ISSUE #22: Samantha Garner, Cyndi Wall, Reggie O'Farrell

Posted: Monday, January 17, 2011 | | Labels:

Drawing by Cyndi Wall

by Samantha Garner

With a jerk, Mary realizes she’d been asleep. She takes a furtive glance around but it doesn’t appear anybody saw her twitch awake. Two people are reading books, one is working on a laptop, five are staring out the window. The ones she can’t see are probably doing variations of the same. All the same, she is embarrassed, and mentally scolds herself for falling asleep on the bus in broad daylight. She scratches her arm through the sleeve of her sweater, terrified at the image of herself drooling, or letting her head droop and snap back up. Oh god, what if she’d snored?

Issue #22 soundtrack: Reggie O'Farrell "The Ocean's on the Rise"

Flustered now and completely awake, Mary fidgets in her seat and looks out the window. She tries to guess the time by the position of the sun. Trees are whizzing past the window. Occasional walls of rock. Not much else. It’s the same scenery she’s been seeing for eight hours and she feels like banging her fists against the seat in front of her. Instead, she stands up and walks to the washroom in the back of the bus. A teenage boy wearing a hoodie and headphones stares openly at her breasts as she walks by. He’s nodding his head to the music. As she passes, it looks like he is approving of what he sees, and she shudders.

The washroom is tiny and filthy and she takes shallow breaths. She stretches as much as she can. She extends her arms over her head, bending them at the elbow, and feels every muscle in her body trembling. She takes some hand sanitizing wipes and cleans her face and hands, slowly, staring limply into the sink. There is a pounding on the door and Mary jumps out of her reverie.

“Hey! Gonna take all day in there?” It’s a man’s voice, slightly muffled but angry-sounding.

“I’m done!” Mary calls back. She stuffs a few packages of wipes into her bra for good measure and opens the washroom door with her elbow. The man looks unkempt and tired, like everyone else on this godforsaken bus, and he snorts with impatience as he pushes past her into the little washroom. She walks shakily back to her seat, and finds the scenery still unchanged. The low, steady drone of the bus has become louder than anything she can remember.

By Thunder Bay she has learned to be aggressive, at least where a hot meal is concerned. She muscles to the front of the herd when they stop for breakfast and is rewarded by the first plate of underdone hash browns. She keeps her jacket on and slowly chews as Adventures in Babysitting – her favorite movie from childhood – plays on a TV bolted to the wall. The little truck stop is filling up and another girl from her bus sits wordlessly in front of her with a tray of food. She is wearing a green denim jacket and a blue bandanna in her hair, and sits with her shoulders rounded. Her upper body makes a parenthesis, an unfinished aside. She and Mary exchange tight, polite smiles and Mary continues watching the movie over the girls’ shoulder. After a few minutes, it occurs to her that the girl might think Mary is staring right at her instead. Clumsily, nearly knocking her tray over, Mary walks outside to have a cigarette. She stares at an open field in front of her. For the first time, she begins to feel very far away from home.

On the bus, she’s nervous to sleep at night. Not from fear of other passengers, but because the nighttime windows show her only darkness and her own reflection. She looks tired and constantly surprised. Unwittingly, she recalls her last few days at home. Her mother wasn’t around to see her go. Funny – she finally has distance from her mother’s life, all twisted up with bitterness, but the distance makes her angry.

She tries to add up the hours of planning she spent on this move. It doesn’t take too long. She feels anxiety about leaving, being the asshole who picks up the phone and calls four people to say goodbye. Has a halfhearted moving sale and leaves the contents of her apartment on the curb. Purposefully not looking at her belongings as she throws them away. Taking a few letters, some pictures, books. The romantic imagery of going across the country by road.

What was she thinking? She doesn’t know this uncle in Kelowna, the writer. She’s not even sure if he knows she exists. “My stupid brother Mark,” Mary’s mother called him, “Such a stuck up guy. Thinks he’s too good for me now.”

She can clearly imagine herself in Kelowna getting off the bus, finding a taxi, giving the driver the address of the man her mother has spent her life resenting. She can envision her life up to that point. What is unclear, what makes her afraid, is her life once he opens the front door.

“What right did he have?” Mary’s mother would snarl, “Publishes a couple of popular books and then tells that reporter those things about the family – about me! I’ll show him who’s given up on whose life!” It’s been nine years since that interview and, as far as Mary’s concerned, her mother proved him right.

For a minute, she wonders if she’s too old for this sort of thing – for this need to define herself against family. Why the bristling desire to find patterns in the random assortment of people sharing a genetic link? To bank on the equation that her uncle and herself, being two outsiders, will make each other make sense?

She shakes these thoughts out of her head. It’s not important to think about things that can’t be fixed, even though she knows that by getting on this bus, she herself created a situation she can’t fix.

In Dryden, they stop at what appears to be a restaurant, empty except for two bored-looking teenagers hanging out watching the buses pull in, and an Elvis impersonator who serenades the girl from the Thunder Bay truck stop. Mary tries to smile a smile that says, Get a load of that guy! but the girl ignores the gesture and keeps reading. Mary worries that the girl thought she was laughing at her.

She is tired, sore and fascinated by the fact that, after all this time, she is still in Ontario. She then realizes she knows so little about her own country, and worries that she is the very sort of Torontonian people accuse Torontonians of being.

“I’ve been on that bus an entire day.” Mary tells Elvis. Beads of sweat trickle from under his wig and he smells of stale Old Spice. In his glasses she sees her own face, large eyed, hopeful.

She has been keeping a list of all the things she says on her trip. It is not long:

- “There’s no toilet paper in there.”
- “So you’re sure the bus is coming back?”
- “There’s no toilet paper.”
- “Sorry.”
- “I don’t know.”
- “Ow.”
- “The bus is coming back, right?”
- “It’s seven thirty-eight.”
- “Hash browns, please, and coffee.”
- “Sorry.”
- “There’s no toilet paper in that stall.”

An hour outside of Winnipeg, the bus passes a sign that signifies the longitudinal center of Canada. Mary looks up from her book a millisecond too late to catch the English sign, but she sees the French one and understands, though she doesn’t read French. At the bus station in Toronto, Sean had told her to watch for the sign. They had been getting coffee and he was performing the role of ex-lover turned supportive friend. She knew this, and he knew this, though they said nothing of it. When you are saying goodbye to someone, potentially forever, you see them as they used to be, when they were largest in your life. Holding the coffee in his shaking hand, Sean was restored to the person he was. She had forgotten now how it felt to awake at 3am as he returned home, saying the study group ran late, kissing Mary on the shoulder and smelling like shampoo.

Mary runs her tongue over her teeth, which feel coated with a film despite brushings in roadside washrooms. The sign has made her feel large inside, swelled up with determination. No longer was she like every other apartment dweller in Toronto, making do, getting by.

She feels in her chest that now is the time, and pulls out the letter Leigh shoved in her hand at the bus station. Green ink is smeared in places. Leigh has drawn an arrow pointing to the splotches – Oops! I spilled tea! This makes Mary smile – Leigh is a horrible liar. Mary can picture her best friend sitting in her kitchen writing this letter, swatting at the cat to get off the table, letting herself cry.

I can’t say I understand why you chose Kelowna and an uncle you’ve never met (even though he’s a writer!) but I do wish you luck. I want to come with you. I wish we could’ve driven there together and I would’ve made sure this uncle was a good guy and gave you the family you deserved. Call me when you get there. I’ll visit you all the time. Maybe I’ll follow you there! I don’t know much about Kelowna but after all these years, not having you around is just stupid. Maybe Kelowna will be good for you.

Mary imagines what her friends are doing right now with their minds and with their hands. More than an entire day has passed since she left, and they went home and did things, and went to sleep, and woke up and went outside and walked around in the city where Mary used to be. She wondered if it feels different without her, or if people were picking up telephone receivers to call her and then putting them down again, saying “Oh.”

She can’t believe she’s done this to them. Leigh’s questions have no answers.

They have stopped somewhere now, she doesn’t know where. She has become lazy in writing these things down. They are standing, stretching, smoking. Through eavesdropping, she has learned the hoodie-wearing teenager is sixteen and is going all the way to Abbotsford by himself. He pulls the wings off flies and presents the lumpy twitching bodies to her on his outstretched palm. He has ingratiated himself with the small band of twenty-somethings who have become friends, and moves with no sense of shyness from Mary to them. The girl from the Thunder Bay truck stop is gone. She, strangely, finds herself missing the girl’s leggy stride and reassuring presence.

There are two middle-aged people on this bus, a quiet couple who stand closely together. There is the man who kicked her out of the washroom, hovering between the couple and the younger people, wearing a green plaid flannel. There is the group of kids, smoking and laughing and talking about their hometowns. And there is Mary, feeling sorry every day.

After what seems like a year of small towns and no towns at all, the bus glides into Winnipeg in the late afternoon. This sudden metropolitan center is bright and loud and thrilling to Mary’s eyes, though it is worlds apart from Toronto. This is where they will have an hour’s stop. Then, a new bus will take them the rest of the way to Kelowna.

Mary wobbles off the bus lugging her overstuffed carry-on bag, her spine screaming out for mercy. She goes through the long line to the washroom and then stands outside. She lights a cigarette and looks around.

So this is Winnipeg. She is breathing Winnipeg air. Across the street are Winnipeg citizens. There are wide streets and easy, unhurried buildings and people living their lives in this city not giving a thought to rising TTC fares or construction on the Gardiner. How thrilling, how absolutely wonderful. It’s so far from what she’s used to that it seems almost exotic. Romantic. A windblown prairie town that makes you work for its love. She imagines herself here, putting down roots, making her own name. No more abandoning her life to chase ghosts.

When her bus pulls out of the station an hour later, Mary is not on it. Instead, she is walking slowly through downtown Winnipeg, insolently facing east, where she started. She drags her carry-on bag behind her. She laughs at the thought of her other luggage in the bus bound for Kelowna, sitting in the bus depot, lonely forever. She feels a thrill that bubbles up through her. So this is how I ended up here, she thinks.

Samantha Garner lives and works in Toronto after a brief stint in the Prairies. Her work previously appeared in Kiss Machine, The Fiddlehead, and Broken Pencil. Visit her blog at

Cyndi Wall recently moved to Portland, Oregon, via Boone, North Carolina. A graduate of The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, she now works in several different mediums: painting, combining house paint, spray paint, acrylic, and tattoo ink; and drawing, including graphite, pastels, and pens. Visit Cyndi's online portfolio at

Reggie O'Farrell is a singer/songwriter and producer, as well as half the creative brain behind indie rock band The Western Civilization. He currently resides in Austin, TX, where he just opened a new recording studio called The Womb.