Truth is, I killed your hamster. I want the next sentence to be, “But it was an accident,” but it wasn’t an accident. It was a long time ago. The summer we turned ten, before everyone got Facebook accounts and became terrible people. I measured the passing days by the grass stains on my knees and the chlorine-bleached stiffness of your hair. That’s how we met, the pool. It was our last summer in one-pieces.

Your hamster’s name was Pretzel. He looked a bit like a pretzel, too—not a proper twisty pretzel, but one of those little stubby ones filled with peanut butter that your mom brought to the pool. There were even flecks of white in his fur, like salt. You had built Pretzel a maze of colored plastic tubes that went all around your room, above your door, behind your headboard. Pretzel never used the tubes.

One day after swim practice, we sat on your carpeted floor, stroking Pretzel through the baby-blue wires of his cage. It was early evening and I wasn’t going to sleep over, but maybe I’d stay for dinner and a movie.

“This is boring,” you said. “He never does anything.”

“Yeah,” I agreed.

Lily Dodd

Lily Dodd is a sixteen-year-old high school junior at The Urban School of San Francisco. A Eulogy for Pretzel is her first published story. Lily has won several awards for her writing, including a Level One Award in Short Story Writing from the National Young Arts Foundation. She adores comedy and being with her friends. Lily is currently working on a young adult novel.

Patrick Ryan on “A Eulogy for Pretzel”

Bad news: Pretzel’s dead. But I guess that was clear from the title of our new issue, “A Eulogy for Pretzel.” Pretzel was a hamster. He was very cute until he suffered a head injury and then went to hamster heaven (where, for all we know, he’s still cute—rock those wings, Pretzel!). Point is, there were two young girls who were friends right around the time Pretzel croaked, and now, years later, they’ve drifted apart and aren’t friends anymore. And one of them is reaching out to the other one to explain why (and to ’fess up about what happened to Pretzel, all those years ago).

We read over 300 entrees for our One Teen Story Teen Writing Contest last year, and we narrowed those down to a shortlist of finalists that we gave to our guest judge, Tara Altebrando. Tara read and loved each story we sent her, but the one she loved the most is “A Eulogy for Pretzel,” written by 16-year-old Lily Dodd.

We’re very excited to be publishing Lily Dodd’s story and to be introducing you to Lily’s writing. “A Eulogy for Pretzel” is a little bit sad and a little bit funny. It’s a confessional tale filled with lament, snark, confrontation, and text messages. It shows us that Lily Dodd is a force to be reckoned with and a writer to keep your eye on. Huge thanks to Tara Altebrando for selecting her, and the hugest thanks of all to Lily.

No hamsters were harmed in the writing of this story.

Q&A by Patrick Ryan

PR: You won the One Teen Story Teen Writing Contest! That means that our panel of readers and our guest judge deemed your story the best out of over How long did it take you to complete this story00 entrees. Where were you when you found out, how did you find out, and how did it make you feel?
LD: I was sleeping over at a friend’s house and woke up in the morning to a message from my friend Claire Spaulding (who won the One Teen Story Contest last year) asking if I was the same Lily Dodd who just won this year’s contest. Then I went into my email, and sure enough, I was! I was so excited that I told my friend about it when she woke up, and I almost never talk to my school friends about my writing. Then we had pancakes her dad made. It was actually a great morning.
PR: “A Eulogy for Pretzel” is a confessional, of sorts. How did you come up with the idea for this story?
LD: What inspired the plot behind the story is pretty simple: I know someone who did this. I actually know a person who dropped her friend’s hamster on its head, eventually killing it, and then grew up with that friend and never told her. (I should probably note that Thalia is in no way based on this person, and that I completely fabricated the unrequited love bit.) But anyway, this girl said it was the single worst thing she’s ever done, and that she felt terrible about it. She didn’t think she was ever going to tell her friend. So in writing “Pretzel,” I imagined the confession. Every so often I’d see on Facebook people playing a game called “Truth Is,” in which they’d offer to tell someone (publicly, on that person’s wall) exactly how they feel about that person. To me, a lot of the “Truth Is” posts I saw were lame. They often went, “Truth is, I don’t know you that well but you’re really pretty and we should hang out more.” Which is, you know, fine. But I was waiting for someone to be like, “Truth is, I have always found you repugnant and wish you lived far away.” Alas, nothing like that ever came. So Thalia’s confession to Fay is what I’ve always wanted a “Truth Is” to be: painfully honest, way too long for a Facebook post, and extremely uncomfortable for however many hundreds of mutual friends you have.
PR: Did you ever consider giving Fay a little “mic time”?
LD: To be totally honest, no, just because I was thinking of it from the beginning as a Facebook post. But yeah, I think Fay’s comments would be really interesting to read.
PR: Have you given any thought to revisiting these characters again in other stories?
LD: Hm. That is interesting. I don’t know. Honestly, if I use any of them again, it will probably be Meg. I love Meg. I feel that there’s a lot of potential in her. What is “the yellow shorts incident”? What is her wolf name? (I think it’s “Aurora.”) Does she have a boyfriend who also thinks he’s a wolf? Meg is a goldmine. Maybe I’ll write a bunch of novels and they will all secretly feature Meg.
PR: What are you working on now?
LD: I’m writing a young adult novel about an easily startled boy named Oliver. There’s more to it, but I’m very secretive about it and don’t really want to say. I’m trying to finish it and maybe publish it by the end of my senior year (June 2016). There are also two pre-WWII American history stories I’m obsessed with. I want to fictionalize one, if not both. I know I should prioritize, but I have no idea how.
PR: What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?
LD: Someone told me once, “Just write.” I took that to mean, “Write whatever you want.” Forget “write what you know.” Write medieval murder mysteries set in the court of Henry VII. Write summer camp love stories and bad poetry. Write angsty Harry Potter fanfiction. Sometimes when I’m really embarrassed about what I’m writing, I title the story “No Shame,” which forbids me to censure myself. I recommend this. It actually helps.