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.”

Published by

Phil Huston

13 thoughts on “Life Sentence”

  1. I’d comment but I have more questions than comments; beside I can’t decide which part to comment on. Much of the dialogue is a foreign language to me anyway. You guys down south do have some weird lingoes when let loose away from the grammar… 🙂 Weird, tense, puzzling, but the characters hold well, consistent. OK, in a down-to-earth sort of way and in a gun society damn good write. The casual talk about shooting someone always throws me, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Prisons. Find them all. There are the answer(s). Or maybe I’m just one a them all hat an’ no cattle cowboys like several famous politicians from down thisaway talkin’ ’bout guns an’ “stuff.”


      1. Yes, for some reason the “gun” thing stood out, but of course America is both, a gun and prison culture. How heart warming, that!


    1. The tragedy is how easy it has become to solve a problem with deadly violence of any kind. I can’t live with you anymore, bang, stab or over the cliff. Even more tragic is that we have left so many people from all walks of life in the margins on the edge of darkness with their demons unaddressed that they feel they have no recourse other than to blast their way out of a bad or seemingly unmanageable situation.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. For a European/Canadian I have the same reaction: strange talk. I have a gun saying I made up years ago: two reasons never to own a gun. One, given the provocation I’d use it. Two, whatever the provocation I could never use it. (This personal mantra only works in a law-abiding, relatively at peace society. The moment violent repression begins; a revolution starts, or mobs take over the streets, I cancel that mantra because then common sense dictates the need to “serve and protect” possible victims of mobs or repression and I would most certainly use violence and any kind of weapon.)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. They’re all talking about gun violence and miss the hysterical part when the woman heads to the bathroom and we see she’s more batshit crazy than we originally thought. Although it might be even funnier if she had never actually gone to jail.


    1. Very few get/see what’s happening in my short stories, and that’s okay. A life sentence can be prison, meds, a castle on the green, relationships with others and/or our better or worse selves, the true cost or inability to find justice in the injustice of any of those. On the surface what they read is if you shoot someone in Texas you’d better kill the motherfucker cause otherwise it’s a pain in the ass. Sometimes I’d like to say, “No, this is like those ‘find these things’ pictures in Highlights, the kids’ magazine.” But there are so few truly literate people around anymore who have a clue that anything is deeper than yesterday’s nail polish.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Aw now I feel bad. My antennae did go up when Kara/Lilly made the comment about prisons and castles but when Reagan picked up the phone my love of the absurd kicked in and it was too late to philosophize.

        I do think people should put a little more effort into reading other people’s posts. They took the time to write it so the reader should read it. I hate when I read throwaway or sarcastic comments on stuff people bled writing because you know they didn’t read it.


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