GREY HEART • by Dan Keeble

I admit to looking down on them. Old men, stooping, dragging their miserable bodies and depressing outlooks into the paths of those still drinking life. The embers of their fading passion spent on letters to local papers complaining about technological advances, or loud music in documentaries. I felt no sympathy for their choice to give up on living, and shuffle along until surrendering to the inevitable. Many were younger than my three score and ten.

I embraced challenges, raised my pain threshold, and boasted about being dynamically fit. I displayed an obscene attitude of over-confidence. My spirit was thirty five. My music, my love of life, and celebration of my place in the universe, defined me. Neither had I given up admiring women.

Zeus once declared, “I’m going to give them something called time and an ageing process. They can keep all their emotions intact, and I’ll even allow them to decide the age of their spirit.” Poseidon said he was sadistic, but Zeus thought it would be amusing to watch.

I believed I could handle anything life was ready to test me with. Bring it on, was my mantra. But only a fool would dare sneer at the gods. They demand humility, and scorn arrogance. We mortals cannot imagine the endless ways in which the gods can avenge.


Her slender pearl tipped fingers spanned an octave with ease. Her cold hands guided mine along the piano keys. But there was a strange warmth in their touch.

“Age shouldn’t be a barrier to learning, Martin,” Rachel said.

“Not everyone would agree,” I said.

“Why didn’t you choose an older tutor?”

“And be judged by my peers?”

“But they would have more experience.”

“Like five years’ experience, followed by thirty years of ritualistic repeats?”

“Amusing,” she said. “It’s admirable that you wish to learn later in life.”

“Age certainly isn’t going to hold me back.”

“Then I will treat you no differently from my younger students,” she smiled.

“So long as I don’t make a fool of myself?”

“Then you can blame your age,” she chuckled.

I felt relaxed in her company, and knew I had made the right choice.


Although progress was slow, I enjoyed Rachel’s company, and her patience with me. Initially I paid her little attention. She always held her head down and to one side. I presumed she was shy. But during one lesson I noticed her bobbed coal-black hair concealed a port-wine birthmark, the shape of New Zealand, that ran from below her left ear and along her jaw line.

By lesson five I realised I had spent many hours in the company of a woman without judging her. It was uncharacteristic, and bemusing. Then one day, sitting beside her at the piano, I caught her gaze. It was a four second moment of unexpected intensity. One in which I experienced an almost spiritual connection — an intuitive awareness something unimaginably joyful was happening. And for the first time she lifted her head to a full face encounter. Her parted-lips smile raced through me. There was an instant emotional bonding I had never felt in any of my seventy years. If melding souls could experience orgasm, then that was what happened.

I was overwhelmed, confused, and intimidated. Fear, and a sense of propriety, took the wheel and steered me back to reality.

Rachel was thirty five.

Unperturbed by my obvious turmoil, she asked, “Is there a composer you favour?”

“Chopin’s Tristesse is down to be played at my funeral,” I stammered.

“Ah, Étude, Opus10 No. 3,” she sighed, her gaze drawn dreamily skyward. “I played it last month at my father’s retirement party.”

Then gently she placed her hands over the keyboard, and began to play.

The music took me deeper into the moment; my attention fixed on her profile and the faraway look in her steel blue eyes. I felt honoured that she trusted me with a full view of her face. A sacred sharing. Rachel and the music was all that existed.

When she finished the piece, she turned.


“You are beautiful,” I said.

It was meant to be, ‘that was beautiful,’ but before I could attempt any correction, she smiled.

“That’s a nice thing to say, Martin.”

Suddenly I felt like a sad old fool — one older than her father. Yet to withdraw such a compliment seemed impossible.

The next lesson was an unbearable blur.

“I don’t understand. You said you enjoyed learning, Martin.”

Did I sense pleading in her voice?

“I do… well, I did,” I said.

“Then why stop. You were doing so well?”

“I’m finding it difficult to concentrate,” I lied.

But it wasn’t a lie. Reading had been become merely an exercise for the eyes; my mind saturated with thoughts of her. Her face and smile supplanted sleep.

Why now? Why this late? Why couldn’t it simply be infatuation or lust — I could resist those.


I never looked into her face again, except for the reflection in the window facing the piano. During my last lesson, I held my head down, and left without shaking her hand, fearing the torment of physical contact.


As a boy I obsessed over a bike in a shop window on my way to school. My parents were poor. They would never have afforded it. I ached knowing it couldn’t be mine. Eventually I chose to take a different route. Now there was more unbearable pain to transcend, and another path to avoid.

As I passed by a shop window, it reflected an old man, whose shoulders were pulled forward by the weight of his misery; his trendy trainers trawling dispassionately along the pavement. And in the distance came a rumble from behind threatening grey clouds that sounded like laughter.

Dan Keeble is a writer who has published a number of articles and short stories. Having retired, the aim was to work on a novel, but time is now limited by being a full time carer.

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Every Day Fiction

  • amanda

    As a 3 score and 12 female, I totally relate to this story. The desire and determination not to let aging dominate your thoughts and actions are at times replaced by the reality of it all. I especially appreciated the comparison to the bike he wouldn’t get in his youth with the piano teacher he wouldn’t get at 70. Thanks for sharing it.

  • Overall I failed to embrace any dynamics of the relationship of the two characters and I never developed any empathy for either. With all the potential emotions of their relationship, the story remained cold and distant. The story, forced.

    The first four paragraphs are overwritten for their content and importance,which could easily be condensed to one paragraph, Would anyone walk around with such a lengthy quote in their head? Its placement seemed forced.

    I found the story transition after his compliment to her, his bailing out of their friendship after his apparent embarrassment of calling her beautiful instead of the performance, not being able to make an adjustment, rather odd for lack of a better word. Is he really such a shallow individual?


    • weequahic

      Shallow? Listen, you young whipper-snapper, one dasn’t confuse the individual with the manner in which he appears to be depicted. (Nothing personal Dan, Jeff.)

  • I enjoyed this. I am a romantic sap and often have issue coming to grips with my own mortality. Usually it’s just about the time another of my children is born, so I’m due a tertiary crisis next month.

    The writing itself was elegant if a little wordy at first and that’s simply one of the big challenges with flash. You have to tell instead of show sometimes to hit that word count. Now we ask: was his disdain of the elderly pertinent information, or was the only thing relevant to learn his age?
    In this case I think it sets up his inability to see the Forrest through the trees, as it were, in that he’d be a proper suitor to a young lady.
    His disdain is really his own fear of being what he dreads he has become.
    If you had more words to work with you might’ve been able to show his emotions there without exposition, but it wasn’t damning.
    Also, advice I got from Paul Freeman on here once was that there weren’t enough contractions in the dialogue, which at the time I said, “Yeah huh!” But now I look for like a hungry wolf. You could have more. We almost always shorten speech where we can.
    Thank you for sharing.

  • Secondary feedback RE your byline:

    When I “want” to wrote a novel it’s more like I need to write a novel and the story is banging around up there looking for escape by any means necessary. Not just a story, but an entire world. Given you’ve got others to care for and are limited, but there are tools to help you get the most out of every free minute you have.

    Try, if you haven’t, Google docs on your smartphone (assuming you have one) and if not you can get a small audio recorder for students and buy dragon dictation software, the more expensive version, which can take your pre-recorded notes and translate them to a word doc.

    Google docs is free and let’s you access your files from any internet connection, the second option is not free, but some people really appreciate the freedom of dictation software.

    I use the Google voice to text engine, which isn’t as advanced as Dragon, but still free.

    Anyway. Don’t quit the novel. It will never leave you in peace until it’s on paper.

    • Dan

      Michael, Many thanks for the feedback. I haven’t given up on the novel. It has been a matter of choice. My wife is bed-bound with advanced multiple sclerosis, breast cancer and diabetes. So you can imagine, as her full-time carer, sleep is optional. Despite that, I do fill the unforgiving minute with 61 secs of writing when time presents, even if on cooker top or ironing board. I write more now than years ago when I thought I ‘didn’t have time’, and have had something published every month for the past two years. So the spirit is willing, the pencil is sharpened, but time is short. But I am very grateful that you took the time to write. Kindest regards.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    I’m with Jeff.

    As someone not all that far off from three score and ten, I find this laughable. Our MC needs to get out more and make new friends. Plenty of sparkling women and men in his age group…two stars.

  • S Conroy

    That Zeus quote made me wish I knew more about the Greek gods. What a psychopath! Loved this story.

  • Dan Keeble

    Thank you to everyone who gave up their valuable time to comment. I am so grateful for the feedback. Without your views we scribblers would never know if we have got it right….or should I say trite on this occasion?
    Kindest regards

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      I think language must always be in service of a story–but plenty of prize committees and readers don’t share my point of view. Many novels are extended elegiac musings on mortality and missed opportunity. To me that’s not writing I want to spend a week with.

      To me the MC’s perspective suited his mode of expression, but a couple of references made it clear to me that this was intended to be a contemporary story. The MC might have been entirely deluded in his perceptions–a modern young woman like Rachel would either not be ashamed of her birthmark, or using effective cover-up makeup to hide or diminish it. For me, as reader, I felt nothing to draw me into his world, as well-sketched as it was.

      • Dan Keeble

        Thanks Sarah, have taken on board. Sorry to disappoint.
        Kind regards. Dan

        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

          I’ve just read your “Busy Busy,” which is absolutely charming. I gave it four stars, and would very much like to read more from you.

          • Dan Keeble

            Thank you again Sarah. I did enjoy your serving of Blackbird Pie, although the genre isn’t in my usual reading pile….too busy busy skipping on the surface of life…frequently write humour….keeps me sane (whatever that is)
            Regards again.

        • conrad winn

          why would one of your characters need to be compared to a “modern woman”..they are characters to support an idea..they can exist on their own..when I read a piece of prose or poetry I try to go into it without any predetermined constructs..

    • Hi Dan, Rarely does an author reply to comments, especially if they are pointed criticism. All writers make mistakes, errors in character and plot. Most recoil as from a hot flame when pointed out. It is the writer who can evaluate a criticism, find where the comments are just, and apply them to the existing story as well as those under construction that will grow as a writer

      There’s no such thing as a perfect story..

      I appreciated your responses.


      • Dan Keeble

        …and I appreciate your critique Jeff. Dealing every week with numerous National Health Service ‘professionals’ (UK) has given me a skin that a rhino would be proud of, so a considered criticism from a reader is both appreciated and non-stinging.
        Kind regards, Dan

  • So, the omen fitted the depression at the end. Okay that’s good, but I missed the connection of his annoying decision (walking away from a shot at happiness) to a sadistic God. And then there was the witty conversations showing me two talented people getting involved with each other. Romantic, yes, but did it fit in with the coming storm? For me, not so much. Some other force could have made sense in bringing Martin to his knees. I mean Mr. Keeble was going there anyways … right?

    • S Conroy

      Interesting. I didn’t get the impression that she was getting involved with him in the least. I felt she admired him a lot as a father figure. He tells her she’s beautiful and she says that’s a nice thing to say. It doesn’t strike me as the reactions of a woman with romance on her mind. He feels an emotional bond to her stronger that anything he’s ever felt in his life and can’t deal with the whole pain of that not being requited, so he walks away. That felt reasonable in my books – sad, but totally understandable. I did find myself hoping he got a new piano teacher, so at least he’d still hold onto his love of learning.
      I figure the sadistic god gave him/let him choose a spirit of 35 years, but to the 35 year old woman he was still 3 score and 10 on the outside.

      • The sad part is Martin is nonredeemable. He could not have the bike, he would not have the teacher, he would never find his heart. I owe that much to the author.

  • conrad winn

    I enjoyed this and found it very easy to read..almost poetic in the way you use sounds and not only syntax to convey your meaning..thank you…

  • This was moving and held this reader’s interest. Of course not every woman appreciates being compared with a bike 🙂 Overall this is well-written and I enjoyed it.

    • Dan Keeble

      Oooops, never saw that connection Derek. Perhaps too pure in spirit as an old f**t. Thanks for your response..much appreciated.

    • conrad winn

      the concept was being compared..not the items…

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Very poignant that the MC became what he despised. I enjoyed this story. It gave me much food for thought.

  • Interesting tale, although I was a bit confused over the young lady’s reaction. Once he told her she was beautiful, and then followed that up by quitting and using the excuse that he was having trouble concentrating, I would think she would say something about his obvious infatuation. Instead she acted as though she didn’t understand what was going on. I suppose she could have been oblivious, but my experience tells me most women would pick up on it and ask him instead of acting surprised. Just my opinion, of course, the author probably saw her in an entirely different light. Good read and three plus stars nonetheless.