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PEOPLE I WISH I WAS by Socrates Adams

ONE

He writes a song a day. He keeps a diary next to his bed and every night, without fail, using his guitar, he transcribes thoughts into the book. The tunes are repetitive folk melodies. They are circular, looping reminders of the pattern of his days, weeks, months.

He works as an actor. He attends read-throughs of scripts he likes. The projects he really loves rarely get off the ground. He is a dreamer and dreams of affecting the lives of other people.

He lives alone. He’s tried relationships but they don’t fit with the rest of his life. He hates compromise. Things are good with new lovers and he’s always excited and optimistic. But he knows from experience that he just can’t sync the rhythm of his life with anyone else’s. The beats are always imperfectly syncopated, the footsteps of two novice dancers, struggling to keep time.

He lives in a top floor flat in a trendy suburb of Manchester. From his window, he can see other houses, a corner shop, trees. Children walk up and down the road in the morning and the afternoon, dressed in dark grey suits, with bright green ties.

He plays guitar, he sings. He meets musician friends. They drink together, they talk. He has four good friends. They tease him about being too nice. He isn’t so quick when it comes to making sly comments about his friends. He always laughs when they make sly comments about him.

He wishes he had a dog. He’s almost bought one a few times, but never goes through with it. I’d kill it, he thinks. I wouldn’t exercise it enough. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are naturally timid. They tremble at the sight of other dogs. Some are so timid that they fear the sight of their own shadow.

His shadow sits behind him, watching him write, listening to him sing. His shadow scares him and keeps him safe. When he sleeps, his shadow is there, under his body, feeling him breathe, not letting him inhale too deep, keeping him strange and thin.

TWO

She goes for long walks. She enjoys her own thoughts. She doesn’t listen to music, podcasts, YouTube videos, the radio. She loves the nourishment that silence gives.

She lives somewhere in New York. I don’t know the city, so her life is less certain. She doesn’t earn much, so her flat can’t be that nice. Maybe it’s in the Bronx. That seems like a bad neighbourhood. The city is her canvas and she paints herself onto it daily.

She is an artist and a writer. Her work is confessional. People have made denigrating comments about her art in reviews. It’s self-indulgent, they say. She just takes selfies, they say. She’s tried other media, but always returns to photomontage coupled with surreal short fiction.

She drinks and when she does she becomes a liquid creature, oozing between places and moods. She is good-natured until she passes out. She still smokes, despite everything, and asks women for a light outside the bars she likes to visit. The bars are a smear of neon across her young life.

Things seem to happen to her. Muggings, small lottery wins, exciting commissions, falling into water, rows with friends, sex with friends, emails from mysterious people, chance meetings with other artists at the central library, rescuing kittens from cars, swirling love affairs, autumn.

She’s always ready with her phone and she catalogues it all, and then it’s permanent. People will look back on her life and say she truly lived. They will be jealous and I will be one of them.

THREE

What a family man, people say about him. He has two children and they are his angels. He makes them sandwiches and sets them up for each day. There is nothing sad about his life. It is an unbroken chain of happy links.

At night, while his children sleep, he watches pornography. His wife is dead. He imagines her watching with him, giving him her blessing. He confesses all his bad thoughts to her. She knows everything he does. She is inhumanly understanding, like a layer of thick, rich honey.

Sometimes I want to die, he thinks. I understand, his wife says to him, across the veil. I would never actually do it, he thinks, fingering the pack of pills. Of course not, my darling, she says.

He still has hobbies although his time is severely limited. He loves woodwork. Before she died, he’d spend hours in the shed, whittling. He made wooden figurines of literary characters for the children and she painted them.  They were a good team. Now though, because he’s alone, there is a certainty and purity to his actions that is tremendously liberating.

He is not a man, he is just a father. He knows how to do it because his dad did it to him. He phones his own dad sometimes, tells him only the good parts of his life. You’re coping well, says the older man. I am OK, says the younger man.

His favourite bird is the seagull. He loves their ugly cries, he feels comforted by their greed, and how reliably they argue with each other. All it takes is one dropped chip to see the birds fight to the death, blood and feathers flung across the pavement.

FOUR

Being twelve is easy, even if it’s painful, and I long to be almost any twelve-year-old child. Boy or girl, rich or poor, bright or not, in any school, with any teacher. I’d be happy with any parents, within reason.

The child goes to school because it has to. In the evening, it has dinner and does homework. Every night the same: some meat, vegetables, usually canned sweetcorn, a potato.

It collects football cards. It collects Pogs. It has friends it talks to. There’s a tree stump in the middle of the playground the kid sits on every break time. When the stump is wet, the child lays it waterproof coat down on the wood, keeping its bum dry.

The twelve-year-old child thinks big and the weekends are time it has the biggest thoughts. The stars, it thinks, my dad, it thinks, my mum, it thinks, the things I’ve done, it thinks, I wish I was younger, it thinks. The child is sentimental and looks through photographs of its parents’ wedding. I was there, in my mum’s tummy already, the child thinks. It knows this because its mum told it.

The child won’t grow up.

FIVE

He’s a house DJ in Birmingham. He sleeps with anyone who’ll have him. People come up to him while he’s playing songs and flirt. He flirts back and they talk about the music over the sound of the music.

I love music, he says.

He is a great lover. He spends a lot of time at the gym and while he’s there he thinks constantly about his sexual technique. He reads articles about sex in magazines and considers himself a great expert on sensuality.

He lives with his mother. He has a film projector. He watches action movies from the eighties on the uneven white wall of the living room. His mother never bothers him.

He works out, he trims his nails every other day, he drinks protein milk from an opaque plastic bottle. The plastic tube of the bottle is chunky. He chews the tube sometimes when he’s listening to music for the first time.

At night, he dreams of other people’s lives. Deserts, wide stretches of calm water, toothless grandparents.

SIX

She has an active social life. She is elderly, but in good health. She lives in one of the country’s premier retirement homes. There is a choice of three cooked meals for dinner every day. She has a string of romances with men and women at the home.

She has almost no memory. She experiences each moment with a sense of tireless wonder. She dances well, although she doesn’t remember how or when she learnt to.

She moves her weight from one foot to another, beckoning dashing men and charming ladies to spend time with her. Fat diamonds hang under her ears.

Sometimes, when she relaxes in a large, comfortable chair, her body sinks so deep into the cushions that she disappears. Her breath stops, her heart slows, her skin melts into the fibre and she extends her mind to the edges of the world.

SEVEN

He’s the most famous, successful person in the history of time. He is a singer, actor, writer, dancer, father, son, best friend, doctor, human rights lawyer, astronaut, president, prime minister, director, musician, mathematician, celebrity chef, rancher, champion pumpkin carver, example to everyone.

People ring him and ask for advice. He has twenty close friends with whom he maintains healthy, appropriate relationships. He is happily married. Everyone respects him.

The entire world is obsessed with him. People write glowing reviews of everything he does; bowel movements, sneezes, his great works, the way he turns on light switches.

His most treasured possession is a wooden Don Quixote figurine his first-born son bought for him on a school trip to Spain. He shows it to friends. He cries often, happily.

Dust and snow fall on him as he ages, refusing to give up his magnificence. He just won’t die. People form a prayer circle around him and together, in a deep, restful meditation powered by human thought, the secrets of matter, consciousness, and mortality are revealed in all their heart-breaking beauty.

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