James R. Tomlinson

From the Blue Sky

When a self-admitted crackhead–let’s call him Prisoner K–reads about a tropical rain forest, his mouth and index finger stumble over the words. He knows he’s set foot, temporarily, in unfamiliar terrain.

“Can you pronounce this for me?” he asks.

“Photosynthesis,” I answer.

He’s learning about cause-and-effect relationships, where one “thing” can make another “thing” happen. More specifically, he’s studying the global effects of the rain forests. He repeats after me, “Foe–toe–sin–th, th, th–sis,” and continues to drag his finger across the page. With guided practice and encouragement Prisoner K is able to answer most questions. However, there’s one open-ended question troubling him to no end: What can you do to help prevent the destruction of tropical rain forests?

He smudges his first answer and starts over. “Quit chopping down trees,” he scrawls.

“Now Mr. K,” I ask, “when’s the last time you swung an axe or used a chainsaw?”

“Never,” he says. He shows me where he found his answer–middle of page 84.

“You’re not a logger,” I point out.

“Nah, I’m just a crackhead from the Blue Sky.”

I pass the Blue Sky Trailer Park almost every day. It’s on my way to work. It’s barely noticeable, sandwiched between a rundown industrial complex and rusted out boxcars. I’m not sure whether he’s telling the truth. “Paper comes from trees,” I say. “How about not wasting paper, how about recycling?”

“Yeah,” he agrees, “but nothing I do is gonna matter. I’ll always be a crackhead.”


James R. Tomlinson, author of Adopted Behaviors, Motor City Burning Press, lives in a 1970’s brick ranch near Detroit. His flash fiction and flash memoir have appeared in Sleet Magazine, Staccato, and Nano Fiction. He teaches in a Michigan prison.