Dispatches

Road Trip with Cupid

Finn Wylie

Harrington Creek, Oklahoma. Fifty pony-tailed women in a field, arms up, legs spread—summer cheerleading camp.

Passing Leavenworth, Kansas, I say a prayer for the inmates, penned between town and the military cemetery, and share my blanket with a teenager travelling for the first time alone. I don’t remember ever being there, between youth and aging.

The lush banks of the Missouri River curve and recede like islands.

There’s a long wait between buses in Fargo, North Dakota. I get room 212 of the red-brick Hotel Donaldson, downtown. An older man in overalls at the front desk tells me the building is more than one hundred years old. “There’s Greek writing when you look at the roof from across the street.”

Wide streets, white folks. Blow’s Sew-N-Vac, Nail Concepts. Space for Sale.

In the Empire Tavern, a thin woman on the worn stage sings “Cupid’s Got a Gun.” A guy in plaid gestures for me to sit with him, but I shake my head, in a kind way. He asks where I’m from. Canada, I answer. “I’d like to go to there, but I’d need a visa,” he barks from his table. “Want to marry me? My wife she burned me. She just burned me, you know. Now I’m going to court to burn her back.”

Each drink comes with a raffle ticket. The prize is three beers “to drink right now” or a six-pack to take home. The emcee calls out my number. I take the three drinks now. During the third, a fieldworker with a strong jaw, dense tattoos and a dignified way of speaking dances with me and lets me go.

At the 7-Eleven, the clerk, named Tim, is getting off work. “Long shift?” I ask. “Well, it wasn’t 9 to 5,” he answers. Later he will write in my journal: The fruit of the spirit is love, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control. Above such there is no law. Galatians 5:22.

We share a piece of carrot cake and an entire pot of coffee at the Fryn’ Pan. The train passes, whistling, close to midnight.

“I stay here because my father, a preacher, is 335 pounds, a heart attack waiting to happen,” Tim says. “I don’t know what my mom would do without me. Who drifts? Artists, angels, saints. I had it hard as a preacher’s kid. I’ve had it bad by women. I get over disappointments real fast, maybe that’s not a good habit. I would dress up in women’s clothes if I was thin. I like just being with someone, just the closeness, like no necessary physical contact, do you get that? Things got to mean something. It was brave of you to talk to me.”

“You answered.”

“That’s survival in this town. Not often do you meet someone interesting.”

Hank Williams sings “I Saw the Light” again and again in the next room as I fall asleep.

“I’d be a fool not to try something,” says my seatmate the next morning. “But I won’t. I have somebody. She came along not a moment too soon.”

Fields in all directions. Green, nicotine, albino blond, pond. The border makes no dent.

“I lived in Alberta for a while but it got claustrophobic. Mountains in your face.”

Pink oat, cud, Irish skin. Wakening eyelid, dog’s ear lain flat. Bristle.

“Sweet corn,” the driver shouts, slowing the bus outside Morden, Manitoba.

A woman hands him a bag, bulging, through the door and waves away his money. “Don’t worry about it, sweetheart.”

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Finn Wylie

Finn Wylie studies writing at Vancouver Island University and works as a tree planter. Her poem "Dust" appears in the summer 2019 issue of the Temz Review. She is working on a photography project titled Night Foliage, which includes captures of plants at night, divided from their photosynthesizing light source and often falsely lit—by porch lights, street lamps and the humming signs of closed shops. Find her on twitter @WylieFinn.

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