June 4: Flash Fiction Challenge

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at CarrotRanch.com. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

June 4, 2020

When I was a child, I attended the same school for second thru eighth-grade, having lived in the smallest in California county by population. For perspective, Los Angelos County is home to 10,098,052 people, whereas Alpine County is home to 1,146. We had no high school, and the snowpack of the Sierra Nevadas cut us off from those in the Lake Tahoe Basin. So, we bussed an hour out of the mountains into the Carson Valley, where we attended high school in Minden, Nevada. I know what it feels like to be bussed an unwelcomed. And yet…

I can remember the call to order every morning at Diamond Valley Elementry School for seven years. When the morning bell rang, we all proceeded to our classrooms where grades were combined — first/second, third/fourth, fifth/sixth, seventh/eighth. Kindergarteners had their own room and only attended half a day.

No matter our grades or rooms, we all began the day the same way with right hands over hearts, facing a small wall-mounted American flag, and reciting along with our teachers:

“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Justice for all.

From the time I was a small child, before school, I loved my country. I fell in love with my nation at the Bolado Park annual rodeo where four generations of my family rode, three of them bull-riders (I tackled goats and showed horses). The thrill of the rodeo was the opening parade of contestants where buckaroos rode together under the colors of their ranch on their outfit’s best stock with all the silver polished on bridles and spurs. The Rodeo Queen led us behind the American flag. We gathered in the arena, facing the grandstands, the flag in front of us. Then someone sang, “Oh, say can you see…” Our nation’s anthem.

In school, my Washo friends gave me a different perspective on our small county. I learned stories and sought out places where their ancestors had fished and made pine nut flour, finding petroglyphs and grinding holes in granite boulders not far from my house. I loved this ancient history as much as the pioneer history. Driving to my dad’s logging camp, I used to count the number of depressions where Silver Mountain City once stood, now nothing but sunken cellars and a stone wall that was a jailhouse. As a teenager, I helped preserve county documents and recorded archeological sites.

To me, my country was rodeo, history, and education. It was the land of the free and the brave. It was purple mountain majesty.

My patriotism reflected a small-world experience of the American flag. I didn’t put expectations on the flag, but I know I felt proud to be an American, singing along with Lee Greenwood, “Where at least I know I’m free!” Sitting in the saddle or standing with my classmates, I felt a deep appreciation for my country. I recited every school day for twelve formative years, “…and justice for all.” It never occurred to me as a child that the words were untrue.

Decades later, I try to imagine what it was like to grow up reciting those words in school only to experience a different world. I grew up in post-Civil Rights America. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended states’ segregation. I thought my childhood was diverse — I grew up among Portagee and Mexican ranchhands, first and second-generation immigrants. The town’s librarian was British, and a local family adopted two children from Korea. My favorite teacher was Apache, and one of my classmates was Hawaiian. I attended a school funded as reservation education, but it never occurred to me, as a child, to question why there were no black students.

What did I think, that “they” lived elsewhere? Happily? Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance just like me?

Considering that I got to feel like a patriot beneath the red, white, and blue as a child indicates that my own ancestry passed into privilege. I dislike that word, by the way, but it flags a social truth that being white in America is an automatic advantage. Getting to love my nation and believe in “justice for all” is an advantage. Although I dislike the use of labels, let’s sit with its social discomfort of white privilege a moment and examine its current definition:

Social privilege is a special, unearned advantage or entitlement, used to one’s own benefit or to the detriment of others. These groups can be advantaged based on social class, age, disability, ethnic or racial category, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and religion.

Groups, tribes, clans — throughout history, people have pooled resources for advantages to survive. Nothing can be crueler to a human being than another human being. So, when will we learn that leveraging advantages takes away from others so we can have our gain? Can we use our current advantage to lift others up? Can we meet on common ground where no one group has a high spot? What does justice for all look like?

In a NYT podcast series called 1619, host Nikole Hannah-Jones discusses her irritation as a young person with the American flag her black father maintained despite low-paying jobs, no recognition for his military service, and living in a state with high violence against blacks. By high school, she said,

“This big pristine American flag flying in the front of our yard was deeply embarrassing to me and I didn’t understand why he would feel that much love for a country that clearly did not love him. I felt this way all through high school. I was no longer standing for the national anthem. I had stopped saying the pledge allience. And really, throughout most of my adult life, I mean clearly I know I’m American, I was born here, every family member for generations back that I know were all born here, but I never felt that I could claim fully that I was an American.”

That is the shadow life to my own. While I was feeling something as a young American, my black compatriots were feeling nothing. Yet, Nikole goes on to shift her thinking, to come to understand her father’s relationship with the flag. It’s a powerful and authentic look at the formation of a “free” nation whose declaration of independence failed to uphold its core principles. She began to realize that black people like her father believed in the possibility of American ideals.

No longer can I deny what my country is — a nation built on the backs of race-slavery. Not just slavery, but slavery based on a color divide. How does that happen? You have to dehumanize the role of the slave. In doing so, you equally dehumanize the role of the slaver. The society that accepts slavery, putting profit before people dehumanizes itself. The government that establishes law to hold this system in place is injust.

Thus the cycle began with the first boatload of African slaves to American soil. Dark-skinned men and women were easy to classify as others. Privilege went to those who were Christian, white, and land-holders. Never mind whose land they had. In America, justification substituted justice. You cannot have genuine respect for people when you justify stealing land, stealing a workforce, and establishing wealth that demands more land and more workforce. The trickery involved is mind-blowing. The wealthy could not settle lands further west on their own, so they set up governmental acts such as homesteading, and they normalized “manifest destiny.” They convinced the middle class who wanted homes and economic opportunities for their families that they were doing God’s will to swarm like locust, kill the buffalo, and dispossess the tribes.

Generational lies. Societal norms that are abnormal to human nature. Dehumanization. Criminalization. Racism is built in the shadows of institutions that favor the ultimately privileged. The rest of us scramble for scraps of privilege to survive, willing to tear at each other’s throats, so we don’t stop to think about the spell we are under. We place our hands on our hearts and think we are free and just. But we are all chained to this ugliness of slavery, and the whip still cracks over our heads. Think I’m wrong? In America, our masters are the capitalists. We fear economic decline more than we do a deadly virus. Over 100,000 Americans dead from COVID-19, but our masters have us fearing the demise of Wall Street. They gamble with our money, our jobs, our lives.

I love my nation. I love my fellow Americans no matter how broken we might be (or how whole we pretend we are). And we are broken! We are not well. We need to heal. All of us. We need to acknowledge what slavery did to us, how it permeates generations of thinking, feeling, and reacting. If you don’t believe we still employ a slave mentality, consider this: we have called out the National Guard to protect property. I repeat, we have called out the National Guard to protect property. Because looting is a higher crime than murdering black people in America. A black person is a discarded property. Do you see it? Do you see how that is the slave mentality of valuing economic gain over a dehumanized population?

Let me explain to you why black lives matter. Because they are human, too! We are all one human race. Many colors. Many genders. Many sexual orientations. Many different favorite foods. Many sizes. Many ways to express spiritual connections. Many ways to dance. Many voices to sing. Many languages. Many heartaches. Many joys. Justice for all means black lives matter. Fuck off if you’re going to tell me white lives matter, too. I know they do because I have experienced the empowerment of knowing my life has value. I have held my hand over my heart and believed every word I recited to the flag. I’m white. I’ve been bullied, I’ve known shaming because of my body type, I’ve experienced persecution as a pagan and unfriending as a believer of Christ. I have secrets I won’t tell you. I have fears. But never have I known what it is to be black.

I write this as law enforcement shoot rubber bullets, pepper spray, and tear gas canister at people of all color in my nation this week. Some are claiming white supremacists are agitating the protests. Others say it’s Antifa extremists and suggest that even foreign powers could take advantage of the chaos. Most protestors gather peacefully despite what the media might be showing. In Minnesota, so many have gathered as to overwhelm the entire police force. The root cause, no matter the extremism slithering into the violent expression is slavery.

Emancipation is when black lives have the same American experiences as white lives. When we express genuine respect for one another and acknowledge the mutual wounds of slavery, then we can heal together. Then we can say all lives matter. Then a black child in a small classroom in Anytown, America, can feel the same pride I once did reciting, “…and justice for all.” If you want to know what you can do, please read, For Our White Friends Desiring to Be Allies by Courtney Ariel, read black literature, and support diverse voices in writing. The compelling nature of our weekly collections is rooted in the comingling of diverse voices. All are welcome to write here!

And there is a powerful message in Jimmy Kimmel’s post from May 29. Please watch this through to the end. You will see a scripted video that shows the power of a human story. I also recommend that you watch the documentary The Thirteenth. It’s available on Netflix. Let’s be the ones who live up to the perfect ideals of our imperfect founding.

June 4, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about justice for all. It does not have to take place in America. Injustice exists anywhere. What is the story behind justice for all? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by June 9, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Submissions closed. Find our most current weekly Flash Fiction Challenge to enter.

The Injustice of Forgotten History by Charli Mills

Heat from the foundries blasted Big John every day. Sweat froze to his body when he walked home to Cliff where Sweet Mo had stew and thimbleberry cobbler waiting. He wore massive leather boots, tailor-made because he could afford them. Mo sewed colorful calico dresses and on Sunday they lifted the rafters with Jesus and friends at the African Methodist Episcopal. When the nation passed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, escaped slaves and freed people knew slave-hunters would avoid the rough and remote Copper Country.

One day, when there’s justice for all, we’ll record these erased black histories.

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  1. floridaborne

    When my DNA test came back it had 1% Cameroon/Bantu people and 1% Native American. My mother used to say one of her ancestors, a French Canadian fur trapper, had a native American wife. After talking with my cousin, on my Irish father’s side, I found out that she, too, had 1% Cameroon/Bantu people as part of her DNA.

    Though we are many different hues, our DNA doesn’t care by what other names you might want to be called. It is a reminder that we are all one race — the human race — and somewhere in the depths of history our ancestors have known injustice.


    • Charli Mills

      We are one race. We need laws to reflect that, too. The Thirteenth is an eye-opener to the foundation of racial injustice in America. I also think it’s time we have conversations about slavery, to have truth and reconciliation, a process I’m learning from my Quaker friend who works with youth.

      It’s interesting to see if DNA can support those family stories. I’m sure there are many like it in America. Thanks for your response, Joelle!

      • floridaborne

        The US constitution still shows our mistakes. One of the problems I have with people trying to “erase” our mistakes can be summed up by Santayana’s assertion that those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it.

      • Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

        Absolutely, Joelle, and oh how often we repeat it. We need to face our mistakes.

      • Charli Mills

        This moment in history is an opportunity to face and fix our national mistakes.

      • Jules

        One honest conversation that needs to be related about African slavery is that those slaves were allowed to be sold by their own people – some of whom were of the same race as those being sold.

        While there is no just case to enslave any race; of which many different peoples have been for thousands of years prior to enslaving Africans… we need to also recognize that some peoples are still facing enslavement today.

      • Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

        Jules, you’re right, that slavery was practised within Africa and many other countries but not on such a colossal scale until the Europeans and Americans joined in.

        And yes, we shouldn’t lose sight of the slavery that continues to this day.

      • Charli Mills

        Jules, I think the bigger truth right now to face is what does it mean to us to be a nation founded on slavery? Other Africans did not institutionalize American slavery. I agree that we need to be mindful of slavery around the world, past and present. The grieving and the grievances in our nation right now, at this moment in history, is systemic racism as a result of race-slavery. It’s discomforting, but now is the time for those of us who are white to listen.

  2. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Oh, Charli. Your pen. Drawn. A timely prompt two days early for a country that is, I pray, not too far gone.
    One planet, one people. Why is this math so hard for for some people?

    • Charli Mills

      Déjà vu, you reply again! Thanks for your patience as I sorted through an accidental early publishing of a raw draft. I still swear in this version. Math is hard for some. History, too.

      • Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

        Have to say I was surprised by the swearing. Not disapproving, but I don’t think I’ve heard that word from you before!

      • Charli Mills

        It’s used authentically.

      • denmaniacs4

        Read the premature articulation. Have to say, I didn’t notice any swearing. May not be that thorough a reader. Only noticed the honesty. Began writing my 99 words that night. Had another deeper personal thread in mind but couldn’t quite get there. Agree with D Avery: One Planet, one people. How hard it that concept?

      • Charli Mills

        Bill, I think it’s going to take many attempts to get at deeper threads, or sort them out for meaning. Honesty is not always the universal truth but it lights the way. Thanks for getting to it. And for sharing my post. Your words were a balm as I try to fumble my way toward better understanding.

  3. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Pandemic of Fear

    The older woman slammed the loaded clip into her semiautomatic rifle. “This is for if they come by.” She tucked the handgun into her waistband. “This is if they come close.”
    “Aunt Fannie!”
    “What? I told you when you came here from college I was ready for anything this pandemic had to offer.” She chambered a round. “I don’t claim to be colorblind, but this rifle truly is. It delivers justice for all.”
    “Auntie! You don’t have to be afraid of them.”
    “Don’t I? We all do.”
    “Black men aren’t inherently dangerous!”
    “No shit. It’s white men I fear.”

    • Charli Mills

      Good to see Aunt Fannie rallied and riled. Love the twist, D.!

      • Charli Mills

        They kinda look alike, maybe distant bunker cousins.

  4. joanne the geek

    As an aside I’ve always been mystified by the amount of flag waving and flag images that is seen in the United States. I’m sure most people love being in the country they’re living in, but Americans seem to take patriotism to the next level, which I’ve always found a little strange.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      The flag waving has become more than benign patriotism over the years. Big ones in the backs of trucks started after 911 then seems to have morphed into something other than than a show of resilience and solidarity. The flags seem edgy and intimidating, seem less about being For than about being Against.
      Huh. When in history have symbols been appropriated?

    • Charli Mills

      Joanne, it’s telling to hear that from someone outside the US. In my lifetime, the flag was central to American pride. And I felt it. I didn’t think it was unusual. Now, I’m questioning its compensation.

    • Charli Mills

      I’m not sure that I’m back, but I’m here. You fired off a bottle rocket of a poem.

    • Charli Mills

      Marlie’s the kid I want to be when I grow up.

  5. Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

    Such painful times, Charli, and your grief resonates around the world. People have also taken the knee here, partly in solidarity with the US, apparently acknowledging our own dismal record on racism. I’m usually cynical when people say something good will come from tragedy – because it usually doesn’t – but I’m hopeful. Sometimes things need to teeter on the edge of disaster for enough people to hurt enough to bring about change.

    And your country has a lot to be proud of. Even if you elected Trump, you elected Obama too. Yesterday I watched a lovely clip of him walking through a park near the White House with all his entourage and the people who just happened to be there – mostly white – were absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to shake his hand.

    While I’m sure it’s mostly well-intentioned, from the outside, the US veneration of the flag seems a little odd. I think there’s generally a dark side to patriotism which is hard to acknowledge because it stems from such noble sentiments. At least consciously. But your experience of agonizing disillusionment makes me think turning a blind eye to the legacy of genocide and slavery is part of its PURPOSE. We’ve had a similar thing going in the UK with clap for carers – the fact that people feel genuinely grateful for the sacrifices made doesn’t alter the fact that they elected a government hostile to our health and social care systems and to the migrants keeping us safe.

    The only time I’ve ever felt moved by a national anthem – apart from ours at the London Paralympics – was at a rural secondary school in Zimbabwe. I didn’t even know that Nkosi sikelel iafrika was their anthem, as I’d heard it only in relation to the struggle in South Africa (which was still under white rule at the time) but, back then, it seemed that Zimbabwe had made a positive transition to independence under Robert Mugabe. But I also didn’t know – or maybe it was one of those things I didn’t want to know – that he was responsible for the genocide of the Ndebele people of Matabeleland.

    But I still love the song – and you can love your country while hating many of the things it’s done – the tune apparently written by a Welshman. I suppose I’m lucky living in a country that has such a plinketty plonky anthem you’d never assemble a serious choir to sing it! Take care of yourself – and write (as you’re doing)!


    Back later with my flash. Yours, as ever is fab.

    • Charli Mills

      Anne, I found Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika a peaceful balm. Maybe because I could hear its beauty without having to question its words. Last night, walking through the woods, I heard several hermit thrushes calling. They sound like flute players (https://youtu.be/o0mATRdzZSc). Music is such a comfort and joy. I don’t make it, but I appreciate it. Thank you.

      Two wolves battle in my heart tonight — Cynic and Meliorist. Why is it that I feed Meliorist but the Cynic seems stronger?

      Joanne mentioned the unusual flag-waving of America and agree with you that its purpose is to compensate for genocide and slavery. Those narratives were never taught in school, but I certainly placed my hand over my heart. Apparently, blinders over my eyes, too. I began to notice in high school, though. I owe a great debt to Farley Mowat, John Howard Griffin, Langston Hughes, and Maya Angelou for getting their words and experiences through to me — the power of literary art.

      It’s so complex and painful, this history and compensation; this grieving. I grieve but I feel like the unwelcomed guest at a funeral. The grieving isn’t mine and I awkwardly shuffle from foot to foot uncertain how to be the compassionate person I try to be. I have shadow work to do. Yet I know so many in my country are only going to wave flags harder to keep the justifications in place. But I can’t knowingly justify injustice.

      I saw the protests in London. If you figure out why people gather to show solidarity but elect officials who cut access to basic human needs, let me know. Denial, or fear of facing our past answers the question here.

      Mmm. I often visit President Obama (virtually, of course). He posted this video on Instagram. As a singer, I think you’ll appreciate this compelling and beautiful plea to live. Black lives matter.


      • Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

        Glad you found it soothing, Charli. The one I posted certainly isn’t the best recording but I kept it when I realised it was recorded in Leicester, which is a lovely multicultural small city near me.
        Sorry it’s so painful, as if you’ve got an angel and a daemon sitting on your shoulders, or maybe you’ve got two demons. But maybe we need both hope and cynicism – and you’re entitled to your grief, even if it’s different to that of the main victims. Doesn’t seem quite as bad here and yet I’ve been continually surprised over the last few years about how much each step backwards has shocked and hurt me. Less so with this latest regarding Dominic Cummings as an always less anxious when more people are taking notice.
        Thanks for the birds, Obama at the boy’s protest song. Make sure to take care of yourself.

      • Charli Mills

        It’s hard to feel entitled to grief when there is greater grief, so I appreciate the reminder. I think when others stand up, we feel less alone in what we see.

      • Charli Mills

        Thanks, Anne!

  6. Jules


    I truly think that there are very few of us who have escaped some sort of ridicule because of who our ancestors were. But I cannot get overly political – that is just my nature. I did however write a two parter, because just one couldn’t say all; please accept my offering. There are explanations and definitions at my post at my blog.


    Part 1

    How can we remain neutral to injustice? Some countries believed they could just so during some very horrendous warring.
    But mostly they stayed neutral to keep their own productions and exports going to feed their own. Too many are taught to think individualistically. Where is peace for the greater good, the majority, who often do not have a clear cut voice?

    there is a great veil
    that blinds the eyes of justice
    whose eyes are open?

    who can holiday when cries
    cast out of cold dark shadows

    Today, our worst enemy is atomic in size, attacking the global community.

    Part 2

    I am not a scientist in a lab able to determine how to fight the unseen enemy. While I am an individual, I can be part of the greater good. I can contribute in the best ways that I can, without compromising my own health. It is a war of emotions that everyone must face. Just what can I do to encourage justice for all?

    there is a great veil
    that blinds the eyes of justice
    whose eyes are open?

    we must work together to
    strengthen positive life force

    A case of water was donated to first responders today.


    • Charli Mills

      We can always choose to be a part of the greater good, Jules, no matter our nature. May we find ways to work together.

    • Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

      A lighter touch to balance the darkness, Ritu. But doesn’t everyone reuse old food containers?

      • Ritu

        They do, I’m sure, bit it’s a standard joke amongst Indian youngsters about Reading for the ice cream tub, only to find a curry instead!

      • Ritu


    • Charli Mills

      This is a wonderfully crafted nod to resourceful Indian mothers! What I’d give to find curry in place of ice cream in the freezer.

      • Ritu

        Charli, when it’s all you eat, for lunch and dinner, daily, it’s the bitterest disappointment not to find the hoped for ice cream!

      • Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

        Ritu, I had a couple of weeks staying in rural Bangladesh many years ago eating rice and daal fro breakfast too. And I loved it!

      • Charli Mills

        I grew up on pinto beans. Beans, fried eggs, and linguisa for breakfast, beans for lunch, beans and meatloaf for dinner. The first time I bought a 50 pound sack of dried beans when I was first married my husband was astounded. After two months of beans, he refused (refuses to this day) to eat any more! I was so sad. I still lament, he doesn’t like my beans. So, yeah, I understand, but the first time I had real curry prepared by a friend, I would eat curry from an ice cream container happily! Now, I’m thinking what a funny joke that would be to fix beans and freeze some in an ice cream container. My husband would howl!

  7. susansleggs

    My controversial offering.

    If Only it Were Possible

    At school, children recite the Pledge of Allegiance, which ends with “Justice for all.” They believe it in their minds, then go to the playground and bully the quiet kid.
    The husband believes in justice too, but he beats his wife.
    The court system was designed to try a criminal by his peers. But at its inception, the defendant was often poor and the jury was white businessmen. See the problem?
    Reverend Francis Bellamy wrote the pledge to promote patriotism knowing the powers were against equality for women and African-Americans. Without equality, justice for all is a pipe dream.

    • Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

      Is it controversial, Susan? I think you’ve neatly nailed how we can all too easily turn a blind eye to the injustices we perpetrate. Think of the cruelties carried out in the name of religion over the years.

      • susansleggs

        So true, Anne. The reality is indeed sad.

    • Charli Mills

      Writing into truth can feel controversial and at some levels that is the case. But I also think our writing is more powerful when we can call out the injustices we see. It also helps us understand another’s perspective. Those are powerful examples. Good point about equality and justice, too.

  8. Sherri Matthews

    Charli, I read your post, flash and the comments and flashes here and I am moved to share my thoughts as a British mother of three children (dual British/American citizens) raised in California. We lived there for almost 20 years, immersed in every aspect of American life from the early 80s to 2003. Coming from my very English school upbringing, observing my children placing their hands over their hearts every morning to pledge allegience to the US flag was a new experience for me. I valued it and the patriotism for their home in America and the values we believed it stood for (while retaining their British roots and traditions). Patriotism back in Britain wasn’t something I had grown up with. It was rare to see a Union Jack flying from a flagpole unless it had something to do with the Queen. Then it all changed with ‘Cool Britannia’ thanks to Tony Blair. And we all know how that went. My children are Native American/Hispanic, English/Irish and Scandanavian (thanks to V and mine recent DNA tests!). My two older sons were Boy Scouts, eldest an Eagle Scout. I was a Cub Scout ‘Mom’ for a few years and took my middle boy through his Arrow of Light ceremony. All of their ceremonies involved the American flag, never to touch the ground. Is it wrong to find pride in something that represents all the values you are taught to believe in? I am not ‘American’ by birth, nor a citizen. I was a ‘Resident Alien’ allowed to do everything as a citizen except vote or perform jury service. And I was summoned several times, never in the UK wouldn’t you know it! I wished I could have voted many times, so deeply entrenched in my life there. So I share all this because I came to understand the pledge of allegience and what it meant and then…well…here we are. To hear my adult ‘American’ children talk of their broken ‘American Dream’ breaks my heart. I remember when we moved back to the UK. My two youngest went from school in CA to a British system I did not even recognise, so changed since my day. In the aftermath of 9/11 and hatred for Bush indemic in the UK and Europe, comments made by teachers and other students devestated my youngest, who, we did not know at the time, has Asperger’s Syndrome. To have the entire class swivel necks and turn to laugh at an 11 year old because they are American at a time when Americans were so derided had detremental consequencies, some of which have left long term damage. So for both our countries, I would like to know when did we become so full of hate and violence and ‘justice for all’ except when you aren’t ‘all’ and don’t tick the boxes and make the grade? When did the pride in the US flag become a bad thing because it no longer stands by its promises? When did we in the UK become so stupified into supporting a government who, for the past 10 years, has plunged us into austerity devastating the NHS, Police force, Prison and Probation service, social care and mental health? And then Brexit? That hasn’t gone away. Rule Britannia? Don’t make me laugh. I love my country and I love America, also ‘my’ country. I have deep roots in both and I want my children to know they have homes in both places, always. But today? I don’t know…I really don’t…

    • Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

      Thanks for sharing this, Sherry. You have a very interesting perspective with a foot in the US and the UK. I didn’t notice that anti-American sentiment you refer to in the UK, but then I don’t have many American connections. I wonder if its was partly guilt for our participation in a pointless war. Though not sufficient excuse for the kids at your daughter’s school.

      Yeah, we’re a mess. Take good care of yourself and your American offspring.

      • Sherri Matthews

        Thank you, Anne. I felt a bit impassioned writing it, as we all do with such weighty matters pressing down on us. It’s good to share our different perspecvtives and I just wish that more would do so instead of lurching into so much hatred and violence. A mess is right. Appreciate that, Anne, very kind of you and you too <3

    • Charli Mills

      Ah, Sherri, you have a unique perspective with roots in two countries. Your children, now grown, have experienced what I think a lot of Americans have, growing up — the reality of values not aligning with those of the American dream. How confusing that must have been for your child to go from patriotism to villainy in schooling. And yes, I think any of us of a middling age can say institutions and politics have changed drastically in our lifetimes, and yet, when did it really happen? As you ask, “So for both our countries, I would like to know when did we become so full of hate and violence and ‘justice for all’ except when you aren’t ‘all’ and don’t tick the boxes and make the grade?” I think stories like yours can create dialog. I mean, that’s an important pillar of literary art, memoir, or fiction. We write, read, and discourse. You might have seen that I’ve been bludgeoned on FB because I tried to share someone’s story that I thought could help us (as a people) understand different perspectives so we can work together to have better insights and understanding. There is so much social policing right now, at times I feel like I don’t know what is right anymore. Compassion, kindness, these must continue to matter or we fall victim to the hate and violence. If we lose our voices, we lose our way. Thank you for sharing!

      Oh! And we need to compare our English/Irish DNA! I know we have a common grandmother somewhere. 🙂

      • Sherri Matthews

        Oh Charli, I feel exactly the same – what is right anymore? What happened to compassion and kindness? You are so right, we need our voices heard, but how far do we go before it crosses over into mindless violence and thuggery? Across the board I’m talking. But as an example, here in the UK, as I’m sure you’ve seen on the news, massive protests in solidarity with those in the US. Despite having the right to protest, the plea from the government not to gather in the tens of thousands because of coronovirus fell on deaf ears. That aside, and of course the reason for the protests, mostly peaceful, descended in parts into mob violence and this is the problem. It horrified me to see a female police officer thrown off her horse due to a flare or something frightening it half to death, her head bleeding and badly injured, to the whoops of the crowd. And then, while other police officers try to aid her, some thugs start throwing ‘Boris’ bikes (bikes that anyone can hire in London to get around) at the horse. We could be here all day going down so many rabbit holes…but, what matters is that we all stop and listen and not race to this madness and make it so much worse. Social policing…yeah… and I’m so sorry you suffered an FB bludeoning. And so we rumble. I am so thankful that we here can come and discourse and share our hearts and thoughts in a safe and non-judgmental community. Our shared stories starting the conversation. Thank you, Charli. And yes, there has to be a connection somewhere in there! <3

    • Liz H

      I have found myself increasingly, especially over the last–oh, 4-5 years, shaking my head and saying “THAT is not my US. My US, the real Americans, do not do what we’re seeing here.” Maybe I’m like Mr. Rogers’ mom: I look for the helpers.

      • Charli Mills

        Sherri and Liz, both of you continue to look for the helpers! It’s going to be unsettled and unsettling, but I’m moved by how the protests in the US have gotten more peaceful rather than more violent. Compassionate discourse over hard topics will be needed.

      • Sherri Matthews

        We loved Mr Rogers. All he stood for and the America my children grew up in – and me too, come to think of it 😉 You’re right, Liz, we need those helpers<3

      • Sherri Matthews

        Thanks, Charli. Yes to compassionate discourse <3

  9. Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

    With America grieving, it seems wrong to shift attention to anything other than #BlackLivesMatter. Yet that’s what the British media did yesterday morning with headlines about the identification of a suspect for the abduction of a four-year-old from a Portuguese holiday resort thirteen years ago. In exploring why her parents don’t only arouse compassion, my contribution has turned into another protest poem that might offend some.


    They could’ve stayed in the apartment with their three sleeping children.
    They could’ve grieved in private, they could’ve owned their guilt.
    They could’ve recognised all families face tragedy and some tragedies loom larger than theirs.
    They could’ve searched for ALL abducted children, campaigned for all victims of parental neglect.
    They could’ve accepted police budgets have limits, that lost-cause investigations siphon resources from elsewhere.
    They could’ve used their power, their professional contacts, their shiny media profile; they could’ve raised their white middle-class voices to shout for justice for all.
    In their shoes – or flip-flops – would you have done the same?

    Lockdown dis-easing and risk assessment, personal and political https://annegoodwin.weebly.com/1/post/2020/06/lockdown-dis-easing-and-risk-assessment-personal-and-political.html

    • Charli Mills

      Where has the capacity for compassion gone?

      • Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

        I think we can have compassion for their loss, but still be critical, as white middle-class entitlement is part of the problem perpetuating inequalities. It’s a difficult balance.

        I stumbled across your Facebook discussion earlier this afternoon about wanting to help your friend understand why All Lives Matter is an unhelpful response to current events.

        I feel as if my compassion is a limited resource, however, and structural inequalities, including racism, are more “deserving” of my attention than this news story right now, much as I dislike that concept.

      • Charli Mills

        It is a balance I’m at a loss to understand how to foster, Anne. I went from feeling outraged and sorrowed to feeling overwhelmed and hopeless in a week. I pulled the post at the request of the one who originally wrote it. It was not helping anyone and my timing was poor.

      • Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

        It’s painful. I’m not sure it can be anything else. You tried to be a bridge but the weight of it all risked breaking your back. Take care of yourself while those bruises still ache.

      • Charli Mills

        I’ll do better at listening and build a better bridge next time.

  10. denmaniacs4

    Just Is

    “S’not fair.”



    Noisy kids. Neighbour’s grand-progeny. Visiting. Been a while. A Covid-19 while.



    Hmm, need my morning cuppa…

    Ready soon.

    Sit on the porch.

    Suck in the spring air.

    “You’re hurting me. Get off!”

    “Don’t be a sissy. And stop squirming.”

    “I can’t…you’re hurting…”

    What did Sam say? Oh, yeah; “Eight and ten-year-old’s…been cooped up in an apartment for months…missed seeing them…hope they don’t bother you.”


    “Ear plugs, Sam,” I joked. “Ear plugs.”

    “…under arrest…”


    “Being a brat.”

    “Can’t brea…”

    “Sure ya can…”

    “Can’t bre…why?”

    “Just is…is all.”


    Kids, I think.



    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      How well depicted that squabbling ‘play’; how frighteningly well depicted. Took the air out of me, it just did.

    • Charli Mills

      The implied connection is powerful. We learn from play. But we also learn to dismiss injustice, “…just kids, boys will be boys, not excessive force…” Justification, not justice. Well done.

  11. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    “Fabric of the Nation”

    “Kid, what’re ya doin’ ta my fav’rite rodeo shirt?”
    “Here, ya kin have yer shirt back, I jist wanted the fringe off it fer a flag.”
    “A fringed flag?”
    “Yep, represents fringe folk. An’ I gathered ev’ry kinda color an’ cloth imaginable. Gonna make a flag fer Buckaroo Nation.”
    “Aw, Kid, let’s not be flyin’ flags here, not even thet inclusive one. Let’s take all thet cloth ya gathered an’ make quilts instead.”
    “We kin give ‘em ta displaced folks, ta them thet’s on the streets an’ them who’ve taken ta the streets.”
    “That idea warms my heart.”

    • Charli Mills

      Good use of fabric, although now I’m thinking about flying a fringe flag at headquarters! Pal and Kid warm my heart.

  12. Reena Saxena


    “Is the American story reminiscent of India against Corruption movement?”

    “No. India against Corruption was an inorganic, planted idea, hence it fizzled out. It comes closer to the subversion of a particular community and their acts of rebellion.”

    “The perception of justice may differ, but the ground reality remains the same. The people do not get justice.”

    “There are predefined slots for problems – economic, racial, moral, socio-political…”

    “Can I sum it all up? The fight is always put up by a minority against the majority. The majority view has become the norm. Confirmation bias blinds and binds the world.”

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you for teaching me a new term, Reena — confirmation bias.

      (Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information that confirms or support one’s prior personal beliefs or values. It is an important type of cognitive bias that has a significant effect on the proper functioning of society by distorting evidence-based decision-making. Wikipedia.)

      Your thought-provoking flash has me further pondering how we normalize the majority view. I see it in America as substituting justification as justice. You summed it up in another way I can try to understand.

      • Reena Saxena

        It is rationalization with invented changeable logic, not even justification. Thank you, Charli!

      • Charli Mills

        “Changeable logic” seems like an oxymoron, and yet ther it is — it exists.

  13. Liz H

    Here’s my lost journey, always on the road, with only a brief flicker when it’s going as it maybe should. A flash of contradictions:

    In the Impossible Woods

    In deep woods, somewhere near the middle and the end, launching from the first and hovering near the last, always returning to the origin, is a clearing. Sometimes there, other times elsewhere, most often not present at all. [Continue ]

    • Charli Mills

      Not all is lost. After last week’s literary lesson in contradictions, you have used them to craft a powerful image of a journey to justice. May we all find our way.

      • Liz H

        And may it lead us to our true home

      • Charli Mills

        Wow — I just read that Minneapolis City Council voted to dismantle the police department and rebuild something entirely new. What a moment! It hurts to see the pain in my former city, and yet I know if any place can re-imagine justice for all, it would start with Minnesotans.

      • Liz H

        We’ll see how that goes and what Defund really means. It’s in the Mpls charter, that there has to be a police force. I like George Takei’s take on the slogan, and his offering up that we need to De-Militarize the police.

      • Charli Mills

        It’s a very early start without a plan, but a hopeful shift. I like George’s take on the slogan. I had not come across that yet.

    • Charli Mills

      I appreciate that, Joanne!

  14. Norah

    Charli, I have nothing to add to the conversation. Stronger and more eloquent voices than mine have responded to your already powerful message. ‘Justice for all’ seems so hollow at the moment. It’s difficult to see even a glimmer of light. Keep writing. “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Eventually. Hopefully. Optimistically.

    • Charli Mills

      And yet some amazing shifts are starting to happen, Norah. Minneapolis voted to dismantle its police department. Protests have turned more peaceful as opportunists are weeded out. Polls are turning against Trump. I see a revival of anti-racism coming on. It’ll be messy. But there will be change. Hope. The meliorist is feeling stronger tonight. <3

      • Norah

        May meliorism win this time. We need it to – for good, for ever. ????

      • Charli Mills

        We’ll have to keep teaching it. <3

  15. jgard3

    “The Aftertaste of Language”

    Today his name is John. They want him to forget what he was called yesterday, to reject his past, his traditions. They cut his hair, gave him proper clothes.

    Their government created this school with trees from sacred forests. Its limestone foundation violates land that birthed his nation.

    Teacher’s bony hand squeezes his darker fingers into the chalk, which drags against the slate, crying the letters of her language. Spirals and swoops, lines that lean, trembling with meaning.

    He repeats the lumpy, starchy words she gives him. Pruned syllables, flogged rhythms, distorted shapes with an aftertaste of blood:



    • Charli Mills

      Welcome to Carrot Ranch! Your story is a great example of why lowercase literature is so vital. Here, we make literary art accessible through 99-word stories. Thank you for adding your voice. And documenting the one “John” lost.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Whoa… what a telling of a schooling. Another regrettable chapter in our history.

    • Susan Budig

      Powerful glimpse into another aspect of failed justice in America.

    • denmaniacs4

      Strong telling of a terrible time…impressive.

  16. reading journeys

    Hi Charli

    Sharing – very briefly (a lot going thru the mind).

    From a very thought-provoking article by Black sci fi writer Tochi Onyebuchi:

    “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream: The Duty of the Black Writer During Times of American Unrest”
    – about Black fiction writers; and on Black reporters reporting Black death. The psychic toll:
    – they do not stop being black people when working as black reporters. “That we quite literally have skin in the game.”
    Jun 1, 2020
    (Tochi Onyebuchi writes nonfiction as well).

    My own thoughts about justice for all:
    I thought of the intolerance, bigotry, and prejudice that stems from a combination of ethnic, race, and religious differences. Your name, your hyphenated ethnicity, your ethnic dress, easily identify you as DIFFERENT! Not WASP.
    Just a few examples from US history – Irish Catholic; Japanese American; Muslim American; “boat people” …

    I think building bridges across differences is work that MUST always be ongoing. Whether you do that as an individual; or as one community caring for another.

    Not sure of my FF – still working on it.

    Thanks very much for your blog; and to the Ranchers for sharing their thoughts – You CARE – that to me is very important in building bridges.


    • Charli Mills

      Hi Saiffun,

      There’s much more going through my mind right now. Bridgework will be messy, complicated. I’ll step in the dung of my own privilege and bias, try again, try to learn, try to listen. Stop trying and act. Be. Be with people. Thank you for sharing Tochi Onyebuchi’s essay at Tor. I read a similar Op-Ed in the Washington Post but it was not as eloquent. Devastating. Anything I say in response will only sound hollow. I’ll leave the hallowed words to Tochi. Thank you for caring, too. May readers and writers find ways to bridge gaps, be witness, and hold space for healing.

  17. D. Avery @shiftnshake


    Not sure about this but these characters said go, despite my lack of qualifications. 2 x 99. This follows other flashes.

    “I know you want to go too, Liz. But I’m going without a pass.”
    “Pass? Oh…”
    “I can’t explain it Liz but I want to go this alone, stripped of my prestige and privilege, just me in my own skin by my own self.”
    “I’m afraid for you Toni.”
    “That’s why I’m going to D.C.”
    “Let me go with you. We’ll bring the girls’ capes. Crusade for justice. Together. For all.”
    “Justice for all… all lives matter. But this is about black lives, about those who have never yet experienced justice. What matters is how black people are living.”
    “I want to help.”
    “Good. Help me fill my car with water and food for the protestors. And take good care of Sofie while I’m gone.”
    “Bill can handle the girls…”
    “Liz, I know you’re in this fight with me. Stay out of harm’s way.”
    “I want to help.”
    “You’re a lawyer. I might need you here behind the lines. Besides if you go with me we’ll both have to quarantine afterwards.”
    “College roommates… hardworking professional women… I’ve only ever seen our similarities.”
    “Color’s a difference I’ve also ignored. Overcome. But not overcome. Not until there’s justice. For all.”

    • Charli Mills

      It’s people like these two moms who are making a difference, speaking truth, black lives matter.

    • Liz H

      This one hits hard.

  18. susansleggs

    A few thoughts on the flag. I traveled cross country in the U.S. on Rt. 66 last fall. I found one corner of this huge country’s society looked and sounded little like the ones in the opposite corner. The discussions and the flag were the same so I knew I had not crossed any foreign border. Our military knows they are fighting for the country that flag is the symbol of, regardless of equality, or justice they receive at home. It gives a sense of belonging. After the hurricanes in the Atlantic two years ago, a U.S. naval ship was used to rescue survivors. One lady burst into tears when she saw the flag hanging in the hold of the ship where she once again felt safe. Should the flag mean there is justice for all, perhaps, but it didn’t mean that in the inception of this country, and no other country that I know about can say their flag means there is justice for all. I agree it would be nice if that were the case.
    There are more political comments this week than flash fiction pieces. I know it’s a sign of the times but I find it sad. On to the prompt…

    Will There Ever be Justice For All

    Michael sat with his fellow bandmates discussing the Pledge of Allegiance. He asked, “Have you ever thought about that last line, ‘Justice for All’?
    Colm McCarthy, first-generation Irish -American who served in Vietnam, said, “Only when I get mad about how hard it is to get an appointment at the VA.”
    Colm’s son, Thad, a Vietnamese-American who served in Granada, gave a disgusted grunt. “Try being a 50-50 and see how you are treated by others.”
    Tyrell, the band’s African-American drummer, and Iraq veteran asked, “Are we talking about justice or equality.”
    Michael responded, “I don’t believe they’re separable.”

    Note: A 50/50 was the term used to describe a Vietnamese child that was half American.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Ah, the band of Brothers. This diverse group has a lot in common. I look forward to their future conversations.

      • susansleggs

        Thanks, Dede

    • Charli Mills

      We have gone from strange times to a pivotal moment in history. I’m not sure any of us knows what to make of it all, but just as your flash demonstrates, it’s through open dialog that we can come to a better understanding. I appreciate how you managed to show the complex connections between the mixed heritage of soldiers, and the eras they served.

      When you were in the southwest, did you happen to notice the number of American flags in Gallup? We were struck by how many flags we saw, and the number of Navajo, Hopi, and Pueblo people who served. It’s like Nickole’s father in the first episode of the 1619 podcast. The flag has meaning and those who served have done more than to recite lines.

      • susansleggs

        We made a special stop in Gallup to go to the Code Talkers museum but found it to only be open on weekends. Darn. We did go to town museum that had a lot about the local Native Americans that we learned from and were impressed with. The city is very proud of its service members and yes there were a lot of flags flying. We ate lunch in one of the local eateries and were the only whites in the place. The food was delicious and we didn’t feel like outcasts. It’s a nice memory.

      • Charli Mills

        You ate among friends.

  19. dnagai

    * Jiichan means grandfather in Japanese.

    Charli, I have followed you for a few years now, and I see you reaching to be a better human, every update. If more people were like you, I have no doubt we’d be better off. Thank you for broaching the topic of justice for all. May we all become better humans.


    “Remember,” Jiichan* bowed his head, “ the local bank president and minister bought our farm for one dollar. When my family was released from the internment camp, we bought the farm back for one dollar. They felt helpless in stopping what the government did to us, but they showed up. Others, not as lucky, had their homes and businesses destroyed or stolen. White establishments rose from those Japanese boneyards. It is my turn to show up. Until graveyards no longer serve as the bedrock for white success.” In alliance, he fell silent for the full eight minutes, 46 seconds.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Jiichan knows. I like this story of showing up.

      • dnagai

        Thank you

    • Charli Mills

      Now comes the part where the dance steps get harder. I have so much to learn. Jiichan leads the way, taking silence in alliance. It’s good to read your writing, Diana! Moving as ever.

      • dnagai

        Thank you for your kind and supportive words.

  20. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    What a long week, one full of hard work which has only just begun. What could be better than hanging out with comfortable friends, sitting in camp chairs in a two bay auto mechanic garage, enjoying a beer and conversation.

    Running Low

    “Right there, Nard. Why mention that the new guy is black?”
    “Just providing a picture. He probably refers to us as white.”
    “He doesn’t need to.”
    “Anyway, he’s got a good sense of humor.”
    “Yeah? What kind of jokes is he compelled to laugh along with? Jokes like your anti-gay name calling?”
    “I’m more sympathetic now.”
    Kristof chuckled. “Now that his steering’s aligned.”
    “What are you saying, Ilene, I have to monitor my speech, reconsider what I think is funny?”
    “That’s what I’m saying. But no hard feelings. Help yourself to my cooler.”
    “It’s empty!”
    “Just ice. For all.”

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, I miss sitting around a campfire enjoying Vermonter wit. I’m witless, pining for just ice for every soda, pop or tea in America.

  21. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Charli, I absolutely can’t recall if I put any of my first flashes into the machine. I know I put this one and the above one in. This is distilled from a six sentence story that seems to have continued the theme from your prompt.
    These two will do, all I recall for sure is that I managed a response this week. And then some. I tried to follow the courageous flow of your mighty pen, but you’ll note I had a lot of help from some reliable characters.


    “I think about Sofie’s Great Northern Migration project, how my grandparents’ dream is still unrealized.”
    “It’s so sad, so scary, Toni; I have nightmares— it is a nightmare.”
    “When my Joe came home from Afghanistan he had nightmares, haunted by what he’d experienced, but he went back, always a dutiful soldier. Said he fought for justice for all… If he hadn’t gotten killed over there, fighting against the Taliban— I wonder would he have been killed here in his own country? Here where it’s still the wrong time and place to be walking around in the “wrong color” skin.

    • Charli Mills

      If not in the bucket, I will go foraging. Brave stories. That I can rely on your characters to find a way to express what is needed.

  22. Susan Budig

    Justice for All

    I can’t write about justice
    unless I write about peace?repeat after me,
    I will write about peace

    I can’t write about peace
    unless I write about healing?repeat after me,
    I will write about healing

    I can’t write about healing
    unless I write about brokenness?repeat after me,
    I will write about brokenness

    Broken by what we lack–
    compassion for our neighbor
    empathy for one another??

    Broken by what we need—
    direction and
    focus to stay the course

    Broken in our poverty—
    deliverance from evil

    Deliver me into the hands of justice
    and then I will write

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Peeled it back, pared it down, throwed down some root cause. You delivered One powerful poem.

    • Susan Budig

      I had trouble with the formatting. Charli must have made an attempt, too, and she *improved* it! Thanks, Charli!

    • Charli Mills

      Susan, thanks for penning a poem that gets to where we need deliverance. WP isn’t friendly to poetry formatting. If you need me to tweak it, let me know!

  23. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Simon!

  24. Charli Mills

    Thank you for finding a way to still point out beauty with a story of empowerment and truth-seeking.

  25. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Dave.

  26. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Geoff.

  27. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Jo!


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