Halifax Tales: Winners from our postcard fiction contest

For our first postcard fiction competition, in honour of The Coast’s 16th birthday, published novelists and first-time writers put pen to paper in fictional celebration of our fair city. Here’s who won our judges’ hearts and the $100 prize.

The Winner

Olden Times

by Sarah Mian

Great-Granny took lovers when Great Gramps went off to war. People use that expression, "take a lover," but she really did. She took them from the streetcar and barstools and skating rinks and tucked them into her bed all in a row, like dolls. When her husband returned, scar-faced and moody, people said he was "not all there" anymore. But her lovers were. They were all there, sitting on his blue porch on Robie Street, passing themselves off as boarders (if they paid rent) or her down-and-out cousins (if they did not). One big happy family.

At the funeral, one of the men picked up four-year-old Great Aunt Gracie in his arms and carried her right out of St. David's church. No one protested, what with his and Gracie's same-shaped eyes, their identical pot-stirring laughs. The two were never seen again, but someone heard they were living across the harbour painting boats and fishing for their breakfast. Great Gramps apparently didn't notice there'd been a Gracie.

I saw a photograph of my Great Granny once. Her arm was slung back over a weathered chair and her gap-toothed smile posed the age-old question, "Why not?" Exquisite genes. Sometimes when I'm out swilling a pint of red ale at The Seahorse while all of my boyfriends elbow for space in one booth, I like to jump up on the table and dance with her smoky old ghost.

After leaving home in Halifax, Sarah Mian drove a Vespa through Tuscany, chased icebergs in St. John's, slept on a boat in Stockholm, skinny-dipped on Salt Spring Island, rode a donkey up a cliff on a Greek island, waitressed in Toronto, danced Flamenco in Seville and taught school in the English countryside. And yet, she chose to return forever to this cold, deformed, infirm, nascent, nervy, fascinating city.

Runner-up

Untitled

by Christopher LeRue

Now that I've had a chance to sit back, I realize that I'm coming down with the flu. My skin has that swimmy, fluid feeling that's not altogether unpleasant. Just before it hits strong. Just prior to the suffering.

But right now, on the top deck of the Halifax-bound ferry, the cool breeze soothes my skin and I feel a sensation like being on a rooftop patio after a couple rounds of beer. The sky is overcast, threatening rain---and a deep violet out to sea, but near-twilight sunlight catches the city's good side. I'm just feverish enough to imagine I'm one of the tourists taking photos of the silhouetted bridge---a different perfect picture every thirty seconds--- or hurriedly snapping the Purdy's Wharf buildings, reflecting a flawless, retreating sparkle of sunset. I always felt those buildings deserved to be immortalized in Lego but I was never up to the task. I tell my tourist self that I should have seen the way those windows captured the sails of the Tall Ships. That would have been something.

A ferry ride is as long as a ferry ride takes. A sun sets at sunset. The flu and the storm will break when they break. I can't order another round and I don't have a camera. All I can do is sit back.

Christopher LeRue is a massage therapist from Halifax who practices in Dartmouth and teaches in Bedford.

Runner-up

Wayfare

by Jenner-Brooke Berger

I had a dream about you last night.

What was I doing?

Guess.

We were in the Yangtze River Valley.

You became scared.

To make you feel safe, I fought the first animal we came across.

The alligator was no match to my strength.

Close.

You were cooking with peppers.

I called them capsicums.

"Peppers." You seethed.

"Capsicums."

"PEPPERS." You asked me politely to stop

being such an asshole,

tears of frustration sat behind your eyes.

I didn't see them, I was googling 'capsicums.'

Closer.

We sat atop a hill in what I imagine Greece to be. You allowed my hand to find

the tired parts of your neck. Your shoulders relaxed and I said "you're beautiful."

You told me my compliments felt like punches to the gut.

From where we were, I couldn't see the Mediterranean, but I could feel it.

Almost.

We were playing catch on the Commons. We impressed a crowd with accuracy

of pitch.

Yankees' manager Joe Girardi watched, amidst the crowd.

He approached us, offered contracts. We moved to New York within the week.

Our fans were many.

They nicknamed you "tall stop." You were a great short stop, but "tall for a girl."

The fame went to your head. You became so hideous. Finally, during a crucial

game we lashed out at each other, infield. In what would become the beginning

of the end of your career in baseball, you were traded to Indiana.

That was the last time I heard your voice. Ever.

Jenner-Brooke Berger studies English and interns with Halifax's Invisible Publishing.View her photos and letters blog at georgemichaeljackson.blogspot.com.

THE JUDGES

Rob Benvie is a writer and musician, born and raised in Halifax, but currently based in Toronto. He has performed and recorded with a number of acts, including Thrush Hermit, The Dears, Tigre Benvie and Camouflage Nights. His first novel, Safety of War, was published by Coach House Books, and he is currently putting the finishing touches on a second.

Kristina Parlee is a musician and a librarian. She sometimes plays bass in art/dance/rock band The Maynards. Other times she selects fiction for the Halifax Public Libraries.

Patrick Murphy lives in Halifax. He is the senior editor at NimbusPublishing (not the former city councillor).

Halifax tales: honourable mentions


Park Bench

by Heather Rushton

Park Bench thoughtfully looked across the Bedford Basin.

A young couple in love had sat on him, hand in hand, overlooking the water. While the woman turned her shy eyes away, the man pulled a ring from his pocket. Park Bench held their weight while she jumped on his lap.

An irreparable force named Juan had torn up the pathway where Park Bench spent his life, and tried to move him to another part of the city. He wound up on the front lawn of an old woman who thought about using him for firewood, but brought him home in her truck. She patted him lovingly before she drove away.

Mint-chocolate chip ice cream lingered in the cracks of his backside. No rain recently to wash away the evidence of the six-year-old who walked across him like a tightrope, balancing her treat in one hand, and fell onto the gravel below. She had cried, and he wondered if it was from the pain or from the loss of her ice cream.

Park Bench listened compassionately as the lonely bird sat on him and spilled the tale of how he got left behind while his friends and siblings flew south for the winter. When the first snowflake fell, he wondered what had become of his friend.

Painted green and chipping from years of curious spectators leaning overtop, Park Bench looked thoughtfully across the Bedford Basin. Home is good, he sighed, and settled a little more firmly into the ground.

I’ll Always Have Halifax

by Shannon Webb-Campbell

I always think of you outside of our old apartment at the corner of Creighton and Cogswell. Even from the Citadel, the mustard and purple-painted architecture piques interest. From the kitchen you could see tourists like Hobbits snapping photos.

Before we split the rent we sat on the steps filling in the gaps, throwing rocks into the abandoned lot. This was after the crack house burnt down, but before the ugly house became pretty.

Sometimes I look up at the window, hoping to see your silhouette. Your bedroom still glows, though it’s no longer a museum: feathers, fossils and a taxidermy deer. I used to think I needed a passport just to sleep in the next room.

Back then our landlord didn’t mind if we paid in cash days late. He told stories of parties and infamous people from the 1920s who once squatted there. We felt like we were a part of something. Our hearts like mould on the walls. I can’t remember that old singer’s name, but still wonder if she slept in my room or yours.

One night after pints at Tom’s you told me you’d be leaving. You wanted to raise huskies and find the Northern Lights. You tried to make tea but forgot and the kettle fused to the stove. Even then you were living elsewhere.

I’d like to say a lot has changed since you left for Whitehorse. But I’m still here, with a kink in my neck, lurking with the ghosts who sustain.

Pockets: A Halifax Tribute

by Marc Boudreau

Like a bedraggled magician, he empties his pockets with chilled hands. He waves scraps and sometimes, nothing in the face of Winston Churchill striding nowhere on the library lawn. A sliver of shattered gin bottle rests in his palm. It mirrors a mackerel moon kindling citrus spells on the harbour. He salutes the spruce spindled spine of distant McNab’s. Then without warning, bony hands clap over ears beneath a worn toque. They deaden sound only he can hear: Cannon fire quivering the air, skimming burnished grass frozen to the skull of Citadel Hill. Fingers, like Connaught magnolias unfurl and scatter shreds of tartan to drift on the wind. They catch in branches of broken elm guarding Spring Garden gates, now wrought in a filigree of loss. He worries the surface of a whelk shell still hissing Juan’s vengeful breath, flings it to the ground. Next he pulls a snowy gull feather plucked from bare wrist of a wild rose bush that bloomed exuberant through all the long lilac evenings of summer. Now, extracts a lighter that once flamed in pub windows along the waterfront. Memory sparks fiddle music, tattered sneakers tap a jig. Mournful strands of bagpipe linger, he dashes an invisible tear. His pockets are finally empty but for the tangy scent, the bitter taste of salt. These, he carries with him to a cardboard bed beneath a bridge shuddering with traffic, a sky ablaze with stars.

The Salmon and the River

by Michael Johnstone

The night I moved to the city I watched strangers gushing down the slanted streets of Halifax.

They moved like cascading torrents, indifferent to sparse traffic, pooling at throbbing nightclubs and familiar watering holes, guided by searing fiddles and the ubiquitous thumping of Celtic drums—the unceasing rhythm of East Coast bliss. Against the flow, staggering pairs of lovers weaved the sharp incline up streets, upstream, bodies forming tributaries across the Municipality, returning home to swim into one another, to intertwine. Instinct, fueled by the vigor of the Harbour below and the persistence of the drums: the ethos of the salmon and the river, reborn in a city perched at the edge of the sea. It was not long before I merged with their excitement, wading into the crowds.

A decade later and I can still hear those drums echoing through a canyon in the Arizona desert.

Here the land is arid and monochrome. It is beautiful in its desolation and vastness, but quietly smolders under a relentless sun. The parched smell of dust drives a longing for the sweetness of humid pines drawn back into coastal lungs. I am sick for the familiarity of the Hill, the Harbour, the Clock, the Commons: a city of the definite article the, because that is what it is—definite, absolute, rhythmic, like the unyielding drums that beat across a barren desert to synchronize with the pounding in my chest, calling me home.

Harifax

by Jonathan Roberts

Harifax. Harafax. Harlifax. Dear Atchofi, We are training Kofi to speak Canadian but he is from Akwapim so he cant tally els and ars. We dashed the connection man at Takoradi for a small container with water but no food and two buckets for toilet. They opened us up some days ago and took Ekuia. She brought gari and shito but wont speak. Kofi has some groundnuts and the Imam has kola, which is good for sitting and chatting. Were moving and shaking for 8 days by my count (Kofi says 9) but now it is still and quiet. Gets hot daytime but we can make that because of African training. Cold at night though so we sleep close under cardboard. Ekuia has small fever and soiling the toilet. Cant tell if its Canada but through the bolt hole is three stacks like Tema spotted red white and two bridges green green. If you get this it means we reached Halifax by His blessing. Please take it to security man Adjei at Canadian High Commission at Sankara. Tell him to show it to a certain fat white lady in the Pajero who rejected me thrice. Tell her “Hallo from rejection man Togbe Atcho in Canada” I tell you! I am taking milo with the Queen of Canada and Papa Kabre wont catch me here. Salut Olympio!

Untitled

by Sheila Morrison

When the first crocuses emerged in April, when the ice was finally gone, that was when Maddie would emerge, mole-like, from her Hollis St. room. The smell of Bud’s fries would make the insides of her nostrils tingle as she slowly slid one foot after the other up the hill to the library. No fries for Maddie, though her stomach rumbled. Through her rheumy eyes she could just see the large grey silhouette of Winston Churchill and that was how she knew when to turn right to get to the library door where she would slowly make her way to the large print books.

Today she paused by the great man to catch her breath. Spreading her feet for balance, she cocked her head back, hands still clasped behind her sacrum and clutching her cloth bag. The absurdity of Churchill frozen in her own osteoporotic pose suddenly struck her, and her raucous cackle rang out. At the same moment pigeons flapped off Churchill’s head and passersby stepped up their saunters. A cloud moved and the sun shot down a beam of light. For a split second she felt like she was on a stage again, listening to the applause.

“Look at the old witch.” Three young bodies in baggy clothes, feet wide apart to keep their jeans from falling down, had their own strange gait. Not in months had Maddie had such a great laugh, not once but twice, on this glorious spring day.

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