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.