For our second post in this year’s flash fiction february, we have a piece by writer Michael Sheehan. Enjoy Michael’s piece, embodying the word in form and content, and see further notes on the creation of the piece in his bio.


frag·men·tal  (frag-men’t’l) adj.   1.  fragmentary. 2.  in geology, designating or of rocks formed of the fragments of rocks that had existed previously; clastic.


The memory, one that is increasingly fragmented. In the car, at the end, with my wife and children. Night. September.

The radio is now silent. No media coverage. There is now no history of the massacre, the goriest details. Armed people in the streets. Protests.

The incipient incident was well publicized.

Then it was the president, armed insurrection. The states, Illinois, Colorado, Oklahoma, Connecticut, New York. The flood of gory details.

In the car, paralyzed with fear. We were no match for them, run amok, their pervasive open presence in the streets. I heard numerous calls, invitations to retreat.

It is difficult to articulate.

Like so many families we joined the crowd, like a convening of friends, now lining up. Out there, in the streets, heartache and bloodshed. Atomistic individuals were sliding toward extremism. Voters with a holster on their hip.

Ominous warnings: the Newtown shootings, the Aurora movie theatre massacre, college campuses, a fatal visit to a coffee shop.

The memory. The landscape looks bleak. It is night. The shootings. Four more struck down.

Since the mid 1970s, political and corporate interests promoted apprehension, suspicion, mistrust, and fear. Always suspected power, that hierarchy which precipitated our regime change. But at that point where civil society is vanished, an autocratic government has risen, composed of free people with weapons, ammunition clips, an armed society. Completely unbounded, unfettered, and free. Experimentation. The liberty to be reckless.

Ominous warnings. The Arab Spring, Zucotti Park.

But these were non-violent. Nonetheless. Fragmented society in some fundamental way.

We were mute. No one engaged; no one dared approach. In the car, at the end.

A man, the bearer of a sign: that famous quote from Thomas Jefferson, tyranny.

Liberty is definitively a hallmark of any democracy; a gun in every pocket, brandished in the street: criminals, teachers in the classroom. A monumental hierarchy undermines equality; a distinctive feature of American democracy.

Our culture, the words, our media. We had speech, but we didn’t know what it was for. To insult and offend our thinking. Speech was a weapon. We fended others off. Speech dominates; it is characteristic of the master-slave relationship, a violence.

Words could expose basic fallacies in our arguments, but our arguments were words and our fallacies were words, and we could close off reflection and defeat aggression against our ideas—withstand even the most seemingly rational. With words.

After all, a society of speakers leaves no one listening.

My wife and children. Difficult to articulate. The car, the end. Guns in the street, my son in the street. No one dared approach.

Our media was mute on rights, on history in this nation; had become a showing of a film of the school shootings.

Fear, fear that others were against us, were targeting us. An armed society is the ultimate safeguard, a preemptive strike. The fear that out there everywhere lurked potential criminals: what choice but to be armed, at any time, in any place? Steeling themselves against government aggression, the best defense a good offense.

We are all so alone now. Our words wall us off, our words keep good neighbors out. We are a pre-political polis, solipsists. Violence ultimately imposes its arbitrary will.

Guns don’t kill people after all. It is us, we do. We give license, allow those extreme, contrary, eccentric individuals to carry weapons, allow them to exert control over us. We are told, had the children been armed… Imagine what that would have looked like.

That’s what the media tells us. Media, which, as the name suggests, links, is between. Words a web that bonds us, bring us together. No more. The story is over.

Fear. Senseless shootings. A powerful deterrent to teachers in the classroom. Guards at every door, guns at every hip. Safety is not in speech, safety is mute. Violence communicates.

Difficult to articulate, the end. Night, September, the fifteenth. Paralyzed with fear, my wife and children in the back of the car.

A statement on the organization’s website: it strives for a day when the open carry of powerful weapons might be normal. It argues this is how we save society.

Fear of protecting private rights brought them out into the streets, to protest recent legislative aggression, albeit limited. They became drunk with power and possibility. Guns, ammunition. Self-evident ferocity.

The human condition: watch what we say, how we act, whom we might offend; do not make any sudden, unexpected moves.

Violence, ferocity, fear: the marks of human association, the fear of the polis devoted to its component members.

Guns. Speech stopped holding us together and we fractured, fragmented, e pluribus unum splintering into pluralities, fissiparous, fissile, fractious, frangible. Hallmark of American democracy. Egg :: omelet.

But it was not just those others that fell as we heard it on the radio, as we watched. Now it was our families, our children.

In the car. Paralyzed with fear. My son in the street. The guns, high caliber weapons, violence worthy of the name, violence worthy of the Ancient Athenians, Achilles in his destructive rage.

The memory. The landscape, my family, no longer recognizable. In the car. Night. Raucous, the ferocity, crowd of combustible ingredients. My family. My wife, my children. My son will never now come home to me.

And what is the word, what syllables could express, could name it, that place, the erasure: my family is vanished at that point.

What word could witness, such unspeakable—there is only silence.

Tell me the name for it, the word that speaks this grief, I dare you.

Speech is only an echo now, across the open air.



TDP PhotoMichael Sheehan lives and writes in Washington DC with his wife Mary Woo and their dog Miles. He is the author of Proposals for the Recovery of the Apparently Drowned, published by Colony Collapse Press, and is an assistant fiction editor and the reviews editor for DIAGRAM. Currently, he is working on a novel about a has-been’s would-be rock opera, an Iraq War veteran, and a recovering alcoholic itinerant preacher, among other things. This story is composed of the words, phrases, and in some instances the letters of “The Freedom of an Armed Society,” by Firmin DeBrabander.

1 Comment

Filed under flash fiction february

One response to “frag·men·tal

  1. Jim

    Thanks, to you, Michael, and to you, Lisa for this very timely piece. Yesterday the reign of terror by the rogue cop in California came to an end and last night Obama called for us as citizens and for congress to honor our grief over the innocents who have died and take steps to end our epidemic of gun violence. Individuals with weapons will not stem the violence. Rebuilding our connections to one another will. Has not all of the recent gun violence been committed by individuals who have lost their meaningful and caring connections to other humans beings? For me, the hope is in re-building or creating for the first time deep caring connections in families, neighborhoods and communities.

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