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Pekoe

BENJAMIN DUGDALE

First prize winner of the 2015 Short Long-Distance Writing Contest.

I was born: a perfect pekoe-less sphere of sticky white rice; born to four upset hands associated with two upset parents, anointed in hot starch runoff; I was born a surprise in the low soft centre of a Saskatchewan coulée, not unlike the low soft centre in a newborn’s forming skull. My parents married just before the water broke, married in the Asian cuisine joint at the end of the strip mall’s boardwalk; married by the Korean fellow slinging Chinese noodles with seaweed sushi wrap for his clerical collar. It seemed to my parents, with their soft callous-less hands (four total, two per person), seemed to this mess of digits and low-tide cuticles that I had skulked into their lives quite deliberately, arriving right before harvest and all.

At two years of age most of my rice crumbled away to reveal me, the puppy, with a mood ring tight around the base of my tail, mood ring always yolky and smelling like lavender (but always marred by the tinge of shit). I learned to walk upright in a matter of days, meandering along what I thought was the St. Lawrence, but which grew into the St. John River as I came to look down on it. I dipped my nose and startled myself with my reflection, realized my tubing daze had carried me to the Maritimes.

Between the alcohol and my susceptibility to flattery, I woke up as the country’s in-demand funambulist—at least, east of Montreal. A pro in a city where no building may posture taller than the cathedral, no grocery may open on Sunday. I walked the tightrope ’til I retired, and took up life as a bear, bouncing the town’s sole gay club. Before last month’s drag night I burnt my paw on my ampersand trivet. The wound oozed, and in lieu of the club’s stamp procedure I held each guest’s hand, wept with them about the humidity this summer, motes of singed fur and pus and plasma staining their palms; I let them all in that night, my skull thick and porous, my moulting coat bobbing down the St. John, portaging like dustbowl tumbleweed all the way to a shallow dugout somewhere in south Saskatchewan, the authorities swollen ’round the thing with large sticks, poking what washed up to make sure its dead scent stuck.

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