Friend A is from Poland. You met when he briefly studied in your university. He has blond hair, too long to be due to negligence, too short to be tied back. He is relaxed and has a kind of vulnerability to him that he is happy to expose. This makes him extremely easy to be around. You are always quick to let your guard down around him, and that has been the basis of your friendship.
You visited him on a breakneck itinerary that sent you bouncing from one corner of Europe to another. He was an anchor then. He showed you that beyond the tourist-friendly veneer of his hometown there was a mix of rawness and coziness that reminded you of your own home.
You haven’t seen friend A in a number of years. When you were last in touch, once the first couple minutes of awkwardness passed, you spoke as if no time had gone at all. He told you of his new life in Germany, the bitter divorce he was currently going through, and you tried to provide as much support as he had given you.
Now, picture friend B. He is a friend of a friend that you met during that trip to the US. He is not American, not on paper at least. He has lived there for as long as he remembers, his parents having emigrated from Malaysia when he was an infant. He is dark-skinned, short jet black hair, toned and muscular in contrast to friend A’s lanky physique.
Within half a minute of meeting him, he utters a self-deprecating remark. His tone of voice, his casual demeanour, his body language as he speaks. The resemblance to friend A is uncanny. Friend B — who has unwittingly made the leap from merely being acquaintance B — slots neatly in friend A’s place, like a puzzle piece from a different set that was cut from the same mould. Your defences are lowered. You pick up a conversation with friend B as if reviving an old in-joke between friend A and yourself.
More years pass. You have been in touch with friend A less and less. News filter through to you that he’s not doing too well these days. Mounting guilt and inertia prevent you from reaching out. Plus, you still speak to friend B every few months and that brings you the same jokes, the same warmth. A need you can’t put a name to is being met.
When you finally decide to drop friend A a message, you notice that his social media accounts have gone dormant, stale. The email you send him only elicits an automated error message.
Full of dread, you find yourself calling friend B. He notices that something is amiss and goes into damage control in his own fashion, by talking about anything that has been on his mind lately. This helps somewhat. Then, friend B mentions a trip back to Poland and a child support issue that needs to be resolved.
You freeze, go silent. As far as you know, friend B has no children and has never even crossed the Atlantic. Something has gone irrevocably wrong, but the what and the how of it escapes you.
There is a moment of silence while you fumble for something to say. Then, friend B changes the topic.
“So I made a new friend the other week. It’s really weird, like. She reminds me of you.”
Andrey Pissantchev is a Bulgarian writer based in Leeds, UK, where he shares a house with his girlfriend and a cat that barely even exists. He hopes to one day be remembered as the first person to get punched by a ghost on live television. His short stories have most recently appeared in Sirens Call Ezine, Tall Tale TV and The Weird and Whatnot. His first poem is due out in Spectral Realms any day now.