Siran peered through the thick-paned window of her airplane seat and watched the neighborhoods shrink into indiscernible dots. This was her second plane ride to Los Angeles, where at first she would be living with her Aunt Anoush and Uncle Levon. From the first mention of her plans to move to the west coast her parents had been dubious, overall discouraging. At twenty-six Siran was steadfast in finding herself an Armenian husband and raising a family. For years she had envisioned living in a moderately large house with a backyard that would yield generous amounts of lemons, persimmons and oranges, and three children (at least) tugging at her legs.
The boys from the small town in Massachusetts where she had been raised were ultimately disappointing to her in a variety of ways. Some wanted more than she was willing to offer, and at the end of these dates (the last one was her father’s co-worker’s son Hovsep) she found herself in the passenger seat of a car clutching the collar of her shirt to keep it closed, or yanking down her skirt to keep it in place, eventually weakening her date’s advances. Other young men, she realized, did not have any interest in attending Sunday Church mass, and spoke Armenian so poorly that she winced at their feeble attempts at conversing with her.
“It’s not as if Armenian men grow on trees out there that you can just fly over and pick anyone you please,” scoffed her older sister Anahid, who was unmarried and had no promise of even entertaining the notion of a boyfriend.
“At least I’m trying,” Siran had said.
She only brought a suitcase with her; the rest of her belongings were to be sent over by her parents once she found an apartment. The daycare center where she had worked for three years accepted her resignation obligingly, and reassured her that they would give strong recommendations to any future employers who screened her resume. During those years, despite her parents’ protests that it was not a “real” career, Siran reasoned that it would be the best training for impending motherhood. And she liked the smell of babies after she had bathed and changed them, took great satisfaction in feeding them until there was nothing left from the little plastic bowls.
Two days after she arrived her cousin Lucine, Aunt Anoush and Uncle Levon’s daughter, decided to have the family over for an afternoon barbeque. Lucine claimed it was a welcoming party for Siran’s arrival, but Siran knew that Sunday barbeques were a weekly ritual that were systematically orchestrated from one relative’s house to another. This occasion felt particularly special to Siran, once she was privy to the knowledge that Lucine’s brother-in-law, Aram would be there.
She had met Aram briefly at Lucine’s wedding. He was easy to spot, usually surrounded by a chorus of young women who flirted with him shamelessly. Getting his attention had unnerved Siran, who eventually found herself alone in a corner eyeing him until he left his admirers and walked over to the liquor bar. At once she had put down the drink she was nursing and marched over to the bartender. Standing behind Aram, she fiddled with her bracelet, and searched nervously for something to say, something riveting enough that he would no longer want to return to the entourage that was waiting for him impatiently. But the right time never came, or she never managed for the right words to form on her lips, and just as quickly as the opportunity had presented itself, it seemed lost forever.
When she had returned to her table there waiting for her was Anahid. “Why bother?” she had said to Siran, nodding towards the bar where Aram was still standing. He was also easy to spot with his dark hair swept back, the sharp red tie, and eyes so large and dark that it looked as if he had applied mascara unsparingly. “That guy gets more ass than a toilet seat.” It made Siran wince.
Now she was sitting in the back seat of her Aunt Anoush and Uncle Levon’s car on their way to the barbeque. They rode quietly for a while. Siran rummaged through her purse and extracted a compact mirror and re-applied a third coat of lipstick (why hadn’t she splurged on the expensive stuff!), and then tried to smooth out the faint wrinkles of her summer dress. She started thinking about what she would say to Aram this time, and hoped that there wouldn’t be the same gaggle of young women surrounding him; it was a family gathering, after all.
“What are you thinking about back there?” her uncle asked her. Siran jumped for a moment, flustered by his seemingly innocent question.
“Nothing much,” she replied, watching the scenery flicker by her window, feeling the anticipation in her knees and stomach.
Siran could smell the grilled shish-kebob as soon as she opened the car door. Once they walked around the back of the house and stepped through the garden gate she was greeted by a flurry aunts, uncles and cousins who she hadn’t seen since Lucine’s wedding two years ago.
The hugs and kisses and questions left the dizzying effects of a strong drink, but the anticipation of finding Aram grew stronger still, and Siran returned each token of affection heartily enough to keep moving through the garden, her eyes searching for him.
After excusing herself to use the bathroom, she walked through the house and finding the entire space empty, save her three younger cousins huddled in front of the television set, she walked into the bathroom. “Where could he be?” she asked out loud, looking at her reflection in the mirror. She washed her hands three times with the lavender liquid soap from the dispenser; the third for the good luck that she hoped would bring Aram sooner than later.
“Look who’s here! Finally!” Some left their seats and walked over towards the gate. Siran had just sat down and was lifting a forkful of pilaf to her mouth. She immediately pushed her plate away and stood up. Once she was in Aram’s general vicinity, she stood by awkwardly and waited for him to see her.
He was wearing jeans and sneakers, a crisp blue shirt half tucked in, and a thin gold chain with a matching cross was hanging from his neck. As he hugged Lucine and his brother George, a thick strand of his black hair fell into his face. He brushed it back. Siran watched all this unfold as if it were in slow motion, as if she were in one of those movies. His teeth seemed whiter than she had remembered, his skin tanned from afternoons at Venice Beach.
She moved in suddenly. “Hi.” He glanced at her. “Siran,” she said, and offered her hand.
“Oh yeah,” he said, took her hand, kissed her politely on the cheek. His cologne was not oppressively pungent the way her dates’ had always been; it was if he had applied it as an afterthought, and this somehow added to his overall appeal.
He moved his way through the garden. Already someone had given him a drink, probably watered-down ouzo, she guessed from the cloudiness of the glass. She went back to her table hesitatingly, and once she saw he had nestled himself at a full table next to hers she began eating again.
“I made the keftehs,” she heard one of her aunts say, who was sitting at her table, and she tried to smile back appreciatively because the words would not come. Her eyes were fixed on Aram, and someone had already filled a plate for him and placed it at his table.
From the corner of her eye Siran saw Lucine and their cousin Alice standing underneath a tree, slowly eating from their plates and talking. It looked as if they were assessing the goings-on of the gathering the way they nudged each other and then nodded in agreement. It made Siran uneasy enough that she dumped her half-eaten plate of food and went to the bathroom; she knew from the past that from the open screen window she would be able to hear her cousins’ conversation. She tiptoed quietly and closed the door behind her. To her relief, the bathroom window was already open; she did not have to deal with the possibility of opening it herself and being heard. She took off her sandals and crouched beneath the window. At first she heard nothing, and then waited.
“I heard she came here because she was getting sick of Watertown.” The lilt of the voice sounded like Alice’s, and it became more obvious once Lucine interjected with her usual air of authority.
“Her mother told my mother that she was coming out here to find someone to marry,” Lucine retorted. “Can you imagine?” There was a brief pause.
“Well, good for her,” Alice said. “At least she’s being honest about it. It’s not like she came to the wrong place.”
“She’s already in her mid-twenties!” Lucine answered. “Give me a break. Besides, it’s not just any Armenian guy she came for, you know….but I can’t say more than that.”
Hearing this, Siran bit her lip and squeezed her eyes shut. She wanted to leave, wanted to not feel the slow, steady heat of nausea growing in her stomach.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Alice asked. “You say everything else, but suddenly you can’t tell me the rest. Oh, c’mon Lucine. Spill it already.”
“Don’t tell anyone,” Lucine answered, the warning in her voice light, not serious. After a pause she said, “She flew all the way out here for Aram.”
Alice’s sharp inhale was audible. “No,” she said in a low whisper.
“I’m telling you,” Lucine said. “All the way out here. She’s got it in her head that he’s the one for her.”
“How do you know that?” Alice said. “That’s just gossip!”
“Is it?” Lucine said. “Her own mother told my mother. Apparently, Siran keeps a diary…….”
Siran could not stand any more. Forgetting her sandals in the bathroom, she marched into the garden barefoot and found the two of them still in the midst of their conversation.
“How dare you?” she cried out, facing Lucine and pushing Alice aside. “How dare you say such things? I am a person, I am a person,” she yelled, pointing to herself, at how suddenly she had become undone – the straps of her dress falling off her shoulders, her neatly pinned hair disheveled, and the two half-moons of eyeliner creased under her eyes. All conversation in the garden had ceased, and her family members were murmuring amongst themselves in confusion.
Lucine, too shocked by the outburst, stared at Siran and then finally blurted out, “Well, it’s true isn’t it?”
“What if it is?” Siran yelled, realizing that all along it had been true. She saw Aram pushing around the food on his plate with a fork, looking down. Everyone there knew. “What’s wrong if it’s true?” Controlling her grief was almost impossible, and as if uncorking a bottle that had been shaken too many times, she let out a long, painful sob, but could not manage to stop. She covered her face and continued crying. Finally a pair of arms, Aunt Anoush’s, guided her into the house, and led her into one of the bedrooms.
She lay on her side as Aunt Anoush tried to console her. She curled her knees to her stomach, and took the tissues her aunt pushed into her hands.
“Come on now,” she heard her aunt’s voice. “Don’t worry about Lucine – I’ll have a talk with her.”
Both Siran and her aunt knew that wasn’t going to change anything. She heard her aunt leave the room and quietly close the door behind her. Outside, the party continued, and Siran listened to the fragments of conversation fade into a din of voices. She remembered a party from years ago when the family had come to her house to celebrate her grandmother’s fiftieth birthday. Siran had noticed that her Raggedy Anne doll was missing, and when she found it one of the arms had been torn off. She had clutched it to her chest marching through the sea of relatives to find out who had done such a terrible thing. Now, as she lay in bed, she remembered her mother carrying her into her own bed that afternoon, and soothing her with promises of a new doll until she drifted off into a deep sleep.
The memory of that afternoon somehow settled Siran’s nerves and she finally felt herself ease away. When she awoke, she found the room darkened, and sat up. The tissues were still in her hand. The house was perfectly still. She strained to hear if anyone was inside the house or in the garden. After a moment she heard the sound of running water and the clinking of utensils; everyone had left and Lucine and her Aunt Anoush were mostly likely cleaning up. Siran stood up and lightly walked down the hallway to the bathroom. She stood in front of the mirror for a while, noticing that her lipstick was smeared. She did not bother wiping it off. Instead, she washed her hands three times; the third for the good luck that she hoped would bring Aram sooner than later.
Ararat Magazine – July 2010