Age Gap

posted in: Aging, Fiction | 0

Disconnections, with excerpts from stories by John Picard and James O’Sullivan.
6 minutes


The Winter 2024 issue of Passager just came out, Issue 76. Great cover by artist Diane Dunn.

The editors noticed when they were putting the issue together that there were several subjects that wove their way through multiple pieces. On this episode of Burning Bright, excerpts from two stories about confrontations between people of different ages.

John Picard was a library worker for over 30 years when his library began culling books they deemed underused and superfluous, a venture that seemed wrong-headed to him.
Here’s an excerpt from his short story “Rightsizing.”

“I’d like a laptop.”

Clark asked the student with the scruffy beard and the nose ring, “Could you remove your earbuds, please?”


“Your earbuds? Could you take them out?”

The young man tugged with cool reluctance on the earbud’s cord. The earpiece, dangling down, emitted some musical horror. “I’d like a laptop,” the student repeated.

“After you take out your earbuds. Both of them. If you don’t mind.”

“What the . . . ” The student looked behind him at the next person in line and shook his head.

“It’s a simple request,” Clark said.

“Screw this,” the youth said and walked off.

Next was a girl with a black pony tail and a tattoo of a rising phoenix on her forearm. She had on a pair of Beats, an expensive brand of headphones favored by the trendier students. “I want a laptop,” she said, “and I’m not taking these off.”


“I can hear perfectly.”

“That’s not the issue.” It was bad enough the students so rarely came to the checkout desk with books (and those who did were mostly graduate students working on their dissertations), bad enough that the desk had become a virtual media checkout center (laptops, calculators, iPads, iPhones chargers, headphones, digital cameras), so he didn’t think it was asking too much that patrons not talk on their phones or listen to their tunes for the few seconds they were being helped.

“I want to speak to your manager,” the girl said.

“She’s not available at the moment.”

“There must be someone I can talk to.”

“There’s a suggestion box on the wall behind you. You’re free to make a written complaint.”

Marilyn, the desk manager, appeared. “Is there a problem?”

“Yeah,” the girl said. “He won’t check out a laptop to me.”

“Oh?” Marilyn said, turning to Clark with an anxious smile. Clark explained. “Well,” Marilyn said, “that shouldn’t matter so much.”

The girl looked at Clark with a triumphant smile, then gaped. “He stuck his tongue out at me.”

“He did,” someone said in the back of the line.

“That’s harassment,” the girl said.

“Could you return to your desk, Clark?” Marilyn said.

“Yeah, Clark,” the girl said, “return to your desk.”

An excerpt from John Picard’s story “Rightsizing” from the new issue of Passager.

James O’Sullivan said that his story “Plum Trees” grows out of his interest in miscommunication, silence, mortality, and loss. Here’s an excerpt.

Crouched on a low branch of the largest of three plum trees, the boy waited for his father to return home, just as he had been waiting through the month of June for the plums to ripen. Despite his mother’s warnings not to eat unwashed fruit, he reached out and plucked a plum with a twist of his wrist . . .

The boy watched a black car descend the hill, but it was not his father’s Plymouth. The car braked hard and pulled off the road onto the gravel driveway in front of the boy’s house. A large man got out of a 1943 Packard sedan. The man wiped sweat from his forehead with a handkerchief and scrutinized first the house and then the corner where the plum trees stood. He saw the boy, walked over, and stood at the base of the tree.
“Your dad home?” he asked, looking up at the boy with rapacious eyes.

“No,” the boy said.

“When will he be back?” he persisted. The man seemed like a giant bear poised to yank him from the tree. “I need to talk to your father. When will he be home?” The man slapped his massive paw against the tree trunk within reach of the boy’s ankle. The boy tried to climb higher, but the branches were too thin.

“Matthew, what are you doing?” shouted a woman standing on the front porch, clutching a baby under one arm. The man moved away from the tree and walked in the direction of Matt’s mother. Matt jumped down from the tree and ran to safety at his mother’s side.

“I’m looking for Mr. Dalton,” the man said. “When will he be home?”

“How do you know our name?” she asked.

“No bother, ma’am,” the man said. “I have a proposal for your husband. My name’s Carver. I’m your neighbor up the hill. I’ll come back later.”

Carver lumbered back to his car, waving as he backed out the driveway.

“Matthew, come inside,” the boy’s mother said. Matt went into the house. Something unpleasant was on its way. “Haven’t I told you not to talk to strangers,” she said sternly.


“Why were you in that tree again?”

“I was waiting for Dad.”

“I told you he won’t be home until late tonight.” She noticed the plum stain on his lips. “Don’t eat any more plums,” she commanded. “They’re not ripe.”

An excerpt from James O’Sullivan’s story “Plum Trees,” also from the brand new issue of Passager.

To get your own copy of Issue 76 or to subscribe to or learn more about Passager and its commitment to writers over 50, go to You can download Burning Bright from Spotify, Apple and Google Podcasts and various other podcast apps.

For Kendra, Mary, Christine, Rosanne, and the rest of the Passager staff, I’m Jon Shorr.