Category Archives: Randal Houle

Sand Like Pearls by Randal Houle

If I could only capture each grain of sand as it sluices down the hourglass, I would place each grain in an oyster, and cultivate every moment into a pearl of memory. Divorce forces my jealousies of time and my greedy hands grasp handfuls. The moments slip away – mixed now with all the other sand, ever-present but indistinguishable.

The sky grays the world around me, the way every day without them melds into the next. Beyond a thick tangle of thorny brush, the highway beckons. I could have selected a more secluded by-way, but the time to travel would’ve been stolen from my children and I promised we’d go camping this weekend. Gray grass, a worn down trapezoidal picnic table made of untreated lumber, and a gray flame consuming a pyramid of tinder in a concrete fire pit completes our campsite.

One of the children laughs. Orange sparks erupt where I feed the fire another log. The second child giggles through half chewed sandwiches of graham, chocolate, and marshmallow. The fire pit glows and radiates us in full color even as the rest of the gray world fades to squid-ink night.

There is a flash and a crack in the night sky. The children shudder and shriek and laugh and I escort them to the tent where we envelope ourselves in sleeping bags. At each booming bolt, the children inch closer, one on each side. They sleep easily. I could too, but I don’t want to miss a moment.

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Everywhere, but forgotten by Randal Houle

The money’s gone. She left in 1971 at the stroke of a pen and then tattooed on specially designed paper.

They spent it, lent it, stacked it, and taxed it.

Until it was gone.

Then they altered, bartered, and simply made more, lots more. With the stroke of a pen they printed billions, hundreds of billions, and then we all learned a new word: a trillion.

One thousand billion, that’s what that is.

They gave it away, threw it around, and told everyone to do the same. And the money rained, because money reigns.

Until it’s gone and someone says, what about gold? With the stroke of a pen they write articles, advertisements, and essays on the subject.

They mail it in, melt it down, stamp it into ingots. It’s a sad joke like a school house bully taking a kid’s lunch and leaving a scrap of paper worth less than the ink that prints it.

And now, I must end this little tirade, for the money’s gone. Like the stroke of a pen with a dry inkwell, a figment. Maybe it never really existed at all.

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Access: Women by Randal Houle

The password to every woman is a multi-layered encryption.

She stretches her naked legs. Like judgment from outside, the harsh light filters through a thin veil covering the window. Put it on the nightstand, she says.

The password to this woman is money.

Her grades are above average. She studies her gender well so she will know how to make society treat her. On weekends, and sometimes during the week, she sips free drinks at a local pub. Her laugh is easy. The guys play pool and strategize. She taunts them with her repudiations. She delights in it. One of millions manages to swim the crowd. He has penetrated her formidable barrier. He buys her a drink. She has already decided to go home with him.

The password to this woman is confidence.

She hunches over breakfast dishes after a long day at work. Her arms are sore and all she can manage on days like this, it seems, is an hour or two of television before falling asleep. Her husband returns from his day. The two exchange obligatory pleasantries. The sparse indoor plants are dying and even the children, who are nearly full grown, have become surlier of late. He holds a heart shaped box to her. She holds up her pruned, withered fingertips at the end of dripping hands. She thought he had forgotten. Today is their anniversary.

The password to this woman is chocolate.

Or try these codes: kindness, respect, listen, give.

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A Job with Flare by Randal Houle

Summer 1987, somewhere in the hills of western Oregon, I stand on my assigned slope. Up here, there are only two measures of time: a tree’s life and the setting sun. At the bottom of the hill there’s a tree line – a far off forest of fir like a wall. When he dropped me here, the foreman said I could break for lunch when the water ran out. He adds that the water will run out if the truck doesn’t come and I pray that the truck is too busy to get back to me.

The sun is hot behind a thin layer of clouds. Not overcast, these clouds magnify the heat, and the light. The earth is scorched, black, smoldering. It soaks up the sun and flares up when I expose a hot spot to the air. That’s when I douse the spot until the cinders are cool enough to touch.

The entire hillside had been cleared and burnt. The fear that employs me is that one of these hot spots will flare up, or burrow through the live forest’s roots – it can really do that – and if it does, it burns down the whole damn forest.

If it did catch, it might’ve been a flare up, or it could have been a natural fire, part of the process. Possibly, but not likely, it was a sixteen-year-old slash burner on mop up duty trying to catch a smoke break in the shade of the tree line.

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At the Border between Cause and Effect by Randal Houle

Last we saw Tom, he had swiped a package of snickerdoodles from the Lake City Walgreens. You may think it a small thing, but I disagree. Soft on the inside with a crunchy cinnamon-sugar outside, and these slightly larger in diameter than your fist, but you’re right, not a major crime to be sure.

The air outside is thick with fog. Small shampoo and conditioner bottles spill from an ice bucket. When the fog clears, there is a view of a large rock painted white and he remembers something about the town’s name. All the signs in the motel are in French and English. He lives on the border between cause and effect – an object in motion stays in motion, unless something acts upon it, or him.

You mustn’t judge: me for telling the story, or Tom for his actions. Neither are you responsible for suggesting he try the cookies. You didn’t say that to him, not directly. Nor did I tell you to tell him, although I nudged you a little and that caused you to ask the question that made him think to do it.

Look, the snickerdoodle package remains unopened. I tell you, he has big plans for this one. Don’t think him crazy. There, he crinkles the package in his hand, just at the edges where the cookie tapers. He won’t touch the cookie, not yet. He still needs it. Why? I’ll tell you tomorrow.

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Raccoon Lodge By Randal Houle

Just uphill from my den, a plain of rock stretches as far as I can see. On the opposite side, there is a group of trees with a pond and I want to take some of the fallen fruit and wash them.

I check the area. There’s the bitter smell of past failures, my brother tried to forage on the other side. He was smashed into the rocky plain until black birds pecked his flesh clean.

These beasts are ferocious and stampede at a moment’s notice. I’ve observed, though, that each day they congregate in vast numbers. Two additional observations: they only stampede from one direction, and two, they never leave the plain. I’ve decided today, when the wheeled creatures congregate, I will cross.

They are resting now. I cross one while it sleeps. Its breath is hot and I scurry to get out of its way. Another looms in toward me, his strange legs rolling. He stops. I run.

Now the creatures seem to be running faster, only in the opposite direction. I had never noticed these. A patch of my brother’s fur is just ahead. He is gone. I got this far by studying the patterns of the herds, but this is new. I close my eyes and run. The giant creatures scream at me, but they cannot get me as I am off the plain.

The fruit here is sweet and the water cool. I think I’ll stay a while.

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No one, Really. By Randal Houle

Meet Tom. He seems very middle-of-the-road, average. He works at Walgreens on the corner of Lake City Road and 145th in Seattle. His till is never off by even a penny. He greets every customer with the same inflection, offers the daily special, and then rings up the purchase. “Our daily special is two for five dollars…” There is no conviction in how he presents the options. If you say yes, he’ll ring up the purchase as if it were completely your idea. If you say no, he continues as if the conversation never happened.

After work, Tom dons a pair of large headphones that play Gregorian chant to drown out the city while he takes a bus during the wet months. In the summer, he walks the three miles to his one bedroom apartment. This summarizes Tom’s life for the last ten years.

“Our daily special is two cookies for three dollars.”

Go ahead, ask him something. “Are they any good?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never tried them.”

You pick them up and add them to the lot. Good job.

Later, Tom ends his shift. As he passes the counter with the cookies under the sign “Daily Special,” he swipes a package and slips it in his pocket. The checker doesn’t even notice. She never looks at Tom.

The next day, Tom fails to show up for his shift and no one remembers the last time they saw him.

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Escape by Randal Houle

It floated downstream. I tracked it from inside a blackberry bush lining the shoreline. The lazy river carried the body like an Irish funeral, on shoulders of tears.

The body, he is after all a man, bumped into a collection of overhanging branches and held there for a moment. The tree had spent its decades-long life bending low to the river, as if to sip the cool water. Now it only held the strap of my dear friend’s suspenders. The man’s body, though my friend had left it, either said goodbye or “come along, it’s not far.” I shifted. Twigs cracked behind me, leaves rustled, and dogs growled. My grip tightened on a piece of bamboo, a hollow we were going to use in the river.

I could nearly feel the dog’s breath sniffing around the brush for me. There wasn’t much more to think about. I pushed through to the tree. The bush sided with the mob, held my every movement. Hatred and malice like thorns dug into my clothes. My friend’s eyes were wide open to the world and I bade his silent but urgent call. Leaving my shirt with the bush, I jumped. There was a splash, and the water was cold, but I moved under the corpse, for after all it is a corpse, and floated downstream.

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Proof of Silence By Randal Houle

One of the first senses a fetus develops in the womb is hearing. There must be a moment where there is none, followed by the newborn’s cries – a primal plea to never again immerse us in soundless oblivion.

Control:
I once obtained a set of noise cancelling headphones. My ears received nothing from the world around me. Where my ears were unable to hear, my mind took over, creating sound to fill the void.

Variable:
But nature gifts to us small glimpses into an unknowable world.

Can you hear it?

It happens every time you sneeze. A moment of solitude for the soul, or what I like to call soulitude. Monks spend a lifetime attempting to create this euphoria, this epiphany of nothingness, this nirvana.

Mathematical Form:
Those that succeed, never come back, else their words nary escape. The waves of sound crushed in an inevitable black hole, an absence and a merging at once. (For absence of all = “o”; and merging of all things = “m” thus, “om” must be the mathematical equation to this problem.)

Behavioral Evidence:
There must be a cocoon of soundless oblivion waiting for us all. One from which not even the mind can recover. (You are free to refute this although soon enough we will all know.) I offer as proof: the final act of mourning people everywhere, the moment of silence – like a desperate attempt to connect with the void and a longing for soundless oblivion.

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Meditations on a Shrinking World by Randal Houle

“I’m not buying.” I wave off the dealer, an urgent skeletal black man. It’s not enough to keep walking, he matches my pace and quizzes me. “Are you a cop, ar’you a narc?” I look him in the eye – not a stare down. Respect the dealer, and they’ll respect you. “I’m cool, I’m cool.” I don’t break stride as I say this.

Urban Meditation #1 –

“There are two kinds of people in the urban jungle: those that move with purpose, and those that rot in place.”

“Could you spare a dollar?” the homeless man holds his hand not far from his heart. His head sags a little. My heart goes out to him. I open my wallet, pull a one-dollar bill, and give it to him. His hand stays in place. Without so much as a thank you he says, “I see a five-dollar bill in there. That would help even more.” After another five and a couple twenties, I walk away.

Urban Meditation #2 –

“Be rich at home, and poor abroad.”

Sunday morning, I walk to the store for breakfast supplies. A man yells on the other side of the street. I decide to ignore it. Half a block ahead, also on the other side, another man yells back. The first pulls a pistol and fires. Blood sprays the changing leaves. The murderer runs away. I maintain my pace.

Urban Meditation #3 –

“Don’t get involved.”

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Disappearing Inc. by Randal Houle

You won’t like this story. It’s the most frightening story I have ever imagined.

It’s not the story about the merits of eReaders versus paper books. As long as you feel good about it and it’s convenient and the price is right and it doesn’t ultimately wind up in landfill with all that corrosive acid eating through it not to mention the unit itself, which will outlive your great grandchildren….

But this story isn’t about that, it’s about freedom.

Remember the flames of hate that consumed piles of books? They weren’t books, they were words. Tyranny’s greatest weapon is the power to destroy words, and the greatest enemy of tyranny is words – especially words organized into books – the pages like phalanx against ignorance.

Despite tyranny’s best efforts, a few tomes escape, hidden away by cooler heads under the penalty of death. I hold these noble people up to you as the true heroes of history.

I told you this would be frightening, but it gets worse.

Take your electronic device, the one manufactured by a handful of companies, which has hidden deep within the architecture the ability to delete at the push of a button. Where will you hide your words when they come for you? There will be no warning. One day, your device will log on to the air and the deed will be done. Your story gone from the tomes of history, and with it, your freedom, snatched from the palm of your hand.

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Cut Deep by Randal Houle

Cutting hair is a singular pleasure for me. When the warden asked if I had any special talents that could be turned into a vocation during my ‘stay,’ of course I suggested I could cut the other inmates’ hair. He said no immediately. “Not you, pick another profession.”

What am I in for, you ask? I’m serving a life sentence for giving a bad haircut. One lousy haircut. I have hundreds of satisfied clients, but apparently, you can get the electric chair for a simple mistake.

So, when the warden said I couldn’t cut hair on the inside, it really cut me deep. It wasn’t what you think, I didn’t murder one of my clients.

He was a walk-in. He wanted a scissor cut. I advised against that. Nearly everyone, well EVERYONE in my shop gets the electric clippers. Scissors are for suckers and I liked watching the ball game while I worked.

I combed out a section of hair from the top of his head. I pinched it between my fingers.

“Hey, that guy was safe,” I said to the television. He was out.

I squeezed the handle. It felt a little tougher than I remember from school, so I really gave it a good squeeze. There were no screams because I had sliced into his windpipe, but the gurgling was my first clue something was wrong.

I’m still waiting to see if the warden will let me cut hair for the other inmates.

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What to Bring to Critique Group by Randal Houle

“Don’t start with the weather, dialog, or use excessive conjunctions,” he said.

Light gray clouds floated overhead and Coldplay oozed out of the coffee shop speakers and the barista asked me four times to confirm my order (black coffee) and the coffee tasted like cheese whiz (like it does when you buy it late night at the local 7-11) and I just wished the day would commit one way or another.

“Well, where should I start?” I asked.

The Novel, my novel, was the subject, but I was having trouble finding the verb. Our critique group featured one of the most knowledgeable yet-to-be-published writers on the planet.

“In Media Res, start in the middle.” He sat up, smiled.

Ooh, it was so simple. I wanted to brain him with my 500-page manuscript. I brought it every week just in case the spirit moved me.

“Of course, how could I have forgotten, the middle,” I replied, not bothering to write down the comment.

“In the end, it may not matter, I’m not such a fan of this genre. I’m more literary,” said the guy who has to explain every week’s submission.

I wondered if I could reach across the table. I might have to get behind him somehow….

“I don’t know how you come up with half that shit,” he added. “What’re you writing there?”

My grip tightened on the pen. Bring 700-page mss. I say, “just a little reminder for next week’s group.”

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Vestiges by Randal Houle

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The Earth is stone, laid bare under an endless sky. All else is rotting flesh and vegetation.

BURIED HERE: THIS DATE AND TIME.

The sod conceals what remains while my tombstone festers, obscured by the surrounding grass. The trees shroud this corner of the cemetery in shadowy stillness. It is a peaceful place of reflection.

Under the loam, a corpse wastes away, feeds the feral growth above while the forgotten granite putrefies in a dense layer of grime, overgrown lawn, and mold.

Even the fruit from the nearby orchard (which I, in part, nourish) batters my stone to rot.

The sinister weight of filth and soil and stillness smothers his voice under all decay and I have lost my sight, my way to the world. The stonework is blind. It is concealed, masked in an unkempt prairie

The familiar has passed, but there are others now, separated by time, bound by genetic duty, or of curiosity.

It has been so long – those early visitors have joined the corpse somewhere. There are still others – if only I could be found. They may trim the grass and scrub the stone with a stiff brush and soapy water. Then I will see the sky again.

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Final Request by Randal Houle

The door opens. More people move in behind. The temperature drops another few degrees, but I feel warmer. No one moves. We all wait at the same speed, the speed of fresh snowflakes floating over ice floe streets.

Cold here, colder still, and still more outside, where winter has the city in its icy grip like death in the throat. I’m not the only one, and that’s no comfort – in fact, it makes this whole ordeal worse. The door opens and more take their place beyond the others.

A layer of sand coats my membranes. My skin glistens, protects the little creatures as they claim their prize. That is our bargain – a lifetime détente in exchange for a feast – although I had never been consulted. It’s an ancient marriage made by some outer space yenta.

Open the doors. Cause me to bathe once more in the full day. Get me out of here so I may remember my family. Let me cut in and hitch a ride with one of the others. Forget me not. No, inter me now. Close me in with my sorrow and allow me rest.

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Brutal Honesty By Randal Houle

My friend Dave once insisted that I have sex with his wife while he watched. I refused, of course. Not out of honor, though — she simply wasn’t my type.

Dave drank constantly. Still, I hung with the two of them because they picked me after my divorce. I lived downtown and Dave encouraged me to “get out there.”

“You gotta get down to the Eagle,” he said.

I trusted Dave’s recommendation and checked it out. Preferring women myself, I thought it was funny that he had sent me to one of Portland’s great gay clubs. The “gayness” never rubbed off onto me, though. I suppose you have to be born with it.

After about a year, maybe two, Mrs. Dave called me. She said she had left Dave and could I stay with him and make sure he stays off booze? I agreed because I had been their best man and felt some obligation to help them work through it.

A little more than a week passed. We repainted the house, fixed things. He stayed sober. The next day I was due to report to Mrs. Dave.

Dave had been drinking that night. I was half-asleep when over a half-fifth of rum went missing. He reached for me under my sleeping bag. I told him no. He insisted. After a short physical altercation, he retreated to the other couch and jerked off.

In the morning, I told Mrs. Dave that her husband missed her and she should come home.

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Unseen Phenomena By Randal Houle

Prologue: Phenomenon

Phenomenon means real. Many people use the word to describe something unreal, such as, “That weekend was phenomenal.” In other words, the weekend was so real, it was unreal, and by unreal, I mean totally real.

Chapter 1: A Blank Page

I have never seen a blank page. Every time a blinding ivory rectangle is set in front of me, my mind puts words on the page. Whether my hand follows to pen something, or my fingers move over keys, is another matter; but the page is never blank. You might describe my having never witnessed a blank page as being phenomenal.

Chapter 2: A Typewriter Make a Mistake

I have never seen a typewriter make an error. Not to say that it has never happened, just that I have never witnessed the phenomenon. If I ever did, I would describe the matter as being “phenomenal.” Typos are almost exclusively the fault of the user. When I was a child, I used to press as many of the keys as possible, so that the metal bars would stick together. Typewriters will say whatever you make them say.

Chapter 3: Blameless Politicians

I have never seen a blameless politician. The amount of money that is thrown around, as if anyone knows what they are doing, is quite phenomenal. By phenomenal, of course, I mean all too real, and by all too real, I mean completely unreal.

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Thursday by Randal Houle

Every Thursday, around 11 am, right after the cemetery where I work receives the daily shipment of cremated remains to be interred, a frail nonagenarian steps out of the driver’s seat of his Lincoln Continental and walks, unassisted, up a flight of twenty granite steps, disappears around a corner, sits at a chair – that I set up two hours earlier along with a small bouquet of flowers, and visits his wife who waits behind a one inch slab of granite. He visits for fifteen minutes, then leaves.

Thursday. The flower delivery is late. The time is 10:55. I speed up the hill. A Lincoln Continental has just pulled up. I know a back way. I set the chair and the flowers. A petal drops to the ground and I pick it up and put it in my pocket. I hear his footsteps — shoes scraping each step as he shuffles his feeble legs up twenty granite stairs. I’m forced to hide around the corner. He visits for fifteen minutes, then peaks around the corner.

“The flower delivery was late. Sorry. I was trying to stay out of the way.”

The man smiles, sighs, and resumes the journey back to his car.

Today, one week after the last Thursday, the time is 11 am. There is no Lincoln. I carry flowers and an urn containing cremated remains up twenty granite steps. The interment takes fifteen minutes, then I leave.

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Leak Soup by Randal Houle

He sat behind a desk, scratching numbers into boxes with a sharp #2 pencil and checking that each row, column, and group carried no repeating numerals. It was a job, and in this economy a decent one. His wife showed concern that it might be dangerous, that people might forget themselves and the long lines might turn into mob violence. In the month that the Don Knotts look-a-like occupied this chair from eight in the morning until four in the afternoon, with an hour for lunch (potato leek soup, crackers, and sweet tea) and twenty minute breaks in between, he had read three novels, played Sudoku daily, and possessed $3 million in Farmville cash (not to mention his beautiful farm. Oh, you should see it.). Not one person had availed themselves of the information he was supposed to provide, which was a relief to the Don Knotts look-a-like because he was not due to receive his training until next month when a manager could be spared. If anyone did show up, he
had been told to direct them to a sign with an 800 number. He possessed no brochures, or flyers.

Was it time, money, resources — that kept people from seeking answers? The Don Knotts look-a-like shrugged. The banner above his head read: BP COMPLAINT DEPARTMENT.

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Buzz by Randal Houle

It’s what my boss calls, “a buzz.” My work never changes from day to day, hour to hour, but apparently, at about 2:30 or whenever the spirit moves him, my boss stands at the door to his office and shouts: “Fifty bucks for the next sale!”

“I’m sorry about that shouting Mrs. Jones, there is a birthday in my office. Anyhow…” I continue with my conversation. Sometimes I tell the person on the phone what is really going on, “Well Mr. Sachs, the boss just let everyone know that there is a bonus for the next sale, but you already told me that you were fine, so don’t worry about that.”

I don’t care about bonuses. I like the job just fine. My cubicle is a corner unit on the outer end, not next to the wall, but out where the traffic is. There are lines of cubicles facing away from the center as if the business needed some sort of bulwark to defend against invaders, but no other clusters like mine exist, and no other cubicles in this cluster stick out into the pathway between the copier and a row of offices.

The footsteps fall in that familiar rhythm I’ve learned to recognize. I know the footfall of every employee here, but this rhythm matches the beating of my heart. She slows. I turn, smile — she smiles back. She picks up her pace and continues to her office.

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Resume of a Thirty-or-so-Hour Day by Randal Houle

06:00 – Shit, shower, shave. One hour commute to my telemarketing job.

07:15 – Exactly seven and one half hours until I can be myself again.

15:30 – Boss’ office. Told to improve or I will be replaced.

17:00 – Drive to next job, eat fast food while editing client’s videotape.

23:30 – Watch David Letterman.

02:30 – Wake up, startled. Run three paper routes.

05:00 – Car, coffee, commute. Back to telemarketing job for Saturday shift.

06:00 – Cannot find office. I usually take MAX from a Park and Ride, but it doesn’t run at this hour.

06:30 – Still driving around downtown, looking for landmarks and parking. Three young men stand on a steep porch — one throws a package through a waiting car window. The driver sees me. I ignore it.

06:45 – I have no idea where I am. I slow down to get a better look at the buildings. The same car pulls up the opposite side of street. A kid runs the package up a flight of stairs. The driver and I make eye contact. My heart pounds. I slam on the accelerator.

07:00 – I park. I’m tired.

15:30 – End of shift, my boss tells me he’ll give me another week. I tell him he can have his week back, I won’t need it.

15:45 – I pull into traffic. The car drives funny. The two rear tires are flat. Still really tired.

19:00 – Tires replaced, commute finished, I fall into bed.

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wait by Randal Houle

I can’t wait. I mean, I can’t. wait, the whole thing is your fault.

my gawd, the pressure to perform and I didn’t even stop by last week, but did you call? text? email? fax? I have a fax machine now, and paper, and ink, well, toner…and I kept the landline and the cell phone and I have unlimited everything but did you look up from your farmville? your island? your sims?

it’s driving me crazy. why aren’t you doing anything? say something.

you have the same 24 hours I do, and yet, here it is, the thing, that I…must…say…is…

forget that, it’s not important, just listen to me now:
you have letters, flowers, fedex, ups, even snail mail, and now email, IM, txt, chat, video, audio, braille…

or you can try one of these: draw with sand, on rock, and in the clouds. you can shout, whisper, rasp, clap, sign, or…are you listening to me?

so you’ve done it, you’ve really done it and now thanks for coming over and reminding me what a shitty friend you are, because I’ve been waiting to tell you about all the ways you could’ve contacted me, friended me, twittered me…but now, I have no time, I can’t wait for you. I. just. can’t. wait.

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White Birch By Randal Houle

Trees. There is a tree every four feet. Stands of pine span for acres, and every once in a while, a deciduous tree — that is one that sheds its leaves every year — bursts through the holiday green like a gay uncle during Thanksgiving dinner. We have every kind of tree — and I have climbed them all. Except for white birch.

I might have been nine or ten, but more likely six or seven, my family crammed into a small compact and dad drove us to a relative’s house four hours away. The manicured lawn presented two climbing targets: a weeping willow and a birch tree, which I mistakenly called a bitch tree. I had climbed the willow before. That left the white birch.

My shoes slipped. The papery bark peeled off where my hands held onto the eight-inch trunk. I shimmied. I ran at it. I even jumped up to catch a lower branch — all efforts failed to get up that tree. Even as I walked away, I looked back and tried to scout a yet-to-be-revealed-to-me way up the white birch.

My mother caught me staring at it through the window. “What is wrong with your eye?”

My left eye had swollen to the size of a baseball — except baseballs are not red. Later, I explained to the Doctor, “I tried to climb the white bitch.”

“You’re allergic,” the Doctor said. “Stay away from White Bitches.”

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A VEGAN BRINGS A GIRL HOME TO HIS FAMILY AND… by Randal Houle

“Don’t say anything that would embarrass me. You know.” My vegan son said.

“I would never do that, son.”

Kaden announced two years ago that he was a vegan. I accommodated this: no meat, no eggs, no dairy, nothing from an animal… not even honey. Sometimes, we prepared two meals, but we also ate together.

In his senior year of high school, he had invited his sweetheart, also a vegan, home for dinner.

“Just don’t show her the naked baby pictures and the ones with me taking a bath with bubble head and bubble beard… just be normal, okay?”

I snickered and his mother responded, “We just want you kids to have a good time.”

“Huh?” The doorbell rang and Kaden, the vegan, ran around in a circle, patted his straight emo hair, and then answered the door.

We ate Mediterranean: couscous, falafel, baba ganoush. I had learned a lot in two years.

“Everything was delicious.” The girl with the straight black hair and red tips said.

“We’re glad you enjoyed it.” My wife replied. Kaden stared back at her, ready to intercept any stray conversation.

“Have you always eaten this way?” The girl asked.

“Oh no,” I said. I could see my son’s eye between strands of hair. “Couple months before my son made the announcement, we had a barbeque at my buddy’s house. The steaks came out incredibly rare. You should have seen my vegan son. He was licking the blood off the plate.”

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Speedy the Slug by Randal Houle

On the news, the economy is all bad, but you’d never know it from my viewpoint washing dishes at Chan’s Open Kitchen. Just like that Charles Dickens thing on TV. “Stuff’s kinda good. Stuff’s also kinda bad.”

You can’t see me. I’m all the way in the back drying clean dishes with a filthy rag. My roomate, Quon, waited tables and fed me information about the patrons. After work, we’d get so high that we’d slip off the couch onto the floor and cuddle while the record player crackled and cadenced until one of us realized the needle never reset and we would fall asleep.

“See that guy.” Quon pointed and I searched through a small portal. A man in November courted May. She laughed and pawed at his shoulder. “That rich bastard’s got it all, poor guy.”

Just then, the woman’s mouth dropped. She grabbed her Martini and threw it. The man’s head was drenched. Quon said it was a dry Martini and I howled. I bolted out the back door to the alley and laughed my ass off and that’s when I saw it – a slug racing away, leaving a trail of shiny muck in its wake.

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Happy Birthday by Randal Houle

“I don’t want smoke in my car.” I say.

“I don’t care what you want. This is about what I want.” She holds the fragile fag delicately. It burns and she puffs. She leans back and exhales, aiming at the small opening at the top of the passenger side window. Two months pregnant, we were nine days from our wedding date.

“I don’t really want you smoking.” I put enough conviction in my voice to rattle myself. My cheeks flush. There would be repercussions for my attempt to take charge. There were always repercussions.

“Don’t bother me with this, right now. I’m enjoying myself.” She closed her eyes and exhaled into the ceiling. I pull the car into a small parking lot.

“Don’t bother me… It’s not just you anymore.”

She glares at me. “I’m not having the baby. And we’re not getting married. So just leave.”

The words are like little daggers. I’ve heard them before. The sharp blades penetrate the skin where scabs formed over previous attacks. The eyes in my rearview mirror are not my own, they are of some other man. He looks back at me and pleads for release.

“Fine.” I take the keys out of the ignition and drop them to the seat as I leave. I look back after half a block. Blue smoke billows out the passenger side. I keep walking.

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