An Old Man's Tale

Submitted into Contest #46 in response to: Write a story about an author who has just published a book.... view prompt



Sometimes, the most worthwhile things we do take a lifetime, Ed mused pensively as he sat watching speckled lights dance across the wooden floor as the rosy glow of the rising sun streamed in through the dusty windows of his homely cottage. Finally, the knock on the door that he had been anxiously awaiting all day came. He opened the door to see a smiling postman, his cheeks flushed from the cool spring breeze, the air yet to be warmed by the expectant sun.

“Here you go,” remarked the postman as he handed him a neatly wrapped parcel, “looks like its shaping up to be a good day.”

They chatted briefly about the weather and then the postman continued on his rounds. And he was alone again. After the merry conversation, the house felt profoundly quiet. The silence and the emptiness of the house pressed on him, but he was used to it by now. He unwrapped the packaging of his parcel and looked at the shiny new book, his own name bold across the front cover. He smiled inwardly as pride filled him. This had been a long time coming but he still couldn’t believe he had actually written and published a whole book. This book was, quite literally, his life’s work.

He had been just a boy when he had first put pen to paper and scribbled his ideas for his novel in scratchy, messy cursive. He had a brilliant teacher at the time, Mr. Williams, who had inspired him first to read and then to write. He remembered the first story he had presented to his teacher, full of excited trepidation, desperate for him to like it. Mr. Williams had loved it or at least that’s what he had told Ed. He had said, “keep writing, you could be an amazing author one day,” and a passion for writing was born.

He had been determined then that he would write a novel. A best-selling novel in fact. He was convinced at the ripe old age of ten, full of ambition and no inhibitions to told him back, that he would come up with the most imaginative, most well-written book of his generation. And so he wrote. He would spend hours at a time in his room or sat under the tree in their backyard on a sunny day, crowned with dappled sunlight as it filtered through the leaves above his head. He brought characters and scenery and stories spilling from his mind, his pen leaping across his page. Within months he was well on his way to writing a full-length novel.

Life had other plans, however. Ed was a gifted child in more ways than one. Despite his passion for writing he also excelled in the sciences, especially mathematics. He got top grades at school and his teachers made comments in his school reports about brilliance and aspirations for university. His parents - well-meaning - pushed him to pursue his aptitude for the sciences, encouraging him to spend more and more time studying. Eventually, he stopped writing and his half-finished novel was left neatly tucked away in a stack of old books slowly gathering dust. His parents were thrilled, though, when he got a scholarship to attend the prestigious Cambridge University to study Engineering. But then suddenly, he went from being a big fish in a small pond to being a minnow in a vast ocean of students with immense intellects and vociferous voices. Overwhelmed with the workload, he stumbled through his degree - no time to think of anything except studying - and somehow fell out of the other end with a passable grade and a respectable job at a car manufacturing plant.

That first job was tough, engineering had never been his passion particularly, he had been pushed into it by his parents and his teachers and his own over-achievement. He tolerated it at best and at times he hated it. But Ed had no regrets and if you asked him he would say that he would do the same all over again because that job - somehow both tedious and gruelling - was where he had met Emily.

Ed and Emily had told the story of how they had met so many times over that had it down to a well-oiled routine.

“It was love at first sight,” he would say. “I walked into her office once day. Our eyes met across the room and I knew that instant, she was the girl I would marry.”

“No, you didn’t,” she would say, lightly smacking his arm. “I had to get pregnant just to drag you down the aisle.”

She was teasing of course. Emily knew that she was the love of his life, he had made sure to tell her that every day since the first time. They had been on a date, having a picnic in the park, when he first told her he loved her. He was laid in the overgrown grass, sunbathing in the heat of the summer sun. He was watching her delightedly feeding leftover titbits from their picnic to the little starlings that had curiously hopped closer and closer to their picnic blanket and were now pecking at the tiny morsels she was throwing with little chirping sounds. He had watched her, beautifully radiant in her joy, and he had become overwhelmed with his emotions and blurted out “I love you.” She had laughed at his embarrassment as his cheeks flushed the colour of strawberries that had sat out in the sun for just a touch too long. Then she had gently taken his hand in hers and whispered, “I love you too.” It was the happiest day of his life.

One of the first things that he learned about Emily was she loved to read, she could rarely be found without a book within arm’s reach. She inspired him to start to pick up books again and he found that he had time - for the first time in a decade, now that he wasn’t spending every spare minute studying - to read and read and read. Then, when he came across his old manuscript in a disregarded box of his old papers, he had decided to write again. He was over halfway through the first draft of his novel when Emily fell pregnant.

He was washing the dishes when she told him. He had been daydreaming, looking out into the garden and thinking he should build a bird table for Emily. She adored birds and ever since their date in the park, she loved to watch the starlings in particular. He knew she was waiting for him to propose and he was going to ask her. In fact, a diamond ring bought last month from the local jewellers with the last year’s worth of savings was at that moment burning a hole in his dresser table. He was waiting for the right time to ask her though. He wanted her to be comfortable here and he wanted to save up enough money for them to start a family. But, as he’d learned as a child, life doesn’t always go the way you expect. They had been careful but, evidently, not careful enough. Emily had come up to him in the kitchen and asked him to sit down, uncertainty flitting across her beautiful face.

“Ed, I’m pregnant.” She had whispered simply.

 He had run to get the ring from his drawers and proposed on the spot. She agreed with tears in her eyes and they were married within the month, a small but beautiful ceremony in their local village church.

Then there was crying eyes and a hungry mouth and wet nappies. There were first words and first steps and first-ever “dada.” And then, three years later, they did it all over again. There were trips to the park, days out to the zoo, school clubs, and summer holidays. And there was joy and laughter and tantrums and tears, and love. And then, suddenly, there was quiet. It felt like their kids grew up in a heartbeat and, suddenly, the house felt empty and too quiet with just the two of them. At first, it had been a relief, to have time for just the two of them. But, eventually, they found themselves pottering around not knowing what to do with themselves.

“Whatever happened to that novel you were writing?” Emily had asked him one day. “Why don’t you start writing again?”

He had laughed and replied, “no-one wants to hear an old man’s tale.”

“Nonsense,” she had countered, playful admonishment in her voice. “Think of all the experiences you’ve had, the memories you’ve made and the emotions you’ve felt. There’s no-one whose story I’d rather read than yours.” The passion on her face surprised him and she finished, “Sometimes, the most worthwhile things we do take a lifetime.”

So he had searched and eventually came across his now battered, barely legible manuscript. He typed it up, on the new laptop his son, George, had bought him, the laptop that he had sworn at the time he would never use. He had sat at his writing desk, looking out the window, over the garden that Emily had taken so much care over and the bird-table he had finally built where the starlings pecked at the scattered bird-seed. Emily would sit with him for hours in companionable silence, reading her books.

He had been writing his final chapter when Emily had fallen from her chair behind him, hand clutching at her chest. He had sped her to the hospital, fear twisting his insides. But she never made it home and his world had crumbled around him.

Grief overwhelmed him for several months. At first, he felt shock; a numb wave seemed to sweep over him, freezing his body and his mind. He felt sluggish and heavy. His brain couldn’t seem to function to process what had happened. Then guilt came. He obsessed other “what-ifs.”What if he’d got her to the hospital faster? What if he’d made her see a doctor when she said she wasn’t feeling well earlier that day? What if he’d been paying more attention and he’s noticed something sooner? Then anger ravaged him as he screamed at the world, the unfairness of it all overcoming him. And then nothing. His emotions eventually spent he was left dazed and lethargic. Days passed in a blur, or maybe it was months?

His children were obviously worried about him. At least one of them came round every day, prompting him to eat and bathe and get out of the house. They encouraged him gently at first but as the weeks passed by and Ed remained apathetic they became more desperate.

“Why don’t you try writing about it, Dad? You used to love to write?” His daughter, Betty, had suggested. Eventually, he had taken her advice and started to write again. And his grief and despair and hopelessness were woven into his stories. And, slowly, he started to feel again.

And now he held in his hands a physical manifestation of a lifetime of experiences, memories and emotions and he felt that same elated thrill as when he had first shown his work to Mr. Williams, his English teacher, all those years ago. He sat at his writing desk for a while just staring at his book - his book! Eventually, he opened the book to the dedication inside the front cover:

For my darling Emily.

My world, my inspiration and the love of my life, always.

Gazing out the window wistfully, he noted the empty bird table. The starlings had migrated away for winter and had not yet returned with the warming spring. His sense of accomplishment felt bitter-sweet as overwhelming loneliness enveloped him.

Lost in nostalgic thoughts, Ed started when his phone rang - peeling bells ringing through the cottage. He glanced at his watch, puzzled. It was still barely dawn, who would be calling at this time? He picked up the phone to hear a shrieking voice,

“Da-a-ad, your book came in the post! I didn’t know it was coming out today! Why didn’t you say something?” Betty didn’t even give him time to protest before she continued.

“It looks so awesome though. Congratulations Dad! I still don’t know how you managed to write a whole novel.” Caught off guard he muttered something like, “Uh-yuh-hmmm-yes, thanks,” before she continued, hardly stopping to breathe.

“I’m coming round,” she said. “Just let me get the kids up and dressed and I’ll be right there…Give me a few hours, Ben’s been a nightmare since he turned 13… typical teenager!” She joked before saying goodbye and hanging up the phone.

He hadn’t realised Betty had pre-ordered his book and he hadn’t told anyone it was coming out today, anxiety about what people would think of it getting the better of him. He barely had time to process Becky’s outpouring of excitement before the phone started ringing again. Puzzled, he picked it up.

”Hi Ed, its Ken. Your book came through this morning. Your copy should be on the way to you. I just called to say congratulations. It’s a great book!”

”Thanks, Ken,” he replied, surprised his agent had thought to call. “And thanks for all your help as well.” Before they could finish their conversation Ed heard a knock at the door. Now what? He wondered.

“Sorry Ken, someone’s at the door, I’ll have to call you back later.” They said their goodbyes and he shuffled across the room - his hard-worn joints aching - to see George and his granddaughter, Riya, grinning up at him.

“Hey, I got your book. Its amazing, Dad, well done!” George congratulated him. 

“Granddad! Did you write a book? That’s so cool!” Riya exclaimed, unadulterated amazement lighting up her young face.

“Hi, Ed, congratulations!” George’s wife, Priyasha, shouted from the car as she picked pulled their fussing younger daughter from her baby carrier. He could hear the phone chiming again from inside the house.

“Come in, come in,” he insisted, gesturing them inside. 

A few hours later, Ed looked around his crowded house, amazed. He had long since given up answering the phone which was now ringing off the hook, his house had gradually filled to bursting point and the crowd - which had rapidly increased as friends, neighbours and family had all come to call and give their congratulations - was now spilling out of his kitchen door and into the garden. Ed watched as a starling flew down and landed on the kitchen windowsill. It hopped a few times and ruffled its feathers, basking in the mellow morning sun, then it seemed to look directly at Ed before it fluttered its wings and glided to the bird table to peck at the hanging feeders. Ed smiled softly as an abundant, glowing sense of contentment filled him. He looked around at his cosy house, bustling with people and thought how lucky he was. All around him, he could see nothing but friendship and love, and a life well-lived.

June 19, 2020 21:38

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Praveen Jagwani
02:35 Jun 22, 2020

That felt like a wholesome spiked coffee on a cold day. You make words dance Emma. I could visualize Ed's entire life and relate to some of it too. The sequence with the starling at the end is beautiful. Well done ! You've got to keep writing.


Emma Chatterton
13:34 Jun 22, 2020

Wow thanks, this is such a lovely comment! I just started writing so this means a lot, thanks :-)


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