Last Call


“It’s called ‘Countdown,’” says Brian. He looks away from his phone to smile at the bartender as she hands him another beer, then looks back at us. “It’s free.”

He turns the screen towards us and — I hate to say this — it actually looks cute. The cartoon clock, with little clock arms and clock legs, and one hand on his clock hip. “Countdown” is plastered in colorful letters at the top of the screen.

I look over at my own phone, lying face up on the bar. The notification light is blinking. And there’s a part of me, of course, that wants to reach over and see what she said. But then she’ll know I read the message, and I don’t want her to know that yet.

“How’s it work?” asks Neil. He’s got his own phone in his hand, and I can see he’s already searching the app store.

“You just give it your name and your girlfriend’s name,” says Brian. “It has these, what do you call them, algorithms?” He looks between Neil and I for confirmation. “It looks at both of your profiles and reads all the stuff you’re posting to each other’s pages.”

“I can do that myself,” says Neil, his finger hovering over the “download” button. He raises his eyes. “Is it filled with, like, malware or something?”

“That’s the thing,” says Brian. He leans in, conspiratorially, as if the other five patrons in this fine establishment on a weeknight — or maybe it’s morning, now — care remotely about how Countdown works. “See, it runs all these posts through the algorithms, and it uses that to figure out when the breakup is going to happen.”

My eyes get away from me and I glance back at my phone, involuntarily. The light’s still still blinking, still waiting to be read. I squeeze the spot between my eyes on the bridge of the nose, a tic I picked up from her. Of course it’s still blinking. Why wouldn’t it be?

“How can it do that?” says Neil. He finishes his glass. “I’ve been in breakups that I never even saw coming.”

“It’s all patterns, man,” says Brian. “It looks for changes in patterns. Because that’s all anything is, right?” He toasts. “Patterns.”

Neil looks dubious, leaving Brian’s beer un-toasted. He turns to me, and raises an eyebrow, as if to say, Patterns, right? Are you hearing this? I can see the download has already started on his phone.

“Seriously,” says Brian. “We all fall into patterns. Like, you’re dating somebody, serious, and every phone call ends with ‘I love you,’ right? After the first time you say ‘I love you’ to somebody, every phone call starts to end with ‘I love you.’”

“Sure,” says Neil.

“Then, one day,” he says, “no ‘I love you.’ Click. Why didn’t she say ‘I love you?’” He sips his glass for effect, or to give us a chance to come up with something.

“Maybe she forgot,” says Neil.

Brian swallows. “After every night for two weeks? A month? A year? She just forgot?”

“Maybe she’s mad at you,” I say to Brian. Eyes forward, I say to myself.

“Bingo,” says Brian, pointing a finger at me. “There’s a reason.” He holds up his phone again. “It looks for all those little changes in the patterns, for all those little reasons, and it, I don’t know, reads the curve. Figures out where it’s heading.” He lifts the beer to his lips and says, before drinking, “Then it tells you when it’s going to end.”

“Another one, hon?” asks the bartender. I shake my head.

“Sick to my stomach,” I say.

“Jesus,” says Neil. He shakes his head. “That’s horrific. It’s like facing down a firing squad. ‘You’re going to be executed at 0800 hours, try not to think about it too much.’”

“What are you talking about?” says Brian, screwing up his face. “It’s like an early warning system. There’s a storm coming in, you get down to the basement, know what I mean? You know something’s wrong, you can correct course.”

“The pattern has already changed,” says Neil. “Aren’t things, like, set in stone by the time it reads them?”

Brian shakes his head. ”It’s not coming up with anything new, people have always been giving off signs. It’s just tough to see them if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Just like little atmospheric changes before the storm, you know? It sees everything you missed and taps you on the shoulder. Fix this. And you can.”

Neil is almost in awe as his phone lights up, letting him know Coutdown is done being installed. “Early warning system,” he says.

“Exactly,” says Brian. He lifts his beer. ”Unless it’s, like, tomorrow. But I feel like you’d have an idea of that without the app.”

I can’t help myself; I look at my phone.