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.
Category Archives: 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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
“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.”