Treehouse

online magazine for short, good writing

Tag: creative writing

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.

5 Things about an Easel

by Treehouse Editors

from Linda Conroy, author of The Way of Neighbors

1. Twice I’ve owned one, twice have given it away.

2. I thought I wanted lushness of another life, modest help for my intentions, a guarantee of restful nights. I thought I wanted mystery, a way to find true artistry without the grind of too much work so I bought an easel, strong of back, and plain of face, its three feet still on earth.

3. In art class sometimes, feeling shy, I can’t cope with the paint. It doesn’t go the way I want. I hide behind the easel, though it trips me with its legs spread out, or leers, leaning on grey walls, with paint still wet, the brushes needing to be rinsed, put back into the jar beside the sink. The canvas, though, is steady, twenty degrees from vertical, suggesting life propped open, waiting. A framework, tripod, a tall support, a wooden form upon the desk or standing on the floor, asking “am I something you could use? Would you rest your half-formed collage on this ledge, edge of the artist you’re beginning to become?”

4. In winter when snow forms banks and drifts, and squirrels, groundhogs, hibernate, I see evergreens dot steep-sloped mountain sides, and the sun slides quickly, leaving blue shadows longer than the trees, like fingers pointing in a landscape of mixed media on nature’s easel, murmuring “paint.”

5. The Dutch word for donkey, ezel, meant to carry weight.


Linda Conroy is a retired social worker who likes to observe the simplicity and complexity of the human connections which inform and foreshadow the art of writing poetry. Her poems have appeared recently or are forthcoming in Third Wednesday, Shot Glass, The Penwood Review, Washington 129, The Poeming Pigeon, Clover – A Literary Rag, and Raven Chronicles.

The Way of Neighbors

by Treehouse Editors

Linda Conroy

With rain from empty sky, fall came fast, unexpected, even after all this time. Strange to be dark again at seven, then at six, time to tuck in, close the curtains, cushion coming doubt. Harsh division day from night, in from out, splits liveliness from sleep, unless, as is the threat, the good game changer, snow. It will be a brighter place here then, pulling us outside with shovels, brooms and salt, bringing neighbors, dogs and children out, and Mary next door with her red coat says, wait, after we have dug and swept, I have some apple cider, let’s make punch. Macs and boots stack in her hall. The kitchen fills and long-told stories creep from dusty shelves. Remember when Clement broke his leg the day the barn came down, and Silas married Sarah in three feet of snow. The minister was booked, so Silas said we had to go ahead and others stamped their feet and dug a path. Good thing we only had to come from here, someone said.


Linda Conroy is a retired social worker who likes to observe the simplicity and complexity of the human connections which inform and foreshadow the art of writing poetry. Her poems have appeared recently or are forthcoming in Third Wednesday, Shot Glass, The Penwood Review, Washington 129, The Poeming Pigeon, Clover – A Literary Rag, and Raven Chronicles.

Denial

by Treehouse Editors

Finola McDonald

the last time
I went into town
there were bodies in the convenience store

strangled with garlands
of their own
misfortune.

I knelt beside them,
thanked them as I plucked
rubies
from their eye sockets

           and continued on
to the milk aisle.


Finola McDonald is a Bronx native and coffee enthusiast with a thing for writing. She is currently completing her undergraduate studies at SUNY Purchase in Westchester, NY.

KIT

by Treehouse Editors

D. Marquel

              She always did
              like
              seeing him
hang

on

her

ellipses –

              on a leash
long enough
to leave
              the illusion of freedom.

              When he whistled
her way,
              she faded away,
melting,

and
bleeding
              indiscernibly
              into color.

              She had an appetite,
              apparently,
              for the semi-sweet,
              and after all,

              grains of salt
              and sugar ​do
              feel the same
at 3 am.

              Word is,
              she still gets a rush
              at imaginary glances –

              at the chance to drag him
              all the way to the edge,
expectant,
unsheathed
              stalactites
              salivating,
smeared
              in burnt cork,

              and would,
              too,
              if not for the tugging
              at her own choke chain
              designed to keep her
in tow.


D. Marquel was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. His work has been featured in Chaleur Magazine (July 2018), San Diego Writers, Ink: A Year in Ink Anthology (Vol. 11), City Works Journal (Vols. 23 and 25), and by So Say We All’s VAMP reading series. You can find his work-in-progress at www.instagram.com/d.marquel. He currently resides in San Diego, CA.