Stranger than fiction

The headline, “I really did see that tiny horse guy” caught my attention. The Ottawa Citizen article by Elizabeth Payne described her encounter with a scenario so much stranger than fiction that she hesitated to tell people about it: a man with a dachsund in each arm driving a tiny cart pulled by a tiny horse.

Sometimes life really is stranger than fiction, and that exasperates me.

One day last summer I was gardening in front of my house. A white truck pulled up—the kind of truck you would see beside an oil rig or on a construction site with musclebound guys around it bragging about “Hemi” and “torque.” I expected to see Hulk Hogan driving the thing. Or Bruce Willis at the very least.

But no. When walked up to the window to talk to the driver, I saw what Kate Morton would describe as “a scribble of a man.” And, he was, if I could only use one word to describe him, Amish. He had the puffy white shirt with suspenders, a long beard that had never seen a razor and a wide-brimmed straw hat. The incongruity between the truck and the man struck me dumb.

Then he said, “Can you direct me to the lake?” The lake? I live in suburban Ottawa. There are no lakes—a very large river, yes, and a beautiful canal. But no lakes.

When he drove away, I shook my head. Did that really happen? I looked around but there was nary a neighbour in sight to verify the experience.

I said to my husband, “You know, if I wrote that scene in a story, no one would believe it really happened.”

Then a couple of weeks ago I was strolling through Centrepointe Park. A woman walking her Schnauzer came toward me from the opposite direction. She was in her late 50s, and she was nicely dressed in a linen pant suit. Her makeup was expertly applied, and she had done her hair in a careful bun at the back of her head. When she got to me, she said, “Pardon me. Can you tell me, is this Saturday or Sunday?” After a moment’s pause, I assured her it was Saturday. She closed her eyes, dropped her head forward and let out a sigh of enormous relief. “Oh, thank you, she said.

I walked away wondering how was it that she could get up, carefully choose a wardrobe, artfully apply her makeup and do her hair, and then get her dog out for a walk without first determining what day of the week it was? Especially when it so obviously mattered a great deal.

If I wrote that in a story, no one would believe it really happened. And that exasperates me.

What are we writers to do, when life is obviously so much stranger than fiction that we can’t write about it?

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