Short Story: “Tony’s Vibe”

Tony can't understand why people don't like him. But he’s looking in the wrong place. He’s not the problem. I am. I am Tony’s vibe.

Young hispanic woman with red hair standing over pink background disgusted expression © /

January 21, 2024 05:40 EDT

Something to consider when reading/listening: To what extent can a person be aware of their own vibe?

There’s something about Tony that no one can quite put their finger on. He goes for a job interview and gets everything spot on. Firm handshake. Strong eye contact. He smiles. Answers their questions. Asks some of his own. He’s well-presented, articulate, enthusiastic. But when he leaves, the interviewers look at each other. And pull a face. And one of them says, “I don’t know what it is, I just didn’t like his vibe.”

Then Tony goes on a date. He’s funny, he’s attentive, he offers genuinely good advice when she tells him about some of the troubles she’s been having at work. He’s convinced there’s a connection. But when the woman gets home, and her flatmate asks her how it went, she pulls a face and says, “I just didn’t get a good vibe.”

This keeps happening. Tony goes on dates and job interviews and thinks things have gone well only for him to be rejected or ignored. And this isn’t a recent development. He struggled to make friends at school and university. He’s never been able to get a girlfriend. He’s never even had a proper friend. He’s always struggled to find work. And Tony has absolutely no idea why.

But I do. I am Tony’s vibe. 

And there is nothing I love more than sucking the energy out of rooms, making people uncomfortable, making them frantically search for something, anything, that can give them an excuse to leave.

I’m always there, wherever he goes, whatever he does, and poor Tony, bless him, is completely oblivious of my existence.

Humans often talk about vibes. But you don’t realize you literally have one. Every single person has a vibe. And there’s very little they can do to change it.

Some people brighten rooms, others empty them. It’s vibes. It’s all about vibes.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not essential to have a good vibe. The secret to life is knowing what your vibe is and living in harmony with it. Even if your vibe is creepy and weird. If you accept this and embrace it, like pretty much half the celebrities you can name, people will think it’s charisma.

Tony’s problem is that he’s so set on being a good guy. He wants to be liked. He wants to put people at ease. He wants to be completely different from me, his creepy, suffocating little vibe. And that’s never, ever going to work. He’s tried life coaches, elocution coaches, therapists, personal trainers but he’s looking in the wrong place. He’s not the problem. I am.

But one day, Tony meets Tania. And everything changes.

Tania doesn’t have the best vibe either. It’s one of those superior sort of vibes where you feel as though she’s judging you, as though you’ll never live up to her standards. But for some reason, Tony doesn’t pick up on this. And even more strangely, she doesn’t pick up on me. Tony’s creepy, suffocating little vibe goes completely undetected.

And, trust me, it’s not for a lack of trying. On the third date, I ramp the creepiness up so much, the waiter has to call in sick the next day. But Tania, immune to my anti-charm, has one of the best nights of her life.

And bit by bit, date by date, as their relationship develops, as Tania becomes Tony’s first ever girlfriend, as they move in together, Tony’s confidence grows and grows and grows until, one day, there’s this new sort of relaxed energy that kind of just swaggers around everywhere we go, forming a gap and then a chasm between Tony and me. And I’m like, “Oi you cheeky chipolata, what do you think you’re doing?”

And he says, “Hey man, I am Tony’s new vibe.”

And that’s it. With almost a yawn, he pushes me away from Tony and I find myself in the land of discarded vibes. There I am, wandering lonely as a cloud, with Tiger Woods’ trustworthiness, Lindsay Lohan’s innocence and Russell Brand’s sex appeal. I’m condemned to watch from afar as Tony and his new vibe charm and delight everyone they meet.

Tony doesn’t change a single thing about his appearance or behavior. Nor does he need to. Tania is madly in love with him. Strangers want to become his friends. He gets offered job after job but he turns them all down to launch his own ambitious business venture and it actually works.

When he walks down the street, people smile at him, wave to him, want to be close to him. They don’t know why, they just know there’s something about him. Something fun and vibrant but at the same time safe. He’s the sort of guy you’d want to be godfather to your kids, and barely a week passes without someone offering that very honor.

I’m bereft. I’m disconsolate. I can’t believe it’s the same man, the same person I lingered around for the best part of forty years. Tony was the stage on which I wove my magic. He was the vessel through which I improved the world. Yes, I embarrassed people, disgusted people, creeped people out. But I made them feel better about themselves. Without vibes like me, how would other people make peace with their own deficiencies?

Sure, no one enjoyed being in Tony’s presence, far from it. But once he’d gone… once he’d gone… they felt energized, uplifted, invigorated. At least I’m not him, they’d cry, at least I’m not him. 

And now… now, all that good work has been thrown away and I’m left to float, to hover, unable to affect the affairs of man. And I for one believe those affairs have suffered as a result. 

After a few years with his new vibe, Tony and Tania get married in St Lucia, surrounded by friends and loved ones. She gives birth to the most angelic, beautiful little boy you’ve ever seen. Tony is rich, successful, popular. But most of all he’s happy, happier than he ever believed possible.

His son, Max, has all the things Tony never had growing up. But nor is he spoilt. His dad takes care to shower him with time and love, rather than money. And Max is sporty. Good-looking. Attentive. Polite. He’s everything you’d possibly want in a young boy.

On his first day at school, Tony dresses him in his little uniform, combs his hair and walks him into the playground. Max looks like a prime candidate for most popular kid in the class. He’s filled with excitement. He cannot wait to get going.

With a huge smile on his face, he lets go of his dad’s hand, strides confidently up to the other kids and… for whatever reason, they take a step back. They turn away. They don’t know why. They can’t put their finger on it. There’s just something about him that’s ever so slightly off.

That’s right, baby, I’m back.

[Doe Wilmann first released this piece on his short story podcast, Meaningless Problems.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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