Death of a GhostJamie J. Buchanan
Death of a Ghost
A Short Story by
Jamie J. Buchanan
Copyright 2013 Jamie J. Buchanan
Death was imminent – he had given up, I could tell. Each time I looked at him, he was a little more withered, a little more beaten, a little more down-trodden. He drooped a little lower, closing in on the earth that will, sooner rather than later, swallow him up.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
It’s like he was making the deliberately slow descent as a statement – like he demanded me to notice. He wanted me to ask him why he’s decided he no longer wanted to live.
I couldn’t abide suicide – even suicide in stages like this. Giving up was not an option; I knew that I could never do it. Well, I mean, I have never deliberately given up on anything – there had always been some form of extenuating circumstance. But Boris – yes, that was his name, Boris, he was just doing all this on purpose.
Maybe it was spite – slowly killing himself to spite me. Spite can be a very strong motivator. That was possible although I couldn’t think of a reason why. I had always tried to look after him, care for him, nurture him…
Well… when I could anyway…
I knew that my best hadn’t always been good enough, that sometimes I’d let my Boris down. There had been days, weeks even, when I had neglected him and left him to himself. But I always came back – I always said I’m sorry.
I always said: “this is the last time.”
And I always meant it too.
But what else could I do? I know I am an addict and there’s no escape for me. My degradation into where I found myself had been as achingly slow as Boris’ withering, wilting, wasting away before my eyes. I could see that his decrepit decline mirrored my own – but I would outlast him if he continued at this rate. Over the last two weeks I had been more lucid, certainly in a much better place. Clarity was returning but Boris and I both knew that the dark clouds will mass again – it was only a matter of time. In this window of vision, my eyes had been opened and I had truly noticed him for the first time in years.
My Boris was dying – and I’m sure it’s my fault somehow.
I could ask him I suppose. In the past he’d always been straight with me, supported me, and never judged me. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that he had helped me in any way, but he had been the one constant companion over these many years. All the others that were my so-called friends, my “besties”, my “mates”, they were either dead or long gone into the fog of time and past addictions. I’m a memory for them at best; a cloud in the past when they reminisce.
I’m a “whatever-happened-to.”
I’m a “he had it all.”
I’m a ghost.
Back in the days when I had everything, back before incident, after incident, after incident. Back when I was “the man”. Now…
I’m a “has-been.” But at least I have been there.
And so had Boris. He’d been with me through thick and thin, seen it all. He had seen the fights, the tears, the depression, the highs and lows – too many lows to be truthful.
But, through it all, I never checked out. I never swallowed a bullet or jumped off a bridge. Oh sure I thought about it – I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t, given how life had turned out. But there was no way I could ever have done it. I remained a staunch coward. I could hurt myself in installments – through debauchery, indulgence and addiction – but I could never deliver that final blow; the terminal coup d’état. I couldn’t kill myself because it would hurt too much.
In my small apartment, in this brief moment of respite, I sat facing my old chum – my one last friend. And I could see him dying before my eyes. It broke my heart to see him like that. Didn’t he know how much he meant to me?
Boris – my Boris.
When Kate finally (rightfully!) kicked me out, all I had was Boris. At the time I didn’t even know why I took him – but time had provided the reason. Kate bought him at the flea market in Hell’s Kitchen. There was a slight drizzle that April morning and I stood on the corner of 9th Avenue and 39th street, next to the concrete overpass, warming myself with the darkest, thickest black coffee I could find in the Kitchen. Those were great days for me – I had the world. I had a wife, job, friends… and money. We lived in Greenwich Village in the greatest city in the world and I felt like the king of New York.
Most of the guys who worked on Wall Street felt like that though – it was drilled into us. Arrogance, confidence, panache – if you didn’t have it, you couldn’t play there. Go back to your Midwest dreams, or small town fishbowls. I had it all… in spades.
Then, on that cold spring morning, Kate walked out of the market with Boris. He was so tiny and fragile but she was smitten so we raised him up.
That was why I took him when she kicked me out – memories. To me Boris represented everything good I ever had. Boris was Kate but, if he died, then so did she – from my memories and my past. For good.
I think it had been about four years since I spoke to him but I knew I was going to have to do so again soon. It was killing me watching him kill himself. The past, the decline of my life, it muddled time – distorted it and confused me. Maybe it was last month we spoke? Maybe it was four years? I had no idea.
“Boris,” I said.
“Come on Boris…you know what I’m going ask you, so just tell me why.”
Again no reply.
Briefly I wondered if anyone could see into my tiny apartment. I lived in Queens now and, let’s face it, I had seen better days. Anyone looking in would have seen an overweight, grey-haired, old drunkard talking to his plant and would come to the conclusion that the aging souse had finally gone mad.
Yes, Boris was my plant – a geranium.
And he wasn’t saying anything. He knew I hated the silent treatment.
My parents used to do that to each other. They’d either be screaming at one another or using me to relay messages between them. The only physical contact I ever saw them have was the back of my old man’s hand on my mother’s face – or her throwing plates at him. I swore I’d never raise my hands to a woman and I never did – until that one day. That was the day Kate had had enough and I couldn’t blame her at all. After the influence of years of alcoholic imbibing, the veil of normalcy slipped and I reverted to type.
Years of denying genetics and I ended up like my old man anyway. Thanks Dad – no wonder I’m messed up huh?
Oh, it wasn’t really their fault though. It would be unfair (and cliché) to blame them for my woes. I didn’t blame them when I finished in the top 1% of my year in the country when graduating from college, or when I worked on Wall Street, or for all the success I had as a trader. So it’s unfair to blame them for all the bad shit. I rose and fell on my own accord – I had accepted that for a while now and I think that’s why the moments of clarity and vision were now more frequent. I was slowly emerging from the valley of darkness, but it had been a long journey indeed.
And it looked like I was going to complete it alone because Boris was almost dead. Brown crunchy leaves surrounded his base, slowly rotting and returning to the soil. He has lost his luster and the droop of his stem was soul crushing as his head hung low.
“Boris, I need you,” I said, almost pleading. “You’ve been there for so long now, you’ve seen it all. Why are you doing this? Why are you breaking my heart?”
Still he gave me nothing – just a blank stare.
“You’re the one constant thing in my life that I can rely upon. All these years, through all the troubles, you’ve been there. And now you’re just going to give up?”
To my surprise, tears were falling from my eyes. I thought I was all cried out, that the well was bone dry. But now they flooded from me as I realized that Boris really was on his way out.
Finally, he spoke.
“Brian – you don’t need me anymore. You’re moving on. Your sickness, your alcoholism and addictions, you’re through the worst of it now. You have been sober for six months – I know it feels less, but believe me, it’s six months! That clarity you speak of…that’s reality. That’s life. You’re in it now and you are ready to return to the world.
“Yes, you will always be an addict and that is something you will have to live with for the rest of your life. But you know that you can do it. You may not get back to the heights you were at before – that lofty world of financial mayhem and God-making in Wall Street – but you can function. You can survive. And you will live.
“I served a purpose for you. I was the link to the past – to remind you of what you lost and what you could get back again. Maybe you’ll never get Kate back; after that final day and what you did, I don’t expect you will. But you can find someone and I know that you will. You’re 34 years old and you still have plenty of time.
“Me? I served my time – my work here is done. I have helped bring you back and now it’s time for me to go. Good luck – I know you’ll do well.”
His final leaf fell to the soil with an earth shattering smash. It tore me in half and I screamed out a howl of anguish that I didn’t know was in me – a sound I hadn’t heard in a long, long time.
My Boris was dead and I am alive. I owed him a debt that could only be repaid one way.
About the Author
Jamie J. Buchanan is based in Perth, Western Australia. He spent many years playing in rock bands, mostly loud, fast, heavy metal and hard rock bands - the sort your parents warned you about. But his first love has always been writing.
Jamie has had a short story “On My Goat” published by Cardigan Press in 2006 in the anthology “Allnighter”.
The short story “Sanguine Saviour” won second place in the monthly “Darker Times” competition (www.darkertimes.co.uk) and was included in the inaugural Darker Times anthology as well.
The short story “The Woman on the Pavement” has been published in an upcoming Editor’s Choice anthology by Stringybark Press entitled “Hitler Did it”, available here: https://www.stringybarkstories.net/The_Stringybark_Short_Story_Award/Bookshop.html
The short story “Battle of Wits” won first prize in the Twice-yearly Short Story Competition “Raspberry & Vine” and is available for free here: https://home.people.net.au/~raspberryandvine/Winners.php
Jamie enjoys the films of Robert Rodriguez, The Coen Brothers and Guy Richie, music by Bad Religion, The Offspring, Clutch, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Metallica, and books by James Ellroy, Irvine Welsh, Chuck Palahniuk and Stephen King amongst dozens of others. His only hates are people who talk about themselves in the third person...and Brussel Sprouts. He hates Brussel Sprouts.
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