Week #17 – We are not responsible

Welcome! Here is this week’s Flash, posted in the order received.

The theme is We are not responsible.

Old School by Al McDermid

Verboten by Matt Potter

Casey is a big woman. I was reminded of this at the airport, my hug unable to circumnavigate her.

So Berlin summer 2009 proved challenging. Because fat people were banned from taking the S-Bahn.

Dicke Leute verboten, the black and yellow signs read. Fat People forbidden.

Scales were installed on station platforms. Those who were overweight were turned away.

These were extenuating circumstances. S-Bahn authorities had not kept up regular maintenance. A derailment revealed faults with thousands of carriages. Some train lines went from running every three minutes to every twenty. Others were cancelled indefinitely.

Commuters were also asked to leave bikes and pushers home, saving space on the too-infrequent services. And Berlin newspapers published Die offizielle S-Bahn Diät. It included – as exercise – not taking the S-Bahn, and eating low-fat würstchen.

Still, one day, we shoehorned Casey onto the S-Bahn. Other train-goers glared. And her voice – brash, nasal, American – echoed throughout the carriage: “God, it’s so crowded in here!”

“Yes,” said an older Berlinerin, her English accented. “And you are taking all the oxygen.”

The comment was fair. Casey is a heavy breather.

We soon realised the six-station trip to Alexanderplatz was impossible, and got off at Bellevue. We thought we would work on our tans in Tiergarten. But we were stopped at the entrance to the park by a guard, forbidding grimace barring our way.

Casey was too fat for the park, he said. There is an official allowance of sun per person, and Casey had exceeded the limit.

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We are not responsible by Tom Allman

Slowly, as if this were a horrible dream, he moved the aptly named “Happy Fun Time Incredibly Dangerous Pyrotechnic Device” closer to his charred face meat. “We are not responsible for any injuries that may occur while using this product,” It read. “Hmph,” he croaked, “Damn Lawyers!”

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Fouled Off by Michael Webb

Fenway Park unfolded before us- the left field wall, so close it seems you could reach out and touch it, the sweep of the bleachers in the sun, the overhang where the broadcasters work and where the swells sit to watch the action unfold behind glass. And the people- old men who saw Williams, toddlers who don’t remember 2007, baseball mad youngsters and patient, pregnant wives- a sea of motion and talk, laughter, smells, and colors.

I got these tickets through an amazing series of coincidences, but pass to me they did. I had to ask my girlfriend to come, of course-secretly wishing she had some engagement, freeing me to bring a seamhead buddy to enjoy the best seats I’ve ever had. But of course, she was absolutely free today, so she dug out her pink cap, short skirt, and Ellsbury shirt and joined me.

“What’s this say,” she asked, squinting, “on the back of the ticket here?”

We were late, hustling to our seats as the first inning began. “That’s the disclaimer about how they’re not responsible if you get hit by a line drive or something like that,” I said. “You have to pay attention to the game,” I reminded her.

I heard the crack of the bat, and started to turn my head to see what happened. I heard it the same time I felt it-a soft crunching sound of something impacting my head from the side right before everything went black.

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Afghanistan by Matthew A. Hamilton

Nothing in life is permanent. That is what Matt is thinking as he watches Jason fall into a muddy rice paddy. Jason’s thigh explodes like a shattered lava lamp. He hits the sticky ground hard with a plume of milky blood.

“Corpsman!” Matt yells. “Corpsman!” Jackson is there in seconds. He jams his hands and tools inside the wound. Enemy fire is constant.

“The trees!” Sergeant Randy Miller orders. “”Fire into the goddamn trees!”

Automatic weapons fire blazes the air. Jackson drags Jason to safety, works quickly to clamp the artery shut. But it’s not working. Jason is turning white, going into shock.

After several minutes the firing stops and three Afghans are dead. The area is secured.

Matt runs over to Jason. “How’s he doing, Jackson?” Matt asks.

“We need to get him on a chopper,” Jackson says.

“One’s coming in a bit,” Miller says.

They all know what this means. Matt turns to Jason. “You hang in there buddy. Help’s comin.’” The chopper touches down and three Marines pick up Jason’s stretcher and haul him inside. Matt removes Jason’s dog tags, then lifts his hand in the air, spins it with a circular motion. The chopper is off in seconds and the remaining seven Marines pack up their stuff, prepare to continue their overnight patrol.

Matt slumps to the ground, buries his face between his knees. “It’s not our fault,” he says to himself. “It’s not our fault.” Jackson comforts him as best he can.

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Blue Sky Theory by Susan Gibb

I saw it coming. No one would listen. Said it was ridiculous to believe that the stars hold up the sky like pushpins. That as the stars are blown out like birthday candles, the sky would come crashing down. I learned to just keep my mouth shut. I didn’t think it would happen in my lifetime anyway.

The reports about global warming, however, concerned me. I looked for a connection. Whether the sky started drooping in places as it came unstuck and affected climate, or if warming was responsible for putting out stars before their time.

I tried to talk about this with my wife but she gave me that look of “oh dear God, please don’t start that again.” This reaction from someone who supposedly loves me a lot discouraged me from bringing it up to anyone else. Then I thought of Charles.

Charles worked in the lab. I’d spent time with him over some projects. Charles is weird but he does know his stuff and I trusted him more than anyone to at least consider the theory. He’s not one to shuffle off blame either. So, I told him. He listened.

Then it happened. Thanks to Charlie we had time to prepare. When we, possibly the last three survivors (I forced my wife to come with us) emerged from the shelter, we had a whole new set of problems to face. Did you know the beautiful blue sky is actually the consistency of melting fudge?

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Substitution by Stephen Hastings-King

Once there was a man who wrote in code. He was comfortable among substitutions. He never spoke about work. He never spoke about other-than-work. One day he was killed. He was stuffed into a duffel bag and left in a bathtub. Some weeks later he was found by mistake. Soon a story surfaced about a man who thought in code. It said he was comfortable among substitutions. He never spoke to anyone about work. He never spoke to anyone about other-than-work. One day he was killed. His body was stuffed into a duffel bag and left in a bathtub. Some weeks later he was found by mistake. Once there was a man who worked in code. He was comfortable among substitutions. He never spoke about work. He never spoke about other-than-work. One day he was killed. He was stuffed into a duffel bag and left in a bathtub. Some weeks later he was found by mistake. Soon a story surfaced about a man who thought in code. It said he was comfortable among substitutions. He never spoke to anyone about work. He never spoke to anyone about other-than-work. One day he was killed. His body was stuffed into a duffel bag and left in a bathtub. Some weeks later he was found by mistake. Once there was a man who wrote in code. He was comfortable among substitutions.

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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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Bayou Sunday by Ramon Collins

Shadows grew longer. Across the bayou a lonely crow put in a long-distance call to an old girlfriend. Alvin bent forward and wiped his forehead with the front of his T-shirt. “Have mercy, it is hot. Let’s peel off some clothes an’ dive in.”

“Too many cottonmouths ’round here,” Lottie said.

Alvin scooted nearer to her. “You got one nice-lookin’ built on ya. That’ll sure bring out the nature inna man.”

Lottie leaned away. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“L’see how big they are.”

Lottie jumped to her feet and jammed her hands onto slim hips. “No way–“

“Gawdammit, there you go gettin’ all riled-up agin. One little peek will hurt none. Please?” he pleaded.

“No.”

Alvin stood and yawned. “Man can’t always be held responsible for what happens — I better mosey on back. Fish ain’t bitin’ for shit, anyhow.”

“Fish don’t feed good ‘til the sun drops.” Lottie glanced around. “Oh, all right, but you can’t touch.”

She unbuttoned her blouse halfway down. Alvin’s eyes widened. “Mercy! Kin I touch just one?”

“No, you cannot.”

“Just one?”

“NO!”

“Gimme a good reason.”

Lottie frowned. “There’s a real good reason.”

They fished in silence for awhile then drew in their lines, packed the fishing gear and trudged to the road that led back to town. A half-mile down the road, Lottie turned off on a path.

“Be fishin’ next Sunday?” he asked.

She paused, but didn’t look back. “I won’t be fishin’ with you anymore, Uncle Alvin.”

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Every Little Thing by Catherine Russell

I’m not hurting anyone.
I’m just buying shoes
(probably made in Chinese slave labor camps)
or eating lunch
(of slaughtered animals)
or having dessert-
(made with cocoa harvested by child slaves)…
I didn’t know.
I didn’t want to know.
I just want to be left alone.

I work hard. Don’t I deserve to live my life without getting hit over the head
for every little thing?

Who was it that said, “Life’s about the little things…”

Oh, Shut up. I’m a responsible person.
I’m a responsible person-
I pay my bills, my taxes, donate to charity-
I’m responsible.

So I’m not responsible for the way the world is.
It’s everyone else
but me.

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Statistics (Walking Through Lexington Market on the Way to Work) by Linda Simoni-Wastila

At the metro, I don’t take the escalator – too many pick-pockets. My feet crunch on the abandoned peanut shells, cigarette butts, and gnawed chicken bones littering the granite steps. A covey of young men loiter by the exit, voices excited, muscle tees framing black-inked tats. Absorbed in their furtive closed palm exchanges of rolled-up bills for baggies, they ignore me.

Outside, summer’s swelter carries the usual market smells of over-ripe fruit, worn-out peanut oil, and stale urine. I walk quickly, breathing though my mouth. Around the corner I bypass a puddle of vomit and almost trip over the legs of a woman propped against the Market’s brick wall. Sweat pours down her face; I fight the strong urge to yank off her puffy purple parka so she can cool off. She stares at me, eyes filmy from glaucoma or some other affliction, but I walk past, averting my gaze to the crab grass pushing through broken concrete, the spent condoms, the empty vodka nips rolling at her stockinged feet.

Campus security patrols the intersection. We smile at each other, as we do every day, small reassuring grimaces. The ham and Swiss hangs heavy in my lunch bag like a bad conscience. The light changes. I hurry across to the air-conditioned safety of the hospital, to the day of running yesterday’s numbers: admissions, discharges, dollars, death. But first, I stop for a latte, hoping to usher energy enough to feel the morning’s sting.

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The Waiver by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

Emotional distress, injury, acts of God, acts of war, lightning…

—Bubonic plague, really?

—Madam, you’re not required to read it. The gray-suited functionary scratched his mustache. He would have to trim it soon or face regulation court. Mandy knew how unpleasant that could be; last time the computer had sent her to . . . she couldn’t remember.

. . . inappropriate desires, police actions, alien abductions, oil spills . . .

—And spontaneous teleportation?

—As I said, the Corporation does not require . . .

—I won’t sign what I haven’t read.

—Does reading it make a difference?

. . . cracked gears, sonic booms, brainwashing, rabies . . .

—If the Corporation hadn’t lost my . . . friend, I wouldn’t need to enter the Zone at all.

. . . green flashes, salmonella, death, undeath . . .

—Gina signed the waiver you’re reading now. All employees do, and it clearly states that we are not responsible . . .

— . . . for unexplained disappearances.

—Then you’ve reached the end.

Mandy nodded and scrawled her name across the screen. She handed the pad to the gray-suited functionary, who glanced at it before pressing the red button on his desk that opened the door to the Zone.

—Call from any white phone when you’re ready to leave, but remember, if the circuits are down . . .

—I know: ‘we are not responsible.’

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Live by Susan Tepper

You spill ice cream down your front and he laughs and calls you a slob. That isn’t exactly the way you thought this date was going to play out. “What kind of guy doesn’t reach for a napkin?” you say.

“We are not responsible,” he says quite matter of factly.

Now what kind of person calls themself we?

Another bit of weirdness, you’re thinking, tabbing up five on his part. Plus his name which is ridiculous for a grown man: Ricky. Not Rick, or Richard, or even Dick (which you hate) but Ricky.

“We?” You grab a napkin off the counter before more ice cream can slop down the cone.

He’s watching like you aren’t here, as if you are a TV show.

“I’m live,” you say and lick the sides of the cone.

“I don’t like strawberry ice cream,” he says. “Reminds me of blood.”

“Oh yeah.” You lick with more ferocity. “You mean like period blood? Is that what’s bothering you, Ricky?”

You smirk at him over the cone.

He doesn’t answer.

“Ever fuck a girl during her period?”

“Shut up, Wilma!” He actually covers his ears.

“I’m live,” you say. “I’m live and I’m bleeding.”

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I Wanted You As My Friend by Derin Attwood

Mrs Marshall was a monster. She should never have been a school librarian. She had set ideas of what children should read. She consistently underestimated their abilities, handing them books she chose, rather than helping them explore new worlds.

The first book Amberly was intrigued with was War and Peace. She was six years old and delighted with the pictures the words drew in her mind. Of course she didn’t understand it all, she was six for goodness sake, but she understood enough to want to read more.

It was taken off her, and she was handed a Janet and John book. Five words per book. Boring. She carefully put J&J back on the shelf and picked up the heavy tome.

Mrs Marshall swooped, grabbed it, put it on a high shelf and banned her from the library … for two long years.

Amberly was bereft. When reading time came, she had to read her exercise book. She wrote stories in one and read them.

When Mrs Marshall found out, she took that off her and made her read her maths book. So Amberly dreamed, dreamed of the stories she would write.

She asked her Mum to buy War and Peace, so she could read it at home. In her wisdom, Mum did.

When Amberly was ten, she left the school. Before going, she said goodbye to W&P checking to see who had borrowed it. There were no names on the card. It was the loneliest book in the library.

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The Cyclical Night by Nicolette Wong

Her stiletto heels are drawing music on the cyclical night. That’s all she cares about—even as her husband weeps in a reclining chair, his accusations like a ghost wind blowing through their soon-to-be vacant apartment. As she speaks she breathes life into space again, leaving behind the moment when she thought herself pregnant: the panic, the fear of confinement and guilt over the phantom fetus growing in her womb. A throbbing life one had to take responsibility for, a life born out of a marriage without love. How could she—or anyone else—bear such cruelty?

‘The baby never existed. It was a mistake,’ she says. He doesn’t believe her. Years have passed; he still fails to taste the wildness in her smile. No, she doesn’t lie. She has only willed herself to live a promise she made, in her youthful days, until the phantom fetus came calling: ‘Come and sign our freedom away.’

Her man trails on, haggard and stunned. He stares out of the windows as if the drama would pass with the next hurricane. But the roof of their domesticity is shaking, ready to be blown away along with other houses in their neighborhood. All is growing fainter at the end of the road where an accordion is playing: her future.

‘This is what we’ve come down to,’ he says.

‘We’re not responsible,’ she says.

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Revisitation by Kelly Grotke

I knew he’d come. There, by the doorway, the middle-aged guy, the one with the red jacket over his arm– see? No, he won’t recognize me, I was always behind the camera. Now. He’s going over to that newspaper somebody left behind. Look at him. All this and he still reads newspapers. Watch his hands, tell me what you see, I swear the key to it all is somewhere in those hands.

I don’t know how many times I’ve watched the footage I shot that day. Sometimes I just sit in front of the screen, I just sit there at night, while it plays over and over again. You remember , everybody remembers – he stood beside his son’s coffin, that gesture – right? That hand. Reaching out to touch the coffin, like it was alive and dead at the same time. I know what I saw because everybody goddamn saw it. I don’t care what happened after that, what it became and where it all went. I want to start with the reality here. It’s all about the reality here. I want to start again, from nothing, and then maybe I’ll understand. That’s why, really. That’s all.

There’s history there, see? Look at his hands. Only a few tables away, flesh and blood. What? Just a little longer, I promise, I just have to watch a little longer. Please just stay with me. Just a few more minutes. Then we can go, I promise. When it’s over.

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Conjugation of Responsibility* by Dorothee Lang

I am not responsible for
it, the divorce, this post, past mistakes, driving drunk,
the choices you make, what other people lack

You are not responsible for
being down, anything, anyone else, your feelings,
suffering, what people think about you, paying debts

She is not responsible for
breaking up, failure to meet the deadlines, damages,
her husband’s actions, many events, being raped

He is not responsible for
his father, a group of supporters, the contents of pages,
his behaviour, the breakdown of peace, this dilemma

We are not responsible for
lost or stolen valuables, data attacks, what Iran did,
Electricity Crisis Change, them, lost brain cells

They are not responsible for
their own criminal behaviour, Hitler, any shortcomings,
the current economy crisis, the actions of people

(* based on conjugated “not responsible for” google search results)

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Just Listen by Marty Brick

Warm summer evening, the kind that radio loves. Tv’s on the fritz. Lou (regular), curses Obama as bartender Marty futzes with a radio. It crackles to analog life. Old-school country, and Brady (semi-regular) applauds. “Different station,” says Marty. DJ mentions “Abilene” and Lou slurs, “shit, it’s coming from Kansas?” Beautiful anomaly, Brady thinks. Thank you, atmosphere.

Jess strolls in. 22 and wearing shirts with feminist slogans, she doesn’t belong. But she amuses the old-timers. Mostly likes to mingle with her old History teacher. “Evening, Brady.”

Jess pontificates something she read online. Lou echoes or argues, hard to say, as Brady’s attention tightens on the radio. ♫ summer dress…lazy days…. ♫

“…why the hand-basket, I ask:” Lou.

“You gotta agree,” Jess beckons.

“Don’t care,” Brady mutters and exits. They chased off the radio, and he hopes, by miracle of summer, it’ll hum in the long grass out back.

Seconds later Jess says, “Something wrong?”

“Something’s right.”

“You taught me to care about those things.”

“I did?” Shrugs. “You ever really look at stars?”

“Sure. Beautiful.”

“No. Really?”

“We won’t be able to… greenhouse gases…”

Brady isn’t listening. The stars free-associate into snowflakes, falling in Cleveland. He’s young and writing poetry in an apartment shared with a woman like Jess. He’s killing inspiration to celebrate grief. He’s socially-conscious, but was he awake?

How’d he teach Jess to mimic that? Didn’t mean to.

“Let it go,” he croons, hoping to change her, to absolve him.

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Beware the fever of manifest destiny by Ryder Collins

It first starts when he blocks the peyote scene from Young Guns. You’re here and here and there. He moves me. She’s my butterfly. His voice gets slurry.

Salty.

But, I’m no Danaus plexippus; I don’t like milkweed. My wings are stuck together and I’m shaking from his tremors.

I’m jealous of his mania. I want to cut open his skull, watch the neurons run wild through the West. Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Philips riding ganglions to their deaths.

The bed’s empty now; is he gonna go Lone Ranger on me?

I’ve signed treaties; I’ve made speeches. He parodies, he says put pen to parchment, he says put your mark here, he says…you’re my little masochist, he says, there, there.

All night, he clicks through channels, receiving signals from sentries stationed in the badlands, the borderlands, on the frontier. He strategizes, positioning cigar and garter forces. My general does not dream; I’ve tried to dream for him.

My dreams are always always bullets of love; his nondreams are “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.”

He sings and waits.

Soon he’ll see soot and ash fall outside; he’ll smell the coal of an oncoming train. High noon: he’ll think he’s all alone. He’s got a pocket watch from a father he forgot; he’ll unpocket the watch, unholster his pistol, not even look for me, and ride off.

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Duty by Elizabeth Jameyson

Two girls, twelve years old, run down San Pedro Avenue past the market, the middle school, seven driveways, their small chests heaving. The smooth soles of their Mary Janes keep slipping on the gravel driveways.

Two men in a rust-orange van bear down.

A cop car stops at an intersection half a block from them. The girls offer brief prayers of gratitude as relief makes them slow. They raise their arms in unison, waves big enough to topple a barge. The cops smile, eyes dim. They wave back, big grins. Turning right, away from the girls, the driver says, So nice to see kids that excited.

The first girl slips trying to resume her speed, catches her footing, and tears around the side of a house and into the alley. When she looks back, her best girl friend is not there. She doubles back and sees the van door closing, a Mary Jane dropping out. She makes a panicked decision to ignore her mother’s warnings of stranger danger.

Three loud bangs on the door of the house whose yard she just tore through. A middle-aged woman, cigarette dangling from her lips, small tears in her flamingo pink camisole bulging with flesh, answers the door. The little girl shrieks her story. The woman, thank you Jesus, gets it and phones the police.

The cops come back, lights flashing. They see one girl, and the absence of one girl. Glancing at one another, they wipe any recognition from their eyes.

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Roadkill by Shelagh Power-Chopra

When I hit the dog, Abe screamed like one of those girls in a Japanese horror movie–a shrill wail that went right through my skin. I didn’t feel much as I got out of the car–I was more annoyed at the scream, the icy air around us and our eventual destination–his parents, the club, small talk, all that drunken insignia. I watched him as he examined the dog, patting its stomach, searching for signs of life. The dog was certainly dead, one ear was torn off and you couldn’t make out much its face; it looked like one of those old family photos where there’s something blurry in the background, something or someone you can’t really make out. I just couldn’t associate any feelings or memories with the dog, as I had never had a pet as a child. Dogs were like overgrown rats; I was always irritated when people spoke endearingly of them as if their own spouses had been regulated to sheds while animal and owner trolled the streets. “It’s dead,” was all I said but Abe frowned and tugged at my sleeve. I looked at him, at his ridiculous black trench coat and pulled it off his back and threw it over the dog–but you could still see it’s feet, isolated as if in mid run. Then, I felt a sharp pain in my stomach, a swift jab as if the nasty, little world had come rushing right in.

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Kanashibari by Guy Yasko

The wind pushed from the tunnel tells the commuter to close his book
and tuck it away. A figure in red bisects the newly vacated block of
space and consciousness. The commuter understands immediately: the
figure’s speed and trajectory imply intersection with the train. And
yet only the suicide moves. No one makes a sound.

The commuter tells himself that he is no Lord Jim, that no one was
responsible, but rationalisation opens into memories of the
platform. Paralysis revisits with each replay. The train is too close,
the man too fast and too far. He sees it as if on graph paper, the two
vectors narrowing the horizons of imagination to the point where no
action has meaning.

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Signs by Al McDermid

The signs were clear, clear as the oily waters of the Gulf of Mexico; clear as the sky above of the burning lungs of the earth; clear as the melt water from the last glacier.

The temperatures rose, breaking records, and drying up lakes, leaving fields to die of thirst, breeding famine.

Sea levels rose, swallowing islands and nations, while dead zones flourished and fish populations crashed.

Habitat destruction and the Holocene extinction sped on, 1000 times faster than average evolutionary rates, wiping out plants, mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and arthropods; 875 documented cases, closer to 20,000, perhaps two million.

And still we built because still we bred, like rabbits, or rats; Bred like cancer, killing the host.

Clear signs, yes, but also obscured, obscured by desire, want, ego, rhetoric, politics, greed, myopia, wealth, comfort, hunger, distance, media . . .

Plus, the other signs were assuring and ubiquitous. These signs told us that ‘We Are Not Responsible’.

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Responsible by Kim Hutchinson

Yesterday, she dazzled. Professionally brilliant, she sprinkled starlight and success over the meeting.

Twice they cut her contract.

This morning, she woke to the banshee: “Individuals must get up early and put in a full day’s work in this economy!”

She smashed the button, breaking the radio. Where? she raged. Where?

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Petshop Girls by Doug Bond

“Although many people think that Albinos change during their life, they actually don’t.” Metzger had been talking to the lady with the pigtailed girls for a long time. After some more back and forth she freaking said yes. Her husband would be in touch to arrange delivery. My stomach was in knots.

She was a beauty. Not the lady. No, she was a snub nosed lizard like her pissy kids. Janine was the beauty. I’d been riding my bike to the shop all summer, since the day she arrived back in June. Metzger noticed me hanging around, said, “Hey kid, I want you to meet Janine.”

She was incredible. Not at all slimy. Smooth. I felt how strong she was. Then she began to move. Metzger pulled me off, not nervous, just moved in. “She wants to wrestle,” he said. Then he laughed “Cant be responsible for losing another kid that way.”

When the snout lady went to the register, her little oinkers stayed by the cage, squealing looking in at Janine.

I walked up and told them, “She uncoils 15-foot, weighs in at over 170 pounds.”

“We know,” they said.

“Oh yeah,” I said. “What else do you know!”

The fatter one said, “Her name’s Janine and she’s a Pure White Albino Anaconda.”

The other said, “My Mom’s buying her.”

I looked into the enormous glass tank. Janine slid down close. I could swear she was looking right at the girls, her eyes darting back and forth between them.

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Owe Love by Steven Stucko

A man wearing one of the ubiquitous Jason Mraz fedoras and sits next to a man snapping his newspaper, trying to find the fold. He tosses the paper, dated 9/2/10, on the seat and the hat man reads the headline aloud: “’renowned physicist Stephen Hawkings changes his theory on the origin of the Big Bang from God to gravity,’ how potentially Copernican.”

The nun sitting across from them clutches her iPod like a crucifix and lowers the volume of her soundboard bootlegged Melissa Etheridge to better eavesdrop.

“Maybe this will help people take responsibility for their own divinity and make clearer that the objective morality and personal accountability we largely project on deities and institutions is, has, and will be in us all. Our soul is ours; we share the “Over-soul,” the common heart. The a priory awareness we are gifted by our nature, independent of sensory data, is the foundation of our being. We are untaught this by fear-filled subjectivity. “

He continues: “While some theists consider mans’ “version” of morality as biological adaptation, a herd morality, and a mere aid to survival and reproduction, the true nature of our responsibility rests in our souls. We know to work toward the light and not to the black holes.” We know right and wrong.”

Gravity? Just watch the tides, ask a hospital worker if it’s busier on nights with a full moon, or simply drop an apple. Go with positive energy. Our only responsibility: to love.

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We are not responsible by Darryl Price

for airplanes that lose their
precious bombs like someone’s been

careless in spitting one rotten
tooth after bloody rotten tooth
all over the greenest of

forest grounds like saliva covered
seeds with no more thought
to the consequences below the

radar than to the awakening
hunger pangs of yet another
dying day for the poor

disfigured animals who used to
be gently drinking children or
for the murder of ancient

and wise guardian trees in
the night for starved dogs
who forever endure their tortures.

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Knaves of Spades by Walter Bjorkman

“Acey-deucey, pot it!” The smile changed to fuckit when another Ace popped up. “Sheet, that’s it man, I’m busted.”

“Damn stupid game anyway, no sure winning hand in the game. I shouldn’t even be here, I should be back with my Carmen doin’ the nasty.”

“How’d you wind up here, anyway?” Phil swooped up the sixteen bucks in the pot as he calmly hit on Jack-seven and drew a ten, going against the odds. He knew when to stick the dagger.

“Fuckin’ Pops, thought I needed ‘direction’ or some BS. Truth is, he just didn’t wanna pay for school.”

“Hey, I didn’t wanna be here either” Eddie chimed in, sympathetic to Jackson’s losses. Eddie mostly came out even, letting luck fall on either side to the other two. “Damn woman left me, I signed up in anger, by the time I got my head back, I was here.”

Phil was silent, thinking about what local he could get down with long enough to blow his winnings.

“So out with it, what happened to you, Phil-fuck?” Jason wanted to screw with Phil’s high.

“Me? Ahh, had nuthin’ better to do, dropped outta HS, couldn’t get a job that paid anything, figured here I get room & board and a few bucks too.”

“Get offa your fuckin’ asses, slackers, we got some gooks to check out.” The lieutenant was in no social mood as the three picked up their weapons from the My Lai ground on March 16th, 1968.

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Other People’s Children by John Wentworth Chapin

Jocelyn has always been a special child, and that’s just the way it’s always been. Other children fidget, cry, stamp their feet, get runny noses – but not Jocelyn. Pageant kids are usually better behaved than the non-pageant variety, of course, but even so, Jocelyn is a standout. Of course Teddy and I have loved her with all our hearts her whole life, but it’s almost like she just knew how to act regardless of the coaching. I watch the other mothers smile with their mouths and not their eyes when their girls are on stage, but when Jocelyn does her talent routine or her Promenade, I’m relaxed. When I look in some of those poor little girls’ eyes, I can almost see that they don’t like this: they don’t like the mascara, they don’t like sequins, they get tired of their dance or majorette routines. Sometimes the mothers hiss under their breath or the child rips off a false eyelash in front of a judge. And that’s where I draw the line. Children should not be made to do things unless they want it. It’s like Oriental sweatshop children – they don’t want to be there. Jocelyn wants to be there. Every bouncy ringlet, every crisply executed split, every careful moment of eye contact with each judge: you know Jocelyn wants to be there, and the judges know it, and the other parents know it, too.

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Ordinary Boys by Michelle Elvy

Jersey (not Jozefow), 2010 (not 1942)

When asked why he did it, the boy averts his eyes, fidgets. He does not lie, but he cannot face the truth. His lip trembles and he shakes when shown the photos. When asked to describe his role, he employs the passive voice and talks about others: I was told… They insisted…When pressed for an explanation, he refers to a chain of command: I did what they said. He talks about the older boys, the way he wanted to belong, the way he went along. When asked if he pulled the trigger, he nods and shrugs. And when forced to talk about what really happened in the woods, he cries at the memory — the shallow grave, the waste of life. He did not want to shoot the dog, you can tell. There is no hate in his eyes, no fanatical glint. He is not accustomed to such cruelty.

He is an ordinary boy.

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The Editors of 52|250 wish to thank Al McDermid for his photograph, Old School. He had this to say:

Al found this old one-room school house last August, while driving along Highway 1 on the northern California coast, just south of Fort Ross. He climbed a fence to take the shot.The door was missing, and so was the floor, so he not to go in. A big, slate blackboard still hung on the wall, however.

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