The Satisfaction of Longing: Stories by Victoria Melekian
  Stories by Victoria Melekian
  1  How to Spell Egypt
 Mercy Smells Like Lemons
3  Looking for Stars
4  Fallen Oranges
5  Help
6  Ashes
7  Far From Home
  About the Author  |  |  Summer 2022 Fiction Issue

Looking For Stars

It could be anyone: the father I never met, my soon to be ex in-laws. It could be the nosy neighbor who stood on her dark porch watching my husband’s arrest. The sweet mechanic who does his best with my very old car, my son’s teacher, my daughter’s Brownie leader, or any of the people at the coffee shop where I work for minimum wage and tips.

The envelopes confuse me. They’re exciting, but who’s sending them and why. I’m feeling watched. I’m afraid I might come home and find all the photographs missing from their frames.


“Why didn’t you tell me?” my sister asks.

“I don’t know.”

The truth is I thought telling might break the spell. Like there’s a tacit agreement between me and my benefactor not to shout “guess what.” But it’s such a relief to share this with someone. The story jumbles out like an overturned penny jar. I tell her about the envelopes coming in the mail every day: plain white, legal size, purple postmark from right here in L.A., no note or return address.

“You’re saying you just came home one random day and there was a hundred dollars in your mailbox?” Carly asks.

“Yeah. Well, in an envelope. Mailed.”

“One hundred dollars in an envelope?”


“Like twenties? Fifties? What?”

“Always a brand-new hundred-dollar bill.”

“Are they real? Sure they’re not counterfeit?”

“They’re real.”

“Addressed to whom?”

“Me. Mrs. David Cullen. Typed.”

“Typed? Like a typewriter?”

“That’s what it looks like.”

“When did it start?” she asks.

“Five months ago.” I watch her do the math in her head.

She lights a cigarette, stares at the ocean. “Wow,” she says.


We’re up on the roof. If it’s a really clear day and there’s no wind blowing the branches of the neighbor’s tree, you can see the ocean. Just a dark stripe of blue below the sky. But ocean.

The landlord would freak if he saw Carly smoking up here. So what. If he cared, he’d fix the plumbing. The cracked kitchen window. The broken garage door. There’s a long list. It’s a crappy little stucco house, twisted chain link fencing and patched screen doors in a neighborhood that tastes like rusted metal. But it’s a house, not an apartment, and I can afford the rent. One little misstep, though, a twisted ankle or broken arm—it wouldn’t have taken much to send us sprawling into the street. I took the first job I found: waiting tables, serving breakfast and lunch, dinner if the babysitter can stay, trying to make as much money as I can.

My life sometimes feels like a clogged sink full of potato peelings and coffee grounds floating in smelly water. I was going to grow up, marry a handsome man, and have a nest of daughters named after birds—Lark, Piper, Robin. There would be yellow and purple pansies in a white window box, cupcakes cooling on a clean kitchen countertop, and medical insurance. Not this: looking for stars through bent metal blinds, a husband in prison, explaining to my kids that addiction is a disease—a concept I barely believe.

Dave and I married instead of going to college. We had our two babies and bought a house on a street where kids practice piano before dinner. I missed the clues: cash advances on new credit cards, long days and late nights, and the moods, down and up. “Just got the sun-gone-down blues,” he’d say as he twirled me around the kitchen. But they stretched into sunup, noon day, all night. I was busy reading Goodnight Moon to the kids. Planting daisies in the backyard. Driving carpools. Until the van was repossessed and the house went into foreclosure. Dave checked himself into rehab and I moved us here. He came out promising to get our house back. A week later he was arrested for dealing cocaine. That’s when I stopped believing in forever.

For a while I went to meetings. You know, the groups for addicts and drunks, people who speed, drink, shoot up, and those who love them—too much, not enough—however the hurt spills out, there’s a back room in a church somewhere. A circle of orange plastic chairs waiting to support you and your pain. I learned what I needed to comfort my children. Then left. I’m just too busy. Working when I should be home with the kids. Home with the kids when I should be working. Never enough to fill the bowl.

When I was seven, I was afraid of clowns and dolls on rocking chairs. I wanted a bike with pink plastic streamers flowing from the handlebars. When I was fifteen, I was afraid of popular girls and never being chosen. I wanted long blonde hair. Now, I just want to be sure I can feed my children. Pay for a doctor if they get sick. Fear lives under the bed along with the dust and cat hair. It’s there when I stir soup, pour milk onto cereal, smooth blue blankets across the kids’ beds. I want it to go away.


“It’s got to be Dave’s parents,” Carly says. “You don’t know anyone else with money.”

“They hate me.”

“Just his mom. It’s probably Dave’s dad.”

“I thought about that,” I say, “but he’s not going to mess around with envelopes and mail and stuff.”

“He would if he wanted to help.”



Dave and I met at a beach party under an orange crescent moon. He smelled like sheets drying in a warm wind and felt like home. He had the easy grace of country club summers. His parents thought it was money I was after, but money was never the attraction. It was the way he tilted his head and watched me walk away. I didn’t have to turn around. I knew.

I loved being married, saying, “Come on, kids, let’s go home.” I tucked a heavy blanket of domesticity around the four of us. Maybe he was sweltering under there. Or maybe it was the pressure of not following his parents’ plan of college and law school. They hinted at a limited inheritance when he married me.

When Dave introduced us, his mother stared beyond my right shoulder and asked where my people were from. Her people’s portraits are on the walls with little spotlights hanging over them. His parents live in a mansion that feels like a museum with cold and sharp-angled furniture, lots of marble and steel and smoky glass tables.

The woman despises me. His dad is nice enough, but he does whatever his wife tells him to do. He reminds me of a river-worn rock, smooth and benign. I thought grandchildren would soften the hatred. If anything, she dislikes me more. Probably thinks I’ve tainted her legacy with my plebeian blood. When the kids were born, she sent a professional photographer to the hospital nursery. No flowers, no gift, no phone call. After that, I let Dave do the visiting alone or with the kids. No matter how often Dave explained that’s just how she is, I always felt like a kid sharpening a number two pencil for a test I knew I would fail.

I see them mentioned in the society section of the newspaper. She’s chairing a fundraising committee for new theater seats at the local playhouse. They attend this gala and that, five-hundred-dollar-a-plate events. They paid for rehab and a fancy criminal lawyer, and that’s it. Her personal assistant calls to arrange bimonthly visits with the kids, picks them up and drops them off in a shiny black Lincoln, always on time. I wonder why they bother.


“Maybe it’s Frank or Ron,” Carly says, “one of the collective.”

“Maybe,” I agree. “But out of the blue, after so long? And why not you, too?”

Carly shrugs. “Probably because I don’t need it.”

“Are you in touch with any of them?” I ask.

“God, no,” she says. “Haven’t see any of them since Mom’s funeral. I don’t even know if they’re alive.”

“Ron is. I saw his picture in the paper last year, cutting a ribbon at the opening of some big deal children’s center.”


We grew up in other people’s houses. Mom’s boyfriends’ houses. Houses with long winding driveways and black wrought iron gates that slide open if you know the code. And Mom always knew the code. Over the years, there were six. Six men. Six houses. The collective, Carly and I call them, were nice enough, but we learned to blend into walls and stay unattached. We carried the scent that clings to the insides of cardboard moving boxes. In between men, and houses, we lived in an Airstream trailer parked illegally in Mom’s sister’s backyard. Cramped and hot and impossible to sleep in when it rained, but it was a permanent address, a place we could put our school pictures and report cards on the refrigerator and say the word mine.

Mom hated it. She came from the red clay soil of a South I’ve never seen. Her stories made me think of a little girl looking for sky from the windows of basement apartments. She left her papers and books in a high school locker and followed the first man who paid attention. She thought he’d take her places and be good to her once they were there.

About that man, our father, we have a Polaroid of him and nothing else. Mom told us he loved us very much, but he had to go. Carly decided he did secret work for the government, that he tracked our moves with satellites, that he’d find us one day, but only if we believed. I pictured coming home from school, and he’d be waiting on the front porch, and we’d run into his open arms. I believed he’d smell like Old Spice and the inside of new cars. I kept lists of things I wanted to tell him until I realized there was too much to say.

I grew up wanting things: a family photo album and a heart-shaped locket like Renee Buchanan wore after her father died. It was shiny and silver and had a picture of her dad inside. I was glad when it got tangled in her hair and the teacher had to cut off a chunk of her ponytail.

Mom polished our toenails pearly pink, made sure we could two-step and box step, shake a martini, pour Scotch neat. There’s a fine line between crazy and negligent, probably the width of one of Mom’s white lies. She was more like a beautiful mermaid in heat than a mother. She forgot things like vitamins and dentist appointments and feeding us apples. Sometimes a kid wants the hair brushed off her forehead before being tucked into bed.


“It could be Dave,” Carly says.

“Dave’s in jail,” I remind her.

“Yeah, I know,” she says, ignoring my sarcasm, “but maybe he’s got somebody taking care of you.”

“No, he’d tell me.”

“How can he tell you if you won’t take his phone calls?”

We’ve had this conversation before. Carly wants me to stand by while Dave serves his three years. Families stay together, she says, no matter what. There’s a subtle undercurrent of tension in her house that makes my elbows itch and has me wondering about the no matter what.

“I know you love him.”

“Yeah, I do.”

“Then give him a chance. You’ve got to have hope.”


Hope is a child’s crossed fingers inside the pocket of a red zip-up jacket. I’m afraid to hope. That’s why I stopped visiting Dave. He’ll look at me with those eyes, eyes the color of leafy ferns, and he’ll make promises that I’m hungry enough to swallow. I can’t believe him. Not yet.

Trevor had nightmares for months, and Lily clung to my side afraid that I, too, could be whisked away. Dave was arrested in front of this house, and we all remember the click of metal handcuffs and the police car’s red taillights turning the corner. He’s missed the tooth fairy, the second-grade spelling bee, the homerun in T-ball. And our ninth wedding anniversary. Old newspapers and a math workbook sit on Dave’s chair. The kids set out three placemats for dinner, not four.

They know where he is and why, because the truth is better than lies. Dave calls every Wednesday night, and they each have ten minutes to talk. I put a big calendar on the kitchen wall with Wednesdays circled in red. After dinner and baths, we cross out the day so they can see how long until the next call. Carly takes them to visit on the fourth Sunday of each month, and those are circled in red, too. In between, they send him letters and pictures and copies of their report cards.


“It feels like something’s owed. But I don’t know what. To who.”

“Whom.” Carly smiles. Takes another drag of her cigarette. “Yeah,” she says, “I think I know what you mean.”

“I thought about calling the police, but what would I say? ‘Oh, Sergeant, somebody’s sending me money anonymously, please investigate.’ They’d think I’m crazy.”

“Maybe you are, Cindy. Why not just enjoy it?”

I look at my sister. It could be anyone.

“Because I can’t let myself get used to it. What if it stops?”


Carly leaves before dinner, Lily’s favorite: fish sticks, coleslaw, and applesauce with cinnamon sprinkles. We do bath time and X out today on the calendar. And now the kids are asleep. It’s late. Just a white sliver of moon hanging in the dark.

Even though I know exactly how much is there, I count the money. I can start school in the fall and not work at night. In two years, I’ll be a registered nurse with regular hours and a steady income. It’s like living on the edge of enormous sky.

I slide the money back into its hiding place inside the fourth book from the right, third shelf down. I straighten the books. The pictures on top of the bookcase. I look at my dad and wonder. Maybe he finally found us.


  © Victoria Melekian, 2022

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