Thursday, 16 May 2013

Hypothesis: Old-Timer

Hypothetical: What would you do if you woke up, and were 81 years old?
- submitted by M.R. Pritchard

My neck hurts. A stiff, sharp pain in my neck. I open my eyes to the dark grey dimness of my room. But I can barely see it, I'm staring up at the my ceiling fan. From this distance it looks like a pasty, grey mass of blur. I groan and reach towards my desk for my glasses. As I reach across from the bed, my arm aches, I must have been sleeping on it. I gasp and let out an animal sound of pain as I stretch my arm out to grab onto my glasses. But when I do, I struggle to close my hand. I figure the blood is having trouble creeping through my arm, since I slept on it, so I pull my arm back and cross my arms, rubbing them together to warm up. When my arm starts to feel normal again, I  push against the bed to sit myself up.
  "Ah, FUCK!" I cry out, as I feel a stabbing pain in my neck. My voice sounds deep and croaky. I must have slept with my mouth open. I instinctively reach a hand up and rub the back of my neck to try to soothe the pain. It must be stiff from sleep or something. I try to tilt my head to crack my neck.
 "AARGH! God-DAMN it!" I cry. My neck feels like it's got red hot needles stabbing into it whenever I try to move it. I open my eyes, only just noticing that I squinted them shut from the pain, and attempt to fetch my glasses again. My hand lands lazily on top of my glasses, and I clench my fingers around them. I sit them on my lap, with both hands unfold them, then bring them up to my face. As I do my hands shake slightly, and it takes me longer than usual to put my glasses on my face. But when I do, I can't see.
What the hell? I think to myself. I pull my glasses down my nose slightly and peer over the top of them. I still can't see, but it's even blurrier. My vision's gotten worse? But I could see yesterday!
I hold up my hand to see how bad my short-sightedness is. I bring my hand closer and closer to my face until I can make out the detail. Then I stop. I freeze as best I can until I am staring at my hand, floating unsteadily in front of my face. There are wrinkles on my hand, defined, deep and unmistakeable. I turn my hand over and look at my arm. My arms too are wrinkly, and covered in spots. And the hair on the back of my arm is all white, long and bristly. It's an old man's arm.
 "What the hell?" I say. But when I do I hear it. I hear it properly for the first time. My voice, it's not dry or sick from sleep. It's aged and tired. It's an old man's voice, but it's mine. I stare at my hands, trying to understand. But I recognise the short fingers and wide palm. That's my hand!
I throw the blanket off of me, as best I can, and push my desk chair out of the way so I can stand up. As I do, my neck whines with pain every time I try to move it; my back crinks and groans as I straighten it out; my legs bend under the sudden weight and I exhale heavily like a deflating balloon.
I want to run, but the attempt only results in a stumble, and I can only manage a slow shuffle as I head towards the bathroom. I lean on the bed, my loungechair, the dining room table, the hallway walls and the bathroom door as I creep along on my unsteady old legs; all the while, my neck still aching from how I slept on it wrong as I curse my bad vision, struggling to squint through the blur to see where I'm going. I head into the bathroom and, leaning on the sink for support, I lean towards the mirror until I can see my face.
The first thing I see are my eyes. Staring directly back at me, I see my eyes, framed by my glasses which have flecks of dust and dirt on the glass. Those eyes are mine. As bad as the vision has gotten, I know they're mine, though my brow looks a deal more wrinkled and my crow's feet are more defined. Then I see my nose. It looks larger, and less smooth than I'm used to. Then I see my mouth. I can barely make out my lips anymore with the colour faded, It's just a thin, grim, uneven line. All around that is my beard. It's a salt-and-pepper grey, with my unshaved whiskers growing wild over my neck and age-hollowed cheeks. I see the hair atop my head. I have a full head of hair, but it too is a mix of grey and shocking white. It's also quite thin, meaning I can see the shiny dome of the top of my head through it. It's still wild and unkempt, but now looks more like a petrified forest than a bird's nest. I also notice that my ears are much bigger. And all together, I notice that my head is tilting slightly to the left, but I dare not straighten it to avoid the sharp neck pain.

I'm older. Much older. At least fifty years older! But why? How?
I rub my hand over my face. The curly wisps of my unshaven face, and the weathered skin all feels rough under my fingers. I stare into those eyes again. At first I wonder if I have cataracts, but realize that's foolish. I can still see, but obviously my astigmatism has gotten much worse with age.
My legs, arms and back, they are all weak. Perhaps my muscles are getting tired, but I heavily suspect I have arthritis, like my Nanna. I don't know what's wrong with my neck, but I suspect it has something to do with my three head-pillows.
  "What happened to me?" I ask, still touching my newly aged face with a hand and listening to my deeper, harsher voice. After a minute or so, I turn away from the mirror and stumble back towards my bedroom. The struggle doesn't take long, but the amount of effort just to walk ten metres annoys me to no end. I head through my bedroom door and pull the sheet off my bed. I throw the doona aside and yank the bottom sheet off, looking through the piece of furniture, looking for my youth. I try to lift the mattress, but quickly give that up.
"What Happened To Me!" I yell. Then I think. Time. Is it a different time?
I head over to my desk, and leaning down close to see, I push aside the keyboard and mouse, the paper and books looking for my books. Nothing. But as I push the computer mouse, the screen comes to life. I left it on last night! I drag the mouse down to the toolbar and hove it over the clock it says:
  16 May 2013 Thursday
What? It's today? Then why! WHAT HAPPENED TO ME?!! I let out a wordless cry of pain and frustration. What's happened to me? What can I do about this? Can I ever be young again? I slowly step back and ease myself into my loungechair, ignoring the bag that I left on top of it and sitting down to stare into dark, empty space.
What can I do with myself? I don't know how I did this or if I can ever change back. I'll do whatever I can to fix this . . . but what do I do if I can't? I can't live here with my parents for the rest of my life, but what can I do? I don't have the money for a house! Will I move into a nursing home? My mother runs a nursing home, maybe I can stay there. But what can I do with my life?
I look at my hands again. I just stare at them, I can't stop staring at them.
I'm an old man. I'm nearly dead. What have I done with my life?
Do I have enough time to write that novel? To learn how to drive a car on my own? To buy a house? To teach in a classroom? Is there time for any of that?
What about the little things?
Is there even time to finish reading Sherlock Holmes? To learn how to drive a car on my own? To have my own garden? To have a kid? Hell, will I even live long enough to kiss a girl for the first time?

I don't know. I have a whole life that I wanted to live. There just isn't enough . . . time.


  1. Eep. This was creepy and well-written. And no, there never is enough time.

    1. I put in the effort to make sure that the medical aspect was right. The neck pain, the arthritis, the eyesight and aspects of aging (I'm not likely to lose my hair, sicne my maternal grandfather died with a full head of hair).
      But the thing that was hardest to get right was all the stuff I haven't done in my life, because I had to sit down and think about it. It's pretty confronting.

    2. Lordy, when you put it that way (thinking about the stuff one hasn't done) then it can get confronting. You're right on that score.

  2. Reading this, I felt as though I were thrust back into nursing school when we did our nursing home rotations.

    1. My mother manages a nursing home, so I know a lot about that kind of thing.


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