Jessica Treat

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Jessica Treat

B.A., The Evergreen State College, 1981
M.F.A., Creative Writing, Brooklyn College, 1989

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Biographical Note

Jessica Treat is the author of three collections of short stories: A Robber in the House; Not a Chance: Stories and a Novella; and Meat Eaters & Plant Eaters. Her stories, prose poems, essays and translations have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including Ms. Magazine, Green Mountains Review, Quarterly West, Black Warrior Review, The Americas Review, and Quick Fiction. She received the Dominion Review Fiction Award and has received Artist Fellowship Awards from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts; the Fundacion Valparaiso; and the Civitella Ranieri Foundation. Treat is professor of English at Northwestern Connecticut Community College and lives in a small town in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts.

Publication Type

Fiction

Latest Publication Title

Meat Eaters & Plant Eaters , BOA Editions Ltd., 2009

Additional Publications

Books:

Not A Chance (a novella and stories), Fiction Collective Two / Black Ice Books, 2000
A Robber in the House (short stories), Coffee House Press, 1993

Anthologies:

"Violin Lessons," An Intricate Weave: Women Write About Girls and Girlhood, Iris Editions, 1997
"Honda," Chick-Lit 2, Fiction Collective Two, 1996
"Gunshot," "Home," Word of Mouth, Volume II, Crossing Press, 1991
"Weekdays," "Session," "Sister," "Watch," Word of Mouth: 150 Short-Short Stories, Crossing Press, 1990
"There Was a Woman..." Various Gifts: Brooklyn Fiction of the 1980s, The Fund for the Borough of Brooklyn, 1988

Journals (Selected):

"Fruits of the Dead," Quarterly West, Vol. 46 Spring/Summer, 1998, pp. 133 - 135
"One Man and His Dog," Write Women (UK), Vol. 13, No. 2, Feb 1998, pp. 68 - 70
"Petunia & the Mr.," Seattle Review, Vol. XIX, No. 2, 1997, pp. 141 - 143
"Walking," Epoch, vol. 46, no. 1, 1997, pp. 17-20
"Not a Chance," Hawaii Review, vol. 20.2, issue 47, pp. 73-94
"His Sweater," Dominion Review, vol. XIV, 1996, pp. 82-90
"Home," "Shopping in a Foreign Country," Ms. Magazine, vol. IV, no. 1. July/August 1993, pp. 57, 63
"The Women of Nijar," Alaska Quarterly Review, vol. 10, no. 3 & 4, 1992, pp. 125-129
"Hans and His Daughter," American Literary Review, vol. 3, no. 1, 1992, pp. 73-83
"Ants," Black Warrior Review, vol. 17, no. 2, 1991, pp. 24-36
Honors and Awards:

Fundación Valparaiso Residency Award, 1998, Mojácar, Spain
Dominion Review Fiction Award, 1996
Nominated for Pushcart Prize, 1992
Goodman Creative Writing Scholarship, 1989, Brooklyn College
Mintz Memorial Award, 1988, Brooklyn College
Teaching Fellowship, 1987-1989, Brooklyn College
Willamette Weekly Fiction Contest, 1981, Portland, OR

Publication Excerpt

"Fruits of the Dead,"Quarterly West, Vol. 46 Spring/Summer, 1998; pp. 133 - 135

"Once before you were born, when I was five or six months pregnant, I spent an afternoon in a cemetery." Her son, just turned four, liked nothing better than to hear a story that involved himself, his younger self. "Tell me about when I had a fever," he'd said just the other day, "how my teacher called you and you got a phone call in your class." She'd told him that story many times - it all became story - how she had to leave her students in the middle of a lecture to pick him up and take him to the doctor. He'd been miserable, had thrown a tantrum in the car; she'd barely been able to get him out of the car and into the doctor's (and then everyone staring at them in the waiting room, as if no one else had a child who'd ever misbehaved publicly).

"This was a cemetery in London, a city faraway . . ." She suddenly couldn't remember what had brought her there - and without her husband? She remembered that she'd been walking, walking and walking; she'd worn the wrong shoes, sandals that her heels kept slipping out of. At last she'd found the graveyard - had she been looking for it all along? Had that been her destination, the purpose behind all that walking? She couldn't remember. What she did remember were the berries: big thick juicy blackberries, plumper and tastier than any she'd ever eaten. Purple juice stained her hands, and still she couldn't stop picking them, devouring them by the handful. She'd felt so hungry, she couldn't get enough of them, though all the while she was thinking, these are only so plump and tasty because they're growing out of the rotting dead. It seemed wrong, not healthy, to be feeding her unborn child - so greedily - the fruits of dead people. Though she did not stop herself.

Her legs had hurt, her feet and legs swollen, and the urge to lie down on top of one of the tombstones, granite warmed by the sun, and close her eyes, almost overwhelmed her. The other visitors - stray couples and families - kept her from giving in. She noticed that one family, Iranian maybe (why did she think that?), had brought buckets with them. They were blackberry picking in the cemetery . . . And she'd been furtive, stealing berries by the handful, eating them as she walked where no one would see her, holding back, pretending to study a gravestone, when really it was the blackberry bush bending over it that interested her. Yet this family made no attempt to hide the purpose of their outing. Still, she felt odd, not right, though she did not stop herself.

"And now do I like berries?"

"You like them a lot. Remember in the summer time we go across the road to find them in the woods?"

"Yes, and we bring a cup to put them in . . ."

But they were straggly and few. Often sour, picked before they were ready, and never profuse. Not lush like those in London, but she and her son picked them anyway, because scavenging for food gave them something to do.

"Mom, you know what?"

"What?" she asked her son, her mind distracted, lingering still among gravestones.

"You forgot something."

"What? What did I forget?" she asked, looking at him now, her eyes searching his as they sat next to one another on the living room couch.

"You forgot to tell me about the cats."

"Oh . . ." she said, "you're right - I did."

And so she had. One story always followed the other; that is how she had told it the first time, so that was how she must tell it again.

"Well," she said, "let me see . . . The cats came much later, you know, it was just last year . . . suddenly we had so many, a whole family . . ."

First, a pregnant cat had found them - no, she wasn't pregnant, she'd just given birth, and was on the search for food. She'd been left behind; they'd found her nest with five kittens in the ransacked trailer down the road. They'd taken all six cats in, hoping to find homes for them.

"And what about Bones? You forgot Bones, Mom . . ."

"Oh, yes, Bones . . ." she said, more to herself than him. "Well, one day, not long after we found the kittens, a hungry black cat just showed up, out of nowhere . . . A cat they'd never once seen before, just black fur stretched over bones, so skinny you could see his every rib. They fed him and he longed to be taken into their home, petted and cuddled, but she didn't want him. She was constantly thrusting him out (he slunk in as she held the door open for her son), but he was so persistent, tenacious: crying at the door, then hanging by his claws on the screen window as they ate their breakfast - as if in someone's nightmare - that it seemed cruel not to give in. But she was resolved; he would live in the garage until they found a home for him. He soon grew to a normal size, his black fur thick and shiny again, but she could never get rid of that other image of him, wasted and starving, crying at the door and hanging at the window.

They had tried to get rid of all of them, and had found homes for two kittens, but the others . . . no one wanted them, no one at all; not even the animal shelter would take them. The shelter had so many different stories:

"There's an infectious disease going around right now . . ." "There's been a fire in the basement . . ." "Our cats are in quarantine . . ." "We have a moratorium on cats right now . . ." 'Quarantine,' 'moratorium,' she was sure they just threw around those terms to scare away callers.

Once she saw a notice in the papers about a black cat that had disappeared; the couple was "desperately searching." Suddenly hopeful, she'd called them. On the phone she saw that Bones didn't quite fit the description (no patch of white fur under his chin), but she sensed the couple's eagerness to believe otherwise, and invited them over to see him. For once Bones sat in their living room, licking and preening himself in a cushioned chair, looking as if he'd always belonged there.

Despite his inattention to them, his smaller size and lack of a white patch, the couple almost convinced themselves that Bones was their Blackie. She found herself encouraging them, and when this didn't work (they suddenly emerged, as if from a dream, to announce, 'No, it isn't him"), "Well, why don't you take him anyway? He's friendly and neutered, I'm afraid you'll never find your Blackie . . ." But they left empty-handed.

And then the mama cat got pregnant again. Looking at the cat's swollen belly made her feel ill. Any day there would be even more cats to contend with. "You have to do something," she told her husband. "I don't care what it is . . ."

He made an appointment with the veterinarian. He never described the procedure, only that he'd walked into an office with an armful of live cats, then walked out with two cardboard carrying cases, very heavy ones. There were people in the waiting room - he'd wondered what they were thinking.

"And then Daddy buried them . . ."

"Yes, he took them to the woods." He hadn't described that part to her either, hadn't wanted to. It was something he'd done for her. He'd carried the cardboard cases and a shovel across the road. In a secluded spot in the woods, one not visible from the road, he'd dug a wide hole, then dumped the contents of the two cases in. The bodies fell one on top of the other, the last was Bones, now a good solid weight, his shiny black fur covering up the smaller bodies. Digging farther in the woods, he'd found more dirt and leaves to bury them with. Deep enough, he'd thought. But walking through the path in the woods some weeks later, they'd noticed vultures. What could those birds be after? Without thinking, they'd gone over to investigate. She hadn't wanted her son to see, to know, but it was too late: the giant birds were chewing on small bones.

"What are all those bones? Where did all those bones come from?" their son had asked, and she and her husband exchanged glances. "You deal with this one," her husband's look said, "this is your doing." And so she told her son the story because this is what she'd always done.

"Mom," her son said, nudging her again, "Let's go look for berries now."

"Yes, we'll go," she answered, though it wasn't time - too soon, the sun too faint. The fruits would be only green and bitter versions of themselves, she knew.