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

Mercy Smells Like Lemons

I heard it was meningitis. Or encephalitis. The perfect lunch-table girls say she died from a mosquito bite, and now they walk around school slathering insect repellant all over their arms and legs. All I know is Araxi was out sick for three weeks, and then there was a school announcement over the P.A. saying anyone who wanted to attend her funeral on Friday would be excused from class.

A week later our homeroom teacher asked me to empty Araxi’s desk and take her things to the family. I told her I don’t know them, don’t even know where they live, but she handed me a Post-it with an address and said they live nearby. Most of it belonged in the nearest trashcan—I mean, really, why would her mother want a pink Hello Kitty ruler and pencil stubs and dried-up pens and loose homework papers. But I found a necklace in there with a small silver cross, and I thought it might be a family heirloom or something Araxi’s mother would be happy to have back. I pictured her pulling it out of her daughter’s pencil box, holding it up to the light all sparkly then clutching it against her broken heart.

I knocked on their door, planning to hand her the bag of stuff and run back home, but Mrs. Ohanian insisted I come in for tea, and I was afraid it would be mean or rude to say no, so I followed her into the kitchen and waited for the kettle to whistle. I felt big and awkward and alive. Tea gave me something to do with my hands, dunking the bag, scooping it out, managing to get it onto the saucer without staining the lace placemat. Mrs. Ohanian smiled at me and I smiled back. I wanted to ask her about the necklace, but instead I told her how much I liked the sunflower garden in the front yard. I ate one of the cookies she offered, sipped some more tea and told her I needed to go, I had homework to do, and then I felt horrible because Araxi will never again have homework.

Next day at school, four of the perfect lunch-table girls gathered around me and asked what it’s like in there.

My face felt hot and my scalp itched.


They took a step closer. Melanie flipped her braid over her right shoulder and said, “Weird how?”


And it was. You could hear clocks ticking and the click of the dog’s nails walking across the kitchen floor.


My stomach flip-flopped, kind of like when an elevator stops.

“I don’t know. Her mom’s nice.”

“What else?”

I felt like I had to give them something besides the plastic covered dining table and the chirping yellow finches in a cage in the living room or the shrine to the Virgin Mary on the patio.

“There’s troll dolls,” I said.

Melanie gasped, put her hand to her mouth. Her fingernails were painted hot pink, and chipped.

“Where?” she asked.

“Lined up on shelves in her bedroom.”

“How many?” Eugenia asked.

I looked up at a whisper of cloud.


“Lots like a thousand?” Melanie asked.

I shook my head no.

“Well, how many?”

“I don’t know. I think like maybe 243.”

The rest of the week I sat at the popular table and walked home with Melanie and Eugenia.

Sunday Mom told me Mrs. Ohanian had called and asked her to send me over, something about needing my help bundling up 243 troll dolls, said I’d know what it means.

I didn’t want to, not at all did I want to, but I walked the two blocks over and trudged up Mrs. Ohanian’s porch steps and knocked on the door. She smiled and invited me in, asked me to join her for a glass of lemonade. I watched her squeeze lemons into a blue pitcher. I could see the schoolyard through the window, and it looked different from over here, like a familiar world, but distorted, stuck in a snow globe.

She asked me to sit down.

“Sophie, what do you think we should do about the 243 dolls?” she asked.

I listened to the clocks tick, hoping the floor would crack open and the ground would suck me down to the very core of the earth. I shuffled my feet then stopped. I didn’t want my shoes to make black marks on the clean white linoleum.

“Well, what if I tell the girls at school that Araxi was collecting them to donate to Children’s Hospital.”

“That’s a wonderful idea, Sophie. And you’ll do that tomorrow?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She stood up and kissed the top of my head, poured lemonade into two glasses. The bright tart scent filled the room, and I knew forever more mercy would smell like lemons to me.


  © Victoria Melekian, 2022

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