CBC Literary Prizes

For Pari by David Dupont

David Dupont has made the 2019 CBC Short Story Prize shortlist for For Pari.

2019 CBC Short Story Prize shortlist

David Dupont is a Toronto-based writer, director and producer. (Anthony Stechyson)

David Dupont has made the 2019 CBC Short Story Prize shortlist for For Pari

He will receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and his story is published below.

Krzysztof Pelc won the 2019 Short Story Prize for Green Velvet.

You can read For Pari below.


Two days before his scheduled execution, Amir's guard secretly gave him a notebook and pencil. The book had been folded in half for easier concealment, and when Amir opened it he recognized the cover. Red petals, like those of a poinsettia, grew from little green boxes along the bottom. In an unfortunate stroke of design, vines appeared to be strangling all that grew. Its spine was held firmly in white quarter-bound cloth. He inhaled it: spearmint and peach. The pencil was sharp, but was small enough to fit in the palm of his hand. It wouldn't last long.

Amir let the book fall open. Inside were pages of long division written by a child. He carefully leafed through them, looking for a clue as to what he might do with it. Finally the writing stopped. He looked down at a blank page. Then another, and another. The last of the pages, nine in total, were white.

"Thank you, Teimour. Peace be with you." Amir continued to address Teimour spiritually despite having long ago lost his own faith. They'd been friends at the university where they had studied English before the revolution, back when Teimour wore jeans. "Will you get this to my wife?"

"I promise you nothing."

"I understand, my good friend."

Teimour leaned closer into the cell bars and whispered, "They may not execute you. They may move you."

"Tell me."

"Nothing more."

Amir tucked the notebook in his shirt and palmed his heart. "Of course, my friend. Thank you."

From 10 feet above the cell, through a small barred window too out of reach, the moon and starlight shone onto the notebook.

                           My darling Pari,

Amir hovered, weighing what needed to be said against his limited page count. 

Use the money from the savings account to fix the leak in the
roof above your mother's bedroom. I've been promising to
address it since December. This should help her sleep at
night, not having to hear a constant drip. My cell is getting
colder so I expect you now have the rads turned on. Please
insist to Bahar that she not leave her toys on them or
she might start a fire. Tell her she must go to sleep earlier
at night if she's to wake up in time for school. Drill into
her that she should never trust the
i before e except
after c rule — there are too many exceptions! And practice
her times tables with her, please. She deserves better than
a B+. Pari, remember when we joked about me getting
old because my bones creaked? I think it may be true:
the damp floor of the cell is aching my joints, and
I think I might have arthritis after all.

Amir was disheartened by his pragmatism. He remembered the first time he had ever wooed Pari with words. His command of English had by then led him to Blake and he translated The Sick Rose into Farsi and read it to her on her birthday. She told him the poem was not romantic but she was nonetheless intoxicated by it and was impressed that he knew more than one language. She adored the sound of English, thought it was funny. (Oh, how she loved his tongue-trickery!) Other poets followed, then prose. She asked him for more. He became prolific, ambitious, spreading corruption on Earth, until finally the Rushdie novel brought guns to the door of their home.

He checked his pencil. It was expiring quickly. Earlier, while in his pocket, the tip had snapped. Tomorrow he might risk asking Teimour to exchange it for a pen.

He turned to a fresh page and wrote,

Burn our letters.

Amir conjured Bahar in a dream, willed her into the cell where she played haft-sang against the wall, the clap of each tossed stone ricocheting in a dance across the dark prison. He tried to coach her, have her aim for a bottom corner in order to topple the lot, but the air in his lungs lay still. He stretched his mouth wide; the breach flooded him with panic.

Amir woke when a prisoner cried out, someone young, pleading for his life. He heard him negotiating with the guards, and finally Allah, as he was dragged away.

The sun had been warming the cell for what seemed like hours, but Teimour had yet to show his face. Amir waited impatiently; he couldn't bear to have his final entry be Give my clothes, shoes too, to your cousin Hossein.

Calm steady footsteps approached. Amir stood tall a safe distance from the bars.

A guard stopped outside of Amir's cell and looked in. This man was older, this pasdar, dressed in black with a grey beard, his AK-47 ready.

"Where is —," Amir didn't dare risk a familiarity, "— the other guard?"

The man said nothing. He stepped closer and looked around the cell, then pointed to the tin water cup.

Amir passed it through the bars and the man took it away.

Rubbing the end of the pencil against the crossbar dented rather than shaved the dirty wood surrounding the lead. Amir put the tip inside his mouth and, his water revoked, began instead to suck on the wood, softening it with what little spit he had. The lead tasted toxic, like a single bullet. The wood gave somewhat, enough to carve shavings with his teeth.

The flattened lead bolded his handwriting, taking up more space on the page than he would have liked.

They may not execute me! They may
move me instead. A friend I dare not
name told me so. But he's disappeared
and now I don't know what to believe.

The small pencil cramped his hand; his writing worsened.

Sima's husband is still alive. He was
imprisoned just days after me but I
don't know where they've taken him.
Tell Bahar that when she goes to
school she should not talk about me.
If possible she should talk to no one
at all
. If they haven't already taken
it away then sell the car
.

A prisoner was praying. A woman. He thought of Pari and wanted right then to see her. Using broad bold strokes at the bottom of the page, he sketched his lover's downy-soft face, her dark eyes and brushed lashes, her small smiling teeth, and a rounded line in place of a nose that he was unable to render.

Do you remember before Bahar
was born, when we snuck out after
curfew and dared to hold hands
on the hill above the barracks?

He sucked the end of the pencil and chewed more lead free.

Left was a single blank page he'd saved.

             I love you I love you I love you I
              love you I love you I love you I love
              you I love you I love you I love you
              I love youIlove youIloveyou Iloveyou
              I loveyouI loveyou IloveyouIlove

             youIloveyou Iloveyou Iloveyou
             IloveyouIloveyouIloveyouIlove
              youIloveyouIloveyouIloveyou
              IoveyouIloveyouIoveyoIloveyou
              IlovyoIloveyoIloveyouIloveyo —

An hour after sunrise the guard reached through the bars and tossed Amir a canvas hood. He had been waiting in the centre of the cell, upright on his knees, the folded notebook held close to his chest.

The guard slid the barrel of his gun between the bars and made clear it was time to wear the hood.

He looked directly at the guard. "I beg you, my friend, not for my life, but to do me a small favour. I beg you, please hear me."

The guard slid the barrel of his gun between the bars and made clear it was time to wear the hood.

Amir put up no fight. He slipped the hood over his head. All went black as the revolution swallowed his sight. He smelled the sweat and fear of a thousand-and-one prisoners before him. "This notebook belongs to my daughter. See the homework inside." He opened it to the first few pages filled with mathematics. "You see? She is a good girl! She honours the namaz! Take it to my wife for me. Do you have children, my friend? Grandchildren? Please find our God of children in your heart."

The lock tumbled and the cell door swung open.

Amir repeated his wife's name and address in a ceaseless hypnotic round. He extended his arms and held up the notebook. "Pari Ahmadi, 12 Pahlavi Street —"

Seconds before Amir would be snatched up by the collar, the notebook was removed from his hands, gently, carefully, and disappeared.

The hood deafened him. He could not hear if the book had been tossed to the ground or if it had been tucked away.

Then in darkness he was pulled from the cell.

What was left of the pencil was buried in his front pocket, in case he needed it again.


Read the other finalists

About David

David Dupont spent more than 20 years working for various media as a director, writer and producer. He is currently completing a degree in creative writing at York University, where he's been awarded for his short fiction. He lives in Toronto.

About the 2019 CBC Short Story Prize

The winner of the 2019 CBC Short Story Prize will receive $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, have their work published on CBC Books and attend a two-week writing residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. Four finalists will each receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and have their work published on CBC Books.

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