Literary Orphans

At Risk by Victoria Melekian

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You’ve been doing it a while, scrolling through your mother’s phone whenever you visit. That’s how you find out about the men. It’s all there—e-mails, texts, call logs. Oh, she keeps it locked, but the password is easy to figure out. You think about changing it to slut. Most of them are not single. They wear wedding rings. You’ve met them in passing when she dropped off papers to Steve at the gym, bumped into Larry at the pizza place, even flirted with the chemistry teacher at school. She has no self-control, your mother. It’s the real reason you can’t come live with her and has nothing to do with work, which is the excuse she’s given you. At your dad’s house you feel more like a babysitter than a daughter—his new kids are two, three, and five.

You’re seventeen and at risk. You know this because that’s what it says in your guidance counselor’s file. You can read upside down. He’s called you in to discuss the future. He talks to a spot just above your chest, right where a heart-shaped locket might hang. He says, “You must have dreams and aspirations.” Underneath your sweatshirt, your arms are crisscrossed with scars no one’s ever seen. You share a room with a five-year old bed wetter and your dreams smell like damp flannel.

You watch the counselor’s mouth curl around the words and wonder what it would be like to trace his lips with your tongue, carve his name into your skin. Out the window, you see the popular girls nibbling lunch. They plan to be teachers and work in schools for underprivileged children. That’s what you say. He leans back in his chair. You slide your hand up your sleeve and rub your fingertips along the red raised flesh of your arm. You both smile.

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Victoria Melekian works as a court reporter. She spends her days recording other people’s words—every isn’t it true, yes, no, pursuant to. At night she writes what she saw: lint on the shoulders of a blue suit, the hole in a gray sock, black wings of birds flying past the ninth floor window. To read her work, please visit her website www.victoriamelekian.com.

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–Foreground Photography by Jon Damaschke

–Background Photography by Ed Wojtaszek