Short Story: Swansong

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About this Short Story

Written by
Sam Chesterton

Narrated by
Paul Jerricho


A wistful moment as an old woman remembers her passions and her mistakes.


  • 1538 Words
  • 27 Comments
  • 80% Community Rating
  • 35428 Views

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She was angry at life. She painted, sometimes as if to blot out the rage. Her fury was visible in the vigorous strokes of her brushwork.

To be seventy three years old was in itself enough reason for anger; and now winter was here and it was cold in the mountains. She stayed in bed most mornings, rose late, ate a frugal meal of rice or beans, drank a glass of red wine, followed by strong coffee, then went up slowly to her studio at the top of the old house.

Today she had not been in the mood for painting. Out of a yellowish winter sky, a few snowflakes had fallen, covering the skylight of the icy room, an unusual thing in this part of Andalusia. Yet she had remained in the studio, seated in an armchair until night had fallen. She was wrapped in her alpaca cloak, with the Peruvian Indian knitted hat pulled low over her grey…

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David Appleby Guest Editor said "This is a riveting story, one that peels back elemental truths about a subject too often neglected in contemporary short stories. Sam works in a rich prose that illuminates the main character and offers insights into the common calamity we calmly call, aging. As for those particular truths…these you will find enclosed in nuances that mark this story for the ‘slow read’ it deserves."
6 years ago
Adrian Searle Guest Editor said "In a culture obsessed with women’s bodies, we’re remarkable queasy when it comes to positive expressions of post-menopause female sexuality. This story rejoices in the subject. Lula is a 76 year old flibbertyjib, chasing tail like a hormonally supercharged adolescent. But Sam Chesterston is to be commended for showing that strength of will alone won’t make Lula’s fantasies become flesh. So often, the best art comes from wanting what we can’t have."
7 years ago
Red Barn Studios said "Editor's Pick - This was one of the first stories where there were conflicting ideas about the narrator, most notably whether it should be male or female. A story about a seventy year old woman who is still trying to lure young men into her bedroom, surely a female narrator for the job. But no, we went with a man. A strange decision but one which works! Paul Jerricho narrates this beautifully written story and in doing so he captures the pathos and emotion perfectly."
8 years ago

Patsy R Liles said "I listened attentively and was rewarded with a wonderful story of the yearnings of old age, portrayed in Lulu. Paul presents it so well, Sam has written convincingly. No better presentation. Maybe Sam can come up with one on the side of elderly men, or has he and I missed it. Patsy"
5 years ago
Erica Brooks Guest Editor said "Hi Sam! This is gut-wrenching stuff. Your gift for description makes it all the more heartbreaking to see so vividly how much Lula has to offer, only to have it all rejected. On the surface it's her body that's failing to please, but the narrative time spent on her home and her paintings implies the rejection is more complete and cutting than that. I've never in my life wanted so badly to see an old woman get laid."
6 years ago
Norman Smith said "No question, a great example of the genre in conveying certain truths with a clean and effective prose, albeit suffused with an integrity that doesn't put a foot wrong. Work of this standard enables comparison with master short story writers. Reading this story acts as a reminder of how much hard work is required in order to produce something worthwhile as distinct from (in my view) the trivial 'squibs' that masquerade as the real thing."
6 years ago
Sam Chesterton replied saying "Norman, Many thanks for your encouraging comment. This was a strange one; brewing in my subconscious for a while. Although fictitious, my character is in part based on a real person. I was uncertain where I was going to start with, then in one sleepless hour towards dawn the story seemed to leap out almost fully formed. I had some polishing to do, but less than you would think. I only wish this happened more often, but the required state of mind needs to be nurtured diligently. The more you work, the more you become open to ideas and I believe this is where the hard work you speak of comes in; creating the right environment (too often this part is an excuse to put things off) and making the time to sit down and try. (I would normally put a paragraph here, but this form won't allow it)..... Although I sound like a saint when I preach this doctrine of diligence, I must confess to being one of the sinners. All too often the daily business of workaday life prevents me from sitting down and writing, or even trying to write, and so the subconscious closes itself off and strangles creativity. I'm looking forward to autumn and winter, when things quieten down here."
6 years ago
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Sam Chesterton replied saying "Jay, Many thanks. There is some unfinished Lula stuff out there which I have to add to, but am finding it difficult at the moment: a house full of guests, and we are busy with guests at the B&B and until mid October.....then the chestnut harvest. I'm looking forward to quiet autumnal mornings; with the 'phone unplugged and a fire lit, and my brain hopefully guiding my fingers across the keys. I'm currently 'writing' a cookery book (my wife's recipes) and then we shall set about hunting for a publisher. Fingers x'd Don't despair about your novels. I have 3 mouldering away in drawers. They've been good practice for short stories!"
6 years ago
Mary Costello said "Tightly wound, and atmospheric story that holds and contains the conflicts of aging suberbly. Such clean, controlled distilled writing that lends just the right amount of tension to the story."
6 years ago
Sam Chesterton replied saying "Mary, thanks for your kind comments. It was one of those flashes of a story that woke me in the night. I had no idea where it was going, but it came out of a cocktail of truth and imagination....I had to get out of bed in the early morning and set it down quickly, and it needed only a little polishing. How rare is that? I wish it would happen more often! I'm still in the slough as far as creative writing goes, but hope once our high tourist season is over I'll get back to creating the environment to work in (all sorts of idiotic perfections sought; amongst them no 'phone calls, a straight morning with no interruptions, a kettle to hand and strong tea....and of course I must be warm and have a fire as it gets wretchedly cold in these hills.)"
6 years ago
Richard Ardus said "A good read. I wonder what other qualities Lula might have had though. The omniscient narrator doesn't give her a chance."
6 years ago
Diane Dickson Guest Editor said "absolutely beautiful writing in this poignant and atmospheric story. The title accurately captures the feeling of hopelessness and desire. Excellent choice for the Friday story - thank you"
6 years ago
Alison Bacon said "Lovely story with great atmosphere and characterisation. My only quibble is that by telling the story in flashback, we already know the outcome - otherwise spot on."
6 years ago
Barry O'Leary said "As I live in Seville, Andalusia, I could really imagine Lula's adventure and felt for her throughout the narration. I'd like to know what happened the day after, or the next time she spotted a young Spanish man strolling through the village..."
7 years ago
Kirsty Riddiford Guest Editor said "Poignant and believable - made me want to go out and grab life with both hands (although I'm happily married, so perhaps not to the same extent as your character!)"
7 years ago
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This comment has been removed; this user is no longer a member of Shortbread.
Sam Chesterton replied saying "Thanks David. I've just read "The Graveyard of Romance" and I can see both stories touch on the same theme. Happily your heroine is wiser than mine, and recognised the simple pleasure of indulging in a daydream of possibility. Painful, but realistic. I admire the economy of your writing; you allow the details to fill themselves in in the reader's mind."
7 years ago
Vikki Gemmell said "Well written - Enjoyed reading this - a very well drawn character."
8 years ago
Susan Donim said "More Lula? - I've commented on this story before, but Swansong popped up on my ipod this morning while I was winging my way to work, and I absolutely loved listening to it! Perfect! Is there more Lula on the way? I hope so! "
8 years ago
Yvonne Arnold said "Magnetic - I was enthralled by the combination of a deeply touching and moving story and the eloquence of Paul's voice. Paul's tender, expressive narration complements this summary of Lola at eighty years old perfectly, enhancing the believability factor and holding the listener spellbound. He narrates the story as if about a friend, to a close friend. I will definitely listen to this again."
8 years ago
Clarissa Dann said "Disturbingly beautiful - There's something about Paul Jerricho's voice that makes listening to Swansong profoundly personal. I am not yet at that age nor like the septgenarian reflecting on what she was and what she has become. But the frightening thing about this story is that I could be one day...and have resolved not to be. Thank you Paul and thank you Sam for the warning...."
8 years ago
Susan Donim said "Hypnotic and lyrical - This so far has been my favourite audio on site. The narration is perfect- and Paul Jerricho captures the essence of the story. And I could listen to his voice all day! A wonderfully written character and a great performance from Paul! Thanks Shortbread! "
8 years ago
Roderick Baird said "A good short read - This being my first short read from this website I shall look forward to reading others, especially from the same author. "
9 years ago
Karen Skinner said "Found it! - It took me a few minuets to find this one, but i'm glad i did. I already like Lula very much. By the way, no pose is ever pointless. My grandmother taught me that."
9 years ago
Bryan Islip said "Short and sharp - I asked my wife whether an eighty years old female could have such sexual urges. 'Yes', she said, 'I do hope I do.' So there, my doubts about Swansong are resolved. This is a nice little pastiche with lots of colour, light and shade, often achieved through the legitimate use of obscure local words. Nit-picks include the mis-spelling of despondant (a not second e), too many adverbs and double adjectives and the odd alliteration. (still persisted). But one to remember, I think. "
9 years ago

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