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 HP Non-Fiction Contests

HP Fiction Contests



  We are happy to announce our winners of First Human Potential Writing Competition - fiction.  

Bob Wakulich for Dido, has been awarded the First Prize (publication)  
  Edward McDermott for The Last Rose of Summer, a close second. As the second place was of high standard, we decided to extend the publication to second place also.  




by Bob Wakulich

"When history began again, your grandfather - dido - was nineteen and standing on a dock in Montreal trying to believe that he'd made the right choice. Everybody else wanted to go to Aw-meeree-caw, but he liked the sound of this other place, the way it leapt from the back of his tobacco-scorched throat like a wind gust. Cawnaw-dah, the village neighbours would repeat, most of them looking perplexed, and then someone would snicker and say esskee-mows, and dido would have to say something clever, like yaw-bichoo-yeh-beeyoo-hoomite!"

That's the way my father always tells it, usually when he's hooped on gin-and-tonics, and I've always been able to melt the years away from dido's face and picture this like clips from a black and white movie. "You've never told me about the old country, dido."

"Ah. Dirt floors. Pigs and kasha. Stupid, stupid neighbours."

According to my father, dido has never let a lack of knowledge get in his way. This helps to explain how he almost electrocuted himself twice and why the bridge of his nose has such a noticeable bend to the left. God only knows how he managed to hitch up with baba, who has never suffered fools gladly unless they're wearing diapers, but she has always insisted that their relationship is pretty simple. "He can be a real gentleman when he wants to be and a real animal when he has to be." She always smiles at my father when she says this, and my father always blushes.

When I was little, going to dido's was a grand Sunday event with dress pants, white shirts, and shelves full of don't-touch stuff in the living room. Nowadays, it's more of a must-do thing when I come to town. Dad doesn't push, exactly; it's more of a polite order. "Do you need a ride over to dido's?" I've yet to figure out a way to answer that question without going.

He was out in the garage, "the workshop," taking apart laptop computers, cobbling the working pieces together for the Karashenko Senior Centre.

He'd never actually used a computer for anything in his life, but when someone at the centre was trying to show him what a computer was supposed to do, he'd pointed at a pile in the corner. "I ask the guy, do those do this? They used to, he says, but they're broken. Maybe I can fix them, I say.

Maybe, he says, but they're complicated. I can fix tractors, I tell him, and he says, excuse me?"

"How do you know they're working?"

"You turn them on, the screen lights up, lots of numbers, and then you get a picture. Simple."

I looked at the confusion of parts on his workbench. "Did they have any manuals?"

"Like I'm gonna understand one."

"Don't you want to learn?"

"Ah. I'm fixing them. That's enough."

I smiled. "Are you fixing one for baba?"

"Nah. She thinks they cause cancer. Do you want one?"

"I already have one."

"So have another."

"It's okay."

He shrugged and pulled at some wires. "You still drink beer?"

"You betcha, dido."

He looked towards the house. "If baba comes out, you say you brought it."

I nodded in the way of a fellow conspirator, which pleased dido and perpetuated the myth that baba was oblivious to his stash. "If you ever tell him that I know about that," she told me a couple of visits ago, "I'll change the will."

"You're always fixing something," I told him.

He handed me a can of President's Choice Malt Liquor and heaved out a breath like he used to before he quit smoking. "Hey boy-sick, anybody can make something out of something. If you can make something out of next to nothing, that's REALLY something." He waited for a second, and then he started laughing just in case I wasn't going to. I joined in and we filled the garage with a cacophony that scared the cat off the back porch.

"I'm no good at fixing stuff." I took a long haul on my can.

He shrugged. "You haven't tried enough."

"Sure I have. Everything turns to shit."

"If it was shit already, what's the difference?"

"You fix stuff and it works."

"Sometimes. Sometimes I take a big pile of shit and make a bunch of little piles, and then I save the screws."

I laughed again, and then I laughed about how many times dido had made me laugh. "How are you feeling?"

He pushed at a few buttons on a keyboard. "I'm old, boy-sick. I feel lousy."

"Dad said baba took you to the hospital last week."

He shrugged again. "Your baba worries too much. I had a headache. Those pills they give me aren't good with brandy."

"I worry about you, dido."

"Why?" He picked up a screwdriver, aimed it at a part on the table, t'ched, and put it back down. "That will stop me from dying?"

"I can worry if I want to."

"Sure. Go ahead." He pointed at the ceiling. "After that, see if you can make it rain for my beets."

"What did the doctor say?"

"More or less, he said I was dying." He took a swig of beer. "I told him, doctor, I am eighty-nine years old. Should I be surprised?" Dido waited for me to laugh, but I didn't. He shook his head. "I gotta die sometime, boy-sick."

"Yeah. I know." I looked toward the house and saw baba peering through the kitchen window at us, into us, and through us. I looked away, settling my eyes on my beer can. "Jeez, I already drank this thing."

"I can fix that."

We laughed again.




"The Last Rose of Summer"

 by Edward McDermott

"The winter frost will kill the roses this year," Martha said, as she plucked the rose hips from the plants with painful fingers.

"Not with a good hand to care for them," Matt replied as he raked up the leaves that anticipated the autumn winds despite the warm September sun. A cloth cap protected his receding hair from the wind that played like a naughty child around the yard.

"Stuff and nonsense. It's not as if you know a thing about roses. Damn," she exclaimed as she jerked her hand back suddenly and put her thumb to her lips to lick away the blood from a thorn puncture.

I know enough to keep clear of the thorns," he replied, putting his arms around her slight, shriveled figure and picking her up without effort.

Martha was in no mood for his tomfoolery and she thumped him sharply on the nose with her hand. Matt let her go and stepped back. "Well I guess I'm a sucker for you, thorns and all."

"Foolish man. Now let me be."

"Fool for you, I may be, but I can learn, so teach me about your roses."

"And why would you care?"

"Because you do, my Rosy-Posy. You still can pack a wallop. What's that scrawny one over there in the corner?"

The plant he pointed to hid behind a Rose of Sharon, like a child behind its mother, hiding in the corner of the yard, a short spindly tuft of three spiny sticks that supported a few spotted leaves. Its last bloom had died away and the remaining buds seemed shrunken and wasted.

"That's an Angel Face rose. We've had it for about four years. I really should try replanting it somewhere more to the front. I don't think that it gets enough sun there, especially in the afternoon. I planted it the year that Margaret married."

"So what should I do with it for the winter?"

"Trim it back; then mound up a mix of leaves and mulch around the base to protect it from the frost. In the spring it'll need a feeding. It's delicate. You have to give it attention, or it'll fade. I don't know why."

"Why not let it go?"

"Oh, I couldn't do that," Martha replied, her mouth an oval, as if preparing to scream with alarm. She clutched his arm, and her cold bony fingers pierced his flesh and pained his heart. "When you see the lilac colour of its blooms, and smell its scent, you'll understand why. Some things are worth the effort."

Matt leaned on the upturned rake, starring at the scrawny subject of the conversation with frank amazement. "Four years and still so small. I would have thought more would have come of it."

"To bloom, a rose needs the sun. Sunlight is love to a rose, and pruning is discipline. Maybe I should have pruned it more to make it stronger, but it seemed so small and sickly that I spoiled it. Perhaps with care it will bloom again. Now,"

Martha continued, pointing to a trellis by the kitchen door," over here you can see that climbing rose by the house. It will need different care."

"I should cut that back too?"

"No. It's not for cutting. The stems are woody, and short, and the roses small, but it does have a gorgeous smell. No, that one's not for trimming back. Let it grow and twine around the brickwork. I planted it that year we moved here. You should give it a good load of compost in the spring."

"And manure too?"

"Not all things blossom under a load of cow pucky. Stick to compost for the roses.

There's a bite to that wind," Martha said, as a sudden fit of shivering made her teeth chatter. Matt took her in his arms, and gently held her close, holding away the wind. He held her close, then began to hum an old Elvis love-song and they swayed in the midst of the rose garden in a slow two-step for a few moments.

"I guess you have a point," Matt said, when she grew weak in his arms. "When a man's working hard as I am, then the wind has no bite. Here, put on my coat, and sit here in the sun. You can see the entire garden. Those funny white flowers are just beginning to bloom. What about them?"

"Ah, they don't need your care, or mine. I've half a mind to call them weeds and pull them out. I cut them back in the spring and summer, but when the fall approaches I can't do anything but stay my hand. Then they grow tall and bloom a protest against the coming winter. Such courage. If the weather is gentle and the frost is soft, they'll bloom until Rosh Hashanah."

"So with that one, I could beat it back in spring and summer so it blooms strongly in the fall until there's a killing frost. That's simple enough for me. Come, the sun is almost gone, and the taxi will be here soon."

"Oh I hate to leave here, while the flowers are still in bloom. But I guess there's never a good time to leave," Martha said. She looked around the garden once more, that intense look that people have when they try to memorise a number, or a name, storing a memory away. She looked at Matt, at his receding hair, his shriveled cheecks, and watering eyes. Then carefully, she kissed him on the nose.

He gathered her into his arms, and carried her back to the house. She weighed so little now, almost as light as rose petal. Before taking her inside he stopped long enough to let her cut one last bloom from the climbing rose.

She wore it in what the chemotherapy had left of her hair as she walked out to the taxi with Matt carrying her bags behind her.