JULY 2008


Propping Frisco
By Patrick Kelling, May 20, 2008

I pulled the box from a shelf and took seventeen steps around a casket to the corner of the workshop where a table sat between a shelf full of oil lamps and a bin overflowing with pistols, rifles, and shotguns. I put the box down and reread the label, “Break Safe Bottle, Circa 1880.” I ripped the tape from its top, reached into styrofoam peanuts that always dried my hands and removed a bottle. I set it on the table and backed away two, two and a half steps, bumping into a stack of saddles as I did. Who put those there? I looked at the bottle, studying its uneven, brown shape. Someone was going to notice that there wasn’t any red tint to the glass.

I knew someone was going to notice. I had originally special ordered bottles that used a red grained sand that would have looked more like the ones made in Golden in 1876. These would have been carried to Frisco and reused. This bottle didn’t have any red tint at all; it would be dark brown no matter what lighting the director chose, if he even tried to hide this false detail, which he wouldn’t. Hell, this bottle looked like it had been made at least a decade later, in 1886 or so. Some exec had nixed the special order, said it was too expensive. So they were going to have to use this out of place piece of shit today. Someone was going to notice.

I returned to the table and accidentally tried to turn on an oil lamp before finding the electric one. I tilted the bottle and studied its lumps. They looked like they had been forged by hand, the glass bending this way and that up to the bottle’s neck. But there just weren’t enough of them. I could barely make out the seam that ran up its side where the machine had melded the glass together. If Paula held it in a certain way, no one would notice as she broke it over some extra’s head. I would tell her to watch this detail, to hold it so that the seam faced away from the cameras. But she wouldn’t listen; she never did. Perhaps she would hold it the right way, perhaps she wouldn’t. Maybe the cameras would catch the seam; maybe they wouldn’t. I flipped it over and carefully pealed the barcode from the bottom, then rubbed a squirt of Goo Gone over the spot.

From under the table I pulled a jug of apple juice. I shook it to stir up the dye I’d poured in to give it a dark, moonshine coloring. It was supposed to be whisky for God’s sake. Using a funnel I filled the bottle to just over two thirds of the way up. It couldn’t be completely full; someone would have already drank from it. I plugged its neck with a cork, careful not to put too much pressure on the easy break glass. I could barely see the liquid once it sat in the bottle. It was too dark; someone was going to notice.

A door opened and Christie walked in. She wore a baby blue, long polonaise bodice and a busted skirt that was covered with pink ribbons that formed Vs down the front. On her head sat a blue woman’s top-cap, tilted to one side of course, with a black ribbon circling its base. She barely fit down the isle of the cluttered prop shop. I heard her skirts swooshing against things as she walked.

“Hey,” she said stopping about five steps from me, right around a bucket of deer antlers.


“It’s cluttered in here.”

“The crew just moved a wagon train off the set. We had to put the stuff somewhere.” I watched as she ran her eyes over piles of props. When she got on her tippy toes to look over a pile of firewood the dress accented her hips in a way that made me want to hold her and all that fluff under skirt against my thigh.

“I don’t suppose you’ve seen my gun.”

I sighed. “Which one?”

“The little one. With the pearl handle.”

“The Colt Bisley?”

“Yeah, if that’s what it’s called.” She tried looking around me, to see if it was lying on my table, as if I were in charge of the lost and found. I leaned against it to block her view.


“Yeah.” She looked at me. I wanted to be mad. I really did. But she hadn’t been to make up yet. Her face was extraordinary when she didn’t have on any blush or eyeliner. I wondered what she looked like when she first woke up with tangled hair, blurry eyes, and a sleep marked face. I bet she looked great.

“Well, I have something similar.” I walked two steps to the crate that overflowed with guns and dug into it. “It’s not going to be exactly the same you know. It won’t be the same gun that you pulled on Clyde last episode.”

“Yeah. But it will be close right? Al won’t be able to tell right?” So that’s what this was all about. Al had reprimanded her last week for constantly losing her guns and had done it as only a director could. I continued digging and found what I was looking for near the bottom.

“You had a seven and a half. This one is only a five and a half.” She stared at me so I continued, “Try to keep your hand over the whole handle. This one’s pearl inlay doesn’t go up as high.”

Her eyes lit up as I handed it to her. I wanted to be mad. She was going to lose that one too. Then I’d be out digging through the mud and horse shit in the thoroughfare trying to find it. But, without make up, her eyes were just too damn bright.

I snuck a glance at her tightly bound bosom. What I saw horrified me.

“What’s that?” I asked.


“That.” I pointed at the red carnation that sat on her breast.

“This?” She stroked its petals. “Jill gave it to me when she helped me put the dress on. She said it accented the colors nicely.”

Jill. God damn her. She wouldn’t have been able to find an authentic 1876 outfit if she lived during the time. Hell, she couldn’t find a proper 2005 one for that matter, all sweat pants and, I swore to God, bracelets from the ‘80s.

“There weren’t any carnations near Frisco in 1876,” I said. “Who would have brought them? The prospectors?”

“Maybe one of their wives did.” Christie smiled at me. I wasn’t having it this time. Jill had gone too far. Someone was going to notice.

“What wives? You, Maggie, and Paula are the only women in Frisco!” I was getting worked up now. I could feel my blood pumping under my kneecaps.

“What about Jessie?”

“Hell, she’s as much a woman as Ian is!” I thought for a second. “Their characters that is.”

“Oh, you take this all so seriously.”

“Authenticity is a serious business.”

She laughed and thanked me, as she walked out her dress snagged on something, probably one of the deer antlers.

I grabbed the bottle and left the prop shop in thirteen steps. Outside I could just make out a truck dragging a horse trailer along the road that led to the set. I took a left, walked twenty-two steps past a giant sign that read “Frisco Set,” then through some buildings, and found myself in 1876. Rather, I reminded myself, a very accurate depiction of 1876.

I took four steps down Pitkin Street and quickly found myself in mud up to the upper part of my shins. I backtracked five steps to the walk before continuing. It took me thirty-five steps to pass Zane’s house, forty-eight to pass the temporary school, twenty-five to pass Garcia’s house, and another seven to take the corner. From there I walked another one hundred and sixteen down Main Street past the boarding house and the Nugget Saloon, all the while dodging extras and workmen.

I had to cross the thoroughfare to get to the Diamond Hotel, where I would deliver my bottle directly to Paula so she wouldn’t smash whoever with a real bottle. I waded halfway across the thoroughfare when I noticed Stephen walking towards me. He wore his usual consume, a dark suit, white shirt, and black cowboy hat. His pants were muddied up to his knees.

As he walked I noticed a stiffness about his posture, his arms clamped to his sides, his back straight like something had been shoved up his ass. He was doing a good job of acting the tough sheriff until he slipped and threw his arms out to avoid landing in the muck.

“Fuck!” he yelled. Then he saw me. “They over watered the mud again.”

“Those roostered bastards!” I yelled back, my favorite line from the show.

“Something like that.” He turned around and began walking back the other way, again keeping his arms close and his back straight. His pants rode up a fraction and something not completely mud covered caught my eye. I waded after him for three steps.

“Stephen!” I yelled and he turned around.

“Stephen,” I repeated when I caught up to him twenty-one steps later. We were standing in front of the Frisco Pioneer’s office. “What’s on your feet?”

“Shit,” he answered. He cocked his eyebrows in annoyance just like he did on the show, perhaps he was still in character.

“I meant under that.”

“Sneakers. What do you think? I’d be wearing fucking treadless cowboy boots in this? Do you know how many times I’d have fallen already?”

I was mortified.

“You.” I took a breath and had to start again, “You aren’t going to wear those when they start shooting are you?”

He grunted. “It’s not like anyone’s going to notice through all this shit.”

He turned and started walking back up the street while I stood shin deep in muck, feeling the bottle’s seam against my palm.

Patrick Kelling received his MFA from the University of Colorado where he taught general creative writing and fiction classes. He is a former editor of Square One Literary Magazine and currently resides in Denver.