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.
Category Archives: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.