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Looking ahead

by thinkerrunner 

Posted: 11 November 2005
Word Count: 882

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My hands are the hands of an old person. I can’t quite believe it, but I can see that it is true. Each morning I wake up having forgotten and each morning I have to remember all over again. As I slowly come to, I watch the delicate balance between light and dark shift on the skyline from a midnight blue through a sea green to a watery yellow. I have reverted to my teenage practice of sleeping with the curtains open so that I can watch the clouds scud over the moon as I drift off to sleep. This morning, as with every other morning, I have watched the things in my room resume their shapes and identities as light and colour have seeped back into them. Now I can see my hands as they really are.

They are lying almost still on a dark blue bedspread that is neatly folded down over a pale green sheet. They are not the hands that my mother used to love, the hands that never needed moisturiser despite gardening without gloves, the hands that, even though small, could bend themselves around great big chords on the piano. The fingers are thin now and the silver ring from Mexico that I have worn both night and day for forty years is taped onto my finger to stop it falling off. It is a kindness that I find painfully hard to tolerate. My knuckles, though, are larger than they used to be, like growths developing beneath the skin, and give me pain in the mornings and cold weather. Fat blue veins, like strings of rubber, burrow just beneath the surface, repellent and vaguely scary, just as I remember being scared by the veins running along the backs of my grandfather’s hands when I was little.

Each morning, inevitably, I am alone as I and the world around me take shape. Each morning I am alone when I am struck by a grief that slices straight through me, just as the clear notes of the dawn chorus cut through the dew-filled air outside. I am not young. I am not well. I am not ready to die.

There is a glowing orange button near to my fingers, carefully clipped onto the bedclothes so that it doesn’t slip out of reach while I’m asleep. If I were to press it, a nurse would come to me within a minute or so, to see what was wrong. She might hold my hand, stroking the skin with her thumb. She might even perch on the edge of the bed and stay for a little chat. I long to do it, but I am caught in a trembling web of doubts.

Yesterday morning I had given in to the longing and pressed the buzzer, breaking the peace of the sleeping ward as I did so. I lay there horrified by the noise regretting my weakness. I heard the longed-for steps approach my room and I plunged down into a paralysing dread and anguish. My mind started scurrying around inside me, frenzied and directionless, looking for a way out of the corner in which I had trapped myself. I heard myself apologising for the bother and lamely requesting a cup of tea while my hands twisted the sheets up, silencing the parts of me that wanted to wail out and beg her to stay.

She returned with a cup of tea, wobbling gently on its saucer and placed it on the bedside cabinet. She drew up a chair and sat down, uniform creasing into new patterns, and looked at me.

“A penny for them!” she said, smiling lightly, “If you’d like to sell them, that is.”

I quickly smiled back and took a sip of tea, looking down into my cup. Hanging my head over steaming tea had always been an essential part of waking up for me, helping to soften the dried-up crusts of sleep that had glued my lids down during the night, but I knew that all I was doing now was escaping her eyes.

She waited in silence for me to continue, a tiny movement in her eyebrows being her only response. For the second time that morning, things shifted, only this time it was not the slow and imperceptible shifts of daybreak revealing what you already knew to be there, but a sudden jolt of recognition and remembrance of long forgotten things. With dismay, I realised that I could see myself in that nurse sitting by my bedside. Worse still, I could see myself from through her eyes.

I remembered how I had learned to pick up the silent cues and unspoken requests that patients could not bring themselves to voice. And I knew with certainty that I too would have sat down by my bed in response to my request for a cup of tea, that I too would have suspected a deeper meaning to my request. I had to shut my eyes as a smart of humiliation burnt my face. The sight of her looking at me with kindness stayed in front of me even after I had closed my eyes, even after she had left the room.
“It’s just early morning nonsense,” I said, “nothing to worry about.”
And we left it at that.

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Comments by other Members

Becca at 19:11 on 11 November 2005  Report this post
Hi Claire,
This is careful and perceptive piece of writing and the only sentence that I noticed that could be turned around was 'She waited for me to continue in silence, ..' I thought she waited in silence for me to continue, what do you think?
You could try a mag like People's Friend or one of those other high payers aimed at older people. Welcome to short stories.

thinkerrunner at 19:18 on 11 November 2005  Report this post
Thank you, Becca. I will certainly think about swapping this phrase around, as you suggest, it certainly sounds more natural. However there's an ambiguity to "continuing in silence" that I quite like, especially as this is essentially what happens in this piece.

And thanks for welcoming me to the group!

Cornelia at 19:59 on 11 November 2005  Report this post
A very well-written piece, I thought - very sensitive and subtle.I loved all the details, like the changing light, the wobbling cup, and the alarm bell that kept me engrossed and empathising with the protagonist.

'an essential part waking up for me' lacks 'of'.

I could see myself from through her eyes - delete 'from'.

Oh, and the title needs an extra 'o'

This was excellent, and I am 'looking forward' to reading more. Welcome to the group.


thinkerrunner at 21:10 on 11 November 2005  Report this post
Thank you for your encouragement, Sheila. I have corrected the mistakes you spotted and will start thinking about what to write next.

Pattacake at 21:52 on 11 November 2005  Report this post
I loved this piece. The description is so evocative and the character real.
I can't see any way to improve it.
Welcome to the group.

thinkerrunner at 22:24 on 11 November 2005  Report this post
Dear Pattacake,
I really don't know what to say, other than thank you!

Every one has made daring to post something much easier than expected!

Dee at 07:31 on 12 November 2005  Report this post
This is a very impressive piece of writing. I was right there with your character. Love the description of the veins.

I stumbled over the same sentence as Becca, but I can see why you want to maintain the ambiguity.

I enjoyed reading this very much.


thinkerrunner at 20:54 on 12 November 2005  Report this post
Thanks for your comments Dee, they are much appreciated. I don't think I like the sentence enough to cling onto it despite the fact that it seems to cause general confusion! I will edit it accordingly!

Shika at 11:37 on 17 November 2005  Report this post
Have tried already to send you my feedback so apologies if you receive this twice. I picked up your piece in the archive and found it very well-written and closely observed. I found a quiet poetry in your descriptions and the writing felt effortless. A hard thing to do I know. I hope this is helpful feedback. S

jdsharpe at 22:38 on 27 November 2005  Report this post
I really liked this, it made me feel sad (which isn't a bad thing) I really felt for the character, the descriptions were wonderful.

I particularly like his internal struggle after calling for the nurse.


thinkerrunner at 23:11 on 27 November 2005  Report this post
Thanks James, your comments are really encouraging. However, I'm curious... what makes you think the character is a he? Claire

jdsharpe at 17:32 on 28 November 2005  Report this post
Uh...I don't know actually, I think being male, and that the story is written in first person, I kind of became the character in a way, how I would feel and such, thus making the character male in my mind.

Sierrio at 04:03 on 04 December 2005  Report this post
FYI - for my comments, I will always point out soemthing I think is good and something that may be an opportunity.

First of all, I must say that it is very well written. The flow of the prose and the details are excellent. Lines like "the hands that never needed moisturiser despite gardening without gloves" add great detail as well as emotion at the same time. You do a great job of bringing intimacy to the character.

The opportunity I see is that I'd like to see the action move faster. If this is a novel, there certainly is more room to let the pacing abb and flow. But for a short story, by the end of the second parahgraph, I am looking for something to happen - something that moves the plot forward. You've got several great paragraphs of description, but I found myself wanting to skip on to see what was going to happen.

Keep in mind, I don't know how long this story is or what the context is (perhaps it is a memoir and not a story, which would certainly have an impact on plot and pacing). That's why I say this MAY be an opportunity.

Thanks for letting me read it. It makes me want to go back and sharpen up my prose.

thinkerrunner at 10:30 on 04 December 2005  Report this post
Thank you Sierrio,

Your comments on plot and pace are more than apt - they are both things that I struggle with (have any of either!). I haven't found the way forward yet, but the first step (awareness) has at least been taken!


anisoara at 12:12 on 08 December 2005  Report this post
This is powerful, fine writing.

I still jotted down a few things as I read:

I love your first sentence, but I think the second sentence weakens your intro; I'd scrap it and go straight on to the third sentence.

something about this image jars me: 'the hands that never needed moisturiser despite gardening without gloves' - were these the hands that the narrator's mother loved? They sound like an adult's hands to me.

although I love the hands-at-the-piano image: "the hands that, even though small, could bend themselves around great big chords on the piano" - gorgeous!

5th para wants a comma between 'noise' and 'regretting' - "I lay there horrified by the noise regretting my weakness."

Second to last para: "Worse still, I could see myself from through her eyes." - better to scrap 'from' = 'see myself through her eyes'

Your sense of timing is strong. Very nice work.


thinkerrunner at 20:13 on 08 December 2005  Report this post
Thank you very much Ani,

These are very helpful comments. The comma and the 'from' are oversights and will be put right straight away.

As for the gardening hands - I'm not sure that I agree that there is a problem here - why can't her adult hands be loved by her mother?

Thanks, Claire

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