Al, Off the Grid

Gabriel Houck

Summer 2017

The security camera outside Morrison’s Party Rentals is lonely. Its job is to document its own solitude. Or its job is to enforce its own solitude, the record of which becomes a movie that almost no one watches. The movie’s star is the beer can that cartwheels across the sidewalk in a gust of wind, or the frantic shadow of the hornet building its nest in the lee of the soffit. The tapes get downloaded each morning by the manager and stored on an old hard drive collecting dust in his office. Eventually, at the suggestion of a drinking buddy, the manager buys a motion-sensor trigger for the camera and ends up saving hours of empty footage each night.

Now the movie becomes a series of vignettes: the story of double-bagged garbage and a persistent raccoon; the story of Dale Perkins’s little brother learning that a Sharpie doesn’t keep a straight line on brick façades the way he’d imagined, and the sequel in which he edits the giant penis he’s drawn with a can of Rust-Oleum so that it looks more like a giant penis; the story of rats, of falling ice, of pigeons startled by lightning storms in summer. The stop-motion details of the seasons creep by in the background, motifs about the patience with which nature plays the long game.

Gabriel Houck’s fiction has recently appeared in  Glimmer Train,  New Delta Review, and  The Cimarron Review; his work has been shortlisted in The Best American Short Stories 2015, edited by T.C. Boyle, and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, where he teaches writing and walks a very good dog.

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