Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Flash: On the Barricade

For today, I’m posting a piece of very raw, very unrefined (can something truly be very raw? Or very unrefined? Seems to me that while something can be cooked or refined to varying degrees, there’s really only one raw, one unrefined. Anyway….) flash fiction. I am resisting the urge to edit it beyond taking out a redundant paragraph in the middle where I wrote, reconsidered, and rewrote but didn’t remove that problematic middle. Everything else is as it was written. Call it “On the Barricade.”

The crowd surged like an angry tide, the barricades the strand line that the tide didn’t quite reach, yet.  The voices joined, indistinct, one not being heard above the other. The soldier watched them impassively, as stoic as the red jackets at Buckingham Palace.

One woman dared step out from the crowd, like a shell left on the beach behind the waves. Her blue eyes locked on the soldier’s own, fixing him helplessly where he stood. She probed him with that gaze; it was not angry, but confused. She questioned, and he saw the shine of tears on her cheeks.

She fixed her eyes on his, locking him down as she approached. Close enough that he could see the great white house reflected in them, close enough to see himself – an implacable stone against the tide of humanity.

‘Why?’ Her voice shaking, breaking, somehow heard above the surrounding tumult. ‘You’re supposed to serve us!’

He felt the heat of anger in his cheeks. Anger at himself, or her? Best not to think of that. ‘Ma’am,’ he responded tightly, raising the rifle a bit higher across his chest. “I need you to step back from the barricade.”

I was really trying hard with this, huh? Forget the overwriting and the mistakes and my incessant hammering of the beach and ocean symbolism and focus on what’s happening. This piece wasn’t written last night or last month. It wasn’t written last year in response to the horrific events of January 6. It was written in 2010, a time when I was still dabbling with the very idea of writing, before I had put pen to paper on my first serious attempt at a novel (my crude first NaNo was over a month away) and it very well reflects the growing state of anxiety I was feeling about the good ol’ US of A and where we were going. It could have very easily been written last night or last month or last year in response to the horrific events of January 6. The scrap pile of unfinished work from this period includes a would-be novel about a town that secedes from the country for a day, in protest of federal overreach. It’s all fun and games until the neo-Nazis arrive. Imagine how smart I’d have looked if I had completed that ten years ago?

In the final scene of Pulp Fiction, a movie I still can’t resist almost thirty years later, hitman-philosopher, Jules Winnfield sums up a tight situation thusly: “When I get nervous, I get scared. And when motherfuckers get scared, that’s when motherfuckers accidentally get shot.” Many of the people who descended on the Capitol on January 6, 2021 were scared. They were scared because their Dear Leader had been scaring them from the moment he rode down that escalator, scaring them about what would happen ‘if’–and ‘if’ had happened (oh, and let’s not forget that as early as that 2016, he was also telling his supporters, “The only way we don’t win is if they cheat.” That ground was plowed and sown long before 2020). When motherfuckers get scared, motherfuckers get shot. Since that day a lot has happened, and there’s been a lot of rhetoric about what ‘they’ are going to do to the country if ‘they’ succeed (though I will note that one side is doing a lot of hollering while the other is actually just plain doing). The news that leaked this week about the likely overturning of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (and with the broadsides at Obergefell v. Hodges contained in that document) has scared a lot more people. Count me as one of them. My fear is not just for the women that will be forced into bearing children they don’t want, or seeking potentially unsafe abortions, or facing jail time for going out of state to get an abortion (and if you don’t think some state is going to criminalize that, you’re as naive as Susan Collins); and it’s not just for the folks who are next in the firing line, it’s for all of us. Because when motherfuckers get scared, that’s when motherfuckers accidentally get shot. My fear is that we are heading down a road of protracted, politically-motivated violence. I hope like hell I am wrong.

3 Responses

  1. I’m soooooo pissed off with what’s going on right now. If women can’t have control of their own body, then NO ONE should. If your blood can save another human being, then you should be forced to give blood. If your bone marrow can save another human, you should be forced to give your bone marrow. And if pro-lifers are REALLY pro-life, they need to go after guns next. But will they? Of course not! They just want to control women. It’s sickening.

  2. Apologies for the delayed replies! You are both spot on, it is terrifying, sickening, and all about control. For what purpose? I guess just to maintain the primacy of men.

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