Tuesday, November 17, 2009


I don’t know, I don’t know.  I never know.

This is what I know.

I remember finding an old tortoise shell in our backyard.  Near the woods at the bottom of the hill.   I slipped my hand into its domed cave, where a small head once brooded itself.  My fingers peeked out to form a Hydra tail.  It was strange, if also perfect.  For the rest of the afternoon, I wore the shell as a bracelet.  I was some kind of mythological creature, or maybe the tortoise from Aesop’s fable (though, in truth, I was always the hare).  I don’t remember the details, just the feeling.  I felt the peculiar, singular joy of a child living without constructed stages.  I was uncontained.

I could tell that my mother was disturbed by the thing.  And I see why now.  This hollowed token of death, swallowing up her daughter’s arm.  My mother had a tender heart, you see.  But children are fascinated by death, and endings.  An ending is the limit of imagination.  The farthest crawl.  To make an ending a beginning?  This is the beginning of a child testing infinity, of being God.

My father made me remove the shell when it was time for practice.   I’m sure I made some kind of scene.  And I don’t remember what happened to the shell afterward.  Perhaps it was buried, like the box you uncovered.  But years later, when we were living in Paris, he bought me a tortoiseshell bracelet.  I pretended to like it.  Because he’d remembered.  And some part of him felt guilty for what was taken from me.

Because of you, I remember this.

And this image in my mind has been played.  Over and over again.  Of sliding my grown hand through that narrow window, and watching my fingers, my palm, my wrist just . . .



Megs said...

Amazingness. The way you use language makes me feel things I can't quite define but that go into the rich store of my treasures to be handled over and over until something comes out, I never know what until it happens. I love your amazing blog. Keep writing. I'm reading.

Vesper said...

Sarah, this is exquisitely beautiful. I love its quiet tone filled with nostalgia and a deeper philosophy of everything, from the first to the last line.

I wonder if it's a fragment from your novel...


David Cranmer said...

The image of the tortoise shell and the line "hollowed token of death" are unforgettable. Nicely done Sarah.

Charles Gramlich said...

strong and haunting imagery.

Sarah Hina said...

Megs, your comment made my day! Thank you so much for it. My overriding desire as a writer is to touch upon those emotional treasures.

I look forward to getting to know you better in the future. :)

Vesper, it is! I've been slacking on writing new vignettes and poetry, so I thought I'd post an excerpt. I wrote a brief description of the novel to accompany this, but decided not to post it.

Thank you for the beautiful words here. It's so good to see you again, too! :)

David, I'm so glad to see you, too! I've wondered how your travels have been going.

Thank you for the warm sentiment. It was a strange image, but I'd hoped it would work.

Charles, I appreciate that. This piece doesn't have a lot of story to accompany it, but "haunting" is how I pictured it.

K.Lawson Gilbert said...

I find this little memoir so expressive in a psychological way. You have touched on some deep and penetrating thoughts and ideas here. Here is a childhood memory that has become a starting point for something more significant.

"This hollowed token of death, swallowing up her daughter’s arm. My mother had a tender heart, you see. But children are fascinated by death, and endings. An ending is the limit of imagination."

Then you wonder if we as children compare an ending with a beginning...something purposeful like eternity...being God.

There is so much to think about here - and so much to enjoy.

"But years later, when we were living in Paris, he bought me a tortoiseshell bracelet. I pretended to like it. Because he’d remembered. And some part of him felt guilty for what was taken from me."

and the end...you feel the loss of something even now...

This is written so well. I love the way you think things out on paper, so that we are privy to the process.

Linda S. Socha said...

This is so lovely and mystical imagery in a way that it becomes more realistic. Lovew your words

Margaret said...

My first thought was - this could be an excerpt from your novel. After reading your comment I see it is!

You have such a wonderful way of taking your readers deep, deep and deeper.

"An ending is the limit of imagination. The farthest crawl. To make an ending a beginning? This is the beginning of a child testing infinity, of being God."

I really can't wait to read your novel Sarah and to enjoy more of this!

the walking man said...

The difference between the Sarah of the shell and the Sarah remembering the shell, is of truth only time and knowledge. Never disregard the intervening years but balance them within the cavern of that rugged thing lost to touch but held in memory.

Be Well

Karen said...

This is beautifully poignant, Sarah, and layered with time and feelings. I love the shifts in time represented here -- the child's finding of the shell, and the adult's memories of the experience, and then the present catalyst for the memory. This is done seamlessly.

What a rich brief excerpt. I can't wait for the novel. (Is this from Plum Blossoms or a new one?)

Rick said...

So much regret, wonder, and thoughtfulness woven into one small piece. I can't help thinking that your character is the type of woman that every man of character would like to meet.

Sarah Hina said...

Kaye, even though this piece came from my new novel, it was a rather personal stream-of-consciousness on my part. To be quite frank, I'm not even sure I could explain what it meant. But loss? Yes. Maybe more existentially than anything specific or that could be pinned on others.

And there's also this--the confusion over how to reclaim it.

I was worried this piece would be too murky on its own, Kaye. Thank you for telling me that you appreciated the questions buried inside. :)

Linda, thank you for that lovely comment. Mystical feels right to me, too.

Margaret, this is an excerpt from my newest one, which is still in its infancy. I'm pushing the contrast between reality and idealism to its farthest brink. My two lovers will never even meet.

Thank you for your enthusiasm and support, Margaret. It means quite a bit to me.

Mark, though I mentioned up top that this was from my novel, the thrust of it is me. I never experienced this event, but the image came to me as plain as day. So in a way, I must have been there.

We cannot hide within that cavern forever. And I've always been too quick to hide. But I'm grateful that my children can still enjoy that magic, and that I can watch them glow within it.

Thank you, my friend.

Karen, this excerpt was from the new one. To be honest, it's rather a departure from the rest of the book (so far). I'm trying to weave in these more dream-like, fragmented scenes between the grimmer realities of my two characters. I was very close to posting a love scene instead, but this one matched my more contemplative mood that day.

And thank you for mentioning the layered effect here. I did want to do some excavating! :)

Rick, that's one of the most delightful things I've ever read about a character. Thank you. :)

And I hope you're right. Because she's about to fall in love.

Aniket said...

I thought it to be visceral at first, till I read the tag.

I see a lot of Celine in her. She seems passionate about the little joys in life and is yet sensible & mature. And you know, how much I like Celine. :)

Now I'll go back to read and see how you do that. Touch so deeply with those words. I've tried disecting your work before to learn your secret technique; but I guess you just have it or you don't. Sigh!

Nevine said...

One of the things that stood out the most for me was the child's sense of wonder even at such a thing as a tortoise shell. A child's imagination is so rich, so vivid, so wandering and exploring, that it can create treasure from a speck of dust.

Another thing that stood out was your including the perspectives of both parents. There was the worrying, almost superstitious mother, not wanting her little child to be associated with anything so barren and dead. And then there was the more practical father, who found a more practical time and reason to take the item of fascination away. But he's still a parent, so does not forget to replace it with something that is the same but different.

Your last paragraph is absolutely exquisite in terms of language and, really, I'm hanging onto every syllable as I'm watching that hand enter the window one centimeter at a time.

Your imagination and your writing fascinate on many levels, Sarah. Always.


Julie said...

Amazing and beautiful. The ending is perfect. I'll be thinking of you when I'm in the woods today. I love your work.

Stephen Parrish said...

Nice. You have one foot out of your shell.

You otter be a writer.

Sarah Hina said...

Aniket, Celine is very close to my heart, too. :) I'm still hoping they make another film someday. But then again, I also don't want them to ruin a great thing.

And hey, you know that each writer has her, or his, own secret technique. I could no more write like you than you like me. We each "have it," right?? Thought so...

Thank you, Aniket. Flattery will get you everywhere. :P

Nevine, thank you so much for your warm reaction and insightful words. I, too, feel a great kinship with your writing and inner vision. I also feel fortunate that the internet makes the world so small, so that we can discover one another like this.

That last paragraph, for me, was the kicker. Something between her past, and the present, has been lost. Or maybe it's all just a matter of perception.

Julie, it put a smile in my heart to have your thoughts with me like that. Thank you so much for keeping me company.

Steve, your faith in me means a lot. Srsly.

gabrielle said...

Reading your words is like stroking the inside of the shell. Again and again.

Sarah Hina said...

Gabrielle, what a beautiful comment. Truly. Thank you so much for sharing it with me.