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Any Friend of My Friend

Story by Mardith Louisell (Read author interview) April 27, 2015

Art by Alexander C. Kafka

An Irish friend told me that her German friend, a frequent traveling companion and fellow fan of Leonard Cohen, had called. I wasn’t sure why but Leonard Cohen was a big hit with the Irish and also with the Germans.

“Do you want to come to Berlin and see the Leonard Cohen concert?” her German friend asked.

“I can’t,” my friend answered, “because I just got tickets to see him in Dublin.”

Late that night she received a text message.

“I’m hurt,” the friend said, “that you didn’t invite me to come to Dublin for the concert.”

My friend hadn’t meant to exclude her friend. She would be happy if she came to Dublin for the concert. This and other past mistakes she had made with her German friend meant that her text response back took time to compose. Some of the past mistakes my friend had made involved the German feeling left out. This awkwardness had happened once in Italy and once in Denmark. In Italy, my friend spent too much time speaking Italian with other travelers when the German’s Italian was only marginal. In Denmark, my friend had gone window-shopping even though her friend had made it clear she didn’t like window-shopping.

“I’m so sorry,” my Irish friend wrote her German friend twelve hours later. “My brother had a ticket and asked me. I said yes without thinking. I’m very sorry.”

“Maybe it’s just me,” she read on the text reply five minutes later. “I’m always thinking of other people.”

My friend recently invited her German friend to join her in Turkey with two others, an American and a Russian, who’d also traveled on the Italian trip. This might be a mistake since on that trip she made one of her past blunders with the German friend. She also invited me to Turkey. Much as I want to see Istanbul, I’m not sure I should go because I have sometimes found my own friend uncomfortable to travel with and have made many mistakes myself, including speaking sharply to her about her endless window-shopping. I don’t know which of us would be more uncomfortable and whether the discomfort between her and the German woman would exceed the potential discomfort between her and me, and whether my friend would enlist her German friend against me when she was upset with me, or whether I would enlist her German friend against her when I was annoyed, or both.

Also the German woman might enlist me against my friend and her against me. How would her friend take to me, another person who has traveled with our mutual friend? The two of them might speak German together and I would feel as left out as the German woman had felt in Italy. In this situation of constantly fluctuating allegiances, I would have to choose the right seat at restaurant tables if I wanted to enjoy the trip. This would require rapid, top-notch clinical skills to determine the latest social alignment.

One must also consider the nature of the Russian friend. He brings his own food because foreign food upsets his stomach. I can see that, to pick a restaurant, we’d need a first-rate group therapist with skills in facilitation, clarification, and termination.

The American is a therapist, which might come in handy. Because of his professional people skills, he would know exactly where to sit. Maybe I should go to Turkey. But would the therapist understand when I become irritated, as is quite likely, with the German friend, the Russian friend, and even my own friend? Would he think me neurotic, obsessive, or worse? Would I spend the trip trying to convince him that I’m always thinking of other people?

About the Author

Mardith Louisell‘s short fiction, essays and memoir can be found most recently in Sleet, Solstice Literary Magazine, Best Travel Writing 2012, Travelers’ Tales, and Huffington Post. She grew up on Lake Superior in Duluth, Minnesota, and takes photos of people’s ears. Beside Myself, a book of flash fiction, is her current book.

About the Artist

Alexander C. Kafka is a journalist, photographer, and composer in Bethesda, Maryland. He created the cover image for Lost Addresses: New and Selected Poems by Diann Blakely (Salmon Poetry, 2017). His work has also been published at All Things Fashion DC, BuzzFeed, Fast Company, Juked, Vice, The Washington Post, The Writing Disorder, and many other periodicals. He has been on the documentation team for the Washington Folk Festival at Glen Echo and is a contributing concert photographer for DMNDR. Kafka studied fine-art figure photography with Missy Loewe at the Washington School of Photography and portrait photography with Sora DeVore at Glen Echo Photoworks.

This story appeared in Issue Forty-Eight of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Forty-Eight

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