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Lilarella’s Not So Very Short Shortcut

It was before the sun had kissed the morning sky when Lila was awakened by the ping of her alarm clock. She looked up at the cracked ceiling and groaned, shoving her ratty purple blanket onto the floor. Her alarm clock read 6:25 a.m. She grimaced. She could already hear shuffling and her father’s agitated voice and her mother attempting to calm him down. Business as usual. Grooming herself for the day, Lila quickly dressed in a simple cotton dress and braided her hair before stumbling down the hallway to the bathroom. She unlatched the door at the stair’s landing and walked into the shop. The scent of jasmine from her mother’s incense drifted towards her. She shuffled over to the counter where her mother sat weaving a blanket on a wooden stool.

“Good morning, mama,” she said, her voice still raspy from waking up.

“Oh hello, Lila. How are you this morning?” she said, not bothering to glance up from her work.

“Fine,” Lila sighed, hoping her mother might say, “You know, you are sixteen-year-old girl, You need beauty sleep. Take a paid day off. Love you!” But no, her mother didn’t look up or say anything, and Lila didn’t get paid even when she did work. She sighed again. Her father marched over to the counter, fists balled.

‘“What’s wrong, papa?” she asked sweetly. She tuned out as he explained, staring intently at his face, nodding and saying, “Really? That was rude!” but not really hearing. When he was done, she said, “My poor papa. He has to run this shop,” gesturing around the room, towards the tapestries and rugs her mother had woven, “and deal with people like that.”

“Thank you, darling,” he gushed, pulling her in for a hug. “And just so you know, you’re not going to that party tonight,” he whispered into her hair. Lila pulled away sharply seething.

“You just want me to be your slave here and not do anything fun,” she spat.

“No, I don’t want rude, entitled people humiliating my daughter!” he shouted. Her mother’s serene smile didn’t fade as she watched them argue. Lila stormed away. She had been begging her father to go to tonight’s party for a month and he STILL wouldn’t budge. She plopped on a chair near the entrance with her chin in her hand. Suddenly, the door clanged open and her best friend, Lavender, walked in.

“Ugh, Lav, come here,” Lila moaned. Lavender quickly greeted Lila’s parents and then walked towards her, a book nestled in her arm.

“Morning, Lila,” she said as she sat down next to her. It was normal for Lavender to visit the shop early in the morning because she had a baby brother who woke up everyone in the house. Lavender was an early bird anyways.

“Are you whining about the party?” Lavender asked as she rifled through the pages of her book.

“Yes. My old croon of a father refuses to let me go, even though I’m an angelic daughter and a slave for him,” she said, picking at the upholstery of the chair.

“You’re such a baby sometimes,” Lavender groaned as she started to read. Lila sulked, leaning back into her chair with her arms crossed. They were all ignorant; nobody understood that she was meant to go to the party. She warily eyed her father and mother as he wiped the countertops and she hummed quietly to herself. Then an idea popped into her head and her eyes lit up.

“Lavender!” she squealed, racing to snatch her arm. Lavender looked up at Lila with a withering glare that stilled her.

“What?” she seethed. Lila pulled her closer.

“You can distract my parents later tonight and I’ll sneak out,” she said hurriedly. Lavender cocked her head and stared quizzically, her dark ringlets falling in her eyes.

“Please,” she mouthed. After a few more minutes of desperate pleading, Lavender reluctantly agreed, and Lila’s chest swelled with anticipation.

”What’s that girl so excited about?” Lila’s mother asked from across the room. Lila’s father paused his cleaning but resumed after a brief moment.

“I try not to get involved,” he sighed.

    It was pushing 7:30 p.m. when Lavender finally strolled into the shop. Lila was all done up in a simple purple dress she had “borrowed” from her mother’s dresser, her hair in a braided bun. She stood at the foot of the stairs and signaled to Lavender to begin her distraction. Lavender nodded and disappeared from Lila’s tunnel of vision. Lavender walked towards Lila’s parents’ desk and crumpled to the floor with an earsplitting shriek. Lila’s parents rushed over to her, sitting beside her body.

“I think I’m going to faint,” Lavender whimpered, doing her best to sound weak and unstable. As Lila’s parents attempted to help Lavender onto a chaise nestled in the corner, Lila darted towards the door. The bell above the door jingled loudly as she flew down the street, her sandals pounding against the stone road with loud thuds. Her veins coursed with adrenaline and her heart was racing, hammering against her chest. She ran as fast as she could, watching people and houses disappear behind her. Pretty soon the houses thinned to only trees, and the people disintegrated, replaced by sky and grass and moonlight. She slowed, pausing to gulp cool night air into her lungs. She must have run a mile and not have even realized it because she was already in the forest. Taking a shortcut through the woods, instead of around them, would get her to the party 32.6 minutes earlier, she saw scrawled on the screen of her GPS. It was so small that she had slid it in the bodice of her dress before she left home. After a brief break, she began walking again, her GPS giving directions in a chipper voice.

“Turn right at the mean squirrel perched in that tree,” it would say, dissolving into bubbly laughter. It was just a tad irritating. Lila had made another good amount of progress and had crouched down to catch her breath again, when she heard a long sorrowful howl in the distance. Lila shivered. A wolf. She got up again and had begun to trudge through the forest when a twig snapped behind her. She paused. Crack. Another. She turned her head, slowly and calmly. Behind her in a predator’s stance, was a wolf. He had sleek silver fur, sharp teeth, and yellow eyes that glinted threateningly in the moonlight. Lila’s breath hitched. Just as she was about to gradually back away, her GPS piped up.

“Continue straight. Stay on the lookout for wolves!”

“Ya think?” Lila growled. The wolf catapulted towards her and she ran faster than she even knew was possible. Several times the wolf snapped at her dress, its strong jaws shredding the fabric. Just as she was about to pass out from exhaustion, she spotted a thick tree, with tons of branches jutting out from its trunk, and circled around it. The startled wolf raced after her but she had already started up the tree. As she was climbing, the beast managed to sink his teeth into her ankle and she cried out in pain but forced herself to keep climbing. She made it out of the wolf’s reach and sat in a sturdy branch, legs dangling, breaths shallow. Below Lila, the wolf waited. That’s it, Lila thought miserably. She was going to die, her father was right. She sighed, staring down at the teeth marks piercing her ankle. She looked up at a pine cone dangling above her head, and in her heart there was a tiny piece of hope. She grabbed the pine cone, tossed a leaf onto the ground, and waited as the wolf watched the leaf drift towards the forest floor. Then, when he was distracted, she threw the pine cone as hard as she could in the opposite direction. It landed in the brush with a rustle.  The wolf tensed, turned, and then raced after the sound, deeming Lila a lost cause. She leapt from the tree the minute the wolf was gone, beginning to limp again towards her destination. After being harassed and injured by a crazed wolf, she had to make her torment worth it.

Just as she was tumbling towards her destiny, she fell into a freezing muddy stream. As she struggled out of the water, tears were streaming down her cheeks before she could even register what happened. She tried to think positively but nothing positive came to mind as she kept pushing forward. She reached civilization, passing mansions and restaurants and gardens.

“Just ahead. Keep going,” her GPS crowed. And she did. She kept going until she arrived at a huge mansion with a grand staircase and light spilling out. She trudged up the marble steps. Night had fallen, plunging the world around her into darkness. As she was about to walk into the enormous house, a girl appeared in front of her. Her hair was curled into ringlets and she wore an over-the-top blue dress, with tulle billowing around the skirt. She giggled while her gaze landed on Lila.

“No! You actually think you’re coming in HERE, looking like THAT?” she chuckled. Lila looked down at her mud soaked dress but said nothing.

“Why don’t you go do my laundry or something?” she snarled.

The world slowed as the girl stretched out her arms and shoved Lila tumbling down the steps, painfully landing in a heap at the bottom. The girl laughed hysterically at Lila’s misfortune, and turned and sauntered away. Lila began to sob and was about to get up and bound home when a hand grasped her arm. Lila turned to see a girl with thick brown hair piled in a bun and striking hazel eyes staring back at her.

“Shame on you, Annabelle! How incredibly rude you were to my most esteemed guest!” the girl shouted angrily. The girl who’d pushed her froze, staring at Lila with a mortified expression.

“I’m so sorry, Nina,” she apologized, “I thought she was a maid.” Nina just rolled her eyes.

“So sorry about her,”  she said, leading Lila up the steps. “She’s a huge snot. I’m Nina, by the way. My sister threw this party.”

“Lila,” Lila said meekly. As they entered the building, she had to shut her eyes to protect them from the harsh lighting.

“Now let’s get you cleaned up and a new dress.” She paused when she saw Lila’s bloody ankle, “Oh my god. You’re bleeding. How did that happen?” and helped her up a spiral staircase.

“Long story,” she admitted. Nina opened a door, revealing a lavish bedroom and closet.

“Which I have plenty of time for,” Nina grinned and pulled open her closet. Lila’s eyes lit up at the sight of a hundred gorgeous dresses. Although she’d almost gotten killed by a wolf, frozen in a stream, and mauled by a malicious rich girl, she was here finally, ready to enjoy the party with someone who was beginning to become a new friend.

Good Friday

On Good Friday, Mama and Auntie Karineh made choereg. They braided the little loaves as the sunlight streamed through the kitchen window, bouncing off the blue and yellow tiles to light their faces. Lily sat on one of the leather-covered bar stools, watching them with her dark eyebrows furrowed. The smell of meat and spices and nearly-baked pastries threatened to take her back to the mythical homeland she had never seen, but she fought it. With all her ten-year-old strength, she fought to stay grounded in America, in her world of pizza and fourth grade and North Face fleeces. She got up reluctantly when her mother asked her to get the black caraway from the pantry.

    Lily spoke barely above a whisper as she padded towards the pantry in her pink bunny socks. “None of my friends make choereg.”

    Aunt Karineh looked at her sister. Anahit sighed and turned to her daughter.

    "Your grandpa Ara,” she said, "Was a genocide survivor."

    Lily remembered grandpa Ara. He had died when she was four, but she held on to bits and pieces of his memory. The smell of spices and cigars and Armenian brandy. His white beard and silver cross pendant. And one word. “Hayaghjik.”

    As Mama began to tell her story, Lily couldn't help being pulled back in time, to a two-story house with intricate Armenian rugs on every floor. A family of five eating lavash, the traditional Armenian flatbread, before their Good Friday dinner. An ominous clamor outside brought Tamar to the four-paned front window. She looked outside, then back at her husband. The fear jumped from Artur to his son Ara, to Suzanna and little Nune like an electric charge.

"What is it?" Artur asked.

Tamar couldn't get past the knot in her throat to answer, but her husband already knew. They had thought about making plans for months now, but with the slow-footed reluctance of people who couldn’t imagine needing them, they hadn't made any.

Artur got up. "Out the back door," he said. "Now."

Tamar's maternal reflexes kicked in as she grabbed a roll of lavash and her nine-year-old daughter, and ran.

Ara followed his older sister Suzanna under the apricot tree and into the field behind their house. He looked back at his his bedroom window, calling out to him from the second story. He wished he could have taken his book. He felt Suzanna’s hand pulling at his and turned back around. Neither of his parents had looked back, but it was already too late. They heard a shout from behind them.

“Ermeni!” A gruff voice shouted at them in Turkish. The soldier’s mustachioed face scowled at them. He was looking at Tamar, and Nune, who held on tightly to her mother’s hand. Ara’s eyes were glued to his little sister, but Suzanna knew what was happening, so with a choking sob she gathered her resolve and ran. Ara felt himself pulled behind her, and turned away.

They ran as fast as they could towards the orchard, their last hope. The soldier’s shouts followed them as they ran into the trees, but years of hide and seek led them to a little cave hidden by bushes and fallen tree branches. Nune’s favorite hiding spot.

Lily looked up at her mother. Anahit had fallen silent. It was Aunt Karineh who broke the silence.

“We make choereg on Good Friday to remember Tamar and Artur and little Nune, and all the hateful, angry people who made sure that they would never make choereg again. We make choereg to meet that hatred and anger with pride, and love. We make choereg because we are Armenians—we’re survivors. Understand, Hayaghjik?”

There was that word again. Hayaghjik. My Armenian girl.

Three Ways to Look at Home

  1. Feeling that wind on your face,
    And watching the leaves fall,
    While you ride your bike down the hill to your house.
  2. As you’re walking inside, you can feel the nice smell of pancakes.
    While chewing those delicious pancakes you think,
    Ahh, can there be a better feeling?
  3. Laying around in the basement laughing and running,
    You only know,
    Home Sweet Home.

Making Jokes

In the beginning, Edward was a blue and green snake who wanted to make a lot of jokes. Also, he wanted to make his family proud of him.
Edward was in 3rd grade and went to school with his butterfly friends. Their names were Amy, Nick, and Michael. It was recess, and it was a bright day. Afterschool, Amy, Nick, and Michael went to Edward’s house. Edward made a joke: “Knock, knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“Chicken Chicken.”

“Chicken Chicken who?”

“Chicken Pig.”

Amy laughed, but Nick and Michael made fun of Edward. They said, “You are the pig.” Nick and Michael were being cruel to Edward. Amy was the only one being nice to Edward. The next day, they went back to school on Planet Water, where they lived. It was recess when they started being mean. Nick and Michael were really mean, throwing wood chips at Edward while they were playing tag. Afterschool, Amy wanted to go to Edward’s house, but Nick said “No” because they didn’t like Edward’s friends.

Edward made a joke, and Nick and Michael made fun of him. Edward said, “Why would you do that to me?”

Nick and Michael said, “Because you make the worst jokes.”

Edward, Nick, and Michael were at the playground by Edward’s house.

Edward said, “Please stop because I don’t want to get hurt by you.” Then Edward told the best joke he’d ever made. Everyone liked his joke.

Edward’s second joke was: “Knock, knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“Banana Banana.”

“Banana Banana who?”

“Banana Dog.”

And after that one, Amy, Nick, and Michael started laughing at Edward’s jokes.

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