A Good Friend

“Meat Lovers” by Caleb Lyons (2023)

A Good Friend by Ashton Politanoff

They ate everything and drank the broth and the rest of the beer.  The man had to loosen his belt a notch.  They had plucked a shared dish of daikon with their chopsticks and squeezed edamame into their mouths.  Their ramen had arrived with soft-boiled eggs, the yolk like golden jam.
       The man followed his friend out the door—he was in his friend’s city, and had no problems with following.  The man wanted to make his friend happy.
       The first stop was a marijuana dispensary.  The friend said he wasn’t starting the medication until the following week, so he needed something until then.
       The next stop was a chocolatier.  The friend insisted even though the man was still full.
       We’ll just eat some samples, the friend said.
       Next to the entrance was a bookcase stacked with chocolate bars and Victorian square jars filled with little nibs.  With tweezers, the friend picked up a sample from Belize and studied it under the light like a jeweler.  Then, he ate it.
       Not bad, the friend said after a minute.
       They tried samples from Madagascar, Tanzania, Peru.
       Shouldn’t we buy something? the man said.
       I do this all the time, the friend said.  It’s fine.
       Inside another store, a poised gazelle stood atop a low bookcase, priced at two thousand dollars.
       This is my favorite, the friend said, stopping at a glass cabinet displaying mice.  There was a mouse popping a wheelie on a motorcycle, a mouse suspended in the air by trapeze.  All of their tails were curled in a certain way to look alive.  Their tails looked to the man like nooses.
       There was every kind of animal in there: beaver, ram, hawk, bat.  They all seemed to be looking expectantly at the man.  The man moved quickly to the back of the store where he found plants and books.
       Check it out, his friend said, holding a book of taxidermy gone wrong.  He stopped on a photo of a cross-eyed fox.  The friend was laughing but the man was not.
       Sorry, the man said.
       No worries, the friend said. How about some ice cream?
       I should head back, the man said.

A few weeks later, the man’s friend was in town. The visit was unexpected. The friend’s voice sounded low, steady, like the distant sound of traffic.
       Are you okay? the man asked his friend over the phone.
       I am doing well, the friend said, but the man, he didn’t believe his friend. He asked his friend what part of town he was staying in, and they agreed to meet at an Irish bar not far.
       The bar was at the corner of an intersection, with a small parking lot and a sign that leaned into the road. Next to it was an empty square lot with overgrowth and palm trees with brown leaves. There were old camper vans parked with rust and stories to tell, but when the man found his friend inside on a stool with a pitcher of something brown, his friend didn’t have much to say. There was a pool table with faded patches and a stained glass chandelier hanging above. There was a dispensary for condoms and XXX cards for 50¢. There was an empty stool next to his friend, so the man took a seat.
       A paper tray of fries was next to the beer—full, untouched, seasoned in Lawry’s—and it was clear that the friend hadn’t sipped from his beer yet. There was still a little foam at the top. The bartender nodded, set a glass in front of the man, but the man left it empty.
       Finally, the man turned to his friend.
       What the fuck is wrong with you man? he said.
       The friend turned and looked back at the man expectantly. His eyes were large, open, unblinking, maybe a little wet. They were frozen like that.
       He looked more alive than ever.


Ashton Politanoff lives in Redondo Beach, California. He is a frequent contributor to the literary annual NOON, and his first novel You’ll Like it Here was published by Dalkey Archive. He is an English Instructor at Cypress College.