I wasn't always this way. There was a time when I was fully visible 24 hours a day. Then one night he showed up in my dreams and tried to reason with me. He wore an Italian suit, had slicked-back hair. His watch was diamond encrusted and he looked at it impatiently as he talked to me.
"I've heard about you," I told him, "but I never thought you'd come for me."
"Listen kid, I come for everyone. You think you're the only punk-ass that didn't get in line? Jesus Christ! Now quit wasting my time and sign these papers."
From an alligator-skin briefcase he produced a ream of paper ten inches thick. "This is the contract. Everyone signs this. Once you ink your name on the dotted line I'll send this out to every bank and credit card company. They'll know that, despite your rebellious youth, you've calmed down and you're a safe bet. Also, as one of the perks of signing you'll be taken off every major airline's no fly list and be guaranteed safe passage through the borders of other nations at least nine times out of ten." He paused to let the magnitude of the offer sink. Then he underscored it, saying "This is a very lucrative ordeal."
It could be fun, I thought. Having the toys everyone else had; a mortgage and a car. Enough drugs to get me through a weekend. Even so, I still had to say no.
He didn't give me another chance. He placed the contract back in his briefcase. "Alright," he said. "Good luck to ya. I'm not gonna let a little prick like you ruin my night. I've got a quota to fill." Suddenly a straight razor was in his hand and he pulled it across my throat.
I woke with a start. I stared at the walls for a moment before I crawled out from under my duvet and went to the washroom. I flicked the light switch and looked in the mirror. There was no image in the glass.
Being invisible has its moments, but we still haunt the man's world and have to make a living here (if you can technically call it that). I've worked jobs where it mostly isn't a problem: night watchman, donut-store monkey, that kind of thing. They're mostly jobs where I wear a uniform and none of the customers look at my face long enough to realize I don't have one.
One of the few times people can actually see me is when I'm drinking. First I appear to be only a walking chalk outline. But the more drunk I get the more I begin to flesh out. The process happens slowly over the course of the night. Far slower than a Polaroid picture developing, but not unlike it. You have to watch very closely to notice. Often you can find me and my friends looking blurry down at the bar, complaining about the world in hushed tones. Our voices merge with the background music.
When ghosts get lonely, the bottle is where we turn. It's great -- you're not invisible anymore and can befriend people from the world you left behind. There's still a buffer in place, you can never tell them what you really think or what you really love or else you'll again be invisible to them. It's best to join in their discussions of television shows and recent purchases.
You can try to steer the conversation to your passions, but when you say "I've been having lots of sex in public washrooms lately," or "I've been trying to write a book about how rainbows are sentient beings from another dimension," or "that fucking fucker Stephen Harper can suck my dick!" they will nod, but never reply. For some of us, that's enough.
Outside the bars we have our own community. We trade letters in the mail, which is a balm for the wear and tear of the daily grind. Mail carriers are half-ghosts themselves in these days of bullshit digital everything, and they cast us sympathic glances. We ghosts stay up late into the night talking to each other around kitchen tables and sleeping on each other's floors when we visit other cities. It's rarely comfortable, as we live in terrible haunted houses. If we were visible we could ask for less mice roaming our apartments, hot water, or even storm windows (despite being incorporeal we still fee the winter cold).
The whole problem with being a ghost is that the more you care about something the less tangible it becomes. It gets to the point where you start to wonder if it still exists. Doubt and depression are common among ghosts, they're the fallout of our youthful anger. We all made a choice when we were younger that we sometimes regret, with our empty bank accounts and rotting teeth, but we've all come to accept that we are defined by it. As the song says, we "hum the satisfaction of progress / halted dead in its tracks."
We still march together when evil politicians come to town. We form a silent army that fills the streets of the financial district. We hold placards and smile at seeing so many other ghosts out, filling the streets with singing and chanting. Some go as far as renting cube vans and filling them with stereo equipment, turning them into pirate radio stations servicing the city block around them. But to all the regular people going about their days we just appear to be a layer of fog creeping across the city streets, a completely silent cloud rubbing itself against the sides of mirrored financial towers.
First published as a poster story in Montreal, where it was tacked up all around the city, Jeff Miller's "Who's the Ghost?" we found in our mail.
See BROADSHEET Installment 16 for more by Jeff Miller.