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2020 Emilia Romagna GP Free Practice and Qualifying Debrief - r/Formula1 Editorial Team
2020 Emilia Romagna GP Free Practice and Qualifying DebriefFree Practice by UnmeshDatta26, showstopperNL, and DeathPig
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Editor's note: we have a special piece paying tribute to Senna to start our report today so be sure to check that out!
Live Session Discussion Threads
Remembering 1994: A Tribute to Ratzenberger and Sennaby flipjj
Twenty-six years ago, the fatal accidents of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna occurred at this very track. As Formula 1 returns to Imola for the first time in recent memory, the shadow of “the blackest day of grand prix racing”, and of Senna in particular, loom large over this weekend.
Senna has passed solidly into legend now, his exploits being subtly increased with each telling of his stories. But to those of us who saw it happening, they are not mythological events remembered with shaky on-board cameras and some of Murray Walker's finest work: they are memories of a magical time in Formula 1.
His loss cut deeply not just because a transcendent talent was taken early. With Prost's retirement at the end of 1993 and with Michael Schumacher still a young upstart, Senna was the top driver in the sport, and he was into the wise and experienced phase of his career, poised to follow in the footsteps of Sir Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda, and Alain Prost, where being the best driver also meant battling FOM (Bernie) and FIA (Balestre before and Mosley in 1994) in matters of safety, competition standards, and more.
But it is on the racetrack where his loss was most apparent. His feats behind the wheel, the ones that are now discussed in hallowed tones, were awe-inspiring as they happened. His utter dominance of Monaco. His unbelievable qualifying laps. His crash because a wall moved (my favourite Senna story). His never give up attitude, taking cars with missing gears or failed cylinders to the line or willing his body through the toll of driving the car to the finish even if he would not have the strength to lift his trophy afterwards. There are so many amazing tales that the fans that were there for it will never forget.
I knew of him early, back when I was karting. When he moved to England, I hoped he would do well, but by the time he reached F1, I hated him. I saw him as the main challenge to Nelson Piquet's status as Brazil's #1 Formula 1 driver and even 8-year-old me could see he was faster, more charismatic — the national press fawned on him before 1984 started and Piquet himself made fun of the TV crew from Brazil mercilessly — and would be the end of my childhood driver’s title winning days (thankfully we still got 1987).
But no childish hate could prevent this eager 8-year-old from watching the Toleman in the 1984 Monaco GP. Or deny the brilliance when that black Lotus conquered Estoril in the rain. Or refuse those shaky on-board laps where he put one second on everyone else (I still have a Suzuka qualifying lap saved on my phone, for convenient re-watching). He was a marvel to watch. He was a magician in the cockpit, his skill is still breathtaking to watch, three decades later. My favourite on track moment of his, however, involves him stopping.
During qualifying for the 1992 Belgian GP, Erik Comas crashed his Ligier heavily at Blanchimont and was knocked unconscious with his foot pressing the throttle. The engine was likely to blow up if it was not cut and Comas was in serious danger, but with a live track, the marshals could not reach him quickly. As Senna passed the accident, he realized what was happening, and even as other cars were going around the debris, he jumped out of his McLaren onto a live race track, found the kill switch to Comas' car and held his head still until the medics arrived, likely saving his life. Intelligence, wisdom, courage, empathy, selflessness when helping others, Senna displayed so many of his finest qualities in that moment. That, above all, is what Formula 1 was robbed of 26 years ago. And, in a tragic twist of fate, Comas tried to do the same for his friend in Imola in 94, but sadly was unable to help.
And no talk about Senna would be complete without mentioning his impact in Brazil. He was more than a sports figure: he was a beacon of hope, a metaphor for what we, as a country, could be if we harnessed our energy towards progress. Senna did so much for the poor and marginalized of our country, most of it in silence, that it is impossible to properly measure the impact his efforts to improve the country have had to this day. (The work he started continues today through the Instituto Ayrton Senna).
He was, and still is in the eyes of many, one of the best humans our country has ever produced. A man who could be caring and daring, devoted to what he believed in, never shying away from taking on more responsibilities if he had to, and never afraid to fight for others, in Formula 1 or outside racing entirely, while still excelling in an extremely difficult career.
Senna was no saint. He was hard on the people he worked with, he demanded effort, sacrifice, and excellence. He would push you into the wall if it could gain him one tenth. There are several skeletons in his closet, both personal and professional.
But when we weigh the pros and cons, there is no question Ayrton Senna da Silva, bearer of one of Brazil's most common surnames, was an uncommon and excellent man. Flawed no doubt, as we all are, but Senna was never afraid to recognize and work on his flaws and, most importantly, never afraid to strive to be the best he could be, pulling his team, his sport, his country, towards the same goals with him.
Few have reached the level of excellence he did. And that is why he will be even more sorely missed as Formula 1 returns to Imola this weekend.
PS: If you want to contribute to Instituto Ayrton Senna and help further its goals, you can do so here.
Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi sign for 2021, Sauber extends their partnershipAlfa Romeo have now announced that they are retaining their driver lineup for the upcoming season, putting an end to the rumors of Giovinazzi losing his drive at the end of this season. This news comes on the heels of the team announcing that Sauber will be extending their name partnership for another season.
During the Eifel GP at the Nürburgring, Räikkönen vehemently denied having signed a contract and yesterday we learned that he had only signed his contract this week. He is already the oldest driver on the grid with the most GPs in history under his belt, and he will definitely look to extend that record further.
Giovinazzi has a difficult year ahead of him. While he has equaled his teammate in qualifying head-to-head, he has had a hard time getting the better of his more experienced teammate on Sundays, with Kimi finishing ahead of him in all but 3 races. Only time will tell the direction the team, and the drivers, will take as they head into new regulations in 2022.
Williams reconfirm duo for next seasonAfter swirling rumors that Russell was about to lose his drive at Williams after being confirmed under Claire Williams’ management, the team reconfirmed their lineup for next season. Nicholas Latifi and George Russell will be driving for Williams in the 2021 season. Russell denied any rumors that he was going to be replaced with Perez, chalking the rumors to Perez’s camp sowing confusion to distract the media from his real move.
Silly Season 2020 Still In Progressby u/ZeroSuitFalcon
Following Alfa Romeo and Williams’ driver lineup announcements, the number of open seats shrinks yet again. At this point, the only open seats on the grid are both seats at Haas, one seat each at Red Bull and Alpha Tauri, and Lewis Hamilton’s seat at Mercedes. Of these five, the only obvious shoe-in is Hamilton. Here are my predictions for the remaining four seats:
The remaining Red Bull seat will go to Hulkenberg. He is known to be one of the better drivers at setting up cars and providing feedback on updates and I feel that RB would be keen on his recommendations to move towards a more stable platform. I do wish that Albon would be able to come close to Verstappen, but the results just aren't there and I doubt that he can put together a string of results convincing enough for RB to keep him before Turkey.
The remaining AlphaTauri seat will go to Albon as he gets demoted from RB. I think that Gasly and Albon will be made to fight to see where they are in regards to each other - a very close battle already as both had similar gaps to Verstappen in quali and in the race. I think Marko/Mateschitz will wait for Tsunoda to develop more in F2, to see if he can put together a stronger campaign for the F2 championship.
The first Haas seat will go to Perez. Haas is in desperate need of capital, the aero/chassis of the car is nowhere and they have to undertake that challenge while Ferrari sorts out their engine woes. I think Perez's association with Carlos Slim for money and the US/Mexico connection for PR poses great attractive qualities. The money Perez brings to the table in terms of sponsorships cannot be ignored.
The final Haas seat will go to Mick Schumacher. He is definitely going to close out the F2 championship and find himself promoted. Magnussen himself stated that his seat is open to a Ferrari junior and I believe they will choose Mick. While his pace and skill relative to his father is unknown, he can still drive and the association of his last name with Formula 1 again is going to be huge.
Track and Tech TalkPirelli have chosen to bring the middling set of tires, the C2, C3 and C4 tires to the track this weekend. Instead of the usual 13 tires provided to teams over a weekend, as this is a shortened weekend, the teams will only be running with 10 tires in total, two sets of hard, two sets of medium and six sets of soft tires. Three of the used tires from practice will be returned to ensure that the teams have the same amount of tires as they would following FP3 on other race weekends.
Pirelli expects the track to be quite bumpy and that could cause significant lateral forces on the tire as drivers correct their steering movements. The track has been resurfaced since the last time Formula 1 came to Imola, so the surface will be quite smooth, similar to Portimão. That said, running softer tires this week will mean the drivers will struggle less for grip than last time out.
The track is quite narrow, which will reduce overtaking opportunities across the track. Many corners are too tight for two cars to go side by side, so may be in for another DRS fest on the main straight. Team strategy will be key to jumping spots in the race. Expect to see many cars running lower downforce levels depending on how much they can sacrifice, as the track has strictly enforced track limits on two of the most technical corner exits.
Following the trend of the stewards this whole season, they have decided to enact very strict track extension rules at the exit of Turns 9 and 15. From Free Practice, we have seen how many cars and drivers couldn’t meet the strict track limits, with 60 lap time deletions in the session alone. This could throw a spanner in qualifying if the drivers can’t keep the car on track.
Free PracticeFree Practice at the legendary Imola circuit started with the teams gingerly exploring the historic tarmac. We only had a single practice session before Qualifying, with F1 exploring a new approach to weekends that are spread out across just two days, rather than three.
However, it wasn’t long before the drivers started to push, with Sainz going out on the gravel at Rivazza 2 - the last turn on the circuit and Alex Albon losing lap times with the particularly tight track limits six times. With the midfield battle still the only battle this year, every weekend is an opportunity for the teams to secure a better standing in the Constructors’ championship. The competition appeared to get to the drivers’ heads, with Ocon driving through the McLaren pitbox clipping a low board and almost hitting a cameraman before rolling into his slot.
Things were going wrong down the roster as well, with Latifi’s Williams getting BBW failure. The camaraderie at Williams was evident, as the mechanics and staff formed an intuitive human wall to prevent prying eyes and cameras from getting a look at the coveted innards. Ferrari’s Leclerc was also running afoul of the tires, with the young Monegasque not liking his red walled softs. However, he was still able to keep his understeering Ferrari ahead of his teammates’. Max Verstappen was also seeing red with the Red Bull, the RB16 apparently not feeling good. This was evident as he almost bungled a pit lane entry, stopping at the entry line and then going into the pits.
Max battled with one of his usual podium compatriots Valterri Bottas as the duo ran the softs. With limited information and just one practice session, most teams were having drivers do qualifying sprints as well as longer race runs to understand as much as they could about the track.
Renaults were back up the field after a strange weekend in Portugal last weekend, which undoubtedly left them wanting more, especially the Honey Badger. With the Renaults finishing P6 and P7 out of practice, this weekend looks more promising than last. Ricciardo looks particularly confident, and he is sure to be faster than his teammate this weekend if this session was anything to go by.
Gasly also had a strong showing, as he returned with a deal with AT in hand for 2021. Leclerc, for all his troubles, was also able to finish P5. He has shown his ability to drive beyond the obvious ability of the car, and although he has been struggling for understeer, he could put the car in a comfortable position.
However, the top of the standings were still the usual Mercedes duo, Lewis ahead of Bottas. Curiously, not all Mercedes cars were looking good, with the RP20 looking substantially off its usual pace if Free Practice was anything to go by.
The Haas duo had vastly different sessions as well: Magnussen got racey with Norris into the final two turns while Grosjean enjoyed his morning driving through the Italian countryside.
With the lack of historical data from previous years, it was a massive challenge for teams to collect data on the degradation of the tires. All of the drivers outside of Vettel, Perez, and Magnussen have driven here in some capacity, with Kimi being the only driver having driven here in an F1 car. From what we can see, the teams expect the drivers to use two charging laps to gain some temperature on the red-walled soft tires during qualifying.
Renault Leave It to the Last MinuteOn track traffic was absolutely horrid this time out, the twisting and winding of the track coupled with the short width of the track doing little to abate matters. Subsequently, drivers had to back off more than usual to avoid dirty air affecting their fast runs.
At the start of Q1, the Scuderia’s Charles Leclerc was out on track first and consequently, briefly set the fastest lap, before Red Bull’s Max Verstappen predictably passed him on the timing sheets.
Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas attempted to set the teams first benchmark, but was unable to adhere to the track limits set at Turn 9 and found his lap time deleted. Alex Albon’s on track struggles continued visibly from Free Practice into Qualifying as he ran wide at Turn 9 as well.
Sebastian Vettel’s struggles with his car have been a huge theme this season and this session was no different. He was clearly struggling to keep his car on track and a run in with some rumble strip caused him to lose some carbon from his car. Ferrari’s current strategy seems to be weight reduction over aerodynamics - a strategy that does not favor Vettel’s driving style.
Ocon and Ricciardo were P13 and P19 as the session was coming to a close. They waited until there was less than a minute remaining to start their hot laps and found themselves promoted to Q2 in P7 and P11 respectively - close call for the Renaults.
Also in the closing stages of the sub-session, Magnussen found himself in the gravel on the exit of Turn 15. He knew his day was done and promptly rode the pasture into the pit lane to park his car in his pit box. His lap would have been deleted anyway if he chose to finish, as the cameras found him over track limits at Turn 9 as well. Romain Grosjean finished an unremarkable P16 to accompany Magnussen’s P17.
Lewis Hamilton had a final run in Q1 that placed him 4 tenths ahead of his teammate, however that lap time was deleted as well, relegating him down to a lowly second and a massive 0.004 seconds behind his teammate.
Despite some signs of life from Nicholas Latifi, he ultimately failed to beat his teammate George Russell once again. Russell found himself as high as P11 during his final run but finished P14, making it into Q2 once again. Russell and Latifi were separated by 2 tenths but Stroll, Grosjean, Magnussen and Räikkönen fit into that gap with Giovinazzi rounding out the field.
Red Bull Team Shows Their Worth, Yet AgainInto Q2 and most teams went out on the medium tire, hoping to be able to start the race on the more favourable compound, instead of the short-lasting soft. However, early on his first lap out of the pits, Verstappen complained (re: yelled into the radio) to his pit wall that he had “no power”, boxing immediately with the car pushed into the garage.
His teammate Albon, meanwhile, under pressure to keep his seat for next year, was pushing hard. This caused him to overdrive, spinning at Variante Alta, the chicane near the end of the lap, and flatspotting his medium tires.
Other drivers had started to set times, however, with Vettel setting the first competitive lap. However, this was later deleted as the beleaguered German extended the track at Rivazza #2, the last corner, spreading gravel over the racing line which wasn’t swept away until after the session ended.
The Red Bull team were working feverishly to fix Verstappen’s car to get him back on track. Team Principal Christian Horner said on the world feed that it had been diagnosed as a spark plug malfunction, which typically takes 15 minutes to fix. Minutes later, however, Verstappen was back on track and at full tilt, raising the question - can Red Bull mechanics replace a spark plug quicker than Albon can set a lap time?
Back on track, Hamilton and Bottas were setting their final lap times, with Bottas once again beating Hamilton by a mere half a tenth of a second. Gasly, in an impressive showing, and foreshadowing Q3, put his Alpha Tauri third, with Albon fourth, two tenths ahead of his wunderkid teammate. Ricciardo took fifth, with Verstappen sixth - a good effort considering it was his only Q2 flying lap following his mechanics’ master class. Leclerc was 7th, with Kyvat an excellent 8th in his first Q3 appearance of the year. Sainz and Norris rounded out the top 10 qualifiers for the final part of qualifying.
In a surprise twist, both the Racing Points of Stroll and Perez failed to get into Q3, the first time both pink cars failed to get into Q3 since the Styrain Grand Prix. With Perez 11th, Ocon posted a disappointing lap time, good for only 12th and two tenths off his Aussie teammate. For the second time in two races, Russell, in an ever-improving Williams FW43, out-qualified Vettel, while Stroll rounded out the top 15.
Bottas Pips HamiltonWith just over 10 minutes of track time left for the day, the cars went out on this glorious circuit for the final time of the afternoon. Lewis Hamilton was the first man to put a lap on the board, doing so in a scrappy manner after dipping his tyres into the gravel in the final sector.
This Q3 session brought us something we haven’t seen since the Mexican Grand Prix last year, Daniil Kyvat. The Russian did a great job to not only bring his Alpha Tauri into Q3 but also to put himself in a very respectable P8 to start the Grand Prix tomorrow. His teammate Pierre Gasly qualified in fourth place, another superb performance from the Frenchman who has been having a stellar season bouncing back from chaos in 2019.
Meanwhile at Mclaren, the day was not as good. Carlos Sainz, who we typically see outperforming his younger teammate, qualified down in 10th with Lando Norris just one spot ahead of him. The Woking team’s new upgrades appeared to not work as they intended. Although their qualifying was not up to par, they are still in a good position to get solid points on Sunday especially with the Racing Points a few grid spots back.
Today Charles Leclerc was once again the only Ferrari to make it into Q3. The Ferrari driver will be starting in P7 after wrestling his SF1000 into the top 10. After an excellent performance in Portugal last week, young Charles will be hoping to deliver the best result he can at the Scuderia’s third home race of the season.
Just ahead of Leclerc in P6 is Alexander Albon. The Thai driver had a frustrating afternoon with track limits, with multiple laptimes of his being deleted during the course of the three sessions. Nevertheless, he put in a solid lap that will give him an opportunity to capitalize on some points and make an effort in order to save his seat at the Red Bull team.
Daniel Ricciardo, like Pierre Gasly, also had a great day. Despite a brief scare in the pit lane, the Aussie star put in a nice lap to place his Renault in the top 5. He will be starting the race tomorrow alongside Gasly.
Now to the top 3, where we caught a glimpse of some true competition amongst the big teams. Lewis Hamilton put in a 1:14.229 which ultimately was not enough as his teammate Valtteri Bottas, unlike last week in Portugal, was able to conquer the Briton. The Finn pipped Hamilton from pole position by a margin of 8 hundredths of a second and is looking forward to a secret meeting with Toto later tonight. Max Verstappen will be starting behind the Mercedes duo in P3.
Looking Forward to the RaceIn the post qualifying interviews, Lewis Hamilton told Johnny Herbert that it will likely be a boring race tomorrow, emphasizing the difficulty of overtaking at this circuit. Jeremy Clarkson, who is not shy of expressing his opinions on modern F1, disagreed. If some middle-aged men can overtake each other in big supercars at Imola, surely the 20 best drivers in the world in Formula 1 cars can make it happen, too.
Banter aside, we genuinely have a recipe for an interesting Grand Prix tomorrow. Max Verstappen, Pierre Gasly, Daniel Ricciardo, and Alexander Albon are all starting together which should make for a spectacle. Elsewhere there is the fight for the remaining points between Esteban Ocon, the McLarens, and the Racing Points in addition to the potential scrap for the win between the two Mercedes drivers. Imola is undoubtedly one of the best circuits in the world. For it’s sake and ours, let’s hope Formula 1 can deliver a race that is worthy of this legendary place.
If Lewis can get a good start tomorrow and overtake his teammate on the long run down to Tamburello, the race at the front is as good as done, with overtaking at Imola being so tricky. Barring any more power unit issues Verstappen should coast to third, or second if he can leapfrog Bottas with an alternative strategy.
The race for the final points positions should be close, with the McLarens, Perez in the Racing Point, and Ocon in the Renault starting on the 5th and 6th row. While I hope Gasly can hold on to his stunning 4th, I feel like he may begin to slip back, especially with Ricciardo right behind and Leclerc continually outperforming the SF1000 relative to his ultra-successful teammate.
As ever, I would love to see George Russell get his first F1 points. All he needs is a few good overtaking moves - tricky at Imola, but a lad of George’s skill can pull it off - some clever defending, and a retirement or two. C’mon George!
With overtaking very difficult here at Imola, if Valtteri Bottas can hold off Hamilton and potentially Verstappen into turn 1, he could have a shot at winning this race. However, if that doesn’t happen and Lewis pips him into T1, it’s over. Alternatively, I think if Max gets an electric start he could take the lead into T1 and hold off the Mercs at least for a good few laps, nothing more than that unfortunately. It would be cool to see.
In the midfield, especially from P4-P7 I think we could get a fantastic fight and spectacle. Gasly, Danny Ricc, Albon, and Leclerc all starting next to each other?! Sign me up.
Elsewhere I think the fight for the last points positions should also be pretty good. The two RPs will be hungry to recover from their disappointing quali in addition to the McLarens and Ocon. I believe one of these guys will retire and Sebastian Vettel will be there to pick up the scraps for another points finish. Nothing more than P9, but I bet he’d sure as hell prefer that then 13th.
Editor’s note: if you missed flipjj‘s ebook on Lewis Hamilton’s 92 win career, be sure to check it out here.
Part 2 <-- You are here.
Kurt Schwaller, the foremost theoretical physicist of his time and renowned discoverer of the theory of everything, committed suicide at the age forty-two in the humble bedroom of his Swiss home by swallowing sleeping pills. As far as suicides go, it was graceful and considerate. His husband found him peacefully at rest. He left behind no research, no reports and no working hard drives. He was not terminally ill. He died with his boots off but his computer on, and exactly six hours after his death the computer executed its final chronjob, posting a suicide note to his Facebook page. The note was short and cryptic, and the way in which it spoke so purposefully from beyond the grave unnerved me. It ended: “Like Edith Piaf, I regret nothing. This was not inevitable.” Whether he meant his suicide or something more remained unclear.
“Who’s Kurt Schwaller?” Greta asked.
“He was a very smart scientist,” Jacinda said.
The monitor on the wall was playing Spirited Away. Nobody in the room asked the question that was on everybody’s mind. The internet condensed into a cluster of theories, before exploding as a hysterics of trolling and contradictory evidence. Depending on who was speaking, Kurt Schwaller had either been depressed for years or was the most cheerful person in the world. He simultaneously regretted discovering the theory and considered it the best means of keeping human life sustainable. His death was suspicious, tragic, commendable, prophetic. Some said good riddance. Others said their goodbyes. Yet, as a species, we never quite shook the gnawing belief that he indeed knew something that we didn’t, and that that knowledge was what killed him. His mind may have been as hermetically sealed as the wombs of the women around us, but in his death we sensed our own foretold. I was relieved I didn’t have a daughter to explain that to.
By April 15, no opossums had given birth. By itself that’s not a troubling fact. However, the average gestation period of an opossum is 12 to 13 days. Hamsters, mice and wombats follow with gestation periods of around 20 days, then wombats, chipmunks and squirrels. No recorded births of any of these species occurred in April. Physically, their females looked pregnant but that was as detailed as it got: “The specimens display the ordinary symptoms of pregnancy, but they are displaying them in excess of their expected due dates, although they do remain healthy and function comparatively well to their male counterparts.” My wife and I developed a fascination with a particular family of opossums in Ohio that we watched daily via webcam. We gave them names, we pretended to be their voices. Our opossums had adventures, family squabbles and bouts of stress at work. The daughter, Irene, was rebellious. The son, Ziggy, was a nerd. The dad, whom we dubbed Monsieur Charles, sold insurance and the mom, Yvette, worked as stay-at-home technical support for Amazon. We realized right away that we were already preparing for the storytelling phase of parenthood, but we didn’t stop. As uncertain as the future was, the preparation for it was ours and we enjoyed doing it together. Nothing would take that away from us. When I touched my wife’s body in the shower and pressed the palm of my hand against her tummy, it felt no different than it had felt a month before. There was no hardness, no lumps. It seemed unreal that somewhere beneath her skin, for reasons unknown, her body had produced a substance that was impervious to diamond saw blades and precision lasers—a substance that, at least if you believed the rumours, the Russians were already trying to synthesize to use as tank plating.
For the rest of April it rained. Streaks of water ran crookedly down windowpanes, following the laws of physics but just barely. If you stared long enough at the wet glass you forgot there was anything behind it. Eventually, all you saw was your own distorted reflection. I liked when my wife put her arms around me from behind and pressed her chest against my back. I didn’t feel alone.
Pillow started to show her pregnancy in May. The World Health Organization also amended its initial communique, stating that based on the evidence regarding the prolonged gestations of other mammals, it was no longer able to predict an influx of human births in late December. If mice and gerbils weren’t birthing as predicted, humans might not either. However, the amendment stated, preparations were still proceeding along a nine month timeline, and they were ahead of schedule. When the BBC showed field hospitals in South Sudan, I wondered what the schedule entailed because the images were of skeletal tent-like buildings that despite their newness already had the aura of contamination. My wife said it was naive to expect the same medical standards in developing countries as in developed ones. Perhaps she was right. The BBC repeated the platitude that there wasn’t enough money for everyone, listed the foreign aid and private funds that had come in, and interviewed a tired young doctor who patiently answered questions while wiping sweat from his eyebrows. The United States Supreme Court issued an injunction against the New York Time’s theory of everything evaluation website based on a barrage of challenges from corporations that claimed the website violated their intellectual property. Another website sprang up overnight in Sweden, anonymous and hosted from compact discs. Salvador Abaroa announced a free Tribe of Akna gathering at Wrigley Field. Bakshi called. He and Jacinda had argued, and she’d taken Greta and their car and driven to the gathering in Chicago. We watched it on television. Salvador Abaroa banged his gong and advanced his theories. The world was made of squiggles, not lines, and all this time we’d only been approximating reality in the way an mp3 file approximates sound waves, or the way in which we approximate temperature, by cutting it into neat and stable increments that we mistake as absolutes. Zurich opened its arms for Kurt Schwaller’s funeral, which was interrupted by a streaker baring the logo and slogan of a diaper company. Police tackled the streaker and—for a moment—the mourners cheered. Later, an investigation of Kurt Schwaller’s Dropbox account performed in the name of international security revealed that he had deleted large amounts of files in the days leading up to his suicide. The Mossad, Bakshi told me, had been secretly monitoring Kurt Schwaller for at least the past two years because of his Palestinian sympathies and were now piecing together his computer activities by recreating his monitor displays from the detailed heat signatures they’d collected. The technology was available, Bakshi assured me. It was possible. I was more worried when Ziggy the Ohioan opossum injured his left leg. “Oh my God, what happened?” Yvette asked when she saw his bandaged limb. “You told me to be more physically active, so I tried out for the soccer team, mom,” he answered. “Did you make the team?” My wife’s breath smelled like black coffee. “No, but I sure broke my leg.” After pausing for some canned laughter, Yvette waddled obligingly toward Ziggy. “Well, you should at least have some of my homemade pasta,” she said. I made eating noises. “Do you know why they call it pasta, mom?” My wife turned from the monitor to look at me. “I don’t,” she said in her normal voice. “Because you already ate it,” I said. We laughed, concocted ever sillier plot lines and watched the webcam late into an unusually warm May night.
In June, I returned to work and Pillow joined the list of pregnant mammals now past their due dates. She ate and drank regularly, and other than waddling when she walked she was her old self. My wife started to show signs of pregnancy in June, too. It made me happy even as it reinforced the authenticity of the coming known unknown, as a former American Secretary of Defense might have called it. My wife developed the habit of posing questions in pairs: do you love me, and what do you think will happen to us? Am I the woman that as a boy you dreamed of spending your life with, and if it’s a girl do you hope she’ll be like me? Sometimes she trembled so faintly in her sleep that I wasn’t sure whether she was dreaming or in the process of waking. I pressed my body to hers and said that I wished I could share the pregnancy with her. She said that it didn’t feel like it was hers to share. She said she felt heavy. I massaged her shoulders. We kept the windows open during the day and the screen mesh out because the insects that usually invade southwestern Ontario in late May and early June hadn’t appeared. Birds and reptiles stopped laying eggs. We luxuriated in every bite of pancake that we topped with too much butter and drowned in maple syrup. We talked openly with our mouths full about the future because the world around us had let itself descend into a self-censoring limbo. The opossum webcam went dark. Bakshi dropped by the apartment one night, unannounced and in the middle of a thunderstorm. There was pain on his face. “What if what Kurt Schwaller meant was that fate was not inevitable until we made it so,” he said, sobbing. “What if our reality was a series of forking paths and by discovering the theory of everything we locked ourselves forever into one of them?” Jacinda had left him. “You’ll get her back,” I said. My wife made him a cup of tea that he drank boiling hot. He put down the cup—then picked it up and threw it against the wall. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I just wanted to see if I could do something that I didn’t really want to do.” I bent down to pick up the broken pieces of porcelain. “You’ll get her back, Bakshi,” my wife said. Rain dripped onto our table from the ends of his black hair. “I don’t think so. I think we’re locked in and Kurt Schwaller took the only way out there is.” We didn’t let him go home. We discretely took all the knives from the kitchen and hid them in our bedroom, and did the same with the medicine in our bathroom, and Bakshi slept on our sofa, snoring loudly. He was still sad in the morning but felt better. We ate scrambled eggs, knowing that unless chickens started laying them again we were having a nonrenewable resource for breakfast.
Time was nonrenewable. My wife and I tried to take advantage of each second. But for every ten things we planned, we only did one. Our ambitions exceeded our abilities. On some days we were inexcusably lazy, lying in bed together until noon, and on others we worked nonstop at jobs like painting the walls, which later seemed insignificant. We considered leaving the city when the smog got too thick and renting a cottage in the country but we didn’t want to be without the safety of the nearness of hospitals and department stores. When we were scared, we made love. We ate a lot. We read short stories to each other. Outside our apartment, the world began to resemble its normal rhythms, with the exception that everywhere you went all the women were visibly pregnant. Some tried to hide it with loosely flowing clothes. Others bared their bellies with pride. I flirted with a supermarket cashier with an Ouroboros tattoo encircling her pierced belly button. After she handed me my change I asked her if she’d had it done before or after March 27. “Before,” she said. “What does it mean?” I asked. “That people have been making up weird shit for a long time and we’re still fucking here.” In Pakistan, the United Nations uncovered a mass grave of girls killed because they were pregnant—to protect the honour of their families. When I was a kid in Catholic school, my favourite saint was Saint Joseph because I wanted to love someone as much as he must have loved Mary to believe her story about a virgin birth.
On July 1, we subduably celebrated Canada Day. On July 4, my wife shook me awake at six in the morning because she was having back spasms and her stomach hurt. She got out of bed, wavered and fell and hit her head on the edge of a shelf, opening up a nasty gash. I helped her to the bathroom sink, where we washed the wound and applied a band-aid. She tried throwing up in the toilet but couldn’t. The sounds of her empty retching made me cold. The cramps got worse. I picked her up and carried her out of the apartment—Pillow whined as I closed the door—and down to the underground garage, where I helped her into the back seat of our car. Pulling out into the street, I was surprised by the amount of traffic. It was still dark out but cars were already barrelling by. On Lake Shore, the traffic was even worse. I turned on the radio and the host was in the middle of a discussion about livestock, so I turned the radio off. Farther in the city foot traffic joined car traffic and the lights couldn’t have changed more slowly. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw women collapsing on the sidewalks, clutching their stomachs. I kept my eyes ahead. At a red light, a black woman kept banging on the passenger’s side door until I rolled down the window. She asked if she could get a ride. I asked to where. “To the hospital, where else?” she said in sing-song Jamaican. I let her in and at the green light stepped as heavily on the gas as I could. In the back seat, my wife’s eyes were barely open. The Jamaican woman was in better shape. Noticing my concern, she said, “Don’t worry yourself none. I was like that this morning, too, but I’m better now. It comes and then it goes.” I was still worried. The streets around the hospital were packed with parked cars, but I found a spot by turning the wrong way up a one way street. The wheel hit the curb. I got out. The Jamaican woman helped me with my wife, and the three of us covered the distance from the car to the hospital in minutes. Ambulance sirens wailed close by. I heard the repetitive thump of helicopter blades. I glanced at my watch. 7:24. In the hospital, the hallways and waiting room were packed. There was standing room only. I left my wife leaning against a sliver of wall and ran to the reception desk. The Jamaican woman had disappeared. When I opened my mouth to speak, the receptionist cut me off: “Just take a seat, Mister, same as everybody else. Stay alert, stay calm. If you need water you can get it down the hall. We’re trying to get as many doctors down here as we can as quickly as we can, but the roads are jammed and there’s more than one hospital. That’s all I’ve been told.” I relayed the information to my wife word for word, once I found her—the waiting room was becoming encrusted with layers of incoming people—and then they shut the hospital doors—and my wife nodded, looking at me with eyes that wanted to close. I kept her lids open with my thumbs. My watch read 7:36. I wanted to tell her I loved her but was stupidly embarrassed by the presence of so many people who might laugh. I didn’t want to be cheesy. “It comes and it goes,” I said, “so just keep your eyes open for me until it goes, please.” She smiled, and I touched my lips to hers without kissing them. Her lips were dry. Around me shouts were erupting. There was a television in the corner of the waiting room, showing scenes of crowded hospitals in Sydney and Paris, and violence in Rio de Janeiro, where families huddled together in the streets while men, young and old, flung rocks, bricks and flaming bottles at a cordon of black-clad BOPE behind which politicians and their families were running from shiny cars to state-run clinics. My wife’s weak voice brought me back to the present. “What do you think happened to Monsieur Charles?” she asked. “I don’t know, but I’d guess he’s probably just getting ready for work now,” I said. She smiled and the pressure on my thumbs increased. Her eyes started to roll back into her head. “Don’t go away,” I said. “Don’t leave me.” I felt her eyes sizzle and shake like frying spheres of bacon. I couldn’t hold them open anymore. I didn’t know what to do. The shouting in the hospital had devolved into chaos. “Do you know why they call it pasta?” I said. I didn’t expect her to answer. I didn’t expect any reaction, but, “Because I already ate it,” she said, smiling—and it was the last thing she ever said, her last smile I ever saw, because in that moment there was a horrible whine that made me press my fists against my ears and in the same instant every woman in the hospital exploded.
SinceBlood, guts and bone shards blanketed the surfaces of the waiting room, making it look like the inside of an unwashed jar of strawberry jam. My wife was gone. Every woman in the room was gone. The space behind the reception desk stood eerily empty. The television in the corner was showing the splattered lens of a camera that a hand suddenly wiped clean—its burst of motion a shock to the prevailing stillness—to reveal the peaceful image of a Los Angeles street in which bloodied men and boys stood frozen, startled…
I was too numb to speak.
Someone unlocked the hospital doors but nobody entered.
The waiting room smelled like an abattoir.
My clothes smelled like an abattoir.
I walked toward the doors, opened them with my hip and continued into the morning sunlight. I half expected shit to rain down from the skies. If I had a razor blade in my pocket I would have slit my wrists, but all I had was my wallet, my car keys and my phone. Sliding my fingers over the keys reminded me how dull they were. I didn’t want to drive. I didn’t want anything, but if I had to do something I would walk. I stepped on the heel of one shoe with the toe of another and slid my shoe off. The other one I pulled off with my hand. I wasn’t wearing socks. I hadn’t had enough time to put them on. I threw the shoes away. I wanted to walk until my feet hurt so much that I couldn’t walk anymore.
I put one foot in front of the other all the way back to my apartment building, waited for the elevator, and took it to my floor. In the hall, I passed a man wearing clean summer clothes. He didn’t give my bloody ones a second glance. I nodded to him, he nodded back, and I unlocked the door to my apartment and walked in. My feet left footprints on the linoleum. A dark, drying stain in the small space between the fridge and the kitchen wall was all that was left of Pillow. She’d squeezed in and died alone. I took out a mop and rotely removed the stain. Then I took off my clothes, flung them on the bed, which was as unmade as when we left it, took a shower and laid down on the crumpled sheets beside the only pieces of my wife that I had left. My sleep smelled like an abattoir.
Proceed to Part 3