Walls, Boxes and Fire Sale Tags

by Jason John Bartholomew
May Day, 2017

“Freedom isn’t free,” they chided, and no one seemed inclined to disagree. It was, after all, right there up on the board, clear as day, being traded on the Stock Exchange. “When your intelligent and enlightened and properly learned, you’ll see there’s a certain nuance to these things,” they instructed, and feeling ever bit the unsophisticated bumpkin, I nodded dumbly and carefully wrote on my notepad, “freedom isn’t free.”

“With great freedom comes great responsibility,” they exclaimed, while loading the missiles on to the warplane. “One can’t just be tossing around liberty all willy-nilly,” pausing and leaning against the grey hulk of a hellfire, before wistfully sighing, “that’s why they hate us, son. It’s for our liberty; they hate us for our liberty.” Nodding vigorously I wrote in all caps in the margin “Liberty: Do Not Apply Liberally.”

“Freedom doesn’t mean freedom,” they continued, “to do any ole thing one wants any ole time. That would be anarchy and it’s just selfish.” Freedom, it turns out, isn’t naturally fire resistant, so the retardant must be added. And so they handed out a leaflet about what we were allowed to say, and when and to whom, and what words we must never, ever say, bad words, treacherous words, words that inflame. Haters and Traitors and Pyromaniacs have their own language and our love of freedom prohibited such foul utterances. “Freedom is civil and civilized!,” I sprawled in my ledger, my chest swelling with pride that we weren’t barbarians.

Later, when we were building the wall, they explained to us: “Now don’t confuse liberty with equality. Everyone may be equal, but not everyone is ready to be free or equally equipped to handle it appropriately. It is cruel to thrust upon others responsibilities they are ill-equipped to handle properly. Just like a good parent would never let a child play in the street, freedom can not be allowed to just wander freely about.”

“Higher,” the shouted. “We must protect freedom. Build this wall higher!”


I am thinking of those days now, back in my glorious youth, when we all stood together as freedom defenders. I am trudging along the red dirt road through the charred and rusted hulks of what was once my shiny city on a hill, with my little sack of roots from the mission, near what remains of the wall we built that day, covered now in graffiti and shrapnel marks. Here and there, bits of snapped concertina wire hang down from the sharp blue sky like thorny vines; like broken guitar strings from some ghost anthem of freedom and protest.

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