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

How to Spell Egypt

Nominated for a 2023 Pushcart Prize


He’s standing in the kitchen looking like a bad idea. I talk to him anyway. He’s tall and lean and has a nice low voice. I’m just here to drop off a bag of ice for my sister’s party, but I like listening to him. He makes custom furniture and lives with a dog named Promise in a house he built himself. Reads biographies, he says, because people are endlessly fascinating. He takes my hand in both of his, tells me his name is Nick. I feel the bumps and calluses. These are hands that know the heft and weight of wood, hands that create something from nothing, hands that know what to do.

I tell him I like the word prairie, I make lists and do nothing on them, I believe only what I see—spoon, truck, yellow bird. I don’t tell him yellow birds are my grandmother’s spirit, lately she’s sending butterflies instead. I don’t tell him I collect sad songs, that every pretty rug I’ve stood on has been yanked away. And I don’t tell him I’m pregnant.

He walks me to my car, pulls a pen from his pocket and writes his number on my hand. Then he hugs me. He smells like pine and fog and the flannel lining of my sleeping bag. I think about crisp wood shavings curling around our feet. “Call me,” he says, and waves good-bye. I turn left out of the lot, right at the light, and over to the curb. I lick my hand and rub it on my thigh. Lick some more. I’m crying so hard I can barely see the blur of numbers smeared across my hand.

Twenty minutes later he’s at my door, the moon big and round as a white dinner plate over his right shoulder. “Hey, sad eyes, I followed you home,” he says before I can ask. “You need Promise tonight.” A three-legged yellow lab jumps out of his truck when he whistles. Promise walks in, settles next to me and looks up like I might say “heel.” Before I can say “no” or “you’re crazy” or tell him what an arrogant presumptive jerk I think he is, he’s back in his truck, yelling out the window that he’ll come by in the morning and take us to breakfast. I fall asleep with Promise curled into my back and dream of a clear winter sky dotted with stars.


It’s always the same three questions people ask: did I know, did I find him, did he leave a note. No. No. And I looked. Believe me, I looked. In the pocket of every jacket, each pair of slacks, board shorts, blue jeans, sweatpants. I emptied every drawer. Opened anything closed. I wanted more than a note. I wanted a reason.

A policeman was on my porch before I even knew my husband was missing. I remember the officer’s shiny shoes and the creak of his leather belt. I remember the scent of gardenias from the flower pot sitting next to the door. And his voice saying “dead,” saying “gunshot,” saying self-inflicted,” saying ma’am” again and again and again. Everything after was a blur. Family and friends, people in the living room, decisions, arrangements, and five days later a funeral in the rain. The word why in everyone’s eyes. And then I was alone.

Months of ignoring the phone, numbing myself with the Weather Channel, existing on lemon yogurt, sometimes lime, the only thing that could slide past the lump in my throat. The days crept by in minutes instead of hours. And everyone worried. So worried. “Get some rest,” they said, not understanding how troubling sleep was, how much I hated waking up, slogging through layers of clouds back to the reality of the policeman’s words like a swarm of black gnats circling my head, the dull thud in my chest. It was easier to stay awake, watch the storms on TV.

Every few days I crawled out of bed to pour cat food into a bowl for Hailey and Jupiter. The hallway looked like a foreign country. I felt like I was wading through shallow sewer water wearing ankle weights. It’s hard to explain the soggy mix of those months, the anguish and disbelief, looking at a gray sky wondering if maybe it was green because I no longer trusted what I thought to be true. My sister’s words buzzed like blood-red neon in my head: “Happy, healthy young men don’t kill themselves.” There had to be a reason.

I went through Dan’s calendar page by page, tore his briefcase apart, scrolled through his laptop. I read all his files and ruffled through the pages of every book on the shelf. I unfolded his socks. Bullied the management at the gym till they let me into the men’s dressing room so I could search Dan’s locker. There had to be something somewhere. Something really big, something that had Dan scared, something that would make sense. Like blackmail or a terminal diagnosis.

The doctor’s office released Dan’s medical records to me. But there was nothing there. No debilitating illness. No prescription for anti-depressants. I looked through everything and found nothing. No lovers, bills, gambling debts, no past wives, children, pornography. No business deal out of control. Not even embezzlement. Something bad would be better than nothing.


After the waitress takes our order of bacon and eggs, Nick pulls a picture from his shirt pocket. Sets it face up on the table and slides it over to me. “That’s my wife and daughter, Sara and Kylie,” he says. “They died in a car crash seven years ago.”

I hear the monotone of his voice and know he’s said this many times. I see a little girl leaning into a beautiful woman. They both have long wavy hair the color of pancakes. The woman’s hands are resting on her daughter’s shoulders. Behind them is the ocean, smooth and Windex blue.

“Kylie would be twelve this year,” he says, and I think about birthday cakes, pink with red roses circling the top, the candles never lit. My mind is screaming “Sorry, I’m so very sorry,” but I can’t say a word. He picks up the picture and puts it back in his pocket. The left pocket. The one, I’m thinking, closest to his heart.

Then he looks at me. Waits. We both know it’s my turn. I feel like I’m sliding across a rock that’s covered with green slimy moss. I look out the window. Down at my plate. At the clock over the cash register.

I say it in one long sentence. “Three years ago, my husband left work, climbed into a dumpster behind Wal-Mart, put a gun in his mouth, pulled the trigger, and I don’t know why.” I take a sip of water, set the glass back into its wet circle on the table. I notice the white indentation on my left ring finger is gone. I want to cry. Nick takes my hand and holds it like it’s what’s been missing. Or maybe that’s me.


Loneliness sounds like a lawnmower on Sunday afternoon, voices next door, the roar in my head. Some nights I believed in crazy. Three months of watching the cats follow sun patches across the floor, it was enough. I was starting to forget things—like how to spell Egypt or the smell of warm syrup on waffles. I missed people. And noise. The daily-ness of life. I went back to work but couldn’t concentrate. I had a seven-second loop in my head––Danny’s gone, Danny’s dead, why. There was just no room in there for anything else, so I started serving breakfast in a local café. My friends thought I was crazy to trade a lucrative job for pouring coffee, but I didn’t care. Their husbands’ snoring wakes them up at night. I sleep alone.

Monday through Friday, six to twelve I served decaf or regular, eggs over easy, unbuttered toast. It was minimal conversation and easy work. I liked filling the salt and pepper shakers, upending the ketchup bottles, stuffing napkins into silver holders. It was something to do and nothing I had to think about.

At night I counted tips. I like numbers. They add up. Two and three is always five. Find the right variables and you can amortize and calculate anything. That’s what I did when I worked for the CPA firm, doing forensic accounting. Mostly family law issues, calculating the value of businesses for rich people’s divorces. And Danny sold insurance. Lots of insurance. He was good at it. We paid off our student loans, bought this house, and we were saving for Jamie. Boy or girl, didn’t matter, that was the name.


This morning I see a yellow bird, a splurt of color in my peripheral vision, and I smile. They tend to appear when I’m on the right track; in fact, I kind of look for them when I’m trying to decide things. I’m not sure how I first connected the birds to my grandmother, only that when I asked, “Grandma, is that you,” I saw two. That was just after she died, twenty or so years ago, and my belief that she sends me strength on the wings of yellow birds remains strong and real, supported by nothing but faith.

I haven’t told anyone about Jamie. At first because I didn’t want to be talked out of it, and now, well, I don’t think Danny’s family will understand. We’re connected by a silver strand of sorrow, and I think they’ll feel betrayed. They’re good about including me in family events, but sometimes I catch his mother looking at me and I imagine her thinking, “You didn’t keep him safe enough.” I can’t blame her. Those are my thoughts, too.

My family will be supportive, but I know Mom and Dad will worry about how I’ll manage, and I’m not ready to answer their fear. I have enough of my own. I still miss Danny. There are so many leftovers—finding his handwriting on random pieces of paper or reaching for a jar of olives at the grocery store then remembering. Oh. I don’t like olives. Danny did. It isn’t any easier; I’m just used to it. Sometimes all I want is to go home, but I already am.        


Eventually Dan’s scent faded from the closet. I kept his blue Bruins sweatshirt and took the rest of his clothes to a homeless shelter, but I couldn’t do it. I knew I’d crumble if I ever saw Danny’s clothes on another man. They stayed in the trunk of my car for months. Finally, I just threw them away. I gave the surfboards and tools and Dan’s car to his brother, let him decide what to do. Boxed his papers and stuck them in the garage. The little things were hardest—Sports Illustrated in the mailbox, reminders for Dan’s dental appointments, how long a tube of toothpaste lasts when there’s only one. And the long stretch of emptiness on his side of the bed.

I started doing special projects for the accounting firm, working in the afternoons. Misuse of campaign funds. A high-profile divorce. I sat in a cramped windowless office and moved numbers around. And every two weeks I deposited half my paycheck into the Jamie account just like always.

It wasn’t like finding a penny, shiny and true; it was more like finding your favorite fuzzy slippers under the bed, this idea that grew. I wanted Jamie, but I wanted it to be for the right reasons. I found a therapist and started talking. Poured food into the birdfeeder and kept it filled. Planted flowers and watered them.

Three of Dan’s birthdays passed, and mine. Three Christmases, New Year’s alone, three sad anniversaries sitting on the damp sloping lawn at his grave. I was ready. I could say widow without crying.


Nick’s house has big windows framing the light that streams across the polished wood floors. His kitchen is bright red. And every room has books, lots of books stuffed into built-in shelves. In his bedroom, he has photographs, forty, fifty or so. I ask him who they are, these people, each one standing with Nick smiling for the camera.

His voice is quiet and low. He picks up a picture and says, “This is Cindy and her daughter Brianna. Brianna has one of Kylie’s kidneys.” He puts the picture back. Points to another. “And this is Janice, who received Kylie’s heart.” He hands me a small round frame and tells me the man in the picture is Roger, who has Sara’s corneas. His voice goes on and on.

It’s overwhelming, and I start to cry. I mean, really cry. Snot-dripping, hiccupping, lose-your-breath crying. The kind of crying that goes beyond the immediate and embraces an entire universe of hurt: the people in these pictures, the dead bird I found when I was six, babies born with cleft palates, all of it, just every little thing. Nick holds me and whispers, “It’s okay” over and over. I finally stop. I have to because I can’t breathe. And still Nick holds on.

The truth is I don’t think about Jamie until after. After our clothes are on the floor. And when I remember, I want to go. No. I want to stay. I want to know why it’s such a sloppy universe, why Nick and I have crisscrossed into each other’s lives like this, so lovely, so perfect, and too late.


There’s nothing romantic about FedEx delivering sperm to your door. And nothing romantic about the mechanics of the process. It was odd and clunky, a clinical necessity. I spent hours scrolling through an on-line donor catalog searching for someone like Danny because that’s what I’d always imagined—a baby with our eyes and ears and nose, Danny’s dark hair, my freckles, or maybe lighter hair and Danny’s chin. I could try to duplicate size, but I’d never find his smile and laugh, the silver flecks in his blue eyes, or the funny voice he made when he played with his nieces and nephews. That’s when it hit me. Danny wasn’t part of this. He wouldn’t be wrapping the baby in a yellow striped blanket after a bath or spooning applesauce and green peas or tiptoeing out of a quiet room. I was on my own.

I thought about adoption, but there are too many stories about birth parents having a change of heart, and I knew I couldn’t bear another loss. I looked instead for my clone hoping to increase the chance of a baby who might resemble me. I chose a donor with blue-gray eyes, light brown hair, a numbers geek. Five months later, I was pregnant. Donor 763 and I were going to have a baby. But when the plus sign showed up on the stick, it was just me in the still air of an empty room. No one to call. No one to tell. No one a witness to my life.


I don’t know if it’s fear or morning sickness, but I’m feeling queasy. We’re walking along the sea wall, Promise trot-trotting ahead of us, my feet tapping out “tell him, tell him” with every step. It sounds like a capital-lettered shout, “I’M PREGNANT.” Nothing like my carefully practiced speech. And Nick’s face, oh my God, the look on Nick’s face. He swoops me into his arms, twirls me around then sets me down on the rock wall. He’s laughing, he’s crying, he’s happy. I have to tell him the rest, I know, but look, he’s so happy, and maybe, just maybe it’s better this way—a real father.

That idea doesn’t last the night. I can’t live a lie. It’s late, and I’m wearing pajamas, but I have to fix this. The porch light goes on and Nick’s at the door pulling me inside asking what’s wrong, Promise behind him wagging his tail. And oh, this is going to be even harder than I thought. So I just say it.

“Nick, the baby—it’s not yours.”


Dan’s death left behind a galaxy of questions. On good days I can accept I may never find answers. But those are good days. Sometimes I think I hear Dan’s voice, and my insides freeze. It can be anything—a whiff of coconut sunscreen, a snippet of song on the radio, and I’m raw as a scream. I’ve decided he did it to protect me. From what or whom, I don’t know. I still wake up wondering why, but the nightmares have stopped, and now I dream about the baby.

Jamie’s due in two months, and she’s a girl. I kind of thought so. I worry that might be hard for Nick, but he just smiles and says, “Marry me.” We both know I will, but I say, “Let’s leave it on the table for now.” I like it there, out in the open, waiting to happen.

And what will we tell Jamie? The truth: that she’s our daughter and very loved, that families come together in different ways, that sometimes you need to just let go and feel the air slide through your fingers.


  © Victoria Melekian, 2022

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