By Simon Barget
People tell me I’m a forty-six year old man and I have to believe them. I do believe them. Not that they persist in it, it’s just something that comes up in passing. Because I have been forty-six for as long as I can remember and it’s endless. When I wake up the words hit me like a freight train, like they’re etched on my forehead. I am waiting to get older but it just doesn’t happen. I am sensibly and reasonably expecting for time to wash over me but I will be forty-six indelibly and indefinitely, I will be forty-six years of age for ever and eternity.
I spend a lot of time contemplating the difference between a forty-six year-old and, say, a forty-seven year-old but I will never have the pleasure of discovering it, though there must be a felt difference. I am envious of all the people delighting in their distinctions, in their infinitesimal changes. At forty-six my legs move in a particular way, they bend in a way that distinguishes me from a forty-seven year old, but not only that, my legs have never moved or flexed any differently, my voice has never modulated or broken in any other way, my tone has not altered, I have the same set of wrinkles particular to any and every forty-six year old on this planet and not one imprint different, I am so undeniably forty-six in my entire being that my levels of boredom are indescribable and unbearable and without consolation or hidden advantage.
That’s not to say I don’t have a memory. I can remember things from a childhood but the person I’m recalling is just a frisson, a phantom, something I can never quite get hold of, it is absent and fragmented and as believable as a shark or Australia. This child pokes its head from a car window for the briefest of moments. This child is a film you can watch if you can really be bothered to click on it. You pretend you are interested though you are not taken in.
Yet I look out and see everyone else ageing. I see all kinds of decaying and movement and I expect to get swept up by the same forces, I expect to change and move on, yes, really, I expect to die at some point if not in every moment, yet I find that I am never dying, my body holds up perfectly as does my skin and I am decidedly static and I can watch the processes of the others but am not permitted to be part of them. I am so stuck at this arbitrary time point that I can certainly say I have never been born.
I am so ineluctably stuck that I think it must mean something to be forty-six, it must presage some great tragedy or change, some destabilisation in the world order, some vastly momentous occasion, yet I know in my heart that forty-six is only where the needle happened to stop quite haphazardly, it is a random coincidence with no meaning or weight, no pattern or sequence, this intransigence has befallen me as the world revolves on its axis, as people around me mercifully die and get old.
In my flights of fancy, I imagine a time when I was, say, forty-four or forty-five and then I cast my mind back or try to convince myself I was that age and knew what it was to be constantly dying. I know it’s a lie. Then I project myself forward. I imagine my hair going flaxen or white, my skin falling off in large swathes. I conjure up strokes and cardiac arrests and embolisms, I see my body riddled with tumours constantly changing, and in the end I see myself like a leaf crumble and curl helplessly to the ground. I imagine my throat closing up and not being able to take in enough breath. I see myself bent over and crippled hardly walking, my life culminating in some innocuous and overlooked fall, my face pale and wizened, lapsing into the arms of death, stopping, changing, moving, transforming, becoming nourishment for the worms.
And so in what you call your ten or twenty years-time, or forty or even sixty, you will be changed, you will not be the same person you were, you will be jubilantly unrecognisable and yet I will remain forty-six, I will still be reading this paragraph and these stodgy words as the same thing I am and always have been, never progressing, developing, still inclined to write what I wrote from the same pudgy fingers, the same very cells, to be unremittingly reminded of my fate, of my indelible time stamp, of my unfortunate position, of how the clock hand became pitifully stuck.