Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Canal to Spring

Waiting for the subway, the woman with the siren hat hums a little nothing tune. She stops to smile at the boy with the conch ears who looks like the son she always wanted (even the ears), but never had. She closes her eyes, and hums a little louder.

The boy silences his iPod. He doesn’t feel much like listening today. He doesn’t feel much like going to his girlfriend’s to hear how wrong everything (even the ears) is. But still he gambles, with the others, on the doors sliding open to receive him. There is something to numbers, to a number’s bully momentum. In this city, people are molecules, pushed to boil.

The boy grasps the car’s overhead bar, slipping behind the girl with a book for a face.

Madame Bovary.

The train snuffs, and the woman with the siren hat bumps into the boy, inciting the dominos. The girl breaks the boy’s fall. There is a flurry of apologies, but the girl with a book for a face does not turn to acknowledge him. She just raises a hand. It’s all right. Her coat is soft caramel. Her face, a softer mystery.

The train slices the city’s secret harbor, pulled by a stationless twilight, clacking and screaming. The boy focuses on the girl’s neck: the drowsy hairs darkening the neckline, the ballerina bun spooling free of its tether. She has a freckle at the nape, which vibrates slightly. Something loosens inside of him, and the boy collapses to the size of this freckle, blurry around his edges.

He conceals the dizzy smile with a stroke of his hand.

It’s the lover’s perspective he sneaks. The freckle is a pearl beneath her sea foam of hair. He has no right to the freckle. No ownership. Yet here it is. Available to him.

The boy’s ears ring, the hairs on his arms turning stiff, then wavy.

Like sea grass.

The vibrations from her freckle leap to his lips.

He hums this little nothing tune.

The girl’s neck tacks the current of his song, and grows silent, even as the world rocks and screams around her.

The boy smiles, humming louder, while the train crashes into its station.

Abandoning the book, with all its plum, juicy words, to her side, the girl turns toward the music.

She seems okay with the boy’s ears.

He thinks Flaubert is the color of her eyes.

The doors gape, and the other people, including the woman with the siren hat, whistle into vapor. The boy and the girl are alone, two molecules uncertain of whether to disengage, or remain a lovely, lazy liquid.

The girl smiles, tentative.

“Do you think it’s possible to drown in someone’s words?”

The boy breaks the seal of his throat.

“What was that? I have water in my ears.”

The girl’s smile grows, even as her gaze shrinks to his chest.

The people are all exchanged, and they pile closer, pouring the girl and boy together.

Mixing their molecules.

And inside the boy’s chest, where nobody (except Flaubert) can touch, a little nothing tune has gushed into this something song.

This wave, of gathering.


Hotwire said...

the undersea references are beautiful and i could feel the ebb and flow of the journey (and water in his conch ears was great!)

Anonymous said...

Not my usual cup of tea, but I liked it!


Scott said...

Wow, Sarah. Beautiful word choices throughout.

Anonymous said...

Something tying together a few of your pieces came to light for me in this one. I sense a kind of purification created by close focus. It's the same kind of effect that framing a photograph has. If you select a small piece of a scene, the picture removed from its true context will take on a new meaning. For example, the rich color of a group of flowers can become a vast field of flowers and rolling hills in our imagination. In reality, the flowers may be in a flowerbox in the middle of a slum. But that view is outside the frame.

I can't say I've seen this technique done in quite this way. It's a great foundation to make your writing unique.

The writing itself in this one is wonderfully done too.

Sarah Hina said...

Hotwire, I liked correlating the New York underground to the sea. Subway rides feel like a slower, more focused, reverie, before the mad rush resumes. Thank you for pointing those references out!

Edge, thanks for stopping by! I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)

Scott, thank you. How I struggle with those choices. Sometimes to the point of beating them to death. ;) But I'm glad they fell into place for you.

Jason, as always, you are very perceptive. In this vignette, I wanted to demonstrate the power of absorption in a reckless, frenetic world. The girl is absorbed with the details of her book. The boy is absorbed with the detail of her neck. Time slows. The outside world slinks into shadow. And a connection, however improbable, is forged in the white space between them.

This is the power of the vignette, I think. The characters are slight out of necessity, but their interests, and their choices, feel large to the reader. It is all about proportion, and perspective. The photography analogy is a very apt one.

Thank you for your perspective, and for your words.


moonrat said...

very nice.

i was the girl with the book for the face, btw.

Billy said...

Wow. I can only echo Jason's sentiments. I love your writing!

Sarah Hina said...

I thought I recognized you, moonrat. It was the freckle. ;)

And hey, I owe you some sort of tribute for this one. Your true life anecdote of two friends connecting on the subway was the inspiration for this story. So thank you!

And thank you, Billy! I'm a big fan of your work, too, so that means a lot.


Shameless said...

Oh, what a coming together! The zooms in and out and the large brush strokes and then precise lines. Very engaging, Sarah. I loved how this pulled me along in a kind of frenzy, almost as if the train rocked me from side to side too. :-)

Anonymous said...

Simple, clean and oh so expressive. I can read the stories in these people, they breathe, have hopes and love, desires and loss. Beautifully brought to life by you. The water references do work, I enjoyed the dreamy feeling of time slowing as we examine these people and their interactions.

Sarah Hina said...

Thank you, Seamus. That was exactly the feeling I was going for, and I'm so glad you felt the waves, too. ;)

Easywriter, that is so kind of you to say. I have the same feeling of time collapsing when reading your cave pieces. You shake the dust off the ancient, and make it fresh for us.

Thank you to everyone!


Ello said...

OH Sarah, I really really really loved that. When am I going to be reading a novel by you? I don't know if you ever said, but have you completed or are completing a book? And when am I going to read it? I just adore your writing. Truly. Your characters all find a way into my heart and my mind where they twirl about in their little lovely vignettes that you have painted for us.

Sarah Hina said...

I don't know, Ello, but I think I want you making my pitches from now on. ;) Thank you!!

I do have a book, titled PLUM BLOSSOMS IN PARIS (yes, shocking that it's about Paris), and it's currently being submitted by my agent, Jeffery McGraw. We've racked up our fair share of rejections, and had one close call, but hope springs eternal. Either that, or I'm just becoming numb to rejection.

Anyway, it's still out there...twirling through some editor's hands in New York City even as we speak. ;)

Anonymous said...


Abhinav said...

Until now, you've written mainly romances. This is the first of your posts where there is a visible streak of social commentary. I cannot begin to imagine the seamlessness that you might explore in your longer writings. Kudos. :-)
Just to mention>>>
'In this city, people are molecules, pushed to boil.'
You raise the piece to a sparse poetic account of a dispassionate observation - less of a rhapsody and more of love's longing.
Just two questions: Is it related to any memory of NYC? And what does 'Flaubert is the color of her eyes' mean?
P.S.:- I am blessed to know this blog. Really.

Abhinav said...

Is the title of your novel influenced by poetry from Rengetsu, the Zen exponent. While researching for my post, I found plum blossoms in one of the lines of her spring poem, The New Year's Scroll.

Sarah Hina said...

Abhinav, I like that I am a much better writer through your eyes than my own. :) Perhaps I write these shorter pieces to avoid the gaping seams in my longer writing.

Thank you, again, for your rhapsodizing. ;)

This piece is not based on memory. Moonrat posted a true life story on her blog about two people forging a friendship on the subway. I loved the idea, and shamelessly exploited it.

As far as the Flaubert line goes, I suppose it's more whimsical than anything. The boy has no knowledge of Madame Bovary, but noted the author's name on the book, and thought the soft ocean sound was complimented by the color of the girl's eyes. Two disparate details coming together.

Maybe a stretch, but I liked it. :)

The title (or the Plum Blossoms portion) of the novel was influenced by a Matisse painting recently sold to MOMA in NY by an anonymous French collector. The painting figures prominently in the book.

But now I'll have to go find that poem! Thank you. :)

Church Lady said...

The line that caught Abhinav caught me as well: 'In this city, people are molecules, pushed to boil.'

I just loved it. I love the intense scrutiny of these two people in the midst of 'people exchange.'

It has truly been an honor and a pleasure getting to know you through these blogs. I hope you and your loved ones have a great holiday together.

(p.s. I also have frozen lasagna, but no way was I going to admit *THAT* on Beth's blog. heheehe!)


Sarah Hina said...

CL, I think we often have that experience in a city: time is on steroids, everything is sped up. It can be exciting, but also exhausting and mind-numbing.

So when something happens to slow us down, and make us pause, that event takes on much greater dimensions. Thank you for pointing that out, and for your wonderful words.

I am also immensely grateful for the chance to get to know you through your blog and others'. You always make me smile, CL. Have a great Christmas and New Year! :)

(psst...your lasagna secret is safe with me. let others cast their (fresh and organic) stones. Stouffer's is a godsend sometimes, and nobody will convince me otherwise. hmmph.)


Ello said...

I have absolute faith that you will be published. And I can't wait!

Wishing you a very happy holiday season! Many blessings to you and your family!


quill said...

Sarah, simply wonderful. I love how you weave 3 different perspectives together tied only by a ride on a subway.


Sarah Hina said...

Thank you, Ello! All the best to your family, too! :)

quill, it's fun to take something as random as a subway ride, and discover something as meaningful as a journey.

Thanks for your kind words!

Beth said...

Sarah, such beautiful contrasting -- the sea, the subway. Very nice.

And happy holidays to you and yours.

Sarah Hina said...

Thank you, Beth!

I hope you and your family enjoyed a wonderful Christmas together.