The Art of Ghosting

Alice pressed the button to answer the phone, just as it fell from her nerveless fingers. She listened as her friend Ivana’s voice started speaking into the air.

“Alice – don’t say a word, because I know you’re going to argue with me about this – “

Alice started to speak, but Ivana’s voice continued unabated. “You HAVE to go on a date with my friend Bob tonight. Meet him at Friend’s Teahouse at 8:00. He’s a tall guy with black hair, and green eyes. Exactly your type, and he’s from New York – just like you! He’ll sit near the door. It’s the perfect set-up, so don’t be late.”

Alice opened her mouth to speak again, but closed it again when she realized she’d be talking to herself. She reached towards the phone, but her hand stopped in mid-air. She got up and looked in the mirror, carefully inspecting the collar of her new blouse. She looked up at the clock that hung in her kitchen, and realized that she only had half an hour before she was supposed to meet this guy in the teahouse. She turned and walked back out the front door, which she hadn’t even gotten a chance to close.

She leapt onto the number 4 tram as soon as the doors opened, and tried to steady herself against the wall between two sections of the car. She tried to stay as far away from the other passengers as possible, not wanting to brush against anyone, until the doors opened at Náměstí Svobody. Walking quickly around the corner, she nodded politely at the man who held the door open as she walked through. His puzzled frown worried her, and she tried to surreptitiously check the collar of her blouse again as she headed up the steps to the teahouse. She found a nervous-looking man fitting Ivana’s description, and walked up to his table.

“Bob?” she asked, pleased to discover that her voice sounded almost normal.

The man jumped up to shake the hand that she was tentatively putting forward, and knocked over a glass of water that had been sitting in front of him on the table. As he frantically mopped it up with whatever napkins he could find, Alice smiled and slid gracefully into the opposite seat. Once he had dried everything off, he sat back down in his chair and smiled shyly.

“So, you’re Alice?”

She nodded.

“Ivana has told me so much about you! You run some kind of software company, right?”

“Yes, we develop on-demand apps for small businesses.” Her voice came out slowly, but calmly. Good.

“Oh, that’s so awesome! I just work for AT&T. Like most of the foreigners here.” He grinned at her. “So, what do you do for fun? Have you seen all of the historic stuff? I just did a tour at Lednice. It was organized by one of the expat groups. It’s such a beautiful place. Have you seen it? I wanted to go over to Valtice, too, but I spent so much time wandering the gardens that I didn’t have time. I don’t really think it’s reasonable to do both in one day, do you?”

Alice shook her head.

“So, you agree with me! We should plan a trip and see Valtice, since we’ve both missed it in the past. I went up to Veveří for a day, too, but there just wasn’t as much to see there. Oh, I ordered you a Darjeeling. Here it comes.“

Bob poured out the tea and set it in front of her, and filled his own cup with the green tea he had ordered. „Darjeeling’s ok, right? I figured everyone likes that. So, do you like boats? I have a boat that I keep on the Vltava. I go up there most weekends. I just love being out on the water, don’t you?“

“Yes…lovely.“ Alice stared into her tea, and sat listening to the endless stream of consciousness coming from her companion. After tolerating it for an hour, in which she had only spoken three more times, she managed to interrupt to tell him that she really had to go.

“Oh. I figured we could go for a walk around the city afterwards. Maybe stroll up to Lužánky – aren’t they having some sort of concert or something there?”

“I think so. But I’m afraid I really have to go. Another time…”

“Ok. Give me your number then, and I’ll call you to set something up.”

Alice sighed and gave it to him, thinking as she did that she was never going to learn how to turn down this request politely.

“Ok, now let me give you mine.”

“I don’t actually have my phone with me, but definitely give me a call, Bob.” She stood to leave, and he followed her to the desk and grumpily paid the bill before escorting her back to her tram stop. She jumped onto the tram as the doors opened, and wondered what to do next.

Three days after the date, Bob called Ivana in a miff. “I thought you said this one was different! She completely ghosted me.”

“But Bob…” Ivana stammered.

“I even paid for her tea.”

“You…what?”

“I know, right? I thought it was going so well.”

“Bob, did you see…”

“And we both liked sailing and everything.”

“…the news, Bob. Did you…”

“Oh, we didn’t talk about the news.”

“That’s not…”

“Anyway, Ivana, I guess you shouldn’t hook me up with any more people. We seem to have different ideas about what suits me.”

“But Alice…”

“It’s fine. Talk to you later.”

“…died before the date.” Ivana knew she was talking to dead air, but she felt like she had to get the sentence out anyway. She looked sadly at the news story on her computer, explaining that her friend had been bludgeoned to death by an enraged ex-boyfriend right around the time that she had called her to set up the date. A single blow to the back of her head had been all it had taken. She’d been so quiet on the phone – had he been there? She sighed and cast a puzzled look at the phone in her hand. Who had been Bob’s ‘perfect’ date?