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CAS for Database

Sandra Nuochen (诺晨桑璟)

Philadelphia, PA, USA

Bell High School

Creative Nonfiction


I. the orange rolls off the table and you go to catch it. it drops in a splatter of brightness, your hand splitting the streak-blazed air a split second later, coming back holding nothing but the shadow of the orange’s coat. on the cutting board, you heft a sliver of sleek metal and cut. mother comes in, takes a slice. says, I don’t remember buying blood oranges. she gnashes down on her own teeth. by the counter on the floor, the orange is fat, round, ripe like the festering gash you just hacked into your stubborn finger.

II. on the news, you learn about the way god likes to tantrum: the body of a boy, dissected crudely in the garbage cans of the park a few streets away. it’s always so close. bet you’ve been in the breadth of the killer’s bubble, maybe even ran over their foot with your scooter. still, the swings are in full motion. nothing wants to obey gravity anymore and you consider risking a walk at night, consider imitating the girl who walks in a backbend on television. damn if you didn’t want to walk on your hands. I want to go play, you say, picking at the tough skin of an orange until your thumbnail separates and smears the grooves of your blushed fingerprints with stickiness. it is autumn and chestnuts are cooking in the high-pressure pot, the knob on the lid spinning and spitting steam. mother brings out her weapon, strips of bamboo sticks wrapped with twine, and slaps it against your arm, her ears smoking. shut up and do your homework. your skin flinches like the thrash of a snake’s tongue.

III. 8th avenue, by the fruit stalls. the moon is half-dressed tonight, licking the tips of each outstretched tree branch. meinü (1), what would you like? I’d like to stop being a hand-me-down sister, second-choice daughter. okay, okay. you take the four-pound bag the tired man hands you. halfway home, the bag petals into a bride bellflower, splits and curls up from the bottom. how the merchants always lie. the oranges tumble down the street and you chase after them until they scatter and they keep rolling and rolling and roll—

IV. mother tells you about the intricacies of love. actually, loving is only a symptom of being used. actually, being loved is a sign you’re using someone. if you are sad when someone dies, then it means that you’re used to them. what about friendship? it’s just another effect of exploitation, that’s all. you’ll learn when you grow up. and what are we but an exchange: I take care of you when you are young and helpless and you take care of me when I am half-dead. understand? you try to make sense of this. you weigh your heart in one hand and an orange in the other, unable to fathom which is heavier. you stare at her. her head is big, spherical like an orange. on a sudden impulse, for a moment, you want to bowl it down the road.

V. they begin showing up everywhere. in the warmth of your blanket during the slow metronome of mornings, in place of the O’s in newspaper headlines, and across the state border in atlanta, where the dead women sculpt their mouths into circles. when you see the reports, you wish you could shy yourself from them; instead, you look and look until it balloons, glares you back in the eye. sisters, how do I return your grief? even your face thickens like unripe rinds, your pores enlarged and ready to spurt. oh, what you would give to fill in these crevices, to demolish the decimator they model after. from the other side of the kitchen, your brother holds two oranges up to his chest and shouts, look, I have boobs too! you tell him to fuck off. cut it out, mother calls from across the house—the walls are useless with muting.

VI.  you learn about the venom of colors in school. the brighter a frog is, the more poison the body salivates. in conclusion: oranges are toxic. no, they are not, your mother insists, but you shove away the platter of apology fruit because the light-glossed meat of the oranges swells like frog skin. fine, see if you can last the night. it’s sunset and the day is drunken. you think about stealing out the window at night, leave and never come back. alternatively, you can wait until school the next day, expose all your wounds and say, I am sad and lonely and hurt, please take me away from her. but you’ve always been a defenseless coward afraid of ripping scabs, so you’ll just have to wait until college to denounce your blood. picking up the unfinished orange from this morning, you rub the torn peel and wonder if you are poisonous like a dart.

VII. imagine that this time, you catch the orange right off the edge of the laminated wooden table. you will behead it and pretend to be some french king’s executioner. mother comes in, says, nguai-miang (2), you’re cutting into your hand, but you will laugh and laugh and laugh until your vision reddens to black static, the rhythmic striking of the cleaver raining in your ears. you crack every seed down the middle because calamity is best uprooted before it grows. and so it’s dangerous and kinetic and you keep going until the pulp of the orange is minced into your flesh; it’s either co-destruction or co-existence now. the blade, reeking of bloody citrus.

VIII.  what do you want to be when you grow up? you want to be an orange slayer. yes, yes, that’s right. an orange slayer.

1. meinü (美女): meaning “pretty girl” in Mandarin.

2. nguai-miang: directly translates to “my life” in Fuzhounese. It is used as an endearment that emphasizes love and importance.

Note: This piece was previously published in Pigeon Pages.


In “stop,” Nuochen’s writing voice explodes like juice from the page; pensive, unconventional, and brilliantly acerbic. In some ways, this piece may seem fractured, as the speaker pivots from vignette to vignette, exploring hidden dangers (“bet you’ve been in the breadth of the killer’s bubble…”), the strained relationship between mother and daughter (“what are we but an exchange…”), and underneath it all, toxicity (“you shove away the platter of apology fruit…”). But it is all tied together by the recurring image of the haunting blood orange, which consistently follows the speaker, no matter how hard she tries to escape it.


Sandra Nuochen (诺晨桑璟) is a queer Chinese American writer currently based in Philadelphia. A Best Small Fictions nominee, she has been recognized by Rider University, Columbia College Chicago, Urban Word, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the Scholastic Awards, among others. Sandra attends the University of Pennsylvania and may be contact on Instagram @sandranuochen

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