Ghosting is the term these days. People don’t break up with each other anymore. They become ghosts. It’s a simple matter of convenience.

Paul sat at the opposite end of the bar and stared dully at the television above him, watching the sports highlights but processing none of it.  To his right, only a few other people were drinking alongside him. It was one of those odd in between times, not quite happy hour but not quite anything else and for now, that’s how Paul liked it. He wasn’t seeking out company. He just wanted to be somewhere else. Anywhere else.

By sidestepping someone, a ghost accomplishes two things at once. First they avoid the overly burdensome arrangement of honest human communication.

Paul couldn’t remember the last time he had a real conversation with someone.  If he wanted to, he could try thinking months, even years back in time, but he was still certain he would never be able to locate a single real conversation.  Paul noticed as he grew older, taking to various people grew proportionally more boring with age. He figured it had something to do with the barriers people grew better at putting up in between each other. Talking to his coworkers was a perfect example of these shadow techniques. Every Monday, people at his office would recite the same exact dialogs, week after week. Conversations about the weather. The movie they did or didn’t see.  The most common one was Paul’s favorite, a plea to nobody in particular for the weekend to have been made magically longer, a tacit admission that their lives were entirely out of their own control.

The second thing the ghost accomplishes by ignoring their partner is an indirect message. The message never explicitly stated but obvious: things are over.

The bar itself was a soft brown marble slab that felt cool and nice under Paul’s hands.  Paul slipped slowly on his whiskey coke and looked away from the television, instead trying to take in the energy of the place around him. A cute, strawberry blond bartender worked near the middle corner of the bar on a dessert style cocktail for a young black business lady. The drinks at the prohibition style bar (nobody seemed to want to call it a speakeasy anymore, as if there needed to be a new designation) were too expensive for Paul to afford, but he was somehow a regular now. Money, like his old job, had at some point becomes a frivolous entity. He knew blankly that abandoning his nine to five and spending money every day at a bar would end up slowly rotting his life, but the inherent worthlessness of both of those things (work and his wallet) left him powerless to stop coming back.  As he sat there numbly, not looking at anything or anyone, he briefly disappeared entirely inside himself.

Before leaving the earth, ghosts might still cross paths with each other. They appear real again, a perverted illusion.

Part of Paul’s expertise was relishing his setbacks, his losses, his failures. He didn’t classify himself a masochist however (although at a certain point, the idea of suffering no longer seemed relevant). The day he quit his job appeared like any other. His self-immolation had been completely unplanned. He woke up in the morning, showered, ate breakfast and drove to the office. By nine forty five less than an hour after his arrival, he was sitting at his desk seething in a deep vein pulsating rage barely able to focus his two eyes on the email chain on his computer screen. He got up from his creaky ergonomic chair and walked outside hoping to find some momentary solace or at the very least a colleague smoking a cigarette.  This time though he found nothing. The stale air from the office followed him outdoors as he paced back and forth. He made a phone call while picking nervously at the bark of a nearby tree.  By the end of the day, everything was gone or tossed into the trash—his office left completely empty like he had never been there.

At the very end, the ghosts vanish. The transformation isn’t metaphorical because we all disappear. We always do.

Plucked straight from the air, an invisible cue drove Paul to rummage into his pocket for his phone to see if she had messaged him back. He could immediately see at the top of his screen a missing blinking light signaling no new messages, but he went ahead and pressed the screen to look. At the top of his messages, he could see her name with no reply. He clicked on the tab and pressed delete hoping this might erase his memory of ever reaching out to her in the first place.

Right after dismissing the whole idea of his ex-girlfriend—the concept of her even existing at all—the door to the bar swung open in an overly wide arc, followed by a man in a pristine black suit. Something about the way the door opened paired with the man’s overly composed entrance unsettled Paul. Before Paul could think to put out an unwelcoming stance, the suit headed in his direction.

“Hey Julian,” the blonde bartender nodded to her new customer.

“How ya doin’ sugar? It’s been a minute now hasn’t it,” the man grinned.

Something about the type of the guy always bothered Paul. He was twice the bartenders age but Paul could already tell he was going to spend the next hour chatting the girl up as if they were on some kind of date. For all intensive purposes, they were. The bartender was going get a two for one deal. Her tip and her ego massage.   

J&B neat. Madam.”

“Coming right up.”

“How ya doin’ partner?”  he turned to Paul.

Paul nodded and intentionally mumbled back.

“Nice day out. Rain cooled things down for us.”

This time Paul barely acknowledged him.  Unfazed the man turned his attention elsewhere. For the first time, Paul recognized something borderline robotic in his movements as if Paul’s slight was meaningless.  It had nowhere to travel inside the man’s mind, no destination to ever reach.  Paul continued to watch him from the corner of his eye.  After a few minutes idly passed, the man seemed to take up a position not dissimilar to Paul’s—looking at everything while not really looking at anything. Paul didn’t know if the physically noncommittal stance was considered zen (or if it was intentional), but the man once again appeared better trained in the discipline than himself.

On the television, a commercial for something he couldn’t decipher showed a family around a dinner table smiling and laughing. The camera panned to a left out dog assumed to be hungry. Paul reached into his pocket for his phone, stared blankly at it for a few seconds, and then returned it to its place. When Paul looked back up, the man in the suit was standing again, whispering some words to the bartender while he artfully leaned over the bar. Paul couldn’t make out any of the exchange only that the bartender was completely smitten. At the end of their interaction, the blonde let out a high pitched giggle and the man slid a bill across the bar.

Paul started to think of Railene and how, in some roundabout fashion, this man sitting next to him was the true cause of the demise of their relationship (not Paul’s absent minded wandering through life)—something about the perfect tailor-made fit of the man’s suit, his pet names for the bartender, his air of complete superiority —they all told Paul a very straight forward message, it was him.  As if picking up on Paul’s thought bubble, the man turned and gave him a look. From the eerie blue quality of the man’s eyes, Paul guessed there had to be something eastern European in his background. Keep moving buddy, Paul thought, continuing to transmit a no-fly zone signal.

After making several more drinks at the opposite end of the bar, the bartender returned to Paul.

“Another one? This one’s on the house.”

Paul looked at her confused. She wasn’t trying to flirt. He knew that much.  

“Mr. Albu’s got the next few rounds for everybody. You showed up at the right time.”

“Okay yeah…sure, thanks,” Paul said.

“Don’t thank me,” she said, tilting her head.

The man looked over again, this time smiling. His teeth looked perfect, the gleaming white magnified by his olive skin.

“Cheers,” he raised his glass halfway to Paul.

“Thanks man,” Paul said, finally acknowledging the suit’s presence.

As Paul sipped the drink, his third, he finally began to feel himself relax, the alcohol finally catching up in his bloodstream.  Suddenly and bizarrely, he thought of vampire lore and how there was one cardinal rule: never invite them in yourself. The man moved one seat over, closing the gap to only one chair.

“What’s the word of the day,” the man said, loosening his checkered tie.

Paul stayed silent. He’d need a few more drinks before he was going to tap dance for anybody.

“You looked a bit distracted, thought it could help,” he said, raising his glass.

Paul shot the man a mean, cold look. If Paul could have gone back in time, he’d have left the drink on the table. No whiskey was worth being pestered.

“Look—” Paul started.

“I’m Julian,” he interrupted the dismissal, extending a hand with a slinky, golden watch.


“Julian, I appreciate the drink. But this is probably going to be my last.”

“Fair enough.”

Paul turned back to his drink. He couldn’t remember the last time a stranger had gotten under his skin. Paul could be irritable at times, but his anger was usually calculated and reserved for close friends (who occasionally overstepped boundaries due to being nearby).  Even if Paul crossed paths with a belligerent drunk late at night, his ego never entered the equation. He could always deescalate the situation.  But the suit threw a new variable into the mix—he was too polite. One of the most artificial masks of them all.

Staring at his ice cubes, one block finished melting and the tectonics of the glass shifted, creating an optical illusion that the drink was briefly alive. Paul began to wonder if he was really just acting out some passive aggressive form of displacement toward the stranger—placing all of his guilt and anger on someone who had nothing to do with anything. It was a pattern Paul began to recognize in himself lately that scared the shit out of him. It could be anywhere, a party, a grocery store, wherever; Paul would catch strangers staring at him but leering, sideways stares. It bothered Paul so much he stopped wearing his glasses out so as to force himself to look at the ground when out in public.  After being told by his ex-girlfriend repeatedly that he was making these things up, Paul started to think there was something functionally wrong with his brain, that his mechanism for interpreting facial expressions was set to some jingoistic overdrive, causing him to see pure evil where none existed at all.

Predicting more free drinks in his future, Paul picked back up the conversation from the empty space he had left it.

“Fuck it,” he muttered and then, “So, what do you do man?”

The suit swiveled with a smile still pasted on his face. Something about the man’s jawline continued to bother Paul.

“Ah.. I’m a venture capitalist. Mostly tech businesses.”

“Venture capital eh? I remember when they used to just call it money.”

The man barked out a loud and guttural laugh.

“That’s good! Very good, I like that. How about yourself?”

“Me oh, mostly this,” Paul said, raising his glass.

“Right right,” the suit said, smiling, still entertained.

“Missus Amy! Can we get two shots down here,” he shouted and turned to Paul, “what ya drinking?”

“Something simple. Whiskey is fine.”

The bartender shuffled down the bar and poured two shots from a fancy bottle. She looked puzzled, even disheartened at the newfound friendship between the men. 

“What you getting for me Julian?” she asked slyly. 

“You smoke?” he asked Paul, pretending not to hear her.

“Julian?” the bartender continued to hover.

“Let’s go get a smoke,” he said, flicking at the girl with his hand, dismissing her.

“Sure, alright,” Paul agreed.

Paul let the man lead the way toward the back porch—the gravity of the situation partially muted from the five drinks coursing through his blood. Despite the alcohol, Paul could still Mr. Albu was someone who was never really off the clock, someone who was always around the corner from his next business meeting. 

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