Treehouse

online magazine for short, good writing

Tag: fiction

On the Move

by Treehouse Editors

Anita Haas

“No problem.” I assured him on the phone. “Stay as long as you need to. Those bastards.”

How was I going to explain this to my wife?

Not two hours later he was at my door.

“Need some cash to pay the driver?” I looked past him for the cab.

“Came on the subway.”

“And your bags? You bringing them later?” I eyed his beloved trumpet case.

He pushed past me into the sitting room where we had jammed together so often over the years; playing music, drinking, smoking, toking, detoxing, retoxing, re-detoxing.

Over.

The years.

He staggered to the couch next to my piano, brushed aside some of my kid’s Legoes, collapsed onto it, and gave the trumpet case an affectionate pat.

“Got all I need right here.”


Anita Haas is a Canadian writer based in Madrid, Spain. She has published books on film, as well as two novelettes, a short story collection, and articles, poems and fiction in both English and Spanish. In 2015, three of her flash stories won prizes. Her free time is spent listening to flamenco with her husband and two cats.

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 Congregation

by Treehouse Editors

Bailey Bridgewater

Untitled-1


Bailey Bridgewater’s work has appeared in Crack the Spine, The Molotov Cocktail, The Eunoia Review, Nanoism, SubTerranean, As You Were, and Fiction on the Web.

Brief Encounter: Shake the Pollen Free

by Treehouse Editors

Sophia Hyland-Wolzak

Beatrice’s oldest impulse is the need to be as physically close to Donovan as he’ll allow. They met in their cul-de-sac: he, with his brother’s hand-me-downs, and she, with her brother’s hand-me-downs.

“Want to build a mud float?” Beatrice asked. Donovan looked around and shrugged.

Gathering reeds, twigs, and pinecones, they set up their scaffolding on her front lawn. Her mother chased them off and they fled to the woods. Knees stained, they peeped through the punctures of life between the leaves.

“Your mom’s intense,” Donovan said. Beatrice nodded.

They led each other into dares neither one wanted to be in. As they progressed in life, risks went from kick-pushing the swing to the water tower to toking a joint out the window of his stepdad’s car.

Donovan is sewn into the textiles of Beatrice’s character—a connection more profound than any other relationship she understands to be hers.

However, Beatrice encourages herself to forget him. The plasticine doll of Donovan sits on a small stool next to candle light, in a windowless room, at the very back of her mind.

Years past puberty, minutes before midnight on a Thursday in Autumn, Beatrice and her colleagues roll up their sleeves to soak their fingers in a bucket of fried chicken. Their day felt below sea level and fast food propped them up on a skyscraper for an hour.

A hand rests on her shoulder and Beatrice jerks away. Donovan stands over her with the imposition of his denture-perfect teeth and down jacket.

Her lips and chin are glossy with a vaseline of fryer grease.

They leave to a bar close by. She fantasises about their future, listening intermittently to their conversation. The same tree sap that smoothed them together at the cul-de-sac envelops the two. Beatrice is dewy with nostalgia, pouring herself into the feeling with her beer. She kisses him and he stops.

Both hands on her shoulders, Donovan gently presses Beatrice off of him.

“Huh,” she says.

***

When Beatrice stumbles home and shakes herself free from her clogs, she tucks herself behind her partner and kisses him on his temple.

She separates the oil of the night from this moment and it leaks into the narrow spaces between the files of trivia and family birthdays.

As Beatrice exhales, the toy Donovan takes his final breath and the candle blows out.


Sophia Hyland-Wolzak is an American expat that lives and works in Adelaide, Australia. She is currently a contributing writer and editor for a national caravanning and camping travel magazine, G’DAY Magazine.

A Letter to Whoever is Wearing My Boots

by Treehouse Editors

Yael Hacochen

Each year in Ramat Hagolan, at least 1,200 cattle produce milk, feed on grain and oats, give birth, and die when their time comes. When the cows were under Syrian control they were spoken to in Arabic, and after Israel took control of the land in 1973, in the war of Yom Kipor, the cows of that region were spoken to in Hebrew, or Arabic. Depending on the farmer.

In the year 1997 a calf was born. She was the second-born heifer of a prize-winning cow and died by stepping on a mine. This could be where the story ended, if not for a change in the family business. It was exactly the month that the family that owned the calf decided its skin would be used for leather.

They called in a specialist, who was missing half a pinky from his days as an apprentice. The specialist stood in the middle of the green field and produced a sheathed knife. The knife was curved like a quarter moon. He worked with the utmost care so as not to leave a scratch. The skin came off in a single thin sheet, like the parting of red petals.

The leather was loaded onto a truck. It was removed and spread in a large metal container by the two agile hands of the craftsman. He noted that the skin was small in size and heavy in weight: perfect for a small woman’s combat boots.

The leather was laid out on a black rubber cutting mat, and a pattern was drawn. Using a trimming knife, the craftsman traced the leather as one would trace a lover’s back, until four symmetrical pieces lay detached.

The pieces were handed over to a young shoemaker who worked the leather into shape and attached it to a rubber sole. The letter “צ” was stamped at the top, where it was closest to God. A small pocket for dog-tags was added into the strip. Finally, they were shipped to a base in HaKiryaa.

It happened that in the year 2006, a bushy-browed Nagad chose them off the shelf, tied the shoelaces together in a timely manner and threw them in the back of his truck. Fate called me in to see the Nagad, who whispered like a boy with a crush: “I have a surprise for you”.

Friends died in that time. But they wore different shoes. My boots were never shot, never punctured, were never crushed. They only lifted one foot after the other, or both at once.


Yael Hacohen is a PhD student at UC Berkeley. She has an MFA in Poetry from New York University, where she was an ‎NYU Veterans Workshop Fellow, International Editor at Washington Square Literary ‎Review, and Editor-in-Chief at Nine Lines Literary Review. Her poems appear or forthcoming in The Poetry Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Every Day ‎Poets Magazine, Nine Lines, and many more. She was a finalist in the 2015 Glimmer Train Very Short Story Competition, the 2015 ‎Consequence Prize in Poetry, and the 2013 MSLexia Poetry Prize for Women.‎