Alternate Universe by Claire Day

Claire Day, a Hampshire County resident and member of Straw Dog, is an expat from Northern England. A retired educator, she is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee, a recipient of a Connecticut Writing Project fellowship and a past AWA workshop leader. Living in this creative area is her dream-come-true.

Alternate Universe

I’m beginning to understand why I am having a difficult time writing, finding the world of fiction I thought was waiting inside my mind.  Right now there isn’t one character I want to spend time with, one setting I want to visit. All the old friends and situations I’d carried around in my head for weeks and weeks, putting parts of them down on paper, the parts I’d come to know, appear to have left me for more hospitable surroundings.

Here I am, living the quiet, secluded life of sheltering in place, free of the rush and bustle that was my norm a month ago. With no physical appointments, no physical commitments outside the home, the days shape themselves in a willy-nilly fashion. Apart from me, who cares at what time I get up and showered and dressed, or if I should get up at all? There’s a whole virtual world I can access from my laptop simply by sitting up in bed. 

Depending on one’s perspective, this could be viewed as a creative person’s dream. A retreat from the calls and commands of our once-normal daily lives. An opportunity to nurture our creative souls. Except – this retreat, for now, has no defined end. It lacks a boundary, a recognizable edge. It has no shape. 

This is the strange new world we inhabit: friends and family seen only on a screen; emojis replacing hugs and kisses. It’s a world none of us ever imagined for ourselves. Deserted streets, empty buildings. Stillness, silence, rippling with layers of uncertainty and apprehension. 

Across the globe, big red lights glare mercilessly – STOP, STOP, STOP. Our local world, our national world, our entire global community is locked inside an alternate universe.

Each day I try to mentally normalize the day that, at its core, is not normal. I try to focus on the daily chores of laundry, cooking, cleaning, but each one of them is minimized by the constant need to disinfect and sanitize. Simple tasks like bringing in the mail, unpacking grocery bags, become major projects of self-protection against the possibility of encountering the invisible virus. Awareness of the unseen can occupy the mind at times more than what is visible. 

The world has become a futuristic fiction. It is not a book I can pick up and put down at will, close if I don’t enjoy it. It is a story whose pages we all travel now. And like any well-written story, we do not know its ending, not completely.

Years from now, thinkers will speculate on the authorship of this tale – God? The universe? Mother Earth? Or a careless people who did not guard its treasure?

I cannot write the ending to this book. And I cannot find another story to tell, one whose characters and world are of my creation. Because living in this one is all consuming.