Thursday, February 18, 2016

Grow Old With Me

I did a really silly thing the other day. You see, I received an invitation to enter the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook 2016 Short Story Competition on the topic of ‘ageing’. I was won over in equal measure by a subject dear to my heart (‘ageing’), combined with two correctly used apostrophes in the same mail (Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook). Also, I will readily admit that I was curious to see whether I could still produce anything remotely creative after so many years away from the keyboard.

At the same time, I decided to raise the challenge by leaving my comfort zone and attempting to write a serious piece for the first time in my life. Out went the awful puns, the pathetic jokes, the painful dialogues and the stupid punchlines. For once in my life, I would follow Stevie Wonder’s my wife’s advice and write something simple that people could actually understand on first reading.

More than anything else, however, I admired the sheer nerve of an organisation who brazenly announce in the competition rules that, “The Bloomsbury Publishing Group reserves the right to change the rules of this competition without notice.” Can’t get more reasonable than that, can you?

If this were a Hollywood movie, I would win first prize (£500, plus a place on an Arvon writing course), my writing career would take off, and I would never look back. Unfortunately, this is just another blog post, for which I won’t be winning any prizes, and nor indeed do I deserve to; as I’m sure you’ll agree if you manage to get to the end of my humourless story.

Be that as it may, thanks for reading, whoever you are, and never give up on your dreams!

Grow Old With Me

BRADLEY made straight for the living-room and crashed out on the sofa. He was getting too old for all of this, and he wondered how much longer he would be able to make his daily walk down to the newsagent’s. In theory, the exercise should have done him good, but his aching limbs told him otherwise. As he lay there recovering his breath, he took stock, not for the first time, of his life’s achievements to date. It didn’t take long, of course, for there had been very few milestones worth mentioning along the way, except that yearly milestone which came round all too quickly and only served to heighten his depression. Tomorrow was the Big One, and there was no turning the clock back.

One of life’s greatest challenges is accepting that you are an insignificant speck in the universal order of things, that the world can get by quite happily without you, and that nothing you do will ever change this sorry state of affairs. Sure, they will pretend to miss you once you are gone, and a few tears will be shed along the way. Sooner or later, however, it will be business as normal, and smiles all round as if nothing much has happened. And, indeed, nothing much has, has it?

Feeling thirsty, Bradley headed for the kitchen to get some water, but he only got as far as the mirror in the hall. Who was that grumpy-looking oldie staring right back at him? Where had that fun-loving youngster gone to? Naturally, he knew the answers to these questions, but they offered little in the way of consolation. He was on the way out, and it promised to be a lonely, miserable ride. He was getting old, and he was terrified of dying.

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ANGELA jumped out of bed and peeped  through the curtains. It was a glorious day, and it had only just begun. From her bedroom window, she enjoyed a fine view of the park across the road. The first joggers were already out there by the lake, doing their stretching exercises. She hoped to be joining them soon. After the latest scare, Doctor Jones had advised her to slow down, but his words had fallen on deaf ears. Besides, she had just ordered one of those smart wristband things as a birthday present to herself, and she was very much looking forward to trying out her new toy. With any luck, it should be arriving this morning.

            First things first, however. Today was a special day too for dear old Bradley, and she was determined to make it a day for him to remember. He had been down in the dumps recently, Heaven alone knows why, though she hoped this was just a temporary phase he was going through. Recently, he hadn’t even wanted to accompany her to the newsagent’s, which was most out of character for him. He was no longer eating properly, either. It was as if the silly thing had lost the will to live. 

            As Bradley lay there snoring, lost in his dream world, Angela crept out of the bedroom, tiptoed down the stairs and entered the kitchen to prepare their breakfast. Or Bradley’s breakfast, rather. Angela would have hers when she got back from the park. Now where had she put that card? She had bought it with the paper yesterday when Bradley wasn’t looking – or was pretending not to look – but she had evidently hidden it too well on arriving home. She opened the kitchen cupboard. Ah yes, there it was! She’d left the card up there on the top shelf, next to the crunchy biscuits that she had been saving for today. They were his favourite.

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BRADLEY returned to Earth with a bump. Had somebody called him? He rolled over and noticed that Angela had already got up. Downstairs, getting breakfast before her early-morning run, he supposed. Well, good for her, but he was in no hurry to join her. He was already dropping off again when he heard his name being called out for the second time, and this time there was no mistaking it. Fearing the worst, he scrambled down the stairs and charged into the kitchen. Angela was sat on the floor, looking rather shaken.

‘Sorry about all that noise, Bradley. And all this mess. Can you believe I dropped the sugar bowl? Anyway, breakfast is ready. Oh, by the way, happy birthday,’ said Angela, handing him his card. ‘Shall I open it for you?’

The picture on the front of the card was of a Basset Hound playing with a bone. Bradley was looking somewhat tongue-tied, so Angela continued, ‘I’ll read it for you, shall I?’ Angela opened the card and went on. ‘Happy tenth, Bradley! Here’s looking forward to our next ten together. Lots of love, Angela.’ It wasn’t the most original of birthday greetings, but nor did it need to be. ‘Fancy a biscuit?’ Bradley was in Seventh Heaven.

--- --- ---

ANGELA was still tidying up the mess on the kitchen floor when the doorbell rang. ‘Ah, that’ll be my parcel,’ she said, running to the door with Bradley in hot pursuit.

‘Happy birthday!’ said the postman, handing over the letter.
‘Oh.’ Now it was Angela’s turn to look tongue-tied.
‘Are you all right, love?’
‘Yes, I’m fine. It’s just I was expecting a different parcel.’
‘I’ll take this back to the depot if you don’t want it.’
‘           You’ll do no such thing, young man,’ said  Angela. ‘Give it here.’

Back in the living-room, Angela opened her letter as Bradley looked on in curiosity.

‘I send you my warm congratulations and best wishes for your one hundred and fifth birthday on 10th January, 2016. Elizabeth R.’

Goodness gracious me! Could it really be five years since the last greeting from Her Majesty? Angela glanced across at the framed letter sitting proudly on her mantelpiece.

‘I am so pleased to know that you are celebrating your one hundredth birthday on 10th January, 2011. I send my congratulations and best wishes to you on such a special occasion. Elizabeth R.’

‘How time flies, Bradley! Now hurry up and finish your breakfast. We’re going for a jog, young man.’

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Until now, Colin had always had a healthy interest in death. He asked himself the usual questions, and came up with the usual answers: Where will I go when I die? Wherever they decide to dump you; What will happen when I die? Some people will pretend to be sad, and then they’ll get dinner; Will I be missed? Only if you had a dog. All in all, death was a rather depressing topic; especially your own.

dayrealing, Chapter 33, “Kill The Director”

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