no one bothers to mark it, or to pump it with any conviction. Instead the useless geriatric Sal is kept on the payroll out of pity. He drives out here every other Thursday and with a minute bucket hoists enough crude to run the regional manager’s daughter’s Fiat for two weeks. In winter months he cracks the ice himself. A well so fantastical, so old fashioned, so tiny that it may as well not exist.

Which is why Bee simply slipped, tripped, and fell right in.  

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