Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Roy Stryker Shooting Script #4

Basic – 409

Sarah Van Name

Dear Mr. Stryker,

I have begun to confuse the words of the script. I wake up not knowing where I am and hear them splashing against the still-lucid edges of my dreams: trees in bud and in blossom, movies, Main Street, “Restless America.” I brush my hair, throw water on my face. My notebook and negatives are overflowing with listed and unlisted images, and before I go to sleep I feel them around me – lifting me up, weighing me down, tattooed on me in invisible ink.

Your scripts have given me direction, and even from the beginning I knew their implications. When we started out it was made clear that we were to record everything. But you never said why, and it took me a long time to understand.

In all of this (mint julep, fences, children at play) I think you’re trying to get at some basic knowledge at the underpinning of everything – not just America, but the world of humans. I bet if the U.S. government had given you money to photograph India, Belgium, Russia, the Congo, you would have crossed oceans without a second thought. What we’re really looking at here are the eyes of people. The moment before the smile, and the aftermath as it breaks like glass upon the cold, bright air.

plains of Illinois

pine hills

river bottom

That’s how you ended the last script you sent out. I’ve done my best to capture these things and the rest. Enclosed you’ll find photos of flat cornfields, horizons broken by single skeleton trees, mountains blanketed in dark green; dry riverbeds littered with stones and plastic cups, and also the dirt and stones that sit quietly as running river water rushes over them. You can have them, to hang on walls or to put away in the ever-increasing File of life on the second floor of the office.

Also enclosed you’ll find a formal letter of resignation. I’ve sifted through all of these pictures, all of these months and months of crooked contact sheets, and there’s something behind all of them that I can’t quite catch. In the girl at the soda counter, the way she holds her hands. In the torn concert posters. It’s that basic underpinning of humanity and it’s untouchable by even the best.

We both know I’m not the best, not even close. And I’m haunted by what I can’t capture. So here, Mr. Stryker, I’m saying thank you and goodbye.



A Year in Prose is done. This is the last one. Fifty-two weeks of writing projects, some on time, some not, but all, finally, finished. It’s going to be a little weird not to go to oneword.com and random.org every Tuesday as I now habitually do, but I’m really proud of myself for seeing this project through.

Even though Stephen thinks I’m going to destroy him when we finally meet at Aaron/Ben/Lindsey/Kevin’s graduation because he didn’t keep up with AYIP, I actually harbor no resentment whatsoever for the rest of the group giving it up. (Although keep this quiet because I told Stephen that I was planning on showing up like this to graduation, my rage vast and unable to be contained.) Our lives are insanely busy, and the fact that this lasted as long as it did as a group project is a good indicator of how much fun we all had with it. I got to read so much good writing because of this. And I never would have gotten to read any of it, much less write at all, if Aaron hadn’t had the idea for the project and started it up and if Ben, Lindsey, Stephen, Mary Loo, and Kevin hadn’t all joined. So, thank you.

If you’re reading this at all (I know this is not many people) thank you too. I would have done this all for myself but it’s pretty cool to had have an audience, even if it’s an audience I can count on one or two hands.

A couple other small things – if anyone is curious about the Roy Stryker pieces that I have finished with, the story is this: Roy Stryker was the Head of the Historical Section for the Farm Security Administration in the late 1930s. The Historical Section’s purpose was to document the government’s relief programs in rural America, but Stryker was given an enormous amount of freedom (in terms of both funding and oversight) to essentially photograph all aspects of rural and small-town American life.

His photographers took pictures upon pictures upon pictures whose only purpose was to go into a massive file (actually known as “the file”) of American life that Stryker kept simply for its own sake. To help guide their creative process, he sent out his photographers with shooting scripts – essentially long lists of images and concepts, very like poems, which he wanted to capture. An example can be found here: http://americanimage.unm.edu/shootingscript.html

The other thing is that if anyone wants to start another writing project with about the same level of commitment as this one (weekly, not long writings), let me know. This has kept me writing weekly and that in and of itself is a blessing.

I hope you’ve enjoyed A Year in Prose as much as I have.



Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Roy Stryker Shooting Script #3

255 - mango
Sarah Van Name

7. Cloverleaf passes

I want the feel of a full tank of gas and a couple just out of college. These photos should show the fifteen-year-old driving too slowly under his father’s tutelage and the same boy two years later getting pulled over by a state trooper. These are the smaller details, and as you should know by now, necessary: the couple’s hands intertwined, their fingers reminiscent of the loops of the highway that spirals over and around them, the shakiness of the boy’s movements as he pulls away.

But we also need the bigger picture. Get the aerial shots, the ones showing the beautiful ballet of the cars weaving in their lanes under and through. In the daytime, in the orange dusk, and at night with the red and the yellow.

8. “Fit for the likes of us”

A certain understanding of what’s suitable and what crosses lines. A blonde girl grows up in a suburb. Her mother works part-time as an office manager, her father makes business trips. For lunch she eats peanut butter and jelly or ham and cheese on Wonder bread, with an apple and a bag of low-fat chips. She drinks skim milk at dinner and is asleep by midnight.

One day when she’s fifteen, her mother puts a mango in her lunch instead of an apple. When she bites into it, soft orange juice drips down her chin. This is the kind of thing that leads to the learning of curse words, and music with drums, and unprotected sex.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Roy Stryker Shooting Script #2

328 - chocolate
Sarah Van Name

4. We need more pictures to get the feeling of “Weather” – rain, mist and fog, snow, wind,

This is of the utmost importance. You have to understand that weather is the mother’s morning television before she wakes up the children. It’s the first breath of the day when one opens the door, the feeling of one’s skin as each hour passes, bus stop and dinner table conversation. The final arbiter of bicyclists and lifeguards. Without this, what can we have?

We need more pictures of both the dramatic and the standard – school cancellations, constellations of ice on the windshields of vehicles, and the powdered sugar dustings of snow that leave kids disappointed on cold-window mornings. In sifting through the File I have found also that pictures of girls with their hair whipped back by the wind (in the drivers’ seats of convertibles, silhouetted against the ocean) are absent. Fix this. Above all it is necessary to for us to see, and really see, the pools of sun that coalesce upon the shoulders of these girls.

5. Watering the lawn

The sprinkler system; the garden hose snaking endlessly from the bowels of the house; the splash of water on the sidewalk, yes. But also the anxiousness of the man who wants to keep his lawn greener than his neighbor. The warnings of water shortages. The green of the lawn, then the brown.

6. Soda counter – high school kids

Two boys sit at the left end. Two girls sit at the right. One of them is prettier than the other, her hair dark and smooth. She’s sipping a chocolate milkshake with the slow precision of someone who has a distracted mother and no afternoon curfew. Her friend gazes out the window into the April heat and watches a window-painter on the other side of the street, the muscles in his arms moving back and forth in repetitive motion. She bites her nails. The boys don’t look at either of them.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Roy Stryker Shooting Script #1

Fragrance – 186

Sarah Van Name

1. Paper in park after concert

By this I mean the ways the papers fray, rip, scatter in the wind like so many kites. The color of the grass it lands on. The soggy silk of it as it floats on the pond, disturbing the serenity of ducks.

2. Fishing

Here I want poles, hooks, live and dead bait, not to mention the moment in which you take off your shirt and the sting and texture of the sunburn the next day. The chill of your feet in the water, the slipperiness of rocks, how the fish feels as it dies in your hands: the powerful contractions of its muscles. The thrill – the fear.

3. Baker’s bread

I am speaking here of the fragrance that fills the house when it bakes and when it is set on the counter, fresh from the oven, yes. But also the anticipation of that fragrance and the way the kitchen door sticks when you slide it open; the tear in the screen. The scratch of chalk on pavement. The taste and substance of the honeysuckle tucked behind your sister’s ear.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Darkroom - 90 words
Sarah Van Name

Darkroom colors were the ones that kept you, slight and shadowed in the chemical glow. Afternoons and evenings evaporated or were absorbed into you like sugar on your tongue. The play of light, the measure of time, the rich shades of gray in your subjects – they began to replace real sunshine afternoons and river beds. I was afraid that you would transpose yourself into the pictures you made and I would see you again only in negative strips, transparent and dark. Amber, and your fool self caught like a wasp.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Mrs. Hirschman

Basement – 129

Sarah Van Name

Mrs. Hirschman was a traditionalist. She strongly disapproved of fast food and did not understand the concept of an e-book. She kept flour stored in bins in the basement and bought vegetables at a farmer's market. After dinner each evening she put tea and a record on, let the rich blues sway her hips, occasionally remembering the awkwardness she felt browsing the vinyl with the young hipsters in the sun-stained record store.

Her car had been bereft of air conditioning for some time, and in the syrupy Carolina summer, paused at stoplights for too long, she would sometimes start to feel ill. But something kept her from getting it repaired – a comfort in discomfort, maybe, in the trouble and triumph of keeping cool, and the quaintness of paper fans.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Recipes - 197 words

My family has never been about great-great relatives' customs or the old country. We make the new – sparkling wooden floors and good college education – and leave the old to fade. The rituals we practice are wholly our own, warm and sweetened with the knowledge that they belong exclusively to us. So I never received recipes on crinkled yellow paper, and I am fairly sure that the songs my parents sung to me were chosen for me alone.

I love this way of being, tradition rooted in creation. But a part of me hopes that when I have a daughter, we will sit at the kitchen table kneading bread – her small hands learning to turn and turn again – with Baking With Julia sitting in front of us vanilla-stained and stiff, and I’ll be able to look at her and say, “Look, this is the same book I used when I was a little girl.”

She won’t understand, I think, and maybe by then she will be part of a generation that knows books as mine knows vinyl, as a rich but inconvenient bygotten technology. But I hope not. I am keeping the book for the both of us.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


229 – blotches

“…happy birthday to you!”

I blew out the candles without stopping for a wish and, laughing, reached for a knife to cut the cake. I stretched out a plate to James, but he wasn’t looking. His eyes were caught on my sister’s hair. I set the plate down and kept cutting. This had happened before with other guys, and now it was happening again.

As the birthday girl, I really should have been the one getting drunk, but at the end of the night James was tipsy and I was sober, so I drove him home.

“Your sister’s hot,” he shouted over the music.

“I know,” I said, but I don’t think he heard me.

“Not even hot. She’s beautiful,” he screamed. I turned off the radio.

“You don’t want to get involved with her,” I told him.

“Why not?”

“She’s a psychic. She reads your future in, like, blotches of coffee you spill on the newspaper. I don’t know, she’s crazy.”

“That sounds cool,” he said. I glanced over at him. His eyes were red and glassy and the blinking yellow of the stoplight played on his face like a candle flickering. “That sounds really cool.”


A month later he knocked on my door looking five years older. “Your sister’s crazy,” he said. “She told me all this terrible shit. Freaked me out.”

“She does that,” I said.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

An Ocean

477 – phrase

Sarah Van Name

When the lights dimmed for the first warning, I was already in my seat. Josh and Thomas were sitting beside me, fighting over Fruit Ninja on Josh’s iPhone. Above us the chandelier crystal sent mosquitoes of light flying over the room, and on the stage, techs tuned guitars and kicked aside cables. The guys were talking next to me, their voices muted and intimate, so I just looked out over the crowd. Beards and plaid flannel; people laughing at themselves. The lights dimmed and brightened again.

Thomas hadn’t wanted to come to the concert. “I don’t know any of the music,” he'd said, but Josh had convinced him somehow and now he was here and in as good spirits as I’d ever seen him. His voice was raised, something about Fruit Ninja, but as the lights dimmed for the final time, the projection screen on the stage turned purple, and Josh hushed him. Out of the corner of my eye I saw their hands move together and interlock.

The audience stood in unison when the band walked onstage, bathed in black and purple light. A low, sweet fuzz of guitar, the barely beginning of drums. The lead singer stepped up to the microphone.

“It’s a terrible love, and I’m walking with spiders,” he sang, and that was the moment when I should have exhaled, but I kept holding my breath. That’s how he sang. As if with each new phrase he were recalling an old goodbye. I mouthed the words along with him, and they made more and less sense on my tongue than ever before.

His voice, deep as a cello, moved through the air like clouds in a cold winter. I looked to my left. Thomas and Josh held each other, swaying as if moved by a gentle wind and peaceful. I held my own hands and wrapped my arms around my own waist, moving by myself. “It takes an ocean not to break,” sang the man on the stage, but I did – tears were blurring my vision before I realized anything, but I let them drip down my cheeks. I was holding myself too tight to let go.

A part of me wanted Josh to look over and offer a hug, give me something, some gesture of friendship. But he and Thomas were too much absorbed in each other.

When we left the auditorium, it was cold and I had no jacket. We walked across the street to the McDonald’s for hot chocolate, and I rubbed my arms.

“That was the saddest concert of my life,” I said into the air.

“Why?” Thomas called over his shoulder.

“I miss my boyfriend,” I told him. “He’s five hundred miles away.”

“At least you have someone,” he told me. “That’s no excuse.”

So, wrapped in my own terrible love, I stayed quiet and held myself close.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Pre-Dated January Remembering

Tarnished - 194 words
Sarah Van Name

It’s moments like those few seconds last night that make me really want to talk to you, when the air is so dry it cracks my lips like desert soil when I’m not paying attention. That in and of itself is strange enough because all the time we spent together was summertime, wet green harmonica time.

A few days ago, the girl who I now think of in tandem with you would have been twenty had she been still alive. Memories of her are tarnished in my mind now – a lamp touched too many times and drained of its magic – and soon the same thing will happen with you. It has started already.

But I miss you. I do. For reasons that are not specific or detailed and that no longer have anything to do with the softness of your breasts as I hugged you or the shape of your chin. I am not split open and gutted by the thought of concrete and glass, but perhaps because of the chord progression at the beginning of a certain song, or perhaps because of a birthday gone uncelebrated, I wish you were here this winter.

The '59 Sound - The Gaslight Anthem

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


127 - rejection

Sarah Van Name

I never knew rejection until one Saturday night when I was thirteen. I was sitting in front of the family PC and typing to a friend from camp, a boy with a taste for poetry and eyes the color of Mello-Yello. His name was Matthew and he was my first crush too big to be called a crush.

He made a confession. He told me he was in love with the girl I was rooming with next summer; admitted that he was optimistic about his chances. I could barely feel my fingers. That night I broke my ill-informed vow never to cry about a boy. Like wearing new shoes, it was the kind of pain that hurt until I grew accustomed to it and then faded away.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Sheets - 490

Sarah Van Name

Albert was my first love. As soon as I saw him in the containment facility, my breath caught in my chest and I got dizzy. Later, Yvonne would tell me that it was the lack of oxygen combined with the chemical fumes. But I remain convinced that it was love that struck my lungs and legs that evening.

I was put in charge of his feeding, which was difficult at first because we didn’t know what he ate. I would step into the outer room, put the food material into a drawer, and slide it into his cage. Each time, I hoped for some hint of a reaction: a swirling, perhaps a palpitation in that sultry orange core of his. But not once. Upon my approach, he withdrew to a corner and swirled into himself like a pouting child. Even after we figured out what he liked (dust and mashed bananas was concluded to be the favorite), he still wouldn’t come near me.

At first I thought it was just a general aversion to humans, and I began to resign myelf to the idea that no matter how much cardamom I put in his breakfast, he would never care about me the same way I cared about him. But then, one night, I saw him with Yvonne. He surrounded her body like a blanket. Through the mask of her Hazmat suit I could see her blushing.

Between my starched sheets that night I put on my headphones and did not sleep. All I could picture was the color of him, yellow and red like a sunset, the way he reduced when he was hungry. Everything I had done for him: I relived every time I selected the petri dish for his dinner so carefully, how I had chosen the ripest bananas. And still, the way he withdrew whenever I came near.

If you love somebody, set them free, the music told me as I listened to the same song over and over again. I woke up early that morning, when the lab was deserted. He didn’t want to get into the smaller box. I tried to soothe him the only way I knew how, with food, but I could tell he was unconvinced.

But I took him to the airlock and let him out. I placed the box back where I found it, went back to bed, and slept soundly.

The scientists were all aflutter – so much so that they didn’t even notice when I walked into the lab hours late. I had to pretend to be surprised. Yvonne, that traitorous whore, was crying. I took some satisfaction in seeing the stain of mascara on her cheeks.

“Alien Spirit Swallowed By the Universe,” the newspapers proclaimed. I cut out the clipping and taped it above my bed, so that every night, I could dream of Albert flitting in and out of star systems, my love happy and alone once again.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Teeth - 125 words

Your hands are storm water dripping from the gutter; they fall to rest on my hips, as if the curve of my waist was a puddle. This room is quiet but for the sound of heat bleeding from the radiator’s teeth.

While you sleep, your breath like a hunted rabbit, I pick out shapes in the shadows – things that used to scare me and don’t anymore.

When one walks down the hallway leading to the David, one sees Michaelangelo’s unfinished statues. They are blocks of marble, half-carved, bodies bursting out of them. An arm, the muscles of the thigh.

There’s a form inherent in the marble, Michaelangelo said. There’s a different creature inside my skin, I told you, but you don’t have an artist’s hands.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Railroad, pt. 2

Spike - 437 words
Sarah Van Name

It was the first day of Christmas break when they started to cut down the forest. The sounds of sawing and the soft pillowed thumps of falling trees flooded the air from nine to four, when dusk and cold started to drift in together. My parents had moved here in part, I knew, for the peace and quiet, and the way my mother’s wrists tensed as she made breakfast on those days told me how upset she was at what she must have considered an invasion. I had suggested to my dad that we wait until then to pick our tree – we could just grab one from the ground and you wouldn’t even have to deal with the cutting, I had told him – but he had refused, and the day after Thanksgiving we’d gone out together and chosen the best tree there was, broad and plump with needles.

When I looked out the window at the work, a quarter or maybe even half a mile away, all I could see was a cloud of dust and intermittent flashes of orange vests. I went out to survey the damage on weekends when it was quiet. They were doing a good job, not cutting down much more than they had to. By new year’s there was a broad, flat swath of dirt running as far as you could see in either direction, surrounding by military-straight lines of trees on each side.

I remember it was new year’s because on new year’s day they drove in the first spike. In my books I had read about inaugurating train tracks and was rather excited. I expected the mayor, maybe, a crowd of important people in nice shoes, a ribbon.

There was a tree still standing a little ways back from the dirt, and I sat in its branches all morning with a book waiting for it to happen. The men showed up one by one, late, hungover and yawning. Finally the foreman yelled, “Okay, come on, let’s get to work,” and they dispersed to get their tools. I peered through the pine needles. I saw the foreman say something to one man, who nodded, and then I watched him kneel and pound in the first spike.

No one else had looked. There had been no celebration – no ribbon, no mayor. I hopped down from the branch, my thighs sore and prickled from the bark, and walked back home, where I sat at the kitchen table with my dad and watched the cloud of dust in silence, the mystery and drama of the railroad filtered into the hard cool air for good.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Railroad, pt. 1

446 words - Railroad
Sarah Van Name

I grew up with the meadow, reaching for the tops of the grass. I don’t remember leaving for years and years except to go to the sparse farmer’s market a couple miles down the long dirt road that connected our house to another, more well-groomed dirt road that connected to a highway that was as mystical to me as the ocean. We grew our own tomatoes, and I remember eating barely anything else for most of my childhood. There was school, and homework in the basics of spelling and multiplication, and there was the pond and the soft sticky sweetness of the Southern atmopshere, April through September.

I didn’t know it then, but we were about fifty years behind the rest of the world and my parents must’ve liked it that way because they never tried to catch me up. I didn’t know what computers were until the school got a couple; there was no Internet access at our house. I didn’t know what cell phones were; there was no reception. I was never bothered by any of this until much later, when I realized that life had been a different thing – shinier, more metallic and sharp – for other girls.

One warm September aftenoon, when I was thirteen, I opened the door to find my mom and dad sitting at the kitchen table, hands folded and waiting. I thought quickly but I hadn’t done anything wrong.

“Sit down, Margaret,” my mom said. My dad was quiet and and his eyes were focused on not me but the treeline, beyond the pond, the thick deep green of the pines.

“What is it?” I asked. And I thought again. My grandparents were in good health; I could see the dog, droopy-eyed and sniffing at the couch, in the next room.

“We were informed today that the state is building a railroad track up to D.C., and it’s going to run right by us.” She paused. “Just past the pond over there. They’re going to be cutting down a path through the forest so it can pass.”

My dad’s expression hadn’t changed. He was still scrutinizing the tree line, as if imagining what it would be like to have a shrieking metal beast slide through it every hour. “Can they do that? When do they start?” I asked. I was more curious than troubled. I had never seen a train except in my history textbooks.

“It’s not our property, technically, so yes. It’ll be a couple months.”

I think she expected me to have more questions. But I was already daydreaming of leaping from the ground into an empty boxcar, like a dirty-faced urchin searching for a different sky.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


269 words – cowboy
Sarah Van Name

At eight years old, Sergei wanted nothing more than to be a cowboy. He didn’t like the Western-inspired movies that were the standard in the Soviet Union at the time, but preferred the American ones smuggled in by his father. This troubled his mother, who feared that he’d sneak his toy gun into school and pretend to be shooting Indians, who in Soviet-made films were the protagonists. But she needn’t have worried. Sergei was a quiet, well-behaved child who understood and accepted the rules of the society he had been born into.

After school let out he would come home and lie in front of the TV to let The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly flicker across his pale face, his chin propped in his hands. At 6:30 his father got home and looked in on him, at which point the movie would be almost over. The man would look at his son, give a greeting which was usually responded to with an absent wave, and sigh as he left the room, wondering if he had done the wrong thing by bringing the outside world into his country and house and always concluding yes. The movie was done by dinner, which was placed on the table at 6:45 precisely.

Before bed, while he played checkers with his parents, Sergei would try to recreate the stories in his head with himself as the main character. Above all he was excited to learn how to ride a horse. As he fell asleep, Sergei imagined himself growing up to be like Clint Eastwood: brave, square-jawed, and a little faded by dust.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Not Your Average House

360 words – average
Sarah Van Name

I was driving through a residential section before we hit the highway.

“You know what I’m most excited about for when I grow up? Owning a house.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. I’m really, really excited about owning a house. I think about it a lot.”

“What’s your dream house?”

“It’s gonna be three floors plus an attic, Victorian-style, with the outside painted blue with dark purple shutters and white detailing. Or, like, white woodwork. I’m going to have a lot of guest rooms. My kitchen is going to be bright yellow, my bedroom is going to be brown, my living room is going to be red, and there’s going to be stairs in the living room. And under the stairs there’ll be a nook where I’m going to put a loveseat. I haven’t figured out the dining room yet. But it’ll be a really nice kitchen, because I’m going to do a lot of baking and cooking and stuff. I don’t know what I’m gonna do with all the other rooms, though.”

“I mean, if it’s not very big and you only have four rooms per floor – “

“Yeah, four rooms and a bathroom per floor. So that wouldn’t be too bad.”

There was a silence and the music drifted through the heat of the car like ribbon on wind.

“The weird thing about this is that when I picture this house I don’t ever imagine living in it with other people. I mean I’m going to have guests. Tons of guests. But I don’t think about having a family. I don’t think I’m the kind of person who’s just going to find someone, magically. I’m trying to get used to the idea of being alone.”

“Well. If I end up alone and unmarried in my thirties – “

“I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

“ – I’ll come and live with you.”

“I would like that. I would give you a big guest room with lots of colors and yarn everywhere and blankets.”

“Thank you.”

“Did I ever tell you that I plan on having you in my life for, like, ever? There are just some people I think that about.”

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Stage - 127
Sarah Van Name

“The plate is a stage,” my brother tried to explain to me once.

“The plate is a plate,” I told him.

“Yes. But it’s more than that,” he insisted, and I leaned against the walk-in refrigerator to watch him work. It was three A.M. and we were alone in the restaurant, chairs upended on tables and velvet curtains closed against the outside world.

“What do actors do on a stage? They tell stories. And food tells stories on the plate.” He ladled chocolate mousse, mahogany-dark, into a small glass cup, placed a spring of fresh mint on top. “See how I’m putting this in the middle of the plate? It’s lonely, but proud. Aloof. It’s like a princess in a tower, and that’s how it tastes, too.”

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

La Villa Delle Arancia

Serene - 392 words
Sarah Van Name

The lower branches of the orange tree are stripped bare from the six- and eight-year-old neighborhood ruffians who gallop triumphant through the streets in the early evenings. I watch them pour like rivulets of water from their separate doors and flood past, blood orange juice dripping down their sharp tan chins. But the best thing about the Villa Delle Arancia is not the oranges. It’s the roof where one can eat them, if one is me.

The roof juts out in front of the window of the room I share. Too many times I’ve been out here as the sky is slipping into that dusky red and Barbara, the Italian housekeeper, has called up from the drive, “Scendi! Ti ucciderai!” But I don’t, and she turns away, muttering, “Ragazza sciocca, queste ragazze Americane…”

It is, maybe, during supper time that the place is most perfect. I can peer in through the windows of the slim long apartments and see the big Italian families eating their meat and bread and cheese, the black-haired mothers passing serving plates back and forth. And I sit serene, knees bent, my hands sticky and red with juice and staining my legs.

One such night, when the weather was getting cool, I heard the first door slamming and, like a choir of bells, the rest followed. The scrawny boys fled their dinner tables and raced down the alley, and I saw the tree branches shake and sway as they grabbed the oranges they could reach. Just as they disappeared around the corner, a last door opened and closed like a late entrance to a symphony.

A little girl, her hair braided down her back, ran forward and stopped under the tree. The branches were stripped. She looked at the tree, at the end of the alley where a cloud of dust was settling from the boys’ feet. Her eyes started to water.

“Adriano,” she wailed, “torni, torni, ho voluto un’arancia.” But no one came back around and the noise of their shouts faded.

“Gabriela,” I said, and until then I hadn’t even realized that I knew her name. She looked up at me, red-nosed and sniffing. I plucked an orange from the high branch; she held out her hands, and I dropped it into her open palms and watched her scurry like a windblown leaf down the street.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Storm (or, the last AYIP that I have to catch up on)

Table - 400 words
Sarah Van Name

You slept through the worst of it. Before I went to bed I clicked on the TV and saw the solemn, rumpled weatherman point at the white circle, rotating slowly like a dying merry-go-round as it drifted inland. “Looks like it’s gonna hit us,” I told you. As we fell asleep, my arm wrapped around your waist, my body curved around yours as if to protect you, I could already hear the rain starting to hum its primal lullaby.

You didn’t wake up when the thunder crashed and shook the frame of the bed; you didn’t wake up at the lightning that spasmed across the surface of the blanket so bright I could see every detail of the room. You didn’t wake up when I pulled back the covers, extracted my hand from yours, and got up.

The cat was cowering under a table in the corner and hissed when she saw me. The power had gone out. There was no slight buzz, no slip of water in the pipes, just the rain and thunder and silence. The air conditioning was trapped for now, but soon – tomorrow – the hot air would start to seep in and it would get muggy, eventually unbearable. But for now it was quiet and cool.

When I was a child, in the winter I would sit on the floor by the front door and look out the window to wait for my dad’s headlights to approach down the driveway. I’d stare out for minutes and minutes, looking at the shapes and lines of the trees, the bushes, the shadows cast by the guide-lights on the side of the pavement. When I was a child I was scared of storms. And I was scared now. So I sat on the wooden beams and looked out the window, not waiting for anything.

I had been there long enough that I found the cat slinking under my hand, when there came a crack of light that reached down from the sky as if it were cutting it in two with scissors, reached down to my neighbor’s tree. As if it were happening in a slow-motion movie, the tree split, and fell, intersecting with the power line that stretched between the houses. The line fell with it. When they hit the pavement, a seizure of light traveled down the street, following the water that poured and poured across it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Future Memories: We Take a Walk.

Walk - 358 words
Sarah Van Name

We take a walk. We hold hands. We watch sparrows land on the ice and fly away again. We talk about the sky. The cold leans into us, gnashes its teeth at the tender exposed skin above our coats.

We check into the hotel. We check into the hospital. We check into our respective returning flights, spaced months apart, with a slow-growing familiar frustration blooming in our stomachs. We check baggage. When we take walks, we hold hands, and we check the position of our fingers.

We paint the wall white. We sweep the floor carelessly. We make room for a piano, we try to tune the high F# and conclude that of all the things that must be sacrificed in a life, it is one of the least painful. We play a song which hits the note. We conclude that maybe it is one of the more painful. We make macaroni and cheese from a box, from scratch, in the microwave. The glass drips down, too slowly to be perceived, and gets thicker at the bottom.

We feel the salt of the ocean. We spill salt in the kitchen and milk. We had bad luck. We have good luck. We steal flowers from community plots. They stay bright in a glass of water.

We draw pictures on each other’s backs. We go to shows. We dance salsa and swing. Music rises, crests, and draws back over and over in the space between us. The levees break, the phone rings, the shuttle crashes. We sway. We mourn. We comfort each other. Against all intentions, we are sad at the same time.

We wake up together. We wake up alone. My necklace becomes tangled in your hair. We wait for the heat to cut on. We have good dreams and forget them. We have strange dreams and they linger deep into the morning. We lose things in the blankets. We light a bonfire. The snow comes while we’re still on the highway. We argue. We decide, after the anger has melted away, that the time has come to clear the Scotch tape from the wall and frame our pictures.

Picture Window - Ben Folds and Nick Hornby

Friday, October 8, 2010

No Exit

Left - 495

(Chapter 6)

Ben Azevedo

They left the ship in a docking station Jonesy had a membership to. Shielded from the wind, Jonesy and Miles stepped into the dark cavern. They were alone; most people stayed in the safety of their apartments during storms. A long row of exit signs marked the route to the next building.

All of the buildings in New Chicago’s downtown were connected underground by pedestrian walkways. Not many people were downtown in the storm, but the few that were would have been swept away by the winds aboveground. During the clear season, New Chicago had thriving aboveground marketplaces and shops, but currently it was quiet.

Miles pulled a small device from his pack. It beeped once, and flashed several figures across a small screen. He grunted, shouldered the pack, and headed off along the glowing path of exit signs.

“Where’re we going?” Jonesy asked.

“Roughly, 85th and Dawe street.” Miles’ voice echoed in the dark chamber.

“Did he give us any specifics on the mission?”

“No. But we’ll need these.”

Miles slung the pack around his shoulder, still walking, and pulled another device out. It resembled a pencil in length, but it was about three inches thick. One end tapered to a point, and it was a blackish gray color. He handed it to Jonesy.

Jonesy picked it up carefully. He studied both ends and nodded.

“So we’re going to be hunting the-“

“SHUT UP!” Miles clamped a hand over Jonesy’s mouth. “They can probably already hear us!”

His voice dropped to a whisper. “There should be a track we can pick up south of here.”

He pulled a second short staff out of his pack, transferring the tracking device to his left hand. They continued down the path of exit signs. After a few minutes the tracker blipped softly and Miles turned left. Jonesy followed closely behind him, casting wary glances back every few seconds.

The passage narrowed slightly and reached a staircase. Miles stopped at the top and looked down. They had left the exit signs behind, and were losing light. Miles frowned, flipped a few switches on his tracker, and opened his pack again. He produced a tiny case and turned to Jonesy.

“Ever used one of these?” he asked.

“Is that an eyelight?” Jonesy’s frightened eyes momentarily lit up with excitement.

“Yes. You know how to use it?” Miles was all business.

“Yeah. Gonna be dark down there eh?”

“They like the dark.”

Miles put on his eyelight and started down the stairs. The eyelight consisted of a contact lens with a small wire connected to an electrode that attached to Miles’ temple. It provided multi-spectrum imaging for the wearer, controlled by brainwaves picked up by the electrode.

Miles hadn’t lied to Jonesy earlier. The boss hadn’t given him any details. But he knew what they were hunting, and it wasn’t pretty. Humanity wasn’t the only race on Element. The planet had several other sentient or semi-sentient species.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Flannel - 51 words
Sarah Van Name

the morning after you left was the first
cold morning, radiator and flannel.

you woke alone
and I woke alone.

nature requires that the heat of you
be displaced, not disappear.
though loneliness fills you like water,
I still feel your touch
as best I can,
with everything you left behind.

Oh Adeline - Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers (live video)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Fuck Bouncyballs, I want a...

Swimming - 360

Ben Azevedo

Chapter 6

The storm roared, and the tiny ship bounced wildly through the sky. The wind was deafening, yet through the terrible howling a voice could almost be heard.


Miles’ scream was certainly audible from inside the ship, the unfortunate place that Jonesy now found himself.

“Miles! Shut the fuck up, man! I’ve gotta focus on this shit if you want to live!”

“You mean I’m not dead yet?! I thought I was already in Hell!”

Jonesy wasn’t going to argue Miles’ point. This was one of the worst storms he had ever flown. Of course, he usually tried to avoid going out in storms.

The ship rocked and vibrated as the Geo Grounder did its best to remind them that the ground was down. Occasionally it would fail, and Jonesy could watch as Miles’ hair pointed up towards the ceiling. Jonesy still loved the feeling of riding the wind currents, but he also knew they could smash into an obstacle at any moment. With no windows or visuals in the thick rain of the storm, death would come without warning.

A green sensor blinked and chimed suddenly.

“What does that mean!” yelled Miles over the alarm.

“Calm down. We just absorbed a lightning strike.” Jonesy was flipping switches wildly.

“Why are you flipping all those?! Did something go wrong?” Miles’ eyes were wide, and his head was swimming as he tried to resist the sudden gravitational changes.

“Miles, listen to me. Relax. The seat will keep you from any whiplash; the more you resist it, the worse you’ll feel later. The lightning helps us, remember? It’s adding power to the ship, so we can afford to divert more to the Geo Grounder.”

“That means we won’t be upside down right?”

Jonesy nodded as he returned to the switchboard. There were no visual monitors, but Tracy had a digital map display that charted the approximate position of the ship in relation to downtown. They were nearly there.

“Assuming no more major current changes, and no disastrous accidents, we should be there in about ten minutes.” Jonesy announced.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Demon Days

Patience - 266 Words
Lindsey Thompson

I’m sitting outside the blanket, watching you breathe slowly and with much exhaustion hidden in the seams, and I smile despite myself. You sleep so peacefully, like there is no demand, no demon waiting to seize your time and mind when you wake. The bed creaks when I leave, but you continue to wander in dark slumber. I grab my things and begin the journey back to my town, my life, leaving ours behind with you in the bed. Two-year-old ghosts sing false melodies to me, promising me that I can escape, change course, turn this god-forsaken car around and…

…I don’t know. Continue pretending until it isn’t pretend anymore.

I’m still driving straight, frantically flipping through the radio stations, looking for something foreign and safe. Just something to get me to my life, my post, my job. Something until I can get busy and I get things done. Set my mind to motion and design and I’ll make it to the end of the day.

I just want to be home. I want to know where home is. I don’t want to be stuck sitting on a wooden bench in a concert hall listening to possibilities from pianos and your whispers over and over like the cries of a dog I’m leaving behind. I’m tired of maybes; I don’t have the patience to eat and drink and be merry acting like we’ll never see a day where we never see each other again, knowing that that day is bearing down on us with bared teeth and a menacing grin.

Why can’t you be home?

Back Broke - The Swell Season