A new volume of succinct yet stirring stories arrives with the second season of Future Fables. Exploring how the ancient fable form may bring us replenishment, comfort and perhaps guidance for the modern day, celebrated contemporary writers weave yarns that resonate and illuminate in equal measure.
The work of avid photographer, South East London resident and award-winning novelist Caleb Azumah Nelson is influenced by his Ghanaian heritage, visits to local cinemas and galleries, and the playlists that soundtrack his writing. His second novel, Small Worlds, was released in May 2023.
In his Future Fable, two canine companions grow to understand the preciousness of moments spent together, despite the looming fear of being torn apart.
It had been like this, always: Joel and Jeff, waking up beside one another, sometime in the early hours of the morning. Perhaps, in the course of the night, one of them had rolled and twisted, a limb now lazed across the other’s coat or resting atop the snout. Either way, one of the brothers would shift, and after a few seconds of a blind stumble, a morning greeting. Outside, where, whatever the season, a dawn frost on the ground beneath their feet. All this quiet in the world before anyone else had woken, all this possibility in the approaching hours of the day.
They would be fed, as music drifted down towards them from the main house, and after this, they would make their own music as they raced out and up of their enclosed space, coming up the hills of the countryside they called home. From here, they would observe the shift in the seasons: winter’s quiet devastation, the ground grazed by snow and frost; spring’s new promise of blossom and bloom and possibility; summer’s endless days, the night barely appearing, before sunlight arrived once more; autumn’s soft tumble towards the end of the year, towards the certainty of time passing. It didn’t seem like much, but to them, it was everything.
‘I could do this forever,’ Joel would say to Jeff, watching light graze the horizon.
‘And forever we shall.’
A few days before Jeff’s 7th birthday, sometime towards the end of summer, he woke up alone. This had happened before, on the few occasions Joel couldn’t sleep, and he would break out through the flap while it was still barely light, taking time to pad about the green space, to contemplate, to occupy his own quiet while he waited for Jeff to wake up. But today, when Jeff emerges, Joel is nowhere to be found. He calls for his brother, once, twice but the echo of his own bark is the only response. In the uncertainty, the distance grows; the anxiety multiplies with each moment that passes.
Minutes become hours. His hope becomes despair. He half hopes Joel is playing with him, hiding in the seclusion of plain sight, at any moment, bursting out in front of him, gently ribbing and teasing, I was right in front of you, you passed me so many times, and they’ll carry on with their daily routine, with their wander across hills and plains, always something new to discover, or another way of seeing what they already know. They’ll carry on spending time together, which Jeff believes is what love is: time spent occupying the space possibility makes.
But Joel doesn’t magically appear. There’s no trace or hint of his bark. Only silence. Jeff feels like a rib has been wrenched from its cage, like he’s missing something. He eyes his breakfast in the corner of the room, but can only nudge the food around the bowl. Eventually, he decides to settle outside, on the grass, where he can watch and wait for Joel’s return.
When Joel does appear, halfway through the day, that late summer sun sitting high in the sky, it’s with a limp. Some of his beautiful brown coat has been shorn away, a little on his hind. He’s exhausted.
‘Where were you?’ Jeff demands.
‘Good to see you too, brother,’ Joel says, always smiling, always joking.
‘I thought…well I don’t know what I thought,.’ Jeff says.
‘It’s ok. I’m here now.’
‘Shall we go up the hill?’
‘If it’s ok with you, I would like to rest for a bit. I’ll be ready to run again tomorrow. But feel free to go without me.’
Jeff had never imagined life without Joel, and as this fresh possibility arrives, he doesn’t really know what to do with it. His mind spins with confusion, but he goes out all the same, running as hard he as he can, running until he is breathless. The sharpness of the pain in his rib dulls, but the small, low ache remains.
As the year goes on, and they slide through Autumn, towards a wet and cold winter, Joel is less and less active. He often sleeps in, and it takes a nudge on the snout from Jeff to wake him. The blind stumble that Joel blinks awake last minutes, rather than seconds, and he’s eating less too. But still, they make it out and up the hill, still, they watch for the shift in seasons, the passing of time.
‘I’m very tired today,’ Joel says. ‘Come lie beside me.’ Jeff does, twisting himself as tightly as he can into Joel’s body.
After a while, Joel says, ‘There will be a time when we won’t be able to do this anymore. When I won’t be here.’
‘I don’t know what I’ll do,’ Jeff says. ‘It’s always been like this, me and you.’
‘And it’ll be like this always. The memories won’t go. I’ll always be somewhere close.’ Joel nudges at one of Jeff’s ribs. Jeff can barely look at his brother, scared of what he’s being confronted with.
‘Everything will change.’
Joel nods. ‘It’ll feel like that time just before dawn, when the night feels endless. It will feel like the sun isn’t coming. It will probably feel like that for a long time. And then, some light will break through.’
‘But for now? We’ll do this forever.’ And by this, Joel means they’ll carry on spending time together, which they both believe is what love is: time spent occupying the space possibility makes.
‘And forever we shall.’
Caleb Azumah Nelson is a British-Ghanaian writer and photographer living in South East London. His first novel, OPEN WATER, won the Costa First Novel Award and Debut of the Year at the British Book Awards, and was a number-one Times bestseller. It was also shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize, the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, Waterstones Book of the Year, and longlisted for the Gordon Burn Prize and the Desmond Elliott Prize. He was selected as a National Book Foundation ‘5 under 35’ honoree by Brit Bennett.
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