online magazine for short, good writing

Month: June, 2014

5 Things That Are Slowly Killing Me

by a contributor

from Rose Wednesday, author of  Cousin Jeff:

  1. My teeth. Why do they feel weird when I drink cold water? Why do they sometimes itch? Teeth shouldn’t itch.
  2. My couch. It’s from the 1980s and I’m pretty sure it’s actually made of asbestos. An identical couch appeared in an episode of True Detective in the home of an old woman who worshipped the devil, which is troubling in a different way.
  3. My eyebrows. They have some kind of horrible eyebrow mange and I really hope no one can see it can you see it?
  4. Hand-addressed letters on nice watermarked paper from places of employment telling me that I am not being hired.
  5. That feeling I get when I suddenly snap back into my body after floating for days in a fugue state, realizing suddenly that I am a woman, that I am getting older, that this (gestures at apartment, at unopened mail, at devil/asbestos sofa, at own teeth) is all real, that this exists, and that this. after all, is what I have to work with.


Cousin Jeff

by a contributor

Rose Wednesday

My cousin Jeff did prosthetics, and when I was a kid I remember being scared to go and visit him in his workshop in back of the house because there were body parts everywhere. Legs and arms on shelves, and hung from chains from the ceiling so they could be rotated, and held in clamps while different components solidified. There were silicone molds of hands and feet, jars of glass eyes. Posters up on the wall of cross-sectioned bodies. When I had to deliver Jeff a sandwich or a beer, I’d open the door a crack, slide in the plate or the can, and then run like hell before I saw something that would haunt me.

The day I found the box turtle with a leg chewed off down by the creek, everyone I talked to thought that it would be kindest if someone took it away from me and quietly bashed it with a rock somewhere. I could see that look in their eyes as they reached for it, and I snatched it away and ran and hid in the one place that even the adults didn’t like to go. I shut my eyes as I went in the door, which was how Jeff was able to sneak up on me and grab the turtle.

He took it over to the work bench and said, “we’ll need to stitch ‘er up.”

I opened my eyes. He had his first aid kit out, and was treating the turtle’s stump with a bottle of peroxide. The turtle had completely retreated into its shell. I stood by the table and watched.

“We’ll put a hot wheels car on ‘er here,” he said. “Or maybe two baby carriage wheels on an axle, with a pad here and a strap here.” He was already drawing in his head as he pointed at the parts of the turtle. “It’ll be the fastest turtle in the west.”

The turtle didn’t live to the prosthetic stage, but I brought him other animals, and started telling people what he could do. By the time I was twelve, we had a host of bionic animals: a cat with a pistoning paw, a very old dog whose teeth were mostly artificial, a large ornamental koi fish with a cleverly-constructed aluminum and ripstop tail.

Cousin Jeff was not supposed to be a good friend for a girl child; he chain smoked and kept girly magazines around, scattered in between his books of medical illustrations. He read them while he ate his sandwiches and smoked his unfiltered Newports. He subscribed to one that was all pictures of amputee girls in boudoir lingerie, and he’d sometimes show these pictures to his lady clients, women in wheelchairs or on crutches, or with one foreshortened arm clutched protectively to their side. Cajoling them into looking at the pictures, they were first alarmed, and then pleased by what they saw, blushing furiously.

My mother ultimately blamed Cousin Jeff and his girly magazines for making me what I was, but if anything, he made me more interested in men than I think I would otherwise have been. He was tender with animals, unapologetic in his yen for his lady clients. And while he never pressed either his cigarettes or his pornography on me, when I stole them from him he seemed proud, almost brotherly. I thought about him while I looked at the ladies in the pictures, and I stared out at his still-lit workshop when I smoked out of the window at night, with Tripod the Cat kneading my legs with a gentle hissing sound, getting piston grease all over the floral sheets.

Rose Wednesday is an MA student in fiction at the University of Maine. She has been published previously in “The Armchair Aesthete” and was the 2013 winner of Maine’s Grady Award for fiction. She writes in Maine and blogs at

See Rose’s list of “5 Things That Are Slowly Killing Me” in our ongoing contributors’ series on Wednesday, June 25.


A Strange Kinship

by a contributor

Portia Watson

It was evening when I arrived.
Through the bus window
The black streets slick with rain
Reflecting the electric white light
Of the storefronts
The booths of vendors selling all
Manner of things to
Those still out traversing the buzzing city.
The stench weaseled its way through
Dark alleys and slithered on its belly
With the cockroaches darting around
Dark corners, finding its way
Into my unsuspecting nostrils,
The smell of garbage, sewage,
And oil frying in pans
The smell of a lesser known part of a
Bustling metropolis.

The colors, the smells, the scores of people,
The motorcycles shooting like pinballs
In between taxis and rickshaws,
The music of horns and automobiles whizzing
Past and the fruit vendors the noodle stands
The knives chopping and the broth boiling
The heaps of amulets lying on tables
The thin briefcases of lottery tickets
The fresh fruit heaped in piles
The dried squid skewered with sticks
The images of the king adorned in gold robes
His majesty with his spectacles donned,
Next to portraits of the Buddha
Eyelids sloping like serene hillsides
Tourists with backpacks and
‘Pretties’ in heels
The Starbucks is next to the woman
Selling the rusted relics of the past,
And no one knows if the dirt upon them is real
Or put there to lure the man in the backpack
Looking for novelty,
Wondering what to do with
His clumsy hands
As he eyes a golden figure
Exotic and foreign,
Towering above the
Palm trees and lotus blooms,
With sloping eyelids like serene hillsides.

Monks in robes the color of ochre and
Traffic cones and the occasional velvety maroon
Walk steadily and slowly
Unafraid of time and ignorant of its demands
Their worn bare feet padding softly against the
Warm pavement
Their skin the color of cappuccino
Their eyes wrapped in wrinkles
Bald heads like buoys
Bobbing methodically
Up and down up and down
Silver alms bowls in their brown
Leather hands,
Shiny glinting things
They are wrapped in their robes
Like bald newborns
A timeless wisdom peering out from
Their young eyes
Peace and contentment woven into the
Fabric of the cloth
Cascading in folds
Down the landscapes of their bodies
But if they have bodies —
I cannot be sure

And each morning at dawn
These worn bare feet pad down the streets
With hearts full of blessings and
Empty bowls people gladly fill
And the strays roam looking for food
Begging for kindness
And they are dirty and they are
Wild but they are not unwanted
For they are living creatures
Like you and I
With hearts perhaps like yours and mine
And so the people feed them
Just as they feed the monks
The people come to feed the sacred
And the profane
And there is not much difference between the two
We all have beating hearts

My mothers and grandmothers
And older sisters and brothers
And fathers and friends,
They bring me bags of green mangoes
And rambutans that look as if they
Came from another planet,
And sticky rice in woven containers
And coconut treats wrapped neatly
In banana leaves
They teach me how to kneel and to pray
With my feet never pointing towards the sacred
And to burn incense to place at the altars
They weave leaves into beautiful forms
With nimble patient fingers
And chant rhythmic words,
The meaning of which is long lost in time
But the meaning is not what is important
In a land of tradition
Smashing chilies with mortar and pestle
Squeezing the lime
And not bothering to slice the garlic or peel off its skin
Their wrists wear thin strings of white
The strings of blessing and good fortune
Strings that have been prayed over by those
With the young eyes full of wisdom.

Nails like almonds
Oval shaped on smooth
Brown hands
That know the earth and everything
It gives birth to
She picks the longan fruit that grows high in trees
She likes the rain, she says,
Walks in it slowly
Letting it soak her skin
And these mountains are her home
She knows their slopes and shadows
Like lovers know one another’s bodies
Her father all skeleton bones and
Doesn’t speak
And I wonder perhaps if there are words
Somewhere in the hollow cavity of his stomach
And if they will ever find their way into the light.

She looks at me with the eyes of a mother
She tells me matter-of-factly
That to be with another human being
One must have endurance
And there isn’t really love left, she says,
But we worry about one another,
And at nineteen I didn’t know anything,
She tells me
As she sips her coffee that is black
Like mine
As her heart beats like mine
And her mother worries because
She does not go to temple but
She points to her beating heart and tells me
With a smile that
Her temple is there.

Sometimes the air here is sticky
But the breeze is always sweet
And the smiles stretch for miles
Sloping like serene hillsides
And everyone is your sister and your brother
And the woman at the noodle stand knows
Your order by heart,
By her beating heart that beats
Like your very own
And you are known by
The word that means
And what a beautiful thing to be called,
And you think that,
Each day you’ve walked these streets
Each time that sun everyone in the entire
Universe watches rise and set
Again runs its course
Your heart swells with the meaning
Of the nickname you have been given
The name that means “fulfilled”
And when you close your eyes
Your heart swells like the hillsides
Like the eyelids of the Buddha
That slope serenely
That have no need to ask for more
Because they are already

After fulfilling a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship grant in rural northeastern Thailand, Portia Watson has recently accepted a fellowship with an NGO organization near the Thai/Burma border. She is passionate about hearing the stories of others, coffee, and exploring the power written and visual art has to enhance our lived experiences.

This is Summer, As Told by Your 5 Senses

by a contributor

from Emily Blanquera and Simon Alford:

Emily Blanquera is a high school student from Dublin, Ohio who likes reading, writing, and theatre, and recognizes that she, as a high schooler, hasn’t done anything of much significance.

Simon Alford is sixteen and loves to read and loves Treehouse.

  1. Sight. The faces of your friends as they laugh about something stupid during rest period at the pool, chlorinated water seeping down from their hairlines onto their sunburned cheeks, mouths full of radioactive nacho cheese, sitting cross legged on a ratty beach towel.
  2. Sound. A bike ride, the tires racing down the sidewalk, the machine gun tat-tat-tat-tat of the playing cards clothes-pinned to the spokes, landing with a thud after every crack in the sidewalk, the skid of the rubber wheels through a puddle, the broken bell pitifully wheezing with each unexpected jostle, the squeal of rusty brakes.
  3. Smell. Fresh laundry as you walk past a neighbor’s house, the detergent wafting through the open windows to mingle with hot pavement, barbecue, freshly cut grass, and last night’s bonfire. A cacophony in your nostrils.
  4. Taste. Cold water straight from the hose during a game of neighborhood kickball, your thirst raging after 45 minutes, the slightly metallic taste a welcome change from the sweat that coats your face in a salty sheen.
  5. Touch. A bonfire, the heat beating at your shins, the grass itchy underneath your crossed legs, a wind blowing against your shoulders, the weak resilience of a marshmallow pressed between two graham crackers, your hands sticky as you reach to itch a mosquito bite on your ankle.

5 Things You Need for the Beach

by Treehouse Editors

by Rachel Anne Bondurant

Summer is upon us, boys and girls. Whether your fancy be pool or river, ocean or the local waterin’ hole, you’re going to need a few things to pass the time not spent in the water. Here are some suggestions from yours truly:

  1. A book, obviously.  I suppose any book will do, but I prefer to read noncommittal narratives when I’m poolside.  You know the ones: the term “beach read” was invented for them.  Books like the Sookie Stackhouse and Vampire Academy series.  Another favorite is Christopher Moore’s Island of the Sequined Love Nun.  If the title isn’t enough to grab you, here’s a description.  If you prefer deep reading in the deep end (sorry), Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins or Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver ought to fit the bill nicely.  (Still Life is also wonderfully weird, and you should read that anyway.)  Something shorter, you say?  Marie Helene Bertino’s short story collection Safe as Houses is beautiful.

  2. A bucket, a shovel, and a flashlight.  This does little good for those of you whose water worlds don’t include sand, but it’s a must for those that do.  Build a sandcastle.  Build three.  Have sandcastle wars.  Destroy everything.  And then when the sun goes down, use the flashlight to hunt for critters to inhabit your bucket (use the shovel for safe transfer from sand to bucket.  Some critters have claws, after all).

  3. Lana Del Ray’s Ultraviolence.  Summertime is the hottest time, but Lana Del Ray’s new album promises to be so incredibly cool.  Start with “West Coast,” and try, I dare you, try not to get the rest.  Album drops June 17th.  

  4. Sunscreen, sunglasses, and lots of water.  Because of course you should.  Be smart, people.  I wouldn’t begrudge you a big, floppy hat, either.  

  5. A camera.  Document that shit for posterity.  Summer comes but once a year, you know.

Honorable Mentions: #4 on this list (no, seriously). And if you’ve got kids, take note.