Treehouse

online magazine for short, good writing

Grow Your Own

by Treehouse Editors

Peter Amos

“Hey’all got’dem garden-maters?”​  The sun sank and his wind-cut chin followed the line of my finger to a table full of Better Boys, Beefsteaks, and Lifters heaped in shoddy pyramids on plastic trays.

Hours ago I threw the wheel of a rusty Chevy and lurched off Montford Rd in a cloud of rusty dust. Jimmy looked up from a low, bushy mass of cucumber tendrils and grimaced as I parked the truck alongside an unruly forsythia bush.

Stakes over my bare shoulder, hammer in hand, I waded into the rows. Sun scorched my back and sandpaper stems scraped hot pink lines over my dirty arms. I lifted the hammer high and brought it down with a thud. Again and again, metal drove bleached wood deep into the mulch where thistles gathered in bunches.

Twine crisscrossed the row, one stake to the next, searing a line into the crook of my neck as I tugged. I smeared wet clay on my face, embraced three sticky tomato vines, and lifted the fruit clear of the fetid puddles on the ground. I yanked the coarse string tight, wringing a drop of blood, and the plants jerked to attention.

In the next field, Jimmy walked with an armload of tiny light green plants; three or four leaves each and a curl from the sun. We’d cover them from the heat and weed ceaselessly in the coming weeks. By September we’d be dragging twine again, bent double in the sweltering air.

We slowly filled dusty black crates, plucking green fruit from the vine at the first hint of color. Smart shoppers buy that way, ripen three or four in a brown bag on a window sill, and eat when they’re ripe. Sliced thick with salt and pepper on white bread. With the flat-bed loaded, we bounced onto the pavement and drove carefully back to town. Jimmy leaned out the open window and grinned a watermelon slice in the highway air. We were scarred by sun, bloodied by thistles, and covered in mud with two hundred pounds of produce in tow. The only way to be.

The heat rose off the blacktop in waves, blurring the potted verbena and delicate vinca that wilted in the soggy air. I rested one hand on my hip and the other on the side of the dusty table in the tangerine light of the sinking sun. He evaluated the day’s haul, holding each fruit close to his scornful eye.

“Ya’ll pick ‘em too early.”​ He spat through a mouthful of dip.

I rolled my eyes from behind the ancient register. Good thing Jimmy left for the day.

His nose pointed and brow arched as he inspected a limey pink variegated Better Boy in the shade of the tent.

“​2.49 a pound? Shit boy, ya’ll robbin’ me.”


Peter Amos is a native of rural Virginia. The son of an English teacher and a librarian, he studied music in college and moved to New York where he works, performs, and writes. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Brevity, The Museum of Americana, Bitter Southerner, and others.

Monologue

by Treehouse Editors

Linda Shapiro

For starters, you take yourself out of the picture. Totally. You’re nodding your head but do you get, really un-der-stand, what I mean by out of this particular frame? I mean as in relocated in the Witness Protection Program or transported to another dimension. You don’t call her. You don’t sneak a peek. You don’t e-mail or snail-mail or nail her in any way, shape, or form during this interval we discussed, which amounts to the rest of your natural perverted life. You’re nodding your head and closing your eyes, which indicates a certain mixed-message style of thinking. I who know you know how difficult it will be for you not to bend your devious septum of a mind to finding some way, José, to contact her that wasn’t in my above mentioned list and therefore might be considered some kind of a loop hole or excuse. That is to somehow let her know she’s still in your thoughts when we’ve agreed, right? Agreed in a very serious blood-brotherly sort of way that you and she as a you-and-she situation does not exist.

I who saw your ratty little carcass emerge, if not exactly from your sainted mother, then from the nasty little carbuncle of your childhood through your seriously flawed adolescence to your current excuse of manhood, must speak plainly. As an officer of the law, I can’t crucify you on this one, since she refuses to proffer charges. As your uncle, however, I am giving you the opportunity to evacuate the scene ASAP, while that sweet young thing you nearly sliced and diced, so to speak, that woman whose little head you so flagrantly fucked with, continues to mend her ruthlessly scuttled life. If I should hear of any attempted contact on your part, I may need to invoke avuncular privilege and transport your festering innards to the outside, where I may see and know them better.  And may understand what possible wiring gone haywire connects me and mine to your genetic cesspool.


Linda Shapiro is a freelance writer who has published articles, reviews, and essays on dance and the performing arts, architecture, design, and other subjects in numerous publications in the Twin Cities and New York. In her former life she worked as a dancer and choreographer. Her fiction has appeared in the online journals On the Premises and Bending Genres. Her work was shortlisted for the 2019 Fiction Award for the Canadian journal Into the Void.

Storm

by Treehouse Editors

Linda Shapiro

IwanthotdogsweNEVERhavehotdogs

Little Henry wails the same phrase over and over in an eerie castrato wail aimed at his father, who is idling at the grill. If he intones it enough it will happen, or he will go hoarsely into hysteria and be sent to bed.

Perhaps he’s on some spectrum or other.

Perhaps he’s just oiling up the voice that will take him through adolescence and its extremes of rise-fall intonation into adulthood, where inflection counts for much subtler shadings of Want and Need.

Want if not need besets Henry’s next door neighbors, the Grangers. They flee one another whenever possible, as the childless can, in search of negative space where each frames a narrative independent of the other.

Tonight they are at peace. I can see them enjoying a meal outdoors, watching small rabbits dining on grass.  They are consciously ignoring Henry, who is pumping a noisy plastic train engine up and down the driveway, little pistons going full steam.

What promised to be a pleasant summer’s eve suddenly erupts. You never know what the weather will do these days.

The Grangers scramble to gather up plates, cutlery, condiments, the wine in Riedel glasses, and hurry inside. Large Maples in each yard sideswipe one another over Henry’s garage. They writhe and tumble in the wind, errant branches desperate to stay put, not crash into someone’s power lines or roof or little Henry who, it seems, has been whisked indoors along with the half-cooked hamburgers.

Separate cisgender houses, separate crises.

The sky darkens to mucous as a few cars glide cautiously by my window. Hail rains down, pea then golf-ball size. Thunder shatters the sky, lightning slices and pops. I can hear Henry’s dog howling, probably from underneath the couch.

I am uncertain whether to get to the basement or just continue watching the damage being done, the edging into chaos.

I am always aware that lights go out all over the world. Global insufficiency is to be expected. I think of cities under siege, infrastructures crippled, meager lights flickering as generators skip a beat and surgeons try desperately to save a few hapless lives.

While we live freely here in large, elderly homes, tending our gardens and seeing to house repairs. The Grangers’ lights have gone out. I can see jagged lengths of candles sputtering in makeshift holders.

Shortly after I moved back I was scraping paint off the garage, listening in on the conversation of Sally Granger and her book club sitting outside in various grades of linen, sipping Prosecco. I don’t know what book they were discussing, but I could hear phrases like toxic relationships and For once I felt so SEEN, and I thought of Anna Karenina.

Sometimes I see my whole life as minor fiction. Never, like Ferlinghetti’s dog, having had a real tale to tell and a real tail to tell it with.

My radio suggests finding cover, but I‘ll risk staying put, allowing something to happen.

As it is, I’ve been calmed down for years now.

I have found time’s elasticity to be a bogus concept. It’s not elastic. It slips and jams into ruts, back and sometimes forth: Could I have been kinder to him at the end? Will my stale genitals ever cease throbbing?

I can see the old lady across the street out in an inadequate raincoat, rescuing some hanging plants.  The hail has diminished in size, but not before her begonia has been beaten to a pulp.

My power goes out in perfect synch with a clap of thunder. A dancer on the beat, but shouldn’t a dancer be just ahead of the beat? Such simultaneity is just boring and obvious, as Craig used to say.

The tempest has become a danse macabre.  Night swallowed the storm and is not digesting it well.

The entire neighborhood has gone black, ancient with anxiety. It was, I’ve been told, originally a gypsy camp where caretakers hovered over the sick and dying, treating them with natural remedies.  A good thrashing with holly branches to cure chilblains, arthritis, rheumatism.

When Craig lay dying there was nothing that could help. We lived from day to day in our railroad apartment, a narrow parade of rooms migrating like defeated refugees from cluttered living room to tiny back bedroom.

Long before that Craig and I threw a party during the New York blackout, candles everywhere, friends hanging out of our front window sweltering and baying at the moon. The blackout of 1977 shut down the entire city, a primal unfolding of terror and mayhem.

We, however, danced and sang, emphatically embracing anarchy. That was the night, in fact, when Craig met the famous choreographer who would eventually take him on as an apprentice, stalk and pursue him, call him Billy Budd and accuse him of dangerous innocence.

Craig was not innocent, just choosy about the men he fucked.

I hear a tree branch snap and opt for the basement. I feel my way stealthily down the steps and, lulled by the whipping and crashing above, lie down on an old abused couch.

Where I lay as a kid, thinking forbidden thoughts.

Now I am back in my mother’s bequeathed house, former linguist nursing fatal flaws.  Beneath me layers of moldering couch shift, tectonic plates in a void.

Anna Karenina threw herself under a train and found peace.  Boris Elfman made an overwrought ballet in which Anna’s fatal train becomes a bunch of ballet boys in black madly chugging, pistons going full steam.

I may lie here until the storm subsides. Then I will emerge to help the neighbors gather stray branches, perhaps wade through mud to rescue Henry’s engine, comfort Henry’s dog. All the while emitting the occasional pungent witticism they have come to expect from the quaint old man, their defanged neighborhood Lear.


Linda Shapiro is a freelance writer who has published articles, reviews, and essays on dance and the performing arts, architecture, design, and other subjects in numerous publications in the Twin Cities and New York. In her former life she worked as a dancer and choreographer. Her fiction has appeared in the online journals On the Premises and Bending Genres. Her work was shortlisted for the 2019 Fiction Award for the Canadian journal Into the Void.

Moonlight Serenade

by Treehouse Editors

Phil Gallos

“Zombies and vampires. That’s all I ever get at these full-moon gigs,” the werewolf complained in a nasal growl.

Mary Alice peered at him through Coke-bottle glasses. “You sound like a cracked didgeridoo.”

“It’s this damn head cold. Next stop, sinus infection. Probably picked it up from one of the zombies. There’re vectors for everything. Might as well be in a room full toddlers.”

They watched the elegant and tattered crowd on the ballroom floor, gliding and lurching, moonlight streaming through windows long ago shattered by the bored and the disaffected. It sparkled on the disco balls and illuminated puffs of dust driven from frost-heaved parquetry by the impact of feet that would never die.

The werewolf frowned.

“They only call me because no one else will DJ for them. And I get so tired of blood and decay. It’s depressing.”

“Try to look at the bright side, Loup. How unhappy their existence might be if they didn’t have these dances to look forward to. And you make it possible for them to escape. You give them a few hours of…of….” Mary Alice tried to think of a word more appropriate than joy but couldn’t.

“You give them a few hours of joy. And, besides, it isn’t all vampires and zombies. I’m here.”

She flashed him a wide smile.

Loup grunted. He looked at her. “And that’s another thing. You’re a sixteen-year-old girl with bad eyes and great teeth. What are you doing here?”

Mary Alice thought of all the moons that had passed since her first moon bleeding. She thought about the silver light on the frozen lake and the hills beyond the lake, the woods alive with wild voices calling. She had never doubted they were calling her. She put her hand on Loup’s flank, felt the soft coat and the hard muscle beneath…felt saliva rising around her tongue and a tingling in the roots of her teeth.

“Because this is where I belong,” she said.

Loup pointed to the figures lumbering and drifting upon the floor. “With them?”

Mary Alice shook her head, her hair platinum, shag cut. “No, Loup. Not with them.”

She slipped a pale arm around his dark waist. He stiffened slightly; then relaxed, adjusting to this new level of intimacy. But when she urged him toward the dancers with the gentlest of pressure, he resisted.

“I have to stay here. I have to spin these discs.”

“The discs will spin without you until there’s nothing left to spin; and, when the last tune ends, the vampires and the zombies will think the dance is over, and they’ll leave. But we will still hear the music. We will always hear the music.”

Loup considered this for a moment, then said, “But I have a contract. It will cost me if I violate it.”

“It will cost you more if you don’t. Come. Come away from this and dance.”

He stepped uncertainly from his console and microphone, and she guided him to the dancefloor, his confidence growing as they moved in among the ageless and the undead. A faint breeze filled the hall, animating the somnolent chandeliers. The discs played all there was to play. The console fell silent. One by one, the vampires floated away through broken windows, the zombies staggered out through chain-locked doors, until just the werewolf and the girl were left dancing to a song audible only to them.

Down the snow-quiet street, a young couple wanders arm in arm. They stop at twin sets of animal tracks that begin at a dual door secured by a heavy chain threaded through the handles and padlocked. From there, the tracks cross the street, descend an embankment, and continue onto the frozen lake, converging with distance into a single line and, finally, disappearing.

“Are those from dogs?” the girl asks.

“Wolves, I bet,” the boy replies. “They say there’s a white one, now. Somebody saw it running along the river with its mate.”

“But how did they get through this door?”

“You don’t want to know. Everybody says this place is haunted. It’s been shut for thirty years. Don’t you think it’s scary?”

“No. I think it’s beautiful. This is the old dancehall, isn’t it?”

“It sure is.”

“My grandfather told me about this place. He says nothing is haunted – just occupied by what we don’t understand. He met my grandmother here. She looked like me – very fair. Her hair never had to turn white. It was white from birth. Grandfather told me they had full-moon dances every month. When it was time to call it a night, the band would play ‘Moonlight Serenade,’ and the doors would open, and the people would dance that last slow dance until they were out on the street and halfway home.”

The girl and the boy follow the wolf tracks to the edge of the ice, where the girl sees something in the snow and stoops to pick it up.

“Oh, look at these trippy glasses!”

She puts them on, gazes up at the moon. The thick lenses magnify the light so it seems to envelop her. She doesn’t know what possesses her to howl, then. She simply feels the urge…feels the voice of an unnamable past rise within her.

From deep in the woods upon the hills beyond the lake comes a single answer – long, quavering, thrilling, triumphant.


Phil Gallos has been a newspaper reporter and columnist, a researcher/writer in the historic preservation field, and has spent 31 years working in academic libraries (which is more interesting than it sounds). Most recently, his writing has been published in Carbon Culture Review, The Writing Disorder, STORGY Magazine, and Brushfire!, among others, and is forthcoming in Streetlight Magazine and Wisconsin Review. He lives and writes in Saranac Lake, NY.

The Way of Neighbors 2

by Treehouse Editors

Linda Conroy

See our baby; two weeks old today, the man calls out to me. I don’t know him,
not really, yet. Late last year he moved into the Craftsman house beside the park, where the field is fenced off. If I’d met him further down the road, I would not have recognized him, but here in his yard, with his Eurovan, his golden lab, and now his daughter, he’s in place.

I think I met your wife, I say. I talked with her some weeks ago when I walked past. Her hair’s red, isn’t it? Yes, it is, he says, and sometimes different shades. So she was pregnant then, not just my guess. He grins.

The babe is swaddled loosely in a cloth. Her neck and back and feet are bare. Her head rests on his shoulder, facing me. Her arm drapes over his, her tiny hand so loose. She’s sound asleep, not knowing the effect she has. Her birth brings people close enough to stop, for her father to call out to those he didn’t know and we respond, no longer only nodding as we pass.


Linda Conroy is a retired social worker who likes to describe her observations on the complexity of behaviors that make us all human. Her work has recently been published or is forthcoming in The Penwood Review, Plainsongs, Psaltery and Lyre, and other local anthologies. Her book, Ordinary Signs, will be published this spring.

Announcing the Final Issue of Treehouse

by Treehouse Editors

Dear readers,

We hope you’re all safe and well during these difficult, uncertain times. Tomorrow, March 23rd, we will be publishing the first piece in the final issue of Treehouse, and will continue to publish new pieces every Monday and Friday through the end of April. At that point, Treehouse will close its doors permanently, but this website will remain active for anyone who’d like to look through our past issues. Our Twitter account will also remain active for the foreseeable future; however, our Facebook page will be deleted. Thank you for your patience; it’s been a pleasure reading and sharing great literature with you all.

–Laura Casteel, Managing Editor

5 Writing Prompts from My iPhone Notes

by Treehouse Editors

from David S. Osgood, author of McGovern’s Motors

When ideas come to me, I try to capture them–sometimes on a napkin, other times in a voice memo–but most times in my iPhone Notes. Here are five ideas for short stories which have not yet come to fruition (the third one is nonfiction!):

1. In 1972, my mother and father, both teenagers then, made love at the top of a broken Ferris wheel and created me. The rescuer on the ladder could not understand why they refused to come out from the capsule. When they emerged, they were wearing each other’s pants.

2. There’s a place we go when no one is looking, underneath the train tracks and below the earth, where we congregate like burrowed animals to share the brutality of life.

3. Nana lived in Massachusetts in a stone cottage that looked like an amalgamation of a gingerbread house and birdseed. Her chocolate chip cookies were so hard I had to bite with the gummy space where my wisdom teeth used to be. When she greeted us, her hyper lordotic posture corrected itself. Her smile was a gurn of dentures and overbite, her hug strong and endless.

4. Life span changes to 25 years. How do we change the world of growing up if we know it will only last this long?

5. A man driving down the highway passes an electronic sign announcing an amber alert for a missing person. It is his name, the description of his vehicle, and his license plate.


David S. Osgood is a short story writer. He resides in Holly Springs, North Carolina, where rural and suburban collide among crepe myrtles. David has a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing from the University of Southern California and a Master’s from Babson College.