A Tube of Toothpaste


(700 words)

“Life’s like a tube of toothpaste, Anthony,” that’s what my aunt Mary used to say. “It looks like there’s so much toothpaste in there, like it’ll never run out, but one day, no matter how hard you squeeze, no matter how hard you roll it up and crush it, nothing more will come out.”
I’m seventy-five this very day, old and arthritic, almost blind, not to mention penniless and alone. I’ve got a bottle of whisky to ‘celebrate’ on my own.
Felicity got good at maths, to everyone’s amazement. That was down to my home tutelage, but we never shouted about it. She lives in Adelaide now, lecturing in applied dynamics, whatever the hell that is, and married to a sheep farmer. We keep in touch.
I’ve lived in this dingy old apartment for nigh on thirty years, looking out of the dusty, stained windows and down onto passersby in the rain, down onto Shivshakti’s Indian grocery store.
Today there’s thick fog. A real ‘pea souper.’ I envisage a motorway, cars speeding through the fog, headlights and fog lights their only visible elements. Then something happens, maybe there’s an animal on the road and a driver brakes. Smack, the car behind runs into it. The occupants are jolted forwards, whiplash injuries changing lives. BANG, a car smashes into the second car, and so it goes, right on down the line, twenty, thirty, forty cars, all smashed and dented, people maimed and killed.
I guess my own toothpaste’s running out fast, but before it does, there’s a letter I’ve been waiting a long time to read.

I’ve moved into a new apartment, right on my forty-fifth! Not new but nicely decorated. There are radiators and a gas boiler and a neat kitchen with cupboards everywhere.
Abigail left me, went to live with Raimondo, a guy who works out at the gym where she teaches yoga. Well, screwing all night had got boring, not to mention exhausting, that’s for teenagers, not forty-somethings! So good luck to Abi and her new ‘beau.’ Call me boring, but I’d rather lie in bed with a cup of tea and a book on punctuation.
But, well, I got lumbered with Felicity, Abi’s daughter. There wasn’t room for her at Raimondo’s flat – so muggins got saddled with her. Either that or turn her over to social services, and I’m not that hard-hearted. But a feisty fourteen-year-old, not the ideal flat-mate!
Well, coping with Felicity’s manifold problems: buck teeth, no friends, lagging in most subjects at school – led me to quitting the day job, and trying to survive by writing a weekly column for a national on the one thing I was good at – Poker. And playing it of course. And there’s an Indian guy just opened a grocery store, Shivshakti’s, over the road. He tells me he’s setting up a poker game on Friday nights and he’s invited me to join. Foolish man, I’ll make a killing!

It’s my fifteenth birthday and Aunt Mary gave me a lovely old box with two packs of playing cards inside. And a book on a game called Poker. She took us all out to a restaurant somewhere in the countryside for lunch. Mum, dad, Samantha and me. Sam made a fuss, saying she wanted vegetarian food – no meat! But otherwise it was good; sitting outside in the sun, watching the wind swaying the trees and eating the biggest cheese-burger I’ve ever seen!
School’s OK right now. I’m top of the class in maths. I’ve decided I prefer numbers to people, they seem easier to understand! I reckon my friends think I’m a bit peculiar!
Mum gave me a Barbour waterproof jacket. It’s super! This week I’m going camping, with a bit of luck I can test it out!

Mum said to write a letter to myself to open when I reach the age of 75. It sounds daft and I don’t know what to say. I guess I could write ‘I hope you had a good life, a great job, a lovely family, went to wonderful places and left your mark on the world.’ Something like that. I’ll have a go, anyway.

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