By Lynn Kilpatrick
In Prague my attractive friend and I meet two Swedish men at a vegetarian
restaurant. We share a communal table. Outside it is raining as is the
case all summer in various locations around Europe. Instantly the men
begin smiling and then whispering to each other in Swedish. I am eating
soup, lentil I think it is, and though I don’t speak Swedish I understand
the nuances of their conversation and their subtle hand gestures. They
are having the “which one?” conversation. I want to interrupt them and
say, “You don’t have to argue about who ‘gets’ me. Neither of you ‘gets’
me.” I want to tell them in their native tongue that I have already
been gotten, thank you, and the getter is back in the States waiting
patiently for me to complete my summer vacation with my friend, whom
they are fighting over.
Understand: I am the ugly friend. I have always been the ugly friend,
the one the boys, and then men, gesture towards, while the one they
want, the pretty friend, the blonde friend, the friend with long hair
and demure laugh, smiles and says with her eyes, “come on, she’s really
nice.” Before I left the United States for this just-two-girls-palling-around-Europe
trip, I shaved my head. I decided to stop shaving my legs. Who cared?
I had just gotten engaged so I wasn’t traveling to Europe to shop for
men. I wanted to see things and drink coffee and wine and eat some other
things and maybe drink some beer and see some art. I did not want to
be sitting at this large wooden table being scrutinized by two Swedish
men who, frankly, could have used some self-scrutiny. There was a tall
one with a strange hat, and a short one with round glasses and an inward
sort of shoulder structure.
These two men accompany us through the rain and back to our hostel,
which, during the academic year, is a music school. The tall man plays
the piano in our room as my friend looks on adoringly. When he is done
we all clap. I think about the small antiseptic packs of wine I saw
a vendor selling by the bridge and a book I could be reading. I wonder
if Kafka killed himself and, if so, I know why.
Later we go to a bar where the negotiations continue. I want to point
out to the two Swedish men that it is rude to talk in Swedish in front
of two women who only speak English, with a little German and some Spanish
for good measure. The short man tells my friend she may write poems
about anything she wishes, which does not directly contradict what I
just told her, namely that I had read a poem about paintings beneath
paintings which included the line “the bar beneath the bar” and how
I really liked the poem a lot, in response to her idea that she was
going to write a poem about how painters painted paintings over other
I take this opportunity to tell the two Swedish men that I am engaged.
I do not have an engagement ring because it is being handmade by a Danish
man in Washington state who has eyes as blue as glaciers. I take a cheap
silver ring off my right hand and put it on my left hand. The short
man points out that I just moved my ring, proving to him that I am not
in fact engaged. Yes, I say. I moved my ring. I explain about the Danish
man, but the Swedish men are nodding and smiling. When we leave the
short man tells me not to over-tip. It’s like bragging about how much
money you have. Apparently Americans are seen as rude for over-tipping.
I start to say something about how we can’t win, but decide against
it. My friend has spent our time in Europe trying not to seem American
by wearing dresses and clogs. I wear t-shirts and shorts and tennis
shoes. Sometimes I wear a baseball cap.
We make our way through the dark streets to a jazz bar where everything
is American except the electricity. When the lights go out I excuse
myself and walk back to the hostel. Prague, the dark heart Kafka made
famous, constricts around me. The streets are a maze and when I awake
in the morning, I see myself for the monstrous vermin, the ugly friend,
that I am.
has appeared in Tin House, Denver Quarterly, spork,
and Salt Hill. She earned her PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Utah. She serves as Vice-President of Writers at Work and teaches writing in Salt Lake City.