Short Story: “Silly Old Trick”

Scared that his whole life might pass him by, Edward devises a trick to help him appreciate his youth.

Endangered phalanx of the finger. The man does a trick with his hands, close-up. Showing a magic trick © Valkantina /

June 16, 2024 04:58 EDT

Something to consider when reading/listening: Are memories a sufficient consolation for aging?

It’s just a trick, see. It’s just a silly old trick. That’s all it is. 

I’m 23 years old and last month I married my sweetheart. And a few different people at the wedding, it was a quiet reception at the cricket club, a few different people came up to me. One of her uncles, my grandmother, someone else, they came up to me and they said, “Make sure you savor every moment because it’ll pass in the blink of an eye.” They all used that same expression, “blink of an eye,” like they were reading a script.

That’s why I’ve started doing this trick, see. Just before bed, just as I’m winding down, I pretend I’m 60 years older. I imagine I’m 83, if you can believe it. 

I start to feel my legs and they’re half the size and double the weight, like long, lead walking sticks. I feel my gut, not a big one mind, spilling over the top of my pajama trousers. I pinch my elbow and you’d think I could pull the whole saggy skin suit right off. 

I see the hallway in front of me, it’s still the same house, well my imagination can only stretch so far. But it’s all blurry and there are bits of floating debris in my eyes.  

I go into the bedroom and lift myself slowly, with some difficulty, onto the bed. My wife is fast asleep. She’s turned away from me but I can picture her in my mind’s eye with pure white hair and a few wrinkles but still as beautiful as ever. As I reach out and run my hands along her, I see she’s still got the same figure, which might be wishful thinking. But I reckon I can count on her beauty. She has these eyes that could burn for thousands of years. 

As I’m lying there in the darkness, I start to picture how these 60 years might have gone. 

I see our two boys, neither of whom are yet to be born, although the first will be with us in six months. Mark and Joel we’ve called them, which is funny because she’s told me she hates the name Mark. It was my father’s name, a great man by all accounts, but she knew a Mark at school who once threw a bit of chalk at her eye, left her squinting for weeks. 

I picture them as tall, confident lads our boys. Clever but with a cheeky glint in their eyes. Although now of course Mark’s nigh on 60 and Joel’s, I don’t know, 57, 58. Imagine that. Imagine going to bed pretending you have two sons more than double your own age. It’s daft, I know. She always tells me to stop being daft but it’s just a silly old trick. 

The whole purpose, of course, is to help savor every moment. I go to bed pretending my life is nearly over and I wake up realizing I’ve got it all to come. 

There’s always a moment on waking, just as I’m beginning to stir, when the essence of being an old man is still with me and, as I’m coming to, I think that’s it, I’m old, I’m frail, I’m not long for this world and then of course it dawns on me, no you’re not, you silly boy, you’re 23. Newly married. Not yet a father. You’ve still got it all ahead of you. You’ve still got it all to come.

I picture myself with grandchildren as well, though only distantly. I’ve not spent a lot of time coloring them in. Four of them. Two boys, two girls. I don’t know any of their names but I can just about make out their faces. The girls are twins – well why not?– must be in their mid-30s. The youngest boy, well, he’s probably the age I am now. I didn’t know either of my grandfathers, nor my own dear dad, so they should count themselves lucky. 

It’s glass-half-full, I’ll grant you, my vision of 60 years hence. Still happily married with a wife who’s held onto her figure, and what a figure, let me tell you. Two healthy, successful sons. And a real progeny. I’ve no idea how I end up professionally. I’m retired at 83 of course but I’ve not thought about how my career progresses. But if we’re still in the same house, I can’t have fared too well can I? There again, I can’t have fared too badly either.

And we’re safe above all. We’re all still here. Neither of my boys has been to war. The world in 60 years’ time must be a darn sight safer and more peaceful than it is now. And 83 as well. Both of us, me and her, still alive with all our faculties at 83. Yes, that’s optimism for you.

I’ve not thought about how my dear old mum meets her end. Well, there’s no point is there? Not for the purpose of this silly old trick. 

But isn’t it funny? Even though I picture the next 60 years going exactly the way I want, the idea of being 60 years in the future, of being 83, it’s horrid. I’m sure I’ll feel differently when I get there. But the grandchildren, the happy family, the successful marriage, it doesn’t feel like much of a comfort when every part of your body aches and you know you’re not long for this world. 

But that’s why I do it, see, this trick, to make me grateful for the years I have. 

And when I get to that age, I can only imagine things will feel very different. I’ll have so many memories. I’ll know my grandchildren’s names for one thing. I’ll have lived a full life and I might well be ready to go. 

Only, the trouble is, when I woke up this morning, after I’d come to, that essence of old man, all the achiness and fogginess, it was particularly strong. I could feel the bend in my spine, like they were using it to make a handle on a wicker basket. My skin was papery and my gums were like chicken livers.

My wife came in with my cup of tea and my slippers and she was just how I’d been imagining her. Pure white hair put up in curlers. A padded floral dressing gown. Laughter lines, and black bags, and eyes like Olympic torches. The same figure as she has now, but old. Very old. And there she was standing by the side of the bed. And she wanted me to take some pills before I had my tea. She handed me a glass of water. 

I don’t think she’s the joking type but we don’t know each other all that well, truth be told. Husband and wife but it’s still less than a year since we met at the social club. So maybe she finds this sort of thing funny? 

She said Mark was downstairs. I said who’s Mark? She said stop being daft, let’s get you dressed. Then she made me sit up and put my hands in the air and she took off my nightshirt. It was like I was a little boy. I said we should go round and see my mother, bring her some of those shortbread biscuits she likes, because we haven’t seen her since the wedding, have we? 

But she ignored me. Once she’d got me into a plaid shirt and a pair of corduroy trousers, I’ve never seen either item before in my life by the way, she took me downstairs and there was Mark. Tall, thinning hair, mushy, Rugby ears. The same Mark I’d been imagining as part of my trick. My eldest son, nearly sixty, exactly as I’d been picturing him. And I said to my wife, ‘But you hate the name Mark.’ And these two ladies who were with him, in their middle thirties I’d imagine, must be friends of my wife, they started laughing. They clearly thought this whole thing was such a funny joke but I don’t know why they thought it was appropriate to come into my house, my marital home, and start making fun of me before we’ve even been formally introduced. 

I went back up to bed and tried to sleep the whole thing off. It was some sort of nightmare and in a few hours, I’d wake up and be 23 again. 

But she came after me, this old, ghostly version of my wife, and she said I’ve got to stop doing this. Me? I’ve got to stop? 

She was angry at me, this old lady. Telling me off in my own home. Or was it my home? It was still the same place, the bedroom at least was exactly the same size but there was no wallpaper. None of the beautiful anaglypta, with the grooves and the swirls you could trace with your fingers. No, just dull, grey paint. I sat up in the bed and pressed my hand against the walls and I could feel the flat bareness of it all. So I shrunk back down and held my eyes tightly shut.

Then Mark came in and started talking to me. Then the two young ladies, these two strangers, these friends of my wife, they were in my room too. How could anyone think this was appropriate? And I realized their voices were familiar. Maybe I’d met them at the social club. One of them said she’s a qualified surgeon, and I thought not in this life you’re not. And the other one said, ‘You’re looking well, grandad.’ 

I told them they could stop it now. I told them I got the joke. I got it. Ha ha. Very funny. Let’s all have a good old laugh at him and his silly old trick. Yes, I get it. I get the joke. It’s very funny. 

Course, when I woke up a few hours later, they’d all left the room, it was nearly nighttime and I was 23 again and, with a great relief, I realized I still had it all ahead of me. I do still have it all ahead of me. 

It’s a scary thought, being an old man. But it will happen soon enough. Hard to imagine, lying here with my whole life in front of me, but 60 years will fly past just like that. 

So I will savor every moment, like they advised, I truly will. And it’s the memories that’ll keep me going at the end. 

My new wife is lying next to me, she’s turned away from me but I can picture her thick burgundy locks and her soft, cotton skin, and those eyes that’ll burn with just as much energy 60 years hence. And little Mark, I think I will convince her to call him Mark, you know, he’s sleeping soundly in her belly. We’ve got it all ahead, we’ve got it all to come, and I’m going to savor every moment, I truly am.

Still, I don’t think I’ll do that trick anymore. 

It’s just a trick, see. 

It’s just a silly old trick.

[Doe Wilmann first released this piece on his short story podcast, Meaningless Problems.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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