Treehouse

online magazine for short, good writing

Tag: Nonfiction

Dear Gram

by Treehouse Editors

Chelsea Catherine

Dear Gram,

It’s Pride season again. The last Pride I went to, I was living in Vermont and after the parade, I broke up with a girl, even though we were barely dating. We watched the parade and then I took her out to our final meal together. We sat outside in the sun with the lake just down the street. I drank a beer and ordered mac and cheese. I don’t remember what she got. I don’t even remember what she was wearing or what I was talking about when it happened.

I think I was mentioning my new place, and how she would never see it. Maybe I was referring to the ugly brown carpeting, or the pasty off-white walls. I didn’t have enough of your paintings to cover them. I hung three in the living room, one in the bathroom, and two in the bedroom, but it still felt bare. That apartment in Vermont was never really right. None of that year in Vermont was ever right, no matter how hard I tried to make it. I couldn’t understand how you can go back to a place that’s your home – the place where you were born and raised – and after ten years away everything was unrecognizable. All my friends were different. They had babies and husband and new houses to live in. The buildings downtown had all changed, and the roads didn’t feel like mine anymore.

I like my new apartment in Florida better, even though it’s so small. It’s all one room, thesame size as the living room I had in Vermont. The walls are still white, but the tile is orange and blue here. It gives the space this spark. Your paintings all fit where I can see them. One of the wood frames is broken – it cracked apart at the crease in one corner – and I haven’t figured out how to fix it. I don’t have the tools. I left everything in Vermont except three suitcases, and even though I’ve been here for almost five months now, I keep expecting to have my old stuff. I keep reaching for things that aren’t there anymore. Ghost hammers and screwdrivers, old clothes and blankets I always had with me.

It’s been like that a lot here. I keep reaching out to people, too, but it’s all new and the trust isn’t there yet. I’m not close to people like I used to be. When I’ve had a really bad day, I’ll run down to the beach and watch how the colors of the sunset blend across the bay. I’m proud of living on my own down here, but at the same time there’s still something so unsettled in me.

I miss you, Gram. I wish you were down the street so I could stop by after work when thedays are really long. I wish I could sit in the kitchen with you like we used to and read the newspaper and you could tell me that things were going to be okay. Money is going to even out. I’m not going to get my heart broken by girls anymore. I wish you were here to hug me.

Now, when it’s nighttime and the heat bugs are chirping outside, and I’m crying or sadover something, all I want is one of your stupid tuna salad sandwiches and the smell of your house. I miss the basement with your stacks of soup and sauce and beans. I miss the kitchen table and the ugly shag carpeting in your living room. Your pantry stock is all gone now. The shag carpeting, too. Dad ripped it all up about a year ago and found wood floors underneath it. Dad has gotten rid of a lot of things, and he’s painting the kitchen over, too. It doesn’t smell like you anymore. It doesn’t feel like your house. Now whenever I’m visiting him and we stop by, I find trinkets of yours that have been left – teapots, pictures, old mason jars. I keep collecting them, these tiny pieces of you.

Soon it’ll be the four-year anniversary of your death. They say it gets easier with time,but you came to me in a dream two months ago. You were standing right there next to the bed with your old brown smock and your hair combed out like for church, so tangible it almost felt like you were really there.

Xoxo

Chels


Chelsea Catherine won the Mary C Mohr nonfiction award through the Southern Indiana Review in 2018. Her novella Blindsided won the Clay Reynolds competition and was published in October of 2018. Her novel Summer of the Cicadas won the Quill Prose Award and will be published in 2020. Find her at chelseacatherinewriter.com.

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.

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.

Brief Encounter: I’ll Tremble If You Like

by Treehouse Editors

Timothy Stewart Johnson

Mitchell stands before the fireplace spinning the cylinder in his father’s revolver. Mark and I sit before him on the sofa trying to telepathically communicate a plan to save ourselves, but fear blocks our brainwaves and we sit quietly, waiting to die.

“I’ve decided not to become a composer. I’ve decided to be a murderer, and I have someone picked out.” He keeps us pinned with the gun.

“Tim, you’re not trembling. I bet you’d tremble if I shot Mark.” I will tremble if you like, I say, lying. He cocks the hammer and points the gun at Mark’s face. We see the little gray bullets in their cylinders.

Click.

He blows imaginary smoke off the barrel. “The old empty chamber routine,” he says, smiling broadly. Still I don’t tremble.

We hear the crunch of tires in the driveway. Mitchell puts the gun in his pocket and he and Mark walk out the front door. They smile and say, “Hi, Mom and Dad.” Everyone calls my folks Mom and Dad, and they have no idea they are being patronized. I help unload the station wagon. Later, Mark comes back alone. “He was just fucking with us,” he says.

As the bus passes the school the next morning, I see Mitchell standing by a side door, hand inside his coat, waiting anxiously to kill Terry Payne, for she has decided not to be his girlfriend. I run from the bus to the parking lot to tell someone, but no one cares. Joints are being passed around, and I end up getting stoned.

An hour later, I come out of gym class and see a parade of police cars rolling down the street in slow motion. From the back of the last one, Mitchell flashes me the peace sign.

I am called to the office and asked what I knew and when I knew it. No one ever asks me why I didn’t tell anyone. I think they know. It’s because they are grownups and they are not to be trusted. We handle our business, they handle theirs.

The hives and the diarrhea keep me out of school for two weeks. Mark discovers heroin, and Mitchell is placed in an institution to be cured. Still I do not tremble, for it is not my way.


Timothy Stewart Johnson survived the 1960s with little more than some minor cuts and bruises and now works as a writer and designer in corporate marketing.