Early in his life, at the beginning of his career, he had taken on a stage name, having judged his own, however much he felt it “fit” him, to be too common, and therefore likely a hindrance to his success. Among those who knew him purely within the personal realm, he continued to use his original name, the name which he thought of as his “real name,” the one that represented who he was as an individual, while reserving the stage name for those with whom he interacted professionally; but as he became more successful in his career, achieving even a level of fame, the number of people he interacted with who belonged to this prior group declined, while every day he met new people who knew him under his stage name, which was the name that he now, for the most part, used in moving through the world. Soon it became easier to introduce himself to new acquaintances with the stage name rather than his real name, even if he suspected that the acquaintance in question would belong to the former group, that is, people with whom he was likely to interact in a personal rather than professional capacity, rather than the second group, which consisted of fans and others for whom the stage name had been originally intended. While his first wife, for example, had known him by his real name, and in fact had always found the stage name to be a somewhat pretentious and comical invention which she refused to call him even towards the end of their marriage when they often found themselves surrounded by others who did not know him by any name other than the stage name, his second wife had known him from the beginning by his stage name, and learned of the real name only during the unavoidable legalities preceding the marriage; and just as the first wife had found the stage name pretentious and comical, the second experienced the real name as uncanny, unnatural, as though she had discovered shortly before marriage that the man she intended to marry carried with him a conjoined twin, kept carefully hidden through a complicated series of straps and devices; and while she loved and, perhaps more importantly, felt a warm sense of admiration for the man she associated with the stage name, she felt an increasing repugnance towards this other whom he carried with him at all moments, attached. At times she would wake during the night to the sense that it was not her husband beside her but this other, the stranger whom she had all but unknowingly married along with her husband; she would stare at his face dimly lit by streetlights outside their windows; he looked unaccountably old. In such moments she felt, irrationally, that if she could rid herself of this other who shared her bed, she would be rewarded with the man she married, the man of the stage name who she thought of as the real him, severed and whole. She was not, however, a murderer; and so she lay beside this other, this dwarfish twin, and convinced herself that the situation was unbearable. During the day she started fights disproportionate to the subject over which they were arguing, each however bearing the subtext: you are not who I married. Meanwhile around him the number of those who knew him by the real name had dwindled; on those rare occasions when the second wife was introduced to someone who had known him from before his success, and thus still called him by his real name, she developed an otherwise unaccountable dislike for them, finding obscure insults in things they had said which she would later explain to her husband at length. Now the real name occurred almost entirely within a legal context, or when strangers phoned for purposes of telemarketing or doctors’ appointments; so that even for himself, now, the real name began to feel as though it referred to someone else, a legal fiction or construct, useful primarily as a means of avoiding the discomfort of strangers recognizing the stage name; and when he tried to think back to his life before the stage name, to the father who died eaten away by cancer when he, the son, was seventeen, or to the girl he had kissed in the shed behind his school the year before, or to the glare of the sun and the crunch of his leg when he broke the bone playing soccer, these appeared to him not so much a life he had left behind as one he had wholly made up, backstory invented perhaps as part of the persona which he had assumed along with the stage name. Nevertheless at times, hearing his previous name on the telephone, he would be pulled back momentarily to the life that belonged to it, and would remember, for example, the deep sense of peacefulness he had experienced on the pitch with his leg bent wrong beneath him, before the pain kicked in; and he would feel himself, however briefly, known.
James Tadd Adcox's work has appeared in 3:AM, Granta, and Passages North, as well as previously in X-R-A-Y. He is the author of a novel, Does Not Love, and a novella, Repetition, and is a founding editor at the literary magazine Always Crashing. A book of hybrid theater pieces, DENMARK, is available from Hem Press.
Art by Levi Abadilla