12+ Eighty is the new fifty, or so I'm told. But my back wasn't this dodgy when I was fifty, and my knees lasted longer than a circuit of the park with the dog before seizing up. And I wasn't caught short so often that I needed to memorise the location of the nearest public toilet for emergency pit stops!
I leave my wife reading in bed and go downstairs to be greeted by Mabel's smiling face and wagging tail. It's nice having someone happy to see me in the mornings.
"Come on, girl," I say, prompting her ten-year-old frame into a puppy-like dance, "let's go for a walk."
We inherited Mabel from our son when he was appointed to the board of some far-flung company and relocated overseas with our grandkids. It was the same when he and his sister were kids. They pestered us for pets but lost interest in caring for them. And like those distant days, Mabel is now my responsibility to walk, feed and brush.
I attach her harness, and we head off for the short walk to the local park. As usual, Mabel stops to sniff and squat on every patch of grass. It astounds me how she gets through the night, unlike me with my bladder.
While Mabel sniffs and pees, I gaze into the distance and reflect on life. I've been doing this more often since my eightieth birthday, reflecting on years past and trying not to dwell on the future.
Life was fresh and fast in my twenties, with university and travel, starting a career and marriage. And then, in my thirties and forties, it was the blur of raising a family and paying the mortgage and bills.
But in my fifties and sixties, with the kids grown up and retirement looming, I lost my sense of purpose. And becoming a granddad in my seventies didn't help me recover it, especially when the kids moved away.
We arrive at the park, and I unclip Mabel's harness. It's the weekend, and coaches and parents are setting up for games on the adjacent playing fields.
The air is full of the excited squeals of kids chasing balls and playing keepy off. I recall similar days with my kids, driving them all over the city for sports and parties. And now my son and daughter complain about doing the same for their kids.
In those whirlwind years of parenthood, I craved quiet "me time". But nowadays, I'm too often alone with my thoughts, except for Mabel.
We circle the park and return home. My wife is still upstairs reading, so I feed Mable her breakfast and fill up the kettle.
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Staring out the kitchen window, I reflect I should still have a few good years left if eighty is the new fifty.
Mabel finishes her breakfast and lies on her mat with her eyes fixed on me. "What do you think, girl?" The kettle boils as Mabel wags and thumps her tail in agreement.
© 2022 Robert Fairhead
Thanks to Constanze Beyer for the image of walking a dog from Pixabay.
I wrote The New Fifty in September 2022 for the Australian Writer's Centre's quarterly Furious Fiction writing competition. The brief for the 500-word short story was:
- The first sentence had to contain the word FIFTY
- The story had to include a four-legged animal
- And the words EMERGENCY, BRUSH and BOARD. (Longer variations were acceptable as long as they retained the original spelling.)
As a long-term dog lover, the four-legged animal for the story was an easy choice. (I even have Twitter and Instagram accounts for my dog posts.) And, as usual, it wasn't hard to find places for the required words, for instance, pairing BRUSH with a dog.
However, after submitting it, I had a crisis of confidence in the story. In the original Furious Fiction version, the protagonist was fifty, not eighty, and the first sentence was:
Fifty is the new thirty, or so they tell me.
I'm sixty, and it occurred to me that the thoughts I attributed to my protagonist were of an older man. So I flipped the opening line and, with a few extra edits, the perspective of the story to:
Eighty is the new fifty, or so I'm told.
By coincidence, shortly before sharing The New Fifty on Tall And True, I saw a story in a local newspaper headlined, "Eighty is the New Forty"!? Does that make sixty the new thirty? With my back and knees and growing need for "pit stops", I doubt it!
N.B. You might like to read another recent short story reflecting on family holidays, Are We There Yet? And you can listen to The New Fifty on the Tall And True Short Reads storytelling podcast.
A middle-aged dad and dog owner, Robert is a writer and editor at Tall And True and blogs on his eponymous website, RobertFairhead.com. He also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads podcast, featuring his short stories, blog posts and other writing from Tall And True.
Robert's book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media. In 2020, he published his début collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story, and in 2021 his first twelve short stories for the Furious Fiction writing competition, Twelve Furious Months. And in 2022, his second collection of Furious Fictions, Twelve More Furious Months.
Besides writing, Robert's favourite pastimes include reading, watching Aussie Rules football with his son and walking his dog.
He has also enjoyed a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.