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Mid Life Crisis

by rmol1950 

Posted: 27 February 2007
Word Count: 733
Summary: The idea for this came to me when watching the news one day a couple of years ago.

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He had suffered chest pains when he tried to jog across Hyde Park after a large celebratory lunch and a few too many drinks with his sales team. It hadn’t been particularly bad but was enough to frighten him into calling the doctor, and it made him face long suppressed worries about lifestyle and fitness.

Paul, an old school friend with a practise in Harley Street, examined him thoroughly then laughed at him. Told him to lose thirty pounds, stop smoking, take a holiday, and spend some of the money he worked so hard to accumulate. He should act forty five, not fifteen, and he should remember to keep breathing in and out.

On the premise that any advice he chose to pay for was probably worth heeding, he had immediately gone to Thomas Cooke’s Travel Agency in Piccadilly.

‘I want two weeks, somewhere hot. Quiet and luxurious. Leaving tomorrow.’

The girl had smiled in anticipation of a good commission.

‘Somewhere I can swim with tropical fish’, he added, ’and I really don’t care how much it costs.’ A good indication, he thought, how much the chest pains had frightened him. Despite Paul’s jokes.

So here he was three days later in Sri Lanka, lying flat on his back on a perfect white sandy beach after a light breakfast of grilled fish and fresh mango. And a morning swim. Well, maybe not a swim, more like a few short bursts of inefficient freestyle followed by floating on his back to regain his breath. But it was a start and he’d enjoyed it.

How long was it since he’d taken a holiday? He thought hard, staring straight up at the sky through whispering palm fronds, unconsciously scooping handfuls of fine sand and trickling it through his fingers. Six years? No seven. Unless you counted the odd weekend away with that bloody woman. Thank Christ she’d left him. In fact, it was rather good to be alone. No phone calls, no emails, no meetings, nothing he had to do, and nobody he didn’t want to talk to. Just sun and turquoise sea and warm sand against his back and palm trees bending in the breeze against a blue, blue sky. And quiet. So quiet.

Paul was probably right. All he ever did was work. No family. Most of those he called friends were colleagues from work. No hobbies. Just things he talked about a lot but never had time to do. He did play golf, but that was more business than pleasure if he was honest. What did he actually like doing, he wondered? Yes! What did he actually like doing?

He liked sunbathing, he thought, as the breeze dropped and the sun’s heat increased on his skin. He noticed the pungent smell of seaweed on exposed rocks.

And he liked sex, but even that had become organised and almost businesslike lately, more of a bodily function than pleasure. It took him a moment to even remember who he’d last slept with.

A woman’s voice murmured through the heat and he idly wondered what caused that distinctive quality of sound that only occurred on a quiet beach on a hot day. He would always know he was on a beach just by the way a soft voice carried unintelligibly. He would know even with his eyes closed. The voice drifted toward him again. There was something familiar about it. Was it the beautiful receptionist?

Enough, he thought, stretching luxuriously. Don’t evade the question. What do you like doing? He concentrated, digging his hands down into the sand to find the cool dampness. Then he froze as a sudden realisation shocked him.

He rarely did anything he liked doing! He only did things he had to do, or thought he should do, or people told him he ought to do. Jesus! Was it really as bad as that? How the hell had that happened? OK. Full of resolve now. Make a list Miss Evans. Smiling as he pictured his secretary’s fine legs. Things I like to do. Things I will do! He sat up, excited by his insight, and looked out to sea.

But the sea had gone. The waters edge was suddenly hundreds of meters away. And then he saw the monstrous, impossible wave that was approaching him from beyond the exposed coral reef and he realised he had left it all much too late.

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Comments by other Members

Cornelia at 20:45 on 27 February 2007  Report this post
I found this very easy to read, and just as I thought I could predict the end ( I thought he'd died and was in Heaven) there was this completely unexpected twist. Excellent.


SOOTYSMUM at 00:25 on 28 February 2007  Report this post
I'm a first time writer, so I don't feel I can offer any technical advice. I enjoyed the read, it built up well and painted a good balanced picture...you felt you knew the man in the story. i thought the ending was good in the fact that it was unexpected, but it didn't, for me personally, have the impact I thought would follow, I felt it stopped to quickly...just like his life I suppose!

Account Closed at 20:17 on 28 February 2007  Report this post
I enjoyed reading this, and I liked the twist at the end, although I feel you finish too abruptly for me. Perhaps another sentence or two after the crisis?

I think you get character across very well 'don't care how much it costs' speaks volumes.

Something about 'unintelligibly' jarred with me. It did not quite seem the right word for this piece and this sentence.

Well done, and again, I did enjoy reading this. I hope my comments are useful to you.



rmol1950 at 17:40 on 01 March 2007  Report this post
Thank you all for the useful comments. I agree the ending is very abrupt and have been wondering how to change it without changing the point of the story. The original idea came when watching the news about the Asian Tsunami and I wondered what it would be like to be lying on the beach utterly content one second, then realising you were going to die the next second.
I also agree about the 'unintelligible' paragraph. It doesn't work.
Thank you for taking the tme to read it.
Best wishes

Nessie at 08:31 on 04 March 2007  Report this post
Thanks for posting your story.

Having read the 'teaser', the end wasn't a surprise. I don't know if it would have had the effect of making me think hard about life, as it was intended to, I guess. I think thats because it is all done in the same rhythms, with the same sentence lengths. There isn't a real sense of drama at the end, so it probably feels sightly unreal.

But I think you've come up with an interesting character who has potential for a longer piece.

However... to go through quickly element by element:

I'm a bit bemused by the title. It's 'light'... and I am not convinced that this was your intention with the piece.

Opening: We meed the unnamed MC, unfit and counting the cost of working hard for years, and not exercising...and know that he is going to go away fror a well earned break.

there are snips of humopur 'keep breathing in and out'which set a lighthearted tone for the piece.

Character: The MC feels real enough. I think we feel enough about him and are not told it all... for him to lift off the page. I query the effect of not naminig him though. You hold the reader away by doing this. You give the reader an obstacle to overcome, which to me seems unnecessary. He's an interesting character. You seem to pull the story from under him very fast. I'd have liked to see, perhaps, how he copes with being dragged away by the wave, and dumped somewhere.... we'd see layers then. Even if the end was his death.

Dialogue: The little bit of actual dialogue works fine.

Voice: The voice is a bit muddled, for this reader at least. It is a mix of light hearted, then heavier,... and I think this send me all over the place. I can't 'settle' to anything, can't sink into it as a story, as a result.

Plot: Unfit man goes on holiday and contemplates his life. Decides to make a few changes, and sees the tsunami coming...

it works, but it's truncated and a little unbalanced...I think there could be a lot more here.

Theme: as it stands, it's all on the surface... nothing to get teeth into, apart from what I am 'told' to feel in the teaser.

Involvement: see comments above. I think this is good as an exploration of character background for a longer piece, perhaps. But it does not involve me as it is.

Language: Fine, no issues.

Pace: there's no variation of pace.

Ending. It feels as if this is where a far more interesting story would actually start... as the character is actually faced with something to cope with that means more than anything else he's done.

I hope these comments are helpful.

thanks for posting


hmaster at 18:39 on 04 March 2007  Report this post

An interesting, short piece - and the last paragraph is an effective, sudden thrust of the unexpected. Although I did like this piece, my main concern is that I feel I didn't care about the character as much as I should have, as if he were just a cipher, a Star Trek red-shirt to get bumped off for my amusement. There are lines you could jettison in pursuit of this, adding more personal details, e.g. "the girl had smiled in anticipation..." is story glue but doesn't actually tell us anything we need to know. The direction I would go is to try to flesh him out as a more whole person, and then return to revise the story after you see him clearly. If you can really get me to care, the last paragraph will be even stronger.

Nitty nit nits:
and it made him face
could be tightened into "making him face"

Thomas Cook's Travel Agency
just drop the travel agency, the name itself is much more natural in the hands of your main character.

unconsciously scooping handfuls of fine sand
a minor slip in point of view here; if it's unconscious, then he wouldn't have noted it.

The paragraph that concerns the "distinctive quality of sound" on a quiet beach didn't grab me. It's not to say that the phenomenon you describe doesn't exist (maybe it means I don't spend enough time on the beach!) but I didn't quite get this through the words presented here.

As always, take or leave the comments you want - you're in control!

Thanks for posting this to the group,

Sibelius at 20:28 on 04 March 2007  Report this post
Thanks for sharing your story Richard.

It's a funny one this. In some ways the abrupt ending for both reader and MC is entirely appropriate - the feeling that the carpet has been ripped from under your feet and of sudden catastrophic change. Unfortunately, I don't think that makes for a very balanced or satisfying overall story. In some ways, it doesn't make for a story at all.

Technically, the writing is efficient, you create a character with potential and set up a storyline that while it lacks a little in originality still has scope for interest.

But then the story suddenly ends and as a reader I was left thinking what was the point of it? You say in reply to one of the comments above that you wanted to write the story after wondering what it would be like to be sitting on a beach and then seeing the tsunami wave. I think just about everyone would say it would be terrifying, so the story is not really exploring any issue there.

I just wondered how the story would develop if this character is forced to question his life (and selfishness perhaps) in the aftermath of the tsunami when he sees so much suffering around him.

It's just a thought, but one that gives the MC some challenges to overcome and can extend the story onto a wider canvas.

Becca at 11:58 on 11 March 2007  Report this post
Hi Richard,
It's easy to read your writing, and that was a pleasure. But, overall, I felt the story needed to be sharper, and with more contrast - light and shade, so to speak. I would have liked to feel more empathy with the character, only he's set up as an indulgent rather unpleasant bloke, and so how much, as reader, can I care about him? If you could have shown some of the ways in which the theme, (never doing what you like, only what you have to), happens in his life, I'd have felt closer to him.
This could have been the start of a much longer piece, but it could also work as a short story if you did some work on figuring out a 'angle' that resonates more, maybe make it all a little less safe?

rmol1950 at 06:23 on 28 March 2007  Report this post
Thanks to everybody for taking the time to write such detailed and useful comment which has taught me several valuable lessons. Sorry not to have replied sooner but have been away on an oil rig with very limited internet access.

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