Petrov’s Lost Friends

by Dennis Pahl | Kew Gardens, New York, USA

Thursday, May 28th, 2020

Illustration by Elli Dalton

Petrov began to lose friends left and right. First Ivanov got upset with him because Petrov said something nasty about Ivanov’s mother, an old hag that never did a good deed her whole life and in fact treated Ivanov horribly since he was a youngster. Always the loyal son, Ivanov sided with his mother, defending her honor, and that was the end of his friendship with Petrov.

Then Petrov lost touch with Orlov when the latter began retreating into himself and when his gloom became so great that Orlov stopped seeing anyone, preferring to stay in his room and think about this and that, dwelling obsessively on whatever subject came to mind. The subjects concerned everything from the dark side of the moon to a tea stain on one of his good white shirts to a woman he once saw, briefly, in a museum over ten years ago. Full of thought, he had little room for other people in his life, including Petrov.

Lavrov was another friend. Petrov didn’t see him for months, and rumor had it that he jumped out a window, though no one was sure which window it was, his bedroom window, his office window, or another window in a tall building. It was a trivial point, but Petrov would have liked to know. In any case, Petrov was never able to confirm the story, nor did he know anyone else who could. The main point here is that Lavrov, for whatever reason, disappeared, not only from sight but also, after a while, from Petrov’s mind.

As for Kasparov, Petrov stopped talking to him after his friend accused him of failing to return one of his record albums. Kasparov owned a big classical record collection and was deeply devoted to it. Petrov did not recall borrowing a record from Kasparov, much less one of classical music, which he didn’t like. Even if he did like it, his stereo system had been broken for years and he’d have no reason to borrow a recording he couldn’t listen to, and, what is more, he couldn’t remember the last time he stepped into Kasparov’s house, which must have been ages ago, even before Petrov owned a stereo system. All this, as far as Petrov was concerned, rendered Kasparov’s accusations totally baseless. Kasparov, however, wasn’t interested in listening to reason, and refused under any circumstances to forgive Petrov for not returning a record Petrov never borrowed.

Ivanovich was another case. The last time Petrov saw him was after he asked him to contribute to a fundraising effort for a new project of his. If one wants to lose a friend, just ask him for some money. It is possible Petrov knew this universal law, and got the result he desired.

Another friend, whose name doesn’t matter, Petrov saw one afternoon walking down a cobblestone street in an obscure part of the city. He hadn’t seen him for years, and though he tried to call out to him, the man either didn’t hear him or ignored him, and Petrov took it as a sure sign that he lost another friend. Petrov considered himself a good reader of signs.

These are just a few of the friends Petrov lost. There are more, but their stories are similar and not worth discussing. Interestingly, or not, all of this happened in a rather short period of time.

The only friend Petrov had left was an old mad woman who once in a while came to visit him. Her name was Natasha. She was somebody he met while wandering around town one day. He helped her somehow while she was shopping for food. Maybe he opened the door for her when he saw her carrying her groceries out of the store. It doesn’t matter. Whenever she came to visit, he’d offer her a cup of hot tea, which she pretended to sip but never drank. They’d sit down at his long oval table in the dining room and immediately she’d start raving about one thing or another, mostly about her miserable landlord who had the nerve to demand rent money from her. Or she’d complain endlessly about her phone that never worked after she refused to pay the bills. Petrov listened to her rave. He listened patiently, politely. He was glad to enjoy someone’s company, even if it wasn’t exactly enjoyable.

He still sees poor Natasha. He never knows when she will come to visit because she cannot call him in advance, due to her phone issues. She shows up at random times and quite unexpectedly, ringing his doorbell. Petrov is not sure on how many occasions she’s come by when he wasn’t home. As it happens, she hasn’t been seen for at least a month now, and Petrov has become a bit concerned. He doesn’t know what to think. He plans to wait several more days, maybe a couple of weeks, and then decide whether to add her to the list of friends he has, for one reason or another, lost. ■

Dennis Pahl is a professor of English at Long Island University. His fiction has appeared in Confrontation, Vestal Review, Epiphany Magazine, Leopardskin & Limes, Fleas on the Dog, Upbeat Literary Journal, Queen Mob’s Teahouse and other journals. One of his stories was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and he was awarded “honorable mention” in a Glimmer Train short fiction contest. Three of his stories were made into short films.