Treehouse

online magazine for short, good writing

New Brief Encounters Prompt: When Life Gives You Lemons…

by Treehouse Editors

We’re excited to announce that Brief Encounters submissions are back open, and our newest prompt is: When Life Gives You Lemons…

Do you make lemonade, or lemon dill potatoes? Do you light the lemons on fire and hurl them through life’s windows to let it know that you’re not to be screwed with? Can you make lemonade without sugar and water? Send us your most creative and unexpected stories of making the best of a bad situation, whether they be poetry or prose (as long as they’re 400 words or fewer, of course).

We can’t wait to see what you guys come up with!

The Gift

by Treehouse Editors

Karen Collier

I sit at the kitchen table with my mother, stepfather, and one of my new classmates, Kim, a girl with long black hair, eyes the color of a glacier, and skin so translucent I can see the veins meandering across her temples. They finish the last refrain of “Happy Birthday,” although Kim is singing the version about a monkey in a zoo.

“Make a wish!” My mother shoves a lop-sided chocolate cake with twelve candles in my direction.

I blow out the candles in one breath.

“Here!” Kim hands me a wrapped box as my mother begins to cut the cake.

I rip off the paper and open the box to find another smaller wrapped box.

“Fooled you.” Kim giggles, and I join her.

Our laughter grows as I open each box, only to find increasingly smaller wrapped boxes.

When I reach the smallest box, I think it is the perfect size for a pair of earrings or a friendship bracelet, but as I peel off the paper, I notice that Kim’s laugh has become maniacal and my mother looks worried.

I open the final box and see a sheet of fluffy cotton. I lift the cotton to find the bottom of an empty box.

“There’s nothing in it.” Kim doubles over laughing. “That’s why it’s such a good joke.”

We eat our cake in silence. I fight back tears. When we’re finished, Jerry offers to drive Kim home.

“See you tomorrow.” Kim waves as she bounces out the door.

My mother covers the leftover cake with tin foil and wets a washcloth. As she wipes cake crumbs from the table, she asks, “Is Kim the only friend you’ve made at your new school?”

“Yes,” I say, and I pick up a piece of torn wrapping paper from the floor.


Karen Collier is a native Texan. She spent twenty long years in high tech before becoming a high school English teacher and discovering how the other half lives: in poverty. She left teaching after five years to pursue life as a creative writer. Her work has been published in Full Grown People, The Austin-American Statesman, The First Line, and The Ocotillo Review.

5 Steps for Lighting a Match (after Julio Cortázar)

by Treehouse Editors

from Mary Haidri, author of Celestial Divorce and The Cactus Moment

1. Unbraid your mother’s hair. Brush it carefully. Among all the grey and silver, watch for small sparks igniting between the teeth of the comb. Catch these in your palm and put them into a mason jar. Do not punch holes in the lid.

2. When you have caught twenty sparks in the jar, walk out into the night. Let the jar light your path. Find a rose bush and break off the largest thorn.

3. Walk until you reach an empty field. Find a stick. Draw a line in the grass, nine feet long and three feet wide. Shape it like your mother’s body.

4. Take your jar of sparks and the thorn and sit in the middle of the outline shaped like your mother. Wait in the dark without moving. Wait until the first light rises in the east.

5. Hold up your jar and observe: the sparks have formed into a single flame. Open the lid. Fish for the flame with the rose thorn. It will wriggle and resist. Once hooked, pull the flame out of the jar. Offer it to the sun.

 

How to Grieve

by Treehouse Editors

Deanne Gertner

Start with a quail’s egg, cream
colored, brown speckled, chilled
from the icebox. Cradle it in the dip
of your clavicle until its temperature
matches yours. With your index
finger and thumb, crush the shell.
Slick the yoke over your nail
and let it dry in the cold, winter
sun. Let the rough tongue of a cat
lick your hand bone-clean.

List the things you took
for granted in disappearing
ink on your bedsheets
in the middle of a late-spring
storm at 3 a.m., your belly
warmed by an eighth
of whiskey, the suicide
music doing its best
to blare from the puny
speakers of your phone.

At the end of your grief
pretend the words caterwauling
inside your head are red
and green macaws sojourning
for a week or four or seventeen.
Study not their flight, for-life
mating habits nor yellow eyes.
Wait instead for circadian
rhythms to realign. Pray
for molted feathers to re-plume.


A Colorado native, Deanne Gertner holds an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and a BA from Regis University. Her fiction has appeared in Quaint Magazine and Scintilla while her art criticism has appeared in Daily Serving and Presenting Denver. She serves on the board for Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop, the largest literary center in the Rocky Mountain region.

Five Things I Learned in the Nuthouse

by Treehouse Editors

from Timothy Stewart Johnson, author of I’ll Tremble If You Like

In 1987, my baby-mama convinced me to check myself into a nuthouse because I was contemplating suicide. My four weeks inside ended my suicidal ideation and set me on a path of recovery. It also opened my eyes about certain things I should have known and other things no one should ever have to learn.

  1. My childhood traumas were not funny. I was regaling my therapist with funny stories about things that happened to me as a child. My mother grabbing my ponytail and chopping it off with a butcher knife in front of company, drunk out of her mind. Having psychotic episodes while on PCP, LSD and mushrooms. My best friend holding me at gunpoint and threatening to kill me, and then trying to kill a girl at school for rejecting his affections. The therapist looked at me in horror and said, “Why are you laughing? Those stories are not funny! You were a child!”
  2. Everything I knew was wrong. I knew I grew up in an awesome home. My parents were cool, and everyone loved them. The things that happened when no one was around were simply swept under the rug or dismissed as humorous foibles by a well-meaning mom who simply had a little too much to drink. No one noticed when I went off the rails, and no one ever stopped pretending everything was alright. The truth was a bomb that blew my reality to pieces.
  3. I can dance without alcohol. They don’t serve cocktails in the nuthouse, but they do have parties. The psych techs dimmed the lights and all of us lunatics put our arms around each other and floated around the common area like a clot of fire ants clinging together in a flood. It was awkward at first, but after a while all of our diseases were drawn to the surface by the poultice of music, and the fumes of our pain brought tears of healing, and after, when I looked at the beautiful bulimic girls, and the suicidal young men, and the woman with multiple personalities, and the one who stood at the window at night watching invisible monsters, I saw myself.
  4. Insanity is Real. My friend Melanie told me about her father raping her, and I wanted to hold her, to heal her. When she went missing, I believed she would find her way home and resume being a mom. When they found her behind a dumpster two blocks away and dragged her back to the funny farm to finish facing her demons, her wrists in ragged tatters from a chunk of broken glass, she was not Melanie. She had become Monique. Then Monique faded away and Melanie returned, with no memory of what had happened and no idea who had slashed her wrists.
  5. It’s mostly about the money. My psychiatrist drove a Rolls Royce with her name on the license plate, and she parked it in front of the hospital where we could see it from our unit. Five minutes into my first session, she began a campaign to convince me I was bipolar and put me on lithium. I refused. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but I knew what wasn’t. The good doctor was later indicted for “…knowingly and intentionally devis[ing] and intend[ing] to devise a scheme and artifice to defraud and to obtain money by means of false and fraudulent pretenses and representations…” She ultimately prevailed and is still practicing medicine, but the Rolls was as real as our mental problems were.

 

Blurbs for My Forthcoming Novel Madam Anna

by Treehouse Editors

Barth Landor

“This is a fine work, an excellent contribution to the genre. Bravo!”

“An instant classic!”

“Evanescent, empathetic, prophetic, emetic: this tale wrenched everything out of me.”

“When I reached the last words of this stunning novel, I immediately started over, that heart-stopping finale (spoiler alert), ‘Bob, Ada? Madam Anna’s…Mom!’ a palindromic hint to begin reading this bewitching book backwards.”

“My first puzzled reaction to this book was “Huh?”, and when I realized the brilliant device it employed, I exclaimed, ‘Wow!’”

“I read this book in one sitting. There was no other choice, as I was orbiting Earth, having decided to launch myself into space to achieve what this stupendous novel demands: total silence (except when Houston was calling).”

“Do not ask me if Mr. Landor’s writing is deserving of the Nobel Prize. Any award that begins with No is not worthy of this writer. Show me a Yes prize, and I will say, ‘Yes! That is the prize for Mr. Landor.’”

“This is a phenomenal book, one likely to be added to the Western canon, and probably the Northern canon, too. Profound yet witty, with ravishing prose, every sentence of this masterpiece was labored over by me until I achieved perfection–until I reached the very last sentence and could exclaim, ‘Yay! I’ve just written a palindromic novel!’”

“Don’t just walk to go buy this novel; break your stride. Sprint! Race as fast as you can in your new Nike Bookmaster shoes, in which you can book faster to your nearest Barnes and Noble.” (Paid advertisement)

“It is nearing midnight. I compose this note on a bridge high above the River D–. I have just finished Madam Anna, and there is a contentment in me that I know I cannot surpass. I am happier than I will ever be again, and so why go on? Far below me on the street, I hear voices shouting, ‘You can turn back!’, and more confusingly, ‘It works in reverse!’–but no, this is art to make a life complete. I am ready to go to my maker knowing that after all (spoiler alert), Madam Anna really was Mom.”


Barth Landor is the author of a novel, A Week in Winter, and an essay, “Forty Passages for Shakespeare.”

The Cactus Moment

by Treehouse Editors

       Mary Haidri

Today Nina is a tender herbaceous annual plant    She permits cuts to callus over    woody &
green    Out of doors she is nearly translucent    Layers of tissue keeping her inside herself

anything can cut into it    anything can drop out    The fully mature seeds of Nina are black or
dark brown    There are nights when Nina is all mouth    crawl in    the open jar of her throat

working the trap    I don’t mind that you didn’t send a card    you can’t even look me straight in
the flower stalks    Nina develops best under long days in sunny conditions    She sits in a chair

by the window & drinks the light    fingers unfurling   Twenty-two weeks into propagation Nina
discovered she was rootbound & rotting    small briny daughter    overwatered into drowning

This is the cactus moment    the pulse & ache    a fist closed around nothing    Her parents drove
her to the hospital    they packed cotton between my legs to keep the roots from falling out

Standing in the red dirt of the garden    Nina droops her head    overripe & seedbound    She
has thickened fleshy parts adapted to store milk    not all mothers are soft    I am spines & thorns

for you little one    Blood turns rusty    Milk dries up    The evidence washes away in the shower
this husk is skin-thin & cursed    here    you can push your fingers right through the membrane


Mary Haidri is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. She is the author of the play Every Path (La Jolla Playhouse & Moxie Theatre). Her work has appeared in Winter Tangerine, Portland Review, Nightingale, Bird’s Thumb, and Fairy Tale Review. She was the recipient of the 2017 Fairy Tale Review Poetry Award and is now a poetry reader for the journal. Visit her at nettleworks.com.