online magazine for short, good writing

Month: November, 2013

This Week in Words – Nov 30

by Treehouse Editors

compiled by Rachel Bondurant

Follow Rob Delaney on Twitter. I just discovered him by reading Mark Peters’s “Best Joke Ever” column for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. What’s Delaney’s best joke? Go read the piece and find out, you bum. I can’t do all the work for you.

This is happening. And we’re all guilty of it. Because peer pressure.

A triptych about salt? Yes, please. Thank you, Kate Angus.

My reading recommendation this week? Treehouse submissions. We’re in the market for a couple of readers to join the crew. Want to help? Shoot me a brief e-mail explaining why you want to be a part of our team (you can say it’s for the money, but full disclosure: that won’t get you paid any faster). You can include a resume and a piece of your own writing if you want to, but it isn’t necessary. We just need people who love to read and who can offer up an opinion that doesn’t end with “I liked it,” or “I didn’t.” E-mail address is Give me a clue in the subject line what you’re e-mailing about. We’re only looking for two readers – three tops – so first come, first serve.

Oh, and happy Thanksgiving.

Five Paintings to Put In Front of Your Face When Your Words Evaporate In a Cloud of Self-Doubt

by a contributor

from Susan Rukeyser, author of Just like Lily:

  1. The Broken Column, Frida Kahlo. It’s possible you won’t see your strength until your vision is cleared by tears. Let ’em fall.
  2. The Nightmare, Henry Fuseli. Depression wants your unconditional surrender. Like any nightmare, it draws strength from shame. Call it by name, out loud.
  3. Any of the Olive Trees series, Vincent van Gogh. The world vibrates with light. See it. Let it absorb you. You’re part of this. You’re essential as a tree, dirt, the sun.
  4. Black Iris, Georgia O’Keeffe. Look closely. Shift your perspective. Stay open to uncomfortable ideas. You’ll never go wrong, celebrating a flower or the female.
  5. Proserpine, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Some mistakes can’t be undone, but never forget: your mother loves you. Why not call her right now? You know how she worries.

Just like Lily

by a contributor

Susan Rukeyser

for Frida

The Broken Column

Every day, Lily’s kidnappers left food on the table. Today was a small stack of tamales, each wrapped and tied in corn husk, and guava nectar in a glass greased with fingerprints. Next to the food, as always, was the book. On the day she was locked in here, a note on the book said: OPEN. But she didn’t, not until today.

For the first few days of her captivity, Lily rarely left the mattress. She thought she’d been drugged. She fell into blurry sleep, then soundless black, free of memory. Surfacing at last, as if from underwater, she saw another note near the book: SPEAK.

Today Lily sat at the table and considered the blue walls. They reminded her of the view from her childhood bedroom, its glimpse of the Long Island Sound. Those were noisy years, her parents’ arguments drowning out all else. Some weekends, Lily was put on a Manhattan-bound train to stay with the grandmother who took her to the Met and bought her things from the gift shop, like The World in Art and a set of colored pencils. While her parents raged downstairs, Lily kept her eyes on the blue she knew was the Sound. She held up pencils to compare: Cerulean? Cornflower? If she could get that right, maybe everything else.

Remembering, Lily’s chest went tight.

The day she met Jon was almost Halloween, but the skies were sunny and blue. Lily was on her lunch break from her job at the hospital, where she dispatched janitors from a basement cubicle. She walked past several restaurants with tables on the sidewalk. Jon sat with friends outside an Italian place, all of them wearing coats. As Lily passed, Jon said, “Trick or Treat?” Lily stopped, unsure if he was addressing her or someone else. She held his gaze long enough that he took her to be flirting back. There were misunderstandings between them from the beginning.

When Lily recalled that day, she thought of the Edward Hoppers in The World in Art. Those lonely figures, eyes averted. Those shadows. Jon would say that’s just like Lily, to take a good memory and sour it.

Maybe Lily’s kidnappers knew Jon. Maybe they wanted to teach her a lesson because she broke Jon’s heart. Or, wasted his time. But was she to blame that Jon mistook confusion for flirtation, and Lily for someone she wasn’t?

Things were okay, their first and only winter together, when they didn’t know each other well. Most nights they were a tangle of limbs in search of something they couldn’t explain and didn’t find. They rented the top half of a house by the Stamford train station, above an old hamburger joint. Lily played with pastels and charcoal, dabbled in oils, but her hands never said what she meant. All day and into the night, trains rattled past, to and from New York City. A meaty stench filled the building.

Jon worked the floor at Best Buy. He liked to say, “Tell people what they want, they don’t know.” He suggested Lily make stuff she could sell, so she tried woodwork. Hunched over a little table on their porch off the back, she made dollhouse furniture. She did enjoy that, building households, everything contained. She asked Jon once, had he ever dreamed he was a god, a world in his control? He asked if she was drunk.

By spring, they sold her furniture at weekend flea markets. Lily arranged the displays but Jon did the talking. He said Lily needed to try harder with people. He was practical, and she needed that. Didn’t she?

Lily was happiest alone, on the porch, deeply focused on carving the tiniest objects, like the fruit she glued into walnut-shell bowls: bananas, pears, Red Delicious apples. Painted and placed on screens to dry, the apples resembled drops of blood. Lily wanted to illustrate that, somehow, the connection between blood and apples. She remembered a page from The World in Art: Masaccio’s mortified Eve, stumbling from Eden. Suddenly ashamed, knowing the blood to come, the suffering ahead for every daughter. Adam was beside her, but it was Eve’s fault. Lily turned to this page so often it was ruined by fingerprints. She imagined the taste of apple still on Eve’s tongue. But to express her feelings about apples and blame and blood and punishment, to even understand them, Lily would need time to sketch, and think. Jon didn’t like it when she retreated into herself, what he called “daydreams.” Oh, frustration. How swiftly it became rage.

Lily and Jon began to argue about her reluctance to engage potential customers or hang out with his friends. To make conversation, be normal. He said, “Why are you so weird? So quiet?” Lily realized he didn’t know her. Or like her, much.

When Jon ended it, as he rubbed on sunscreen before heading to a Memorial Day BBQ, he said, “You’re a miserable girl. No, worse: angry.”

Mostly, Lily felt relief.

Lily hadn’t seen her kidnappers or heard their voices. She assumed they were women. She felt them watching, through the mirror Lily suspected was one-way glass. There were microphones in here, and cameras, she was sure.

She felt their disappointment, each day she didn’t open the book.

Today, she did. It looked a lot like The World in Art. Lily paged through, leaving fingerprints. She came to a halt at Frida Kahlo. Lily hadn’t suffered a devastating traffic accident, but she felt that broken column-spine. That fractured support. Lily knew Frida’s brace like a cage. She knew that closed mouth.

She cleared her throat. Gathering her whole voice, so her captors would hear without difficulty, she said: “YES, I’m angry. Sometimes miserable. I’ll figure out how to say it.” Cradling the book against her chest, Lily rose and moved to the door. She wasn’t surprised to find it unlocked.

Susan Rukeyser writes stories because she can’t stop. Believe it, she’s tried. Her work appears in or is forthcoming from MonkeybicyleSmokeLong QuarterlyPANKThe View from Hereand WhiskeyPaper, among others. She has one novel out for consideration and another in a drawer. Find her here:

See Susan’s list of 5 Things You Should Read tomorrow in our ongoing contributors’ series.

5 writers from Eastern Europe who might make you cry:

by a contributor

from Anthony Martin, author of There in the Countryside Many Miles Away:

  1. Danilo Kiš
    Recommended: The Attic
  2. Jaroslav Hašek 
    Recommended: The Good Soldier Švejk
  3. Alexander Solzhenitsyn
    Recommended: The Gulag Archipelago
  4. Boris Pasternak
    Recommended: Doctor Zhivago
  5. Milan Kundera
    Recommended: The Unbearable Lightness of Being

There in the Countryside Many Miles Away

by a contributor

Anthony Martin

When I found the postcard from Remy beneath my bed I immediately wrote him at the return address. Mama immediately questioned my judgment.

“He doesn’t live in Paris,” she said as she reached for her coffee from behind her morning read. “He might still be out on the ranch, there in the hills.”

“Yes, near Bordeaux,” I replied. “That’s where he wrote the postcards from.” My mother lowered her book to the table and looked me in the eye.

“That was nearly ten years ago, Andre. Since before your father passed. He won’t recognize you even if you do manage to track him down.”

“Papa loved him,” I reasoned. “So do you, ma. Remy is blood.” But she wasn’t looking at me anymore. Her gaze was elsewhere, unfocused and lost outside the kitchen window. We were quiet for a while after that.

I left for France the next day.


I tried to picture my uncle as the airplane lurched into Charles de Gaulle. Remy. I was still too young to make sense of everything when we last visited him, back when Papa was still youthful and Mama could still smile. She says he was my father’s rock after the war, the one he talked about most after coming back stateside. Remy the brother, Remy the sly lady-killer and Remy the antihero were all characters in so many of the stories I was told as a young one, stories Mama will still romanticize today after a bottle or two of Italian table wine. “Out bullshit any bullshitter,” she’ll say. “Sweet talk high-society out of its drawers.”

I hitched from the airport to Gare du Nord and made it with a few hours to kill before the train to Bordeaux. From the shadows of a little commuter café I could see out into the station where the neat rows of tracks stretched out toward daylight, each occupied by an idle train waiting to wind out of Paris and off into Europe: Amsterdam via Brussels; Vienna via Munich; London straightaway.The pigeons came and went more frequently than the trains, descending from the rafters to flap their clumsy wings and skirmish over the scraps that the day’s many travelers had left behind on the concrete platforms. I nearly stepped on a few when I finally boarded for Bordeaux.


Daylight was waning by the time my train reached the origin of Remy’s correspondence and the destination of my own. It was one of those listless places with a long name that starts in the back of the throat and ends beautifully; a place where you always seem to arrive late in the move from afternoon to evening, the streetlamps flickering on and the thunderstorm creeping in.

They’re funny those moments when your mother’s wisdom comes full circle and slaps you upside the head but you’re too far away to let her know—those moments when you’re standing at a nondescript train station in a place where everybody knows everybody but you and the few francs in your pocket have you reflecting on whatever the hell you were thinking when you chose to hop a plane and a train and venture to this corner of the world. I would have liked to tell Mama right then that she was right, that I was dreaming when I got the idea to reconnect what was left of our stateside kindred with what was left of Remy and his after all those years that had passed since the writing I found under my bed was postmarked.

I shouldered my bag and walked into the station hoping to find a bus into town or a word about lodging. I made it as far as the café there, its tables empty save for a lone man sitting at the window in front of a bottle of beer, tilting his paper toward the window for light to read by. When I took a seat not far away the man put down his paper and looked at me cockeyed. “Avez-vous écrit cette lettre, mon ami?” I didn’t follow. I looked for a waiter. I wanted a drink. The man stood up and walked to my table. “Andre?” he said with a gesture toward the paper in his hand. I looked at my handwriting there in his hand, then back to him. “Come,” he said. “You look just like your mother.”

Anthony Martin (@pen_tight) studies professional writing at San Diego State University, writes computer mumbo jumbo for the layman, and remains a hopeless, mixed-breed Slavophile.

This Week in Words – Nov 9

by Treehouse Editors

compiled by Rachel Bondurant

How many male novelists does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Find out here.

Blockbuster Video is closing its doors. (Maybe because the word “video” is no longer relevant?) I’m really going to miss those 4 for $20 DVDs. And absurdly large boxes of candy. In case you weren’t a frequenter of Blockbuster (or are not old enough to really get it, in which case I say to you: ugh), this sums it up nicely.

Margaret Atwood doesn’t have the time for book blurbs anymore, so don’t ask. But if you do, at least she’s poetic when she tells you no.

Anybody who has worked in an office or gone on any kind of retreat can sympathize with this story. Because — who are we kidding? — we’ve all thought about it and you know it.

“Marsupial.” “Spelunking.” “Financial advice.” “Custom ringtones.” “Fuck. Or…rat bastard.”

Five Relaxing ASMR Vidoes

by a contributor

from Mark McKee, author of American Tourister:

When I was younger I used to watch a lot of PBS. Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, The Joy of Painting (with Bob Ross), Reading Rainbow. All of these had such a hold on me, it was like being transported to a different dimension. I had no idea there was a name for this phenomenon until a friend introduced me to ASMR earlier this year. According to wiki, ASMR is “a neologism for a perceptual phenomenon characterized as a distinct, pleasurable tingling sensation in the head, scalp, back, or peripheral regions of the body in response to visual, auditory, olfactory, and/or cognitive stimuli.” It doesn’t affect everyone, and I don’t always experience tingles, but what it does do is help me relax. Only problem, it’s hard to find full-length episodes of any of these PBS programs. Thankfully YouTube has an active community of “ASMRtists” dedicated to studying this phenomenon and paying tribute to the original masters. When life is hectic, I can listen to one of these and feel all the stress flow right out of me. Here are my five favorite ASMR videos. Prepare to chill!

  1. ASMRrequests: Thrifty Thursday: Sea Glass & Candle Making
  2. VeniVidiVulpes: Men’s Haircut and Safety Razor Shave
  3. ASMRrequests: Time Travel Tuesday: Bob Ross
  4. ASMRrequests: Tooth Fairy Tingles
  5. ASMRrequests: Thrifty Thursday: Face Brushing