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Tome On The Range

Short Fiction By: Socrates Adams
Karl Smith , April 6th, 2014 07:30

Taking the form a new short story - and a piercing mugshot of an author photo - this week's original writing comes to you via Manchester-based novelist Socrates Adams

My Divorced Penis

Short Story Fragment: The first time we had sex.

The first time we had sex, I didn’t ejaculate for forty-five minutes. You got off, started crying and ran into the bathroom. I sat at the bus stop and wrote you a text message that said 'I love you and I’m sorry about the way I am.' You sent me a message which said 'I love you too, but we have to sort some things out.'

We spoke a few times and met each other, drinking the strong coffee we both liked, never having sex again. I thought about our sex whenever we met. When you were lifting a cup to your mouth, I was thinking 'I am inadequate, somehow, although not traditionally so, perhaps.' When you spoke to me about the horse that you wanted to buy, I was thinking, 'Maybe it's not the length of time, maybe it's something else, maybe I'm not passionate enough.' I thought about how to manufacture passion. We broke up, and as we were doing it I asked you to marry me. You said no.

A few years later, I'd write about my experience with you as part of my job. I'd try to write cleanly, and almost without emotion. I wouldn't know why I'd write it in that way. Toward the end of the fragment, I would write in a self-aware way about writing the fragment. Metafiction seems particularly fashionable, always, in the world of corporate art.

Editor's Response

Socrates, I like this, but you seem more interested in the critical detachment that you've developed to these events, rather than in the events themselves. Many of the people we produce work for still prefer the straight-forward emotional punch of a well written, carefully crafted piece of fiction, with no "meta dressing" or self-aware tricks. If there was something genuinely fresh or innovative about your framing device, I'd keep it in. However, I think that more people would enjoy this piece if it were descriptive and touching. Re-write, please. Also, are you actually trying to say anything about corporate art, or are you just letting your readership know that you are aware that what you've created is a piece of corporate art? It is worthwhile examining intention, always.

Short Story Fragment: The first time we had sex (v.2)

We were both young. I'd been in your house four or five times. The world cup had been on at the time and I'd cheered with your father as players kicked a ball into each other and the net. Thirty minutes later, with your father elsewhere, I'd touched your vagina for the first time. You took out my cock and put it in your mouth, groaning a little. I had been amazed by how wet you were. It was my first time seeing that particular part of a woman, and truthfully, by the time we'd finished, I still had no idea what it really looked like. I didn't come, but I think that you did. I wish that I had. I remember your stomach.

Two weeks later, we watched the first Harry Potter film. I didn’t tell you I'd read all the books, but I didn't necessarily lie about it. I don't remember whether we'd talked about possibly having sex for the first time that day. Halfway through the movie you'd started to rub my thigh a little and I knew that something was going on. I moved my hand to your head and pushed my fingers through your hair. I scratched your scalp and it felt good. We were sixteen

You led me up the stairs and into your room. I remember your lava lamp was on, and the fluid inside was warm, floating up and drifting down slowly. You had wanted the lava lamp on while we had sex for the first time so you'd gone out of your way, in between other small preparations, to turn it on. I suppose there is something romantic about lapping, molten plastic.

You had a condom and put it on me. It felt strange and tight. When I was inside you It felt so unusually warm. I think that's the main thing I remember, just how warm it felt. We moved about, inexperienced, for a long time.

One of my friends lost his virginity on a camping holiday to Newquay. He'd brought a woman back to our shared caravan and took her into a small bedroom at the back. Embarrassed, I carried on smoking a joint in the living area while they had sex. When he came out, he told me that he'd lasted less than a minute, and that she’d said 'Really?' and then left.

It became clear, as you moved around, that this wasn't going to be my problem. After forty-five minutes, you started to gently cry.

'What's wrong?' I said.

You put your hands up under your eyes and continued to make small, sad noises. I said nothing.

You got up, told me to leave and walked into the bathroom. I put my clothes on and said nothing and left. I sat at the bus stop and wrote you a text message that said 'I love you and I’m sorry about the way I am.' You sent me a message which said 'I love you too, but we have to sort some things out.'

Editor's Response

Socrates, this isn't working for me. Maybe it's just that you aren't playing to your strengths. The writing feels so guarded, as though you really don’t want the reader to know how you feel about any of this. It's not emotionally moving. There are a couple of observations which I like (the lava lamp is nice). Your character's reactions to the events lack immediacy; each reaction is more of a reflection, informed by seemingly years of experience. Is this what you want? Don't you want the reader to feel close to you, to understand how this experience is affecting you, at the moment of its occurrence? You barely mention the fact that this is when you lost your virginity, an important event in anyone's life, even if the actual experience is in some way underwhelming or upsetting. Why don't you take a break from this and come back to it some other time? Try to write something more emotional. Many of our clients enjoy reading confessional fiction.

Short Story Fragment: I Am Afraid of Dying

An apple tree in the garden would drop apples on us each Autumn. The apples would rot away into the ground and as the stinging nettles died in winter the fruit and seeds would also freeze to death. The frost killed everything each year. Birds and fish died. We found a fish out of the pond one year. It had been gutted by a heron. The fish seemed like it must have been too large to live in the pond. How had it got into the pond? Had the fish evolved in the pond, by itself? It had died, gutted by a heron. The heron hadn't even bothered eating it. Maybe the brown pond fish tasted disgusting. Maybe it tasted of mud. It was lying on the ground beside the pond and we looked at it and cried and called for our father. Our father came and hugged us and told us that these things happened. He told us to go inside. When we came back out the fish was gone and the wet grass bore no mark of it. It’s the first death I can remember.

The day after the fish died, cows from the field next door broke into our garden. I thought that the events were related. It felt to me, at the age of twelve, that the apocalypse may be coming. It felt like nature, taking over.

Editor's Response

Socrates, this is a section from an aborted novel of yours, entitled I Am Afraid of Dying. If I remember correctly, the novel was about a man who was obsessed with trucks, suffering from delusions and false memories. You have already submitted the first god-knows-how-many words to our longer fiction department, a number of times. We are not interested in forwarding ANY part of the novel to any of our clients, and we are certainly not interested in publishing or distributing it in its original, longer form. Also, I asked you to give me some confessional fiction. This is not confessional fiction, in any sense of the word.

When you started with us here, you wrote beautifully, and honestly. I remember being envious of your economy and ideas. I really admired you. I think that you are suffering from burnout. It's nothing to be ashamed of, and has happened to all but the very best of our employees from time to time. Sometimes, when I look through my blinds and watch you writing, I notice little changes in your facial expression and I think, there, that's it, that's the moment that burnout is happening. I can see it spreading from your brain to your lips to your hands. Don't worry, it's normal. I'm used to all of your spasms.

The best way out is to imagine yourself in a situation that is really unusual. Maybe try to write some noir, or science-fiction. Something different. You are not a terrible writer. Keep writing.

Short Story Fragment: I dream of dust

I walk between bins. The noisy, night-time city light picks them out of the gloom like monstrous, luminescent squid. [I hate this sentence, this whole thing is fucked. This is so fucking stupid and fucked, the entire fucking thing is a joke - Socrates]

Editor's Response

Socrates, how am I meant to react when after a full day's work, you deliver two sentences and a load of expletives to me? There are only so many times that I can make excuses for you.

Short Story Fragment: I dream of dust (v.2)

The first time you sent me criticism, it meant a lot to me. It was my debut assignment, and, in fact, the first piece of writing I'd ever created to order. You praised my reflective style and asked whether the events I wrote about had actually happened to me. When I said that they had, you seemed really unimpressed. You still told me that I wrote beautifully, with economy, and honesty. I didn't understand. I am not an honest writer.

After the first day in the hot office, I went home. My wife, who I already could no longer talk to, tried to talk to me. I told her that work had been good and that it was challenging and exciting. I told her that although it was just a normal, boring job writing literary fiction, it had the potential to be OK. We argued about a television show and carefully avoided each other physically. I didn't mention you to her.

After she had gone to bed, I wrote a private piece, for my own satisfaction, called I Dream of Dust. It was a piece about a depressed corporate artist, dreaming of becoming a rubbish collection and destruction operative, doing anything but writing. It was going to be a sort of noirish, moody piece of crap. I was so repressed and spineless I didn't even bother writing it in the end, but wrote about my first experiences working for the company.

Editor's Response

I think that the reason I've grown bored of your writing is because all of your stories are drawn from your own personal experience. You never push yourself to think of a plot or situation that doesn’t come from your own maudlin past. When you started, it was interesting, because I hadn't heard all of your stories; I hadn't heard about your disastrous sexual past, I hadn't heard about the first time you saw something die, I hadn't even experienced your pathetic, passive aggressive attacks against me. This is something I am very familiar with now.

I wish that you would just write something honest for once. You can write about me, I don't care. Write something honest about your life as it is now, not about how it was when you knew other people, who you don't mind about upsetting any more. The main thing that upsets me about you is how terrified of upsetting me you are. I don't mind that you've had sex before, and I don't care about your descriptions of sex with other people, you can't make me jealous.

Short Story Fragment: My Divorced Penis

You've always been on the edge of getting bored with me, from the moment that we met for the first time. In my interview, I remember you looked at your watch after just five minutes. I'd been reading some work to you. The second line of the passage made you laugh, and you seemed interested for a little while after that, but soon you didn't care. As I read aloud, I started trying to change the sentences to be funnier and better.

A few months later, I left my wife for you. My action was entirely, for you. Left to my own devices, I would still be with her now, miserable. Instead, I am with you... Without ever asking me to do anything, you made all of my decisions for me.

I’m sure that you remember the first time that we fucked in the office. We'd been reading the submissions of other writers together, picking apart their clumsy crap, laughing at them. Cruelty is the only way to start a relationship. We smelled so good after we had sex. You seemed covered in gold. I was a stick of relaxed cinnamon, for a few minutes.

I told my wife that I had feelings for someone else and she said, 'Of course you do.' It was a bad night, in a way. She packed within an hour and left and then came back, drunk and crying. She was very angry and I felt wretched. Everything that she said to me made me think, 'You're right.'

There must have been something good about our relationship at the start, although I can't remember it. Like faded talent, I can't get it back. I suppose, technically, I enjoyed having sex with you. I suppose, technically, I enjoyed your compliments.

The night I divorced Mary I stayed with you. The next morning I woke cold. I saw the white sheet over your body and your dark hair on the pillow. I became aware of the divorced spit in my mouth, the divorced hair on my back. I was aware of my divorced penis. I began writing about my first sexual experience, thinking about the way in which my penis had changed over the years, if at all. Everything still always takes too long. Nothing ever feels good enough. Twenty minutes later, you walked across the carpet to me. You kissed my divorced neck, put your hand in my divorced hair, and pointed to a sentence on my screen. Your left breast rested on my divorced right shoulder.

'You don’t need that.' You said.

'Marry me.' I said.

Socrates Adams is 29 and lives in Manchester. His first novel, Everything's Fine, was published by Transmission Print in 2012. His second novel, A Modern Family, was published by Bluemoose Books in 2013. You can follow him on twitter @socratesadams.