Life Sentence

“Buddy, if you’re gonna shoot someone in Texas, make sure they’re dead.”

Lamar side eyed the woman who’d dropped on the stool next to him in an otherwise empty bar. Wrinkled gray dress, wide red elastic belt and safety lime green running shoes. She didn’t look at him, had started talking the second her butt hit vinyl.


Hell yeah. ‘Cause if they’re not? What a pain in the fuckin’ ass that is.” She started to light a cigarette.

“I don’t think…” Lamar wasn’t sure how the next part should go.

“What? You’re not some overgrown, shoulda been a preacher smoke sensitive momma’s boy –”

“No, no. I smoked forever, quit seven years ago. I’m no anti-cig Nazi. It’s illegal in bars unless they have a ‘smoke here’ section. Or a patio. This one being in the basement of a bank tower…See the eye you’re getting from the lady in the white shirt with the towel? Not a good idea to flick that BIC. Not in here.”

“Goddamn, I go to prison, and while I’m gone they manage to screw everything up. A girl can’t buy herself a drink and have a smoke without some old fart says it’s against the law?”

“Old and fart taken. Just tryin’ to save you some grief.”

“Aw, shit, fella. Sorry. Maybe wasn’t you who farted. Coulda been me!” She put the cigarette and lighter into a well-worn reusable shopping bag with scenes from Downton Abbey silk-screened on both sides. “I like this bag, don’t you? I think there’s a fine line between castles and prisons that only the people who’ve lived in either one can see.” She got a faraway look in her eye that made her much younger, and much older in the same moment. She slapped the bar with an open hand.

“So, old fart buddy, let me tell you they were getting like that inside, too. Don’t smoke, eat right, exercise. Goddammit, you know? ‘Fold the sheets and be a good girl, Kara. Nobody wants sheets that smell like an ashtray. You get a break, go outside and smoke.’ I thought I was out of all that, could smoke where I wanted. Big old black man drivin’ the bus told me the same thing. I called him an old fart, too, but it was me who left him a little gift when I got off.”

“You were in prison?”

“Yeah. Well, I screwed up, coulda played it smart and stayed out. Not me. I never was the smart one. I was, but who knew? I got a psych degree from U.T. down in Austin. Where I met that hat size too small son-of-a-bitch ex-husband of mine.”

“He the one you tried to shoot?”

“Tried hell, honey,” she snarkled a laugh. “I shot that motherfucker, no farther away than I am from you. Didn’t kill the bastard. If I had, I’d have been free and clear. Nobody to see, my people would have said I was in another county after they gave me a Clorox bath. She a friend of yours? The towel girl with the tight shirt and tits?”

“More like family. You need a drink or something?”

“Hell, I’m dry, old timer. In more ways than one. Sure, if you can arrange to get me one seein’ as how they’re all bein’ pretty for each other down there and blowin’ off payin’ customers. Waitresses and bartenders used to be able to smell money. People forget how to work and smoke while I was gone?”

“Depends on how long you’ve been gone.”

“Six. I did two and a half hard, three and a half in anger management. That means more light and fewer crazy bitches and no hardened criminals. Just a house full of ‘scrip dope made me write hot checks and run over my husband’ girls, not cut your throat bitches. I was the worst one in my unit, the only gunner. But…” Reagan showed up with a Coke in a bourbon glass. “Aw, thank you, sweetie.”

“You’re welcome. I like to check in with my customers sooner but it’s just me and those two, and I had to chew some ass. I will never again run a two person short staff that’s mixed gender.”

“Makin’ out in the stalls or the walk-in?” The gray dress woman downed the Coke, wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “Walk-in was my favorite. Didn’t smell as bad and a man had to heat up or give up, you know?”

“I have a bigger than it needs to be linen, silver and service closet. I sent them back for table cloths, and they can’t keep their hands off each other for two minutes and set a couple of tables.”

Lamar’s visitor poked him on the shoulder. “See that right there? That’s exactly why I shot the motherfucker. My best friend and neighbor, him and her, they get off in the trees or somewhere together and he knocked her up, says that’s his new family, adios. And her husband was such a limp-dicked pansy about it all. Sorry, I mean –”

“I’m not a virgin,” Reagan said, leaning in to the bar with both hands. “Go on.”

“But you have such a sweet face, like my daughter’s…Anyway, her husband empties the bank, ups and moves to Bossier or someplace, glad to be rid of her cheatin’ ass. She doesn’t complain, she’s got my husband, and his job and his money and I have a couple of teenagers, no job and an anti-depressant and Oxy habit from some dental shit gone all haywire. So all I could think of to do was shoot him. Sorry, weenie wavin’ sonofabitch that he was.”

“Good for you.”

“Damn, Reagan. Really?”

“Stay out of this Lamar, you’ve never been there.” She reloaded the bourbon glass with another round of Coke, set it on the bar. “So what happened, Kara?”

“So honey, what I was tellin’ this man,” the Coke vanished in another single swallow. “I could have waited for the cops, plead momentary insanity. My people had money. A good lawyer, I’m getting some help, some probation. No. I stole this damn book, ‘101 Ways to Ruin Someone’s Day’ and I started on page one. Buckshot in her tailpipe, all that shit. I was on about page sixty-something when I was tired of running and out of my ‘scrips and sick and turned myself in. After all those ruined days for her and my wounded ex the D.A. said it was obvious I wasn’t crazy, and it was all premeditated. So now I’m down for attempted murder, not diminished capacity attempted manslaughter.”

“That’s all kinds of messed up and wrong, Kara.”

“No, messed up and wrong is I got ten years for my husband knockin’ up my best friend and taking a walk next door and leavin’ me out in the cold.”

“Ten years? Who was on the jury, men?”

“Mostly. I told this old guy sittin’ here I didn’t do it all. My family got me some woman lawyer out of Odessa, or out that way, and she got me into anger management therapy. Turns out she knew this judge who would get me out and into the anger management, for a fee. All it took to get me out was her knowing somebody and twenty-five grand. Shoulda met her on the front end of the whole Goddamn episode. Judge was gettin’ paid by convicts and for referrals from the outsourced anger manager people to fill their beds. How do you like that? Fuckin’ kickbacks for ‘justice.’ I did three and a half in there like I said. That was only because they couldn’t get my brain chemistry right and I kept goin’ off or goin’ catatonic, never no middle ground. You figure it’s safe for me to go pee, those kids won’t be gropin’ out in the Ladies?”

“Better not be.” Lamar and Reagan, from their respective sides of the bar, watched her determined walk toward the restroom. Reagan pulled her phone from her hip pocket.

“Who’re you calling?”

“Texting. Her daughter. Hold on.” Reagan tapped her phone faster than Lamar thought was possible without half of it being typos. “Lilly only comes in here when her serotonin levels are off. Alcohol just makes it worse, why I brought her Coke in a bourbon glass. She can’t tell the difference. Wet and brown in a short glass.”

“She said her name was Kara.”

“What I said about her meds.”

“She’s not gonna come out shootin’ is she?”

“No. I was told she’s been out over ten years, has a job, does okay except when she stops her meds. They all stop their meds sometime. It’s a control issue, like the only thing in her life she can control is taking her medication. Those meds are her real life sentence, and not taking them is like breaking out of prison.” Reagan checked the flash on her phone, stayed expressionless and put it back in her pocket. “Help is on the way. Didn’t mean to snap at you earlier, I just know how to talk her down. She has bladder issues, so if she drinks something I know she’ll go pee, and I can connect with her daughter.”

“I was worried there for a minute, thought you had someone in mind to shoot or had a body stashed somewhere.”

“I had someone in mind to shoot one time. The problem was he must have seen it coming because he left in the middle of the night and I never heard a peep out of him again.”

“I guess he was lucky.”

“I guess. You know, sometimes we figure all of you guys are dumber than cows, getting pulled around through life by your man junk. Then by some miracle you pick up on the fact that one of us would like to put a bullet in you and you’re gone.”

“Maybe we’re enlightened, you know, in a cosmic sort of way. We see it coming on some level and self-preservation kicks in.”

“And maybe you’re full of shit and happened to notice the open box of .44 cartridges on the kitchen table in the middle of one of your on the way to the fridge for a Bud Light, ‘it’s half-time, honey, got a BJ for me?’ moments. What do you think about that sort of intuition?”

“Think I’m glad I don’t drink beer very often and stopped watching football.”

A Short Prayer

For a short Old Friend

She’s old enough to
Have heard her babies cry
Heard her Mother cry, now
She’s forced to watch
The man who’s been beside
For whoever answers prayers today

Show her someplace quiet
Sunny and cool
Where the grass is
Green and
Sit with her on the bank of the
Magic stream
So wide, so
Where the water
Is clear and
Let her be ankle deep for awhile
In all of what is

Let the very best of their
Fold her gently in their arms
Take a moment
Show her a tomorrow
Real and bright
Hold her through the night
Give her something to
Show her a glimpse of what is
Help her while she grieves

Dry her tears
Calm her fears
Show her how a love
That lasted a lifetime
Means more than pictures
On a wall
Show her what she needs to see
Listen if she calls
Show her what she’s made of
How who and where she’s been
Is still that girl
She thought she
So strong, so
Long ago

Show her someplace quiet
Hold her heart inside your hand
Keep it still and
Wrap her in
Give her dreams that are
When she needs
As she’s forced to watch
The man who’s been beside

I won’t ask for easy
I know it doesn’t work that way
From whoever answers prayers today
I ask only for some simple Grace and
A touch of Mercy
For an old friend

Painting: “Norham Castle, Sunrise” by JMW Turner, The Tate, London

Skin Deep

The Nutcracker – Dress Rehearsal 2016

“You looked great up there.”

“For someone more than twice as old as the principals from New York City Ballet.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“I did. We’ve been married ten years longer than they’ve been alive.”

“So, it’s good that you looked great up there on the same stage with them.”

“Mmm. I’m not so sure how great I looked.”

“I have pictures.”

“You weren’t supposed to take pictures.”

“No flash. How long have I been doing this?”

“We just had that discussion.” She flipped the visor down, opened the mirror. “Anyway, my costume is a blue velvet corset I’m cinched into. And I have my extra nylon hair.” She put the ringlets in a large zip lock, stuffed them in the dance bag then dumped fifteen bobby pins that would stay in the cup holder on her side of the console until the next trip to the free vacuums at the car wash. Or we bought drive-thru coffee in her car. Or she ran out of bobby pins.

“You still looked great.”

“The secret is old lady ballerina make up.” She peeled off one eyelash that would have made Dolly Parton envious, blinked in the mirror.

“I didn’t know they made that.”

“Oh, they make it, alright.” The other eyelash came off, got stuck to a small piece of white cardboard with the first one, wrapped in wax paper, dropped in a make up bag. She blinked again. Her own lipstick had come out and she did that thing women do with lipstick and a car vanity mirror.

“What’s in it that makes it so special?”

“Spackling.”  She rubbed her lips together, checked the mirror, smiled. “And formaldehyde.”

The Nutcracker

Go see The Nutcracker, wherever you are, whoever is doing it. It’s good for you. Trust me, I’ve seen it more than a couple of times and it hasn’t killed me. Yet.

Small Words, Small Thoughts

Petits Mots, Petites Idées…
[petit poème de ~la femme qui brûle~ par Sha’Tara]

L’étoile du matin
Je regarde mes biens:
De ce qui tient
Je n’ai besoin de rien.
Tout va bien.


Small words, Small Thoughts
[from ~burning woman~ by Sha’Tara]

The morning star
Is extinguished
I scan my possessions:
Of what clings,
I need none.
All is well.

Re-blogged from ~burning woman~

Dream On

“Giant Mouses can’t talk. Go away.”

“Sure we can. I’m talking.”

She rolled over away from him, pulled up the covers. “Hmpff. And you’re too big, and not mousey enough.”


“You know…” She fluffed her pillow, dropped her head. “Mousey. Furry and dirty. And creepy. And they don’t wear red plaid vests. Or borrow my fuzzy slippers. G’night.”

“My feet were cold. Back to your dreams?”


“I thought you quit dreaming.”

“I did. About real things, anyway. Dream dreams are different.”

“I’m different. And not mousey enough, but here I am, and I’m no dream. If it’s in your head it’s real. You didn’t get that from all those liberal arts classes and bong hits back in college?”

“Nuh-uh. They’re dreams. Maybe my mind connecting with itself, or the great cosmic whatever, or cleaning house or something. Go. Away.”

“The other night, when all the dogs were brindle Great Danes with heads like pit bulls? They told you not to run but you ran anyway. One of them grabbed your arm before you turned into a tree. That was a good one. Just as real as if you’d been there.” He chuckled. “You were scared shitless. And Tuesday night? Remember? You went to buy a car from someone you met in an expensive bar that was trying to look like a subway station who turned into your eighth-grade crush. You got to his desk, he laughed and said no girl like you could drive a car like what you wanted and gave you a black Valentine instead of car keys. You woke up heartbroken, looked for the card under your pillow. All of that is real. It happened. You logged it just like when you were standing in line, so embarrassed you almost peed, just to buy that lacy bra that’s too small for a guy who isn’t coming back.”

“He was a bad dream. Those were all bad dreams. You’re a bad dream.” She pulled the covers over her head, offered a sleepy, muffled, “Go Away, mouse. Or rat or…”

“They weren’t bad dreams. A bad dream is no dream at all. Look.” He pulled a lightning bug out of his pocket for a night light, turned the covers back down around her shoulders. “There are wants, and wishes. And then there are dreams. Sometime or other we all want fame, or fortune or wish ten or twenty pounds would take a walk. Some of us make plans. How many kids, which jobs. Maybe what we want works and maybe in all that planning we succeed and miss something we wish we hadn’t. We all want to be loved. We all wish we could find someone who could love us. We want our children to be healthy, and wish they stay un-hurt by the world. You still awake?”

She snuggled down a little further into the pillows. “Mmm hmmm….promise…”

“All those wishes and wants. As we get older they change, but a wish is still a wish. On a star, on a birthday candle, on a heads-up penny. But they’re sitting in that same room with wants. Now that I’m old and lazy, maybe I want a decent bacon and grilled onion cheeseburger that won’t kill me and isn’t five bucks. And an amber beer with some attitude. I can wish for a magical place that has both, and want it to be close by, maybe with delivery. You can want a lover on Friday night and wish they’d stay forever. Wishes and wants. Wants and wishes. You can stop wanting and wishing, that’s okay. In fact, sometimes dropping that in the can by the door of your consciousness is a good idea. Let those things happen without a shove. Offer, belong, let it go if it collapses on you. Do it again. Let wishes and wants turn into the unexpected postcards life sends you, awake or asleep. Cherish them for what they are. They aren’t dreams.”

“‘Let it go, live in the here and now?’ Puh-leeze. I don’t need a giant fucking mouse thing to give me an ‘I can be the most beautiful me’ MEME speech at midnight-thirty.” She grabbed the pillow he’d been leaning on, put it over her head.

“We put our hope in things and people and adventures we want, how want we them to be and wish they’ll turn out like we hoped for and that’s not where hope belongs. Listen up.” He changed the cross of his legs, set the lightning bug on her headboard, tapped it once to turn it down before he pulled the pillow off her head.

“What happens at night? Those aren’t dreams. That’s your brain running on everything that gets thrown at it. Reality isn’t required for it to crank up a visuals binge watch. Asleep or awake, your brain is getting down with itself in there. As far as ol’ brain is concerned the only difference between asleep and awake is just that matter of keeping you from falling down. No ma’am. Dreams, real dreams, are an altogether different thing.”

“How do you know? You’re a giant mousey sort of figment of my imagination and I’m tired. Why can’t you just go away?”

“Because you said, as a result of life and everything in it, that you quit dreaming.”

“Well look at me now, Mister Mouse Thing. Wide awake and listening to you go on, and on…”

“I’m telling you, this isn’t a dream, it’s another experience, that’s all.”

“One I could do without. Go away, plaid vest mouse thing. Let me sleep. I need to sleep. I need to dream…”

“Thank you. You said it, not me. Now I can go.”

“Good. Not that you’re a bad giant mouse thing, but…”

“I get that a lot. But know this. When your head hits the pillow, when the feathers tickle your brain, that’s not dreaming. It is what it is.”

“Great. Whatever it is, I need some. G’night, mouse. Go away. Please. Leave my slippers.”

He tucked her covers around her, touched her forehead with his finger.

“Plaid vest mousey thing, can I ask you something?”

“Can I keep the slippers?”


“Damn. Ask away.”

“If they aren’t dreams when I’m asleep, and everything is just wishes and wants, why won’t you let me quit dreaming?”

“Because a dream, a real dream, is a wish your heart makes. Without a little piece of our heart in our wishes our dreams are empty, and we’ve lost everything.”

Soul Cry

All he’d ever wanted
In a diner
A moment of her time
Diners became cartoons
of themselves
bowed long ago
to franchises
So here is where he was

Macbook student, a booth for two
his backpack guest
Overflows with grad school

Forty-ish flight attendants
flashing nails
severe ponytails
carry-on handles extended
stand wheel-locked guard
at their table

The possibly blonde
furrows her brow
turns the phone
on its stomach as if to
Quiet a small child
Struggling with under bed monsters
Question mark eyes from the other
a simple shrug of no
One of them needs
to smile

Thick paperback woman
of age
glasses down her nose
her table covered
dozens of napkins
spotted with lipstick say fastidious
Her hair says modestly vain

Two deep blue scrubs eat salads
Speak of rectums and spleens and all the
Would you like more

A waitress so young cynical
Her eyes see no one
worth seeing
Deposits steam
in all the cups
Stained-glass colored
up dark t-shirt sleeves
black nail polish remains chipped
Thoughts, smiles
offered to her arrive

Her colorful arms should wrap
the sparsely bearded sandwich
handoff boy
somewhere fun, free
gray and drizzly
on an empty pier
His place later
Do each other’s nails while
he listens to her heart

Back across the granite table
by far
than the gulf of years between them
She sat quietly
A picture of herself
A frame of flesh and bone
If asked he’d call her expensive, well maintained like
the German car
he watched her park
Only it was newer than her
by far.

Yeah, yeah her husband
he heard her say
so healthy so wealthy so wise
So much
Smarter than a crystal ball
Rich as Croesus
believes in Jesus, had compassion stood by her
in her dark hours of grief
That was important for him
to understand
All the standing by

She had grieved
Too many hours
he would agree
Death close by comes hard
harder still
Cloaked in violence
in surprise
In quantity

Did he hear kind, giving, helpful, fun, funny
he must have missed them between great
wonderful hard working successful provider father
Couldn’t miss the children
Beautiful, smart, loving, doing
well and yes she played golf
Why did he ask?
Why did he smile?

She made that face when he
waitress and sandwich boy
She heard laughter
in his voice
Bodies wrapped together
undulating, melting into
a human painter’s palette
Had she forgotten
being young?

Her frown on such simple things
Such simple beings
easily affordable
And yet do you think
would they
Could they do each other’s
He would really
listen to her heart?
He could
possibly would
Do you think?

How would that pay
the bills
fill the time
the house
Impress the neighbors
and the board of

He smiled again
She remembered why
You’re still so…
she tried to find it
finish it

He’d gotten even
his coffee colder
while he listened to everything
Except her heart
She averted and avoided until he
locked her
in his vision
Caught her eye

Knew at once if a bit of her
made it through
The parted lips she moistened
with a tongue given
to keeping what was her
He would surely hear her soul

All he’d ever wanted
in a diner
a moment of her time

The dream offered only
And a moment of

To offer him more
He could see her soul
She knew that even
And she would never
allow him to see