“THE FURTHER I GET FROM THE THINGS THAT I CARE ABOUT, THE LESS I CARE ABOUT HOW MUCH FURTHER AWAY I GET” by Chris Drabick

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I saw my ghost again this morning.

I was rinsing my face after shaving, letting the warm water soothe the nicks, when I pulled my head up and saw him in the mirror. I don’t know what else to call him. It’s clearly me, although also not me, in the way people are and aren’t themselves sometimes in dreams. And as soon as I see him, as quickly as it registers that he’s there but before I can touch and vouch for his corporeality, he’s gone. No whiff of smoke, no lights, no magic. Just gone.

I’d have so many questions for him. Still assuming it’s actually me.

Are you dead? How’d you die? Is your favorite book still Remains of the Day, or did something supplant it between now, my now, and your death? My death. What happened to our house? Did you stay in it until you died? I died? Will I stay in my house until I’m dead? Or do I spend some years in some awful old folks’ home?

Did she ever come back? Did she ever say she was sorry?

The last time I saw him was in a rest stop on the Turnpike, a few months after she’d left. My friends told me a trip would be good. Get out of town for a few days, go someplace new, maybe put some sand in between your toes. I didn’t have any ideas of my own, so I went. The Atlantic Ocean. It was cold and it rained and the sand was too packed to even get in between my toes.

On the drive back, I couldn’t stop the anxiety. I even bought a pack of cigarettes, the first I’d smoked in years. Nothing seemed to help. I pulled the car into a rest area, got out and put my face into a sink full of cold water. When I looked up, there he was. In the mirror. The glass was old, worn with the dirty air of thousands of weary travelers. Truckers. Heartsick, like me. But I could still see him. It was clearly me, although also not me. And as soon as I saw him, as quickly as it registered that he was there but before I could touch and vouch for his corporeality, he was gone. No whiff of smoke, no lights, no magic. Just gone.

I’d have had so many different questions for him that time. Still assuming it’s actually me.

Am I dead? I’ve been feeling a little dead. Or, the want of death, I guess. Hence, the cigarettes. Do I start smoking again? Is that what happens? Lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema? I’m driving toward nothing right now, on this road, this stupid fucking road, and I’m afraid.

Is she going to come back? Is she sorry?

The first time I saw him was in that bar. It was ten days after she’d gone. I’d barely slept, but had been drinking a lot. Gin. Rocks. Letting it burn. It was the bar she and I used to go to sometimes, close to home, walking distance. It was late. There was a mirror over the back bar, large and hung low, still covered in nicotine dust even though there’d been no smoking in the place for seven years. Yellow-brown, worn, weary with the faces of all the lost souls who’d tried in vain to avoid their own reflection. “I never go around mirrors,” the man sang, “I can’t stand to see me without you by my side.”

Before I could grasp the lyric, before the tune had finished playing in my head, there he stood. I was drunk. I was down. I was so tight that I had to cover one eye to focus, but I could still see him. It was clearly me, although also not me. And as soon as I saw him, as quickly as it registered that he was there but before I could touch and vouch for his corporeality, he was gone. No whiff of smoke, no lights, no magic. Just gone.

I didn’t want to ask any questions. I didn’t want to know. But I forgot to remember to forget.

Who’s the next woman I’ll fuck? Is she in this place tonight? Do I already know her? How will I feel, after I cum? In that brief moment after the pleasure is shattered by the loneliness, and it hurts worse than it feels good, the balance shifted to sadness. Will I embarrass myself? Cry? Something else? Act out in anger? I don’t want to fuck anyone. I don’t want to. Why did I leave the house? Do you know? Why are you here? You want to help me or hurt me? I know I’m going to die. I’m already fucking dead.

Where is she tonight? Is she sorry? Is she sorry that I’m dead?

Chris Drabick is a former rock music journalist whose fiction has appeared in Cease, Cows, Midwestern Gothic, After the Pause and Great Lakes Review, and non-fiction in BULL and Stoneboat, among others. His first novel, “The Way We Get By”, is due from Unsolicited Press in November 2019. He teaches English at the University of Akron in Ohio, where he lives with his wife Alison and their sons, Augie and Elliott.

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