Treehouse

online magazine for short, good writing

Brief Encounter: Silently

by Treehouse Editors

Doug Hoekstra

Last time a homeless man asked me for money, it was by the St Francis Hotel in San Francisco, where Fatty Arbuckle’s career ended. Buster Keaton stayed true to his friend, and I thought of Buster as I folded a Franklin and dropped it into the man’s upturned pork pie hat. The bill landed softly over scattered change, covering it like a newspaper blanket. The man quietly nodded his thanks.

“That was a bit much,” my cousin said, as we continued walking. “What if he spends it on drugs? Or worse?” he added, snapping his words like chewing gum.

My cousin had never given me a gift that he didn’t follow up on, asking if I’d played it, read it, or wore it, dependent.

“What if he does?” I said. “It was a gift, he can do whatever he likes. Maybe it’s what he needs right now.”

I wondered what “worse” could be, as we turned the corner and passed the storefront where Tippi Hedren met Rod Taylor at the pet store in The Birds. Something apocalyptic? Seemed like the man was already in a state of worse.

“That’s funny coming from you,” he added, eager to emphasize the fact that I was a teetotaler, since he was not. My cousin was a bricklayer, I taught schoolchildren; he hunted venison, I was a vegetarian; he wore MAGA hats while I raged against the machine. For him, it was always competition.

As we passed the Bay Area Mindfulness Center, the sun shimmered over the China Basin, just past where we were about to take in a Giants game, the last remaining link to our childhood. I thought of Buster again and the baseball scene in The Camerman. No words, just action. Pure genius. The silent movies were the best.


Doug Hoekstra is a Chicago-bred, Nashville-based writer. His first book, Bothering the Coffee Drinkers, appeared on the Canopic Publishing (TN) imprint in April 2006 and earned an Independent Publisher Award (IPPY) for Best Short Fiction (Bronze Medal). Several of the selections in the book appeared in other publications, and one story, “The Blarney Stone,” was nominated for a 2006 Pushcart Prize. Other stories and poems of his have appeared in numerous online and print literary journals and a second book of prose, The Tenth Inning, was released independently in 2015.

Brief Encounter: I Could Never Do a Cartwheel

by Treehouse Editors

Katie Miller

I imagine it feels like this: a single step off a ledge, a free fall so fast you forget to hold your breath.

*

I’m not saying that doing a cartwheel is the same thing as making a bad decision, but I am saying that I’ve never been able to do either, and I just think that maybe the two deficiencies are not unrelated.

As a kid, I’d watch my friends’ bodies slice through the air, all ease and stretched-out limbs. You just sort of—well, you just sort of kick your feet over your head, they’d tell me, brushing the dirt off their palms as they landed back on their feet as though seconds before they hadn’t been upside down, head inches from the ground. You just kick, let your body follow. Let go.

My body swollen with a pent-up energy that I’m only now beginning to recognize as a lifetime’s worth of accumulated indecision, I’d start the lunge. I’d fold myself sideways, tentatively palm the warm grass, repeat to myself: just kick just kick don’t think everyone can do a cartwheel you can do a cartwheel just let go. Before I could even plant my second hand on the ground, though, the inevitable self-conscious hesitation—potent, physical, this hesitation would seep through my body, settle into my stomach and weigh down my arms and legs like lead until I crumpled to the lawn, motionless.

*

Maybe it’s no surprise, then, that I’ve never made a real bad decision—one of those willed, eyes-squeezed-shut-to-the-inevitable-fallout risks that you might talk about only years later, in a dimly-lit dive bar, maybe, head bowed over a beer as you tell a stranger about this one time, when. Because if I could never trust myself enough to let go for a cartwheel—the simple one-two kick, a rotation guaranteed to deliver me back to solid ground—there is certainly no chance that I could risk a fall with no bottom, a somersault through the air sure to deliver me, battered, to some different reality. A reality in which I’m left aching, sore for the assurance of solid ground.

*

But still, I close my eyes sometimes and imagine I can hear wind whistling through my ears. I imagine that for just a moment, I don’t think about the bruises that will line my shins when I hit the ground: I’m here, suspended, weightless.


Katie Miller lives and works in Tucson, Arizona.

5 Things We Love by Female Authors

by Treehouse Editors

1. Bodies That Hum by Beth Gylys (Silverfish Review Press, 1999)

“The first chapbook of Beth Gylys sparked my interest, but her first full-length work, Bodies that Hum, really excited me with her formal dexterity (especially the villanelle), as well as free verse, showing me that poetry could be deep, poignant, and entertaining. Gylys, above all others, started me on this path of writing and taking the poetic craft seriously.” — Joanna Davidson, Poetry Editor

2. A Burst of Light: Essays by Audre Lorde (Firebrand Books, 1988)

“‘I make, demand, translate satisfactions out of every ray of sunlight, scrap of bright cloth, beautiful sound, delicious smell that comes my way, out of every sincere smile and good wish. They are discreet bits of ammunition in my arsenal against despair.’–Audre Lorde. To be black, female, and queer, all at once, is to know great despair. But to be black, female, and queer, all at once, is to grow brilliant.” — Bella Hugo, Genre Bender/Brief Encounters Editor

3. Social Studies by Fran Lebowitz (Random House, 1981)

“Women have been accused of being the ‘sensitivity police,’ unable to appreciate or utilize humor without injecting sentimentality or political correctness. Having been expelled from high school for ‘nonspecific surliness,’ unapologetic New Yorker Fran Lebowitz delightfully defies this stereotype. ‘People (a group that in my opinion has always attracted an undue amount of attention),’ she writes in the opening essay from Social Studies, ‘have often been likened to snowflakes…their only similarity to snowflakes resides in their invariable and lamentable tendency to turn, after a few warm days, to slush.'” — Laura Casteel, Managing Editor

4. “Of the Empire,” from Red Bird by Mary Oliver (Beacon Press, 2008)

“As Americans stand face-to-face with the consequences of rabid consumerism, imperialism, and estrangement from nature in the twenty-first century, the timeliness of this poem stings. ‘We will be known as a culture that feared death
and adored power,’ Oliver writes. ‘All the world, in our eyes, they will say, was a
commodity.'”–Laura Casteel, Managing Editor

5. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (Harper Perennial Modern Classics Edition, 2006)

“This novel serves as a compass in my own writing journey, a reminder that the best literature strikes our deepest senses with details as small as the leg of a bee. It also proves the versatility of female writers. We can be sardonic and romantic, critical and sensual–in other words, we’re human.

‘[Janie] was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree soaking in the alto chant of the visiting bees, the gold of the sun and the panting breath of the breeze when the inaudible voice of it all came to her. She saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight. So this was a marriage!'” — Laura Casteel, Managing Editor

5 Things a Survivor Needs to Learn

by Treehouse Editors

from Alle C. Hall, author of Crashing

It was cherry blossom season. I sat on hard grass in the cold March sun and read the survivor’s Bible, The Courage to Heal. Tears, when I read what I had felt between my teeth since the abuse started but could never find words for: I was not a victim. I was a survivor. As Courage says, I earned that title. To move to an entirely new level of surviving, however, into thriving, there were five things I needed to internalize.

  1. The facts of the abuse, the details, are important for only as long as they are important. It was everything to name them. Over time, the facts blurred into two thoughts: I was raped. A lot.
  2. The facts can be so dramatic. They seem like the hard stuff to heal from. But the facts don’t have lasting impact. What lasts is the need for approbation from the wrong sources, the reliance on the addictions. Saying the right thing at the wrong time, being too loud or too quiet; feeling perfect until we tumble; not knowing how to do simple things that to others seem innate: being honest on a resume; saying, “You’re cute.”
  3. It is possible to learn how to love and be loved.
  4. There is no need to confront an abuser. Abusers don’t cop to it, such as: “I never thought that raping you would make you feel bad.” Do we imagine that a confrontation will change them? “Let’s go to counseling together.” “Let’s be family again.”
  5. I wanted an apology. I don’t need an apology. I don’t need them to change, to tell me they believe me.

I believe me.

New BE Prompt: Willful Bad Decisions

by Treehouse Editors

The new writing prompt for our next round of Brief Encounters submissions is: Willful Bad Decisions!

Ever done something that you knew was a bad idea, but went ahead and did anyway? The text you shouldn’t have sent, the job you shouldn’t have quit, or the hornets’ nest you shouldn’t have kicked? Send us your super-short (400 words or less) pieces on the theme of red flags deliberately ignored. For more information about Brief Encounters, see our submission guidelines. We can’t wait to read your good, short writing!

 

Brief Encounter: Jenny’s Dead

by Treehouse Editors

Eugene Schottenfeld

Jenny’s death was the best thing that ever happened to me. I even threw a party with my few remaining friends to celebrate it. I was grateful for them, but it was hard seeing how many people had abandoned me because they preferred Jenny. Even my own parents hated me for killing her, their precious daughter.

I tried to explain to them that Jenny was the one who’d been killing me first. How Jenny had controlled my every movement, how she had made me feel broken and ashamed and so very alone. For years, I cried myself to sleep, just from picturing her long blonde hair and perfect makeup and bodycon dresses. One night, I’d decided it had to be me or her, and, well, what person wouldn’t put himself first?

So I planned how to kill her, bit by bit, so nobody would notice until it was too late. I started with the makeup and the tight-fitting dresses; easy enough, with boyfriend jeans and hipster flannel shirts in style. Next I attacked her hair with scissors, chopping it off in huge heavy chunks. My roommate got mad at me for clogging the sink, but she was pretty supportive otherwise. Then came the injections and the knife, the long cuts hacking away pieces of her flesh, beautiful scars replacing her ugly breasts.

After that, just the courthouse remained. It was the scariest day of my life; what if the judge thought the same way my parents did, and punished me for killing Jenny? But my lawyer convinced him to declare Jenny dead and me alive. The judge even wished me luck.

Now I just needed to get rid of the last traces of her. I stood under the big “Goodbye Jenny” banner my girlfriend had put up, and got a small bonfire going. Watching her makeup and clothes burn made me feel bad for a moment. Jenny had made my life a living hell, but part of me still missed her. She’d been with me so long, after all.
I pulled out her license from my wallet. My eyes lingered on her picture and her name before I threw it in. As it turned to ash, my nostalgia did too, replaced with relief.

My girlfriend hugged me and handed me my new license.
“Congratulations on your transition, James.”


Eugene Schottenfeld is an emerging writer, recent law school graduate, and classically trained musician. He currently lives in Brooklyn with his fiancé.

Crashing

by Treehouse Editors

Alle C. Hall

She was eight and at the beach and she felt like a movie star. Her jumper was as bright as a Lifesaver, falling well above her knees, with inch-wide shoulder straps that she loved the color of, crisp white. She played catch with her sister but she was the movie star. Her straps slid pleasantly back and forth as she dove for the ball. Before the beach, they bought it at the drugstore, the ball, along with things like her father’s film and the Juicyfruit gum that would slide out of the pack and to the bottom of her mother’s purse. She was sure that her mother knew when she snuck the flat, foil-wrapped sticks from between the pennies and loose cigarettes. The gum never tasted only sweet. It always had tobacco flakes in it.

The sand between her toes felt scratchy, a grown-up feeling, like painful, like magazines intimated it would feel when an older she would do something called fix those unsightly heels. She felt beautiful. The air smelled exactly the way air should, like salty ocean water. Like waves crashing. The air held just a touch of suntan lotion. Only little kids wore sunscreen back then. The sunscreen smelled like sunshine. Her father’s fancy camera was focused only on her; she loved the attention, she was beautiful, a movie star, she was sunshine, she was mirth, she was everything they wanted her to be. Her shoulder straps had a round button on them, a big round button. A button. On her thirty-sixth birthday, he called. That was when she let it in, what he would do with the pictures, once he developed them, would do to his body, and then her hands would tremble, would tremble when she brought back the button and the ocean water and those waves. Those waves, crashing.


Alle C. Hall is a semi-finalist in Screencraft’s Cinematic Short Story Contest (Finalists announced on March 14th, 2018. Send her good vibes). She is also a semifinalist in Hippocampus Magazine‘s “Remember in November” Creative Nonfiction Contest; a Best of the Net nominee; and First Place winner in The Richard Hugo House New Works competition. Favorite publications include Creative Nonfiction, Brevity (blog), The Citron Review, Crack the Spine, jmww, Bust, Literary Mama, Seattle Times, Seattle Weekly, and The Stranger (Contributing Writer), among others. Claim to fame: interviewed Leonard Nimoy. “He was a bit of a pill. Disappointing.” allehall.wordpress.com