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

Far From Home

At first it was little things. Lopped off flowers. Missing light bulbs on the front porch, the back patio. Moving my car. Just a few feet. It’s Ray, but nothing I could prove or get the police interested in. Lately, he’s been coming into the house. He reset the clocks. Tore page 26 from every book on the shelf. Retuned my harp.

Yesterday was the third flat tire in two weeks. No longer happenstance or coincidence. And this morning—a pile of dead rodents heaped on the front porch.

I call the police.

“Ma’am, we need more than just your feeling.” The officer rocks back on his heels when he says feeling like he wants nothing to do with the word.

“Maybe your cat,” he says.

I tell him I don’t have one.

“Could be a neighbor’s cat,” he says.

I look at the policeman, down at the gophers and rats, back at the policeman. I nod my head. Better just to agree.


I met Raymond Blair senior year of high school just before graduation. He was smart, charming, and funny, and kind of intense. He asked if I would eat his hair, lick the blood off his cut finger. “Gross,” my sister said, but I thought it romantic. We spent most of that summer on the beach—stoned and flirting with the idea of skipping college. And though I probably would have swallowed his chewing gum if he’d asked, I was not yet ready to give up a full-ride scholarship or the hope of becoming principal harpist for a major city orchestra. End of August I flew to New York. Ray stayed here and started at State. Six weeks later his brother died.

It was a horrible accident. His brother was driving—speeding. He drove right off a cliff. The car bounced three times and landed upside down, on fire before Ray could even unbuckle his seat belt. He crawled out but couldn’t save Derry. The fire department pulled him away. When Ray showed up at my dorm, broken and bandaged, I packed up my books and followed him to his new car. I remembered fifth grade science class, the teacher passing around magnets so we could feel how powerful their force was the closer they got to each other. Halfway home we stopped to get married in a cheesy little chapel in Missouri.

Ray’s got nasty crunchy looking burns up and down both arms and a crescent-shaped scar above his right eyebrow. He favors long-sleeved T’s and he loves only me.

“That’s just stupid,” I told him. “What about your mother and father, your sisters and all their kids?”

“Nope. Don’t love ‘em. Can’t.”

We were talking about a baby. Ray didn’t want it and I did. He told me I was breaking the covenant.

“We agreed, Leslie. No kids.”

That was the plan: just the two of us. And things had been good for seven years. But surprises happen and even more surprising was how much I wanted this child. I thought Ray would change his mind once the baby was born. He didn’t. He stopped talking and I moved out.

Ray insists on shared custody and regular visits and there’s no legal reason, my attorney says, that I can prevent it. I believe he takes Kevin because I want him, not because he feels any fatherly love or obligation. Ray usually drops him off hungry and tired, near naked except for a dirty diaper. He doesn’t even get out of the car anymore, just honks till I come and lift Kevin out of his car seat. Most of the time the car’s in reverse as I’m shutting the door, and Ray just laughs—a sound that makes me think of the sharp pointy edges of a tin can lid, and I wonder if that brittle meanness was always there and I was too stupid to notice.

His mother says no, that it’s unresolved guilt about not saving his brother. Rather than fail to protect his son, he’s rejecting him. Whatever it is, he’s getting worse. And poor Kevin, barely two, just smiles and holds up his arms for a hug.


The police leave and something snaps. Maybe it’s the stench of skunk. I’m not sure. I just know, court mandated or not, I can’t leave Kevin with Ray anymore. I ignore the scheduled drop-off time, drive past his house, straight to the freeway headed east, and now I’ve got 356 hard miles between me and Ray, two voice mails from my mom, eighteen from Ray.

If I’d planned this, I’d have diapers and juice. And baby aspirin. I can tell without touching him, Kevin’s raging with fever. Vacant starry eyes. Cheeks blooming red. The kid’s a wilting flower, melting in his car seat. Outside, brown prickly tumbleweeds, a dry desert wind with cold in it. I’m so far from home and anything familiar. All I want is a quiet room and a clean bed. And time to figure this out.

I stop for basics at a gas station minimart in Kingman, Arizona, then check into the motel across the parking lot. I feed Kevin, bathe him, rock him to sleep. The next time I see him, he’s on the morning news, a gun pointed at his head. Ray is holding the gun.

I hear myself answering the police. Even I can’t believe the truth: “No, I heard nothing until you pounded on the door; yes, Kevin was in bed with me; only Tylenol PM to help me sleep; of course the window and door were locked.” I can hear the monotonous whoosh of vehicles on the interstate, and I envy all that purpose and energy, the will to propel one’s self from point A to point B. I want to crawl under the covers and sleep through this nightmare, but the police are telling me to get dressed, they need me to talk to Ray. They found him when he set off the security alarm breaking into a dance studio a few blocks from my motel.

I see Ray in the upper right-hand corner of the TV screen, two news reporters talking above a running banner of red letters that says, “breaking news.” “You know, Gretchen,” the male reporter is saying, “the facts here are reminiscent of the incident last year with George St. Claire, the retired limo driver.” “Yes, Jim,” Gretchen says, “and that situation ended…”

In one step, an officer is across the room, snapping off the TV. Too late. My mind finishes the sentence: tragically, deadly, badly, poorly. Deadly, deadly, deadly. I feel frozen. The officer kneels to tie my shoe, and I want to kiss the small bald spot on the crown of his head, weep for this kindness, but if I cry, I’ll never stop. He ties my shoes then guides me to the backseat of a patrol car.

We pull into a parking lot full of official-looking vehicles—police and news vans, fire truck. An ambulance. The officers shuffle me from the car into a police trailer, shielding me from the reporters’ microphones. Inside the command post, I’m introduced to the hostage negotiator who’s been talking to Ray.

“What does he want?” I ask him.


I look at his badge, silver with black block printing. Sergeant Hoffman, it says.

“He wants you to come back so it…” He flips a page in his notebook, getting the words right. “So it can be like before the baby.”

Shivers slide down my arms into my fingers. “Before the baby.” Someone helps me into a chair. I look out at the ambulance then drop my head between my knees, afraid I’ll be sick. Sergeant Hoffman keeps talking, asks if there’s anyone close to Ray, maybe a parent. Priest or pastor. I shake my head no, only now realizing how isolated from everyone Ray is, how totally dependent on me he had become.

I stare at the floor, at the officer’s boots, so black and shiny. I’d like to stay down here and suspend time, but I can hear the crackle and static of walkie talkies, voices speaking in codes I don’t understand. I want my baby. I have to get him out of there. I sit up, still feeling queasy and dizzy.

An officer puts a hand on my shoulder. Another offers me a plastic cup of water. Sergeant Hoffman keeps talking. He explains that we’re going to call Ray. He tells me the plan and what to say. I hang onto the words like rosary beads, an umbilical cord—do this and Kevin will be spared. He hands me the phone and I say, “Hello.”


Maybe only a mother would notice the droopy eye and slightly slurred speech, that her child’s left leg drags when he walks. Kevin sustained head trauma when Ray dropped him, and the bullet shattered his femur. He’s had three surgeries and will need others as he grows. He knows he was kidnapped and police officers rescued him. That’s probably enough for a five-year-old to absorb.

An infection kept Kevin in the hospital over a month, so I missed most of the trial. I read portions of the testimony. Ray said he was juggling gun, phone, and child, that Kevin heard my voice and reached for the phone, that the shooting was an accident and he never meant to hurt anyone, especially not his brother Derry. The newspapers splattered that piece of crazy across the front page along with an artist’s rendering of Ray slumped and sobbing.

No one knows I visit Ray. No one would understand. I go twice a year: once in the summer around his birthday and once in December. It’s an all-day round trip and takes a lot out of me. We’re allowed sixty minutes. We talk about his cellmates, his mother, the weather. We never mention Kevin.

End of the hour Ray says, “I love you,” and the guard leads him away. I watch him go and I’m longing for things I never had.


  © Victoria Melekian, 2022

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