Welcome to this month’s edition of Creative Sundays on Apt613: A monthly themed showcase for short fiction and creative nonfiction by local writers. This month’s theme is stories no one would believe. We hope you enjoy these stories, real and imagined.
By Daniel Morchain
Dear 2011 José-Antonio,
A day like today, 10 years ago, you woke up in your apartment in Southern Germany. It was just before sunrise, and you went out for a run with your sweet dog, up the steep, snowy hills of the Black Forest.
You reached the ruins of the Zähringer Castle, which overlooks the city: its vineyards, the mist elevating with the morning to let the mundane bustle take over for a while. You stopped and looked around. Even in the dead of winter, you could sense life. In your own breath, in the vapour coming out of your sweet dog’s mouth, in the sweat that still felt warm on the back of your t-shirt, and in the noises of the trains going into the city centre. Then you both ran home, you showered and cycled to work, joining the crowds after you had observed them from the distance.
I am 2021 José-Antonio; you, 10 years on. I wanted to write and tell you about all these crazy, unbelievable things that have happened in the last 10 years and led to a sort of new world order. But let me start with you.
This morning I also woke up in an attic room, with its angular walls, just like yours in the Black Forest, and looked out the window to see a city covered in snow. But now I live in Ottawa. I don’t get up as early as you used to. I didn’t go for a run with your—my—sweet dog, either, but I kissed her photo good morning, like I do every day.
Would you believe, 2011 José-Antonio, that you still have long hair; A-C still wears those jeans that were already old back then; Ali has taken up dance therapy; and beautiful Marcelo has passed?
Would you believe those coral reefs that blew your mind in the Seychelles have bleached and died; Crimea has been taken from the Ukraine, just like that; the EU has lost Britain; Colombia signed a peace deal, but that hasn’t solved all that much; and the US is struggling to keep its democracy alive? Would you believe, 2011 José-Antonio, that the internet has been great, but also a disaster; email is old school; nine out of the 10 warmest years ever recorded have been in the 2010s; and the Floreana Giant Tortoise has gone extinct?
And would you believe that throughout last year, a global pandemic has cost the lives of more than two million people, driven a global economic crisis and huge unemployment, and kept a large percentage of the world population under lockdown, and is still raging? (These days you have to wear a mask and keep a distance of two metres between people, even outdoors, and you hold your breath and move towards the edge of the sidewalk and into the puddles when you are passing someone in the street.)
2011 José-Antonio, these 10 years have taught me that tides can turn brutally. That’s a thought you kicked around back then, I know, but you did it as an exercise of divergence and self-pity; not really believing tides would ever turn.
Some years ago, you stopped reading fiction. Isn’t there enough reality to learn already, and the news, the overwhelming news? Who has headspace for more? When I moved to Ottawa last February, I went to check out the city library, which was next to my office building. I came across a book by Philip Roth. Would you believe he understood the troubles of life as I thought no one but I felt them? “Bed – as though as a place of warmth and comfort, rather than an incubator for dread, bed still existed.” He said that. 2011 José-Antonio, there was such peace in reading his words.
And then it was Olga Tokarczuk. “Sorrow, I felt great sorrow, an endless sense of mourning for every dead Animal. One period of grief is followed by another, so I am in constant mourning. This is my natural state.” So, I was reassured that in our thoughts we are not alone, after all. Amidst the brutal changes we are experiencing, these thoughts seemed, strangely, more universal, more lasting.
Ottawa, my new home, has been a pause button. For once, I sit down and don’t rush. I swim in its lakes, I took in its summer with a sense of calm during the storm. The 10-year storm that shook our sense of security, but also forced us to find harmony in its chaos. I navigate the waters differently, now, J. A city with so much water heals. I don’t know how it does it, but it does it. Maybe because you feel it changes with you, it flows, every day. I remember you would get on that big rubber tire and let the river take you, 2011 José-Antonio. You’d close your eyes and glide between the rocks, a heron flying above you like in a dream. You felt so free.
The other day I saw an old pooch with walking wheels attached to his body in that dog park on Bronson and James, his hind legs dragging, done with. It was a dismal day: windy, a bit of rain. On he went, every step, as his pop encouraged him. I watched them from behind a parked car, feeling suddenly overwhelmed with emotion. I wanted to thank them for the world they create with their routines, their slow walks. They are this world now, José-Antonio. Their vulnerability and compassion, tying and untying the walking wheels. And a hot drink to go with it. Hopefully one day I can hug them and tell them they make me feel strong.
Anyway, 2011 José-Antonio, that’s all I can think of telling you now. You know, I find myself looking for ways to salvage things from our past, because the world feels more fragmented now. Makes it harder to stand firm. I hope you realize feeling this way is pretty amazing, too.
See you soon,
Daniel moved to Ottawa last February and, despite everything, is finding it to be a great place. He works on climate change and wants to link that to theatre, in case anyone’s interested.