Category Archives: Christa Miller

A First Time for Everything by Christa Miller

I was the first graduate of FIRST. That’s Fairfield Inmate Reentry Shop Training. Me, Ronnie Pitts, the guy everyone said was too slow and stupid and impulsive. Wonder what they’d say now if they knew I had my own shop, all the contracts with the cities and towns. They don’t know how good they got it. My folks, Mrs. Thierry, Mr. Goodloe… they all depend on me and my contracts and I bet they don’t even know it. If it weren’t for me, one of ’em could have a heart attack or a fight with her husband and no one would respond. I fix those vehicles. Me and no one else.

Okay, not just me. I employ three other guys in my shop. All of ’em are FIRST graduates, too. They do good work.

All except one. Tommy Butler. Him I don’t like. Haven’t liked him since I set eyes on him, which was just before he graduated. I didn’t want to hire him, but he was the only FIRST graduate this year, would be for the next two years at least. My parole officer, George—he’s not my parole officer anymore, but I still talk to him ’cause he’s a good guy—says I don’t have to keep him on. I just have to watch him, and I can let him go for any reason I want ’cause it’s my business. That’s George’s way of telling me I don’t have to be the man I was when I got into prison. But guys like Tommy, I know it’s not so easy to fire them. They make trouble, you’re not careful. Spill your leftover oil in the backyard, make an anonymous call to the EPA and say you’re not disposing of it properly. Yeah, I know punks like him.

I took George’s advice and started watching Tommy like a hawk after he came to work for me. I watched him change the oil and rotate tires and all that stuff. And I didn’t let him work on the cop cars. I never told him he couldn’t, I just made sure I assigned ’em to someone else. Tommy had a look in his eye, see. A look that told me he was here for a reason, and not the same reason as me or anyone else.
I don’t care what the FIRST policy is—no inmates with drug histories or a problem with authority—Tommy looked like the kind of person who ould fake out a parole board, work-release board, whoever the fuck he needed to to get what he wanted. Crafty. So it didn’t surprise me none to come in one day from a parts run and see him workin’ on a cop car.

I should’ve told him to find something else to do. But he was up to his elbows in the job, which I found out he’d taken because Louie got sick and went home. What was I going to say? So I just walked by and reminded him. I said, “Anything happens to that car, you know where you’re going.” I knew he heard me. I saw him smirk.

Nothing happened to that cop car. I don’t know if it ever would’ve. But after that I made it a point never to leave before I made sure the men were at work on their assignments. A few weeks later I was closing up when George swung by. “Got
something to tell you ’bout that kid Butler,” he said.

“What?” All my radar went up.

“Well, look. He was in the joint for carjacking. First offense. No resisting arrest, no red flags for the FIRST program. But when he was 15? Busted for assaulting a cop.”

“Fuck me.”

“I talked to the cop. I asked around, Ronnie, because you said you had a gut sense about this kid and I think your gut sense is as good as mine. Well, almost. Anyway, this cop, Fred Brewster, told me this kid was a real piece of work. Said he stabbed him with a knife, kept muttering, ‘Die, pig,’ even after Brewster’s partner disarmed and huffed him. Then he shut up and didn’t say another word.”

“How the fuck he get into the program?”

“Who knows? Bribes, sweet talking, desperation on the part of staff to do something with him. Anyway, Ronnie, I never told you this. If you heard it, it wasn’t from me. Capisce?”

“Sure, man.” I knew there was a reason I’d kept in touch with George.

Trouble was, getting rid of Tommy wouldn’t be so easy. It’s a garage, accidents happen all the time, but I’d have to make it look like an accident so no one could ask any questions. I thought about it for geeks. Fucking with the exhaust system for the fire trucks, electrocution, acetylene torch accident. None of ’em seemed to fit. It
got so I was spending so much time thinking about this problem, I was coming in late, taking longer breaks than I realized.

George noticed. That was why he took care of Tommy for me. I came in one morning to find him standing over Tommy, his gun smoking. Tommy had two neat taps in his chest, a not-so-neat pool of blood spilling all around him. “Found him rousting your petty cash, Pitts. He wouldn’t keep his hands up. So I shot him.” George nodded. “Righteous. Now call 911 and let’s get on with your life.”

He never told me whether it was really righteous or not. I never asked. Doesn’t matter. I owe him. This business is the only thing I’ve ever done right with my life. Nobody fucks with that. Especially not a punk like Tommy Butler.

Pushing up Daisies by Christa Miller

Gardening was Terri’s idea. “Come out and keep me company,” she suggested. “It’ll help keep your mind off whatever’s bothering you.”

So Rooney grabbed a beer and joined her. He sat on the porch to watch her work. Trouble was, it did nothing to distract him from the way Clemente had died.

He knew this the moment she brought the spade from the shed. She drove it into the earth with her foot, the way he’d done to dig Clemente’s grave.

“How deep you want it?” he’d panted.

“Deep enough so’s the animals don’t drag him out, for a few months anyway.” Warner spat into the pile of earth beside him.

He looked at the little cherry tree behind her, its roots wrapped carefully in burlap.

Clemente’s head in a cloth sack as Warner’s gofers brought him to the site.

“Damn.” Terri stopped. “Damn roots.” She carefully placed the spade’s point inside the hole. Then again put her foot on the blade and slammed it down.

The way Warner had kneecapped Clemente. “How much you tell the captain?” he snarled.

Clemente screamed. “Nothin’, I swear, I just said I had information but I didn’t say what it was—”

Warner broke the other knee the same way. Clemente screamed for a long time after that.

Terri took the little tree and planted it, sack and all. Scooped the dirt in over the burlap, packed it down with her hands.

The way Clemente’s long fingers had scrabbled in the dirt, clutching and grasping, once he’d seen the hole Rooney had dug for him.

Terri disappeared around the side of the house again. Rooney sucked his beer down as fast as it would go.

She reappeared with a bag of red cedar mulch. Before he could think of something to say to distract her, she produced his KA-BAR. Punctured the middle of the bag, sliced it end to end. Turned it over and dumped the reddish-brown bark all over the earth.

Warner’s KA-BAR sliced into Clemente’s neck. The rookie’s blood, dark red mixing with brown as it poured into the soil that would bury him.

“Think I should plant flowers around the tree?” Terri asked.

Rooney threw up.

Christa M. Miller lives, writes, and gardens in northern New England. Gardening is normally a relaxing activity that does not stimulate disturbing thoughts, but this time they broke through. Visit Christa’s website at

Detachment Parenting by Christa Miller

Why should she have what I never had? was my thought when I saw my daughter nurse my granddaughter for the first time. What makes her special?


This was really why she invited me here. I’m sure she thought she was establishing some kind of mother-daughter bond with me, so I humored her when I accepted. Really I came to watch her screw up, heat the formula too long and fight with her husband when the baby wouldn’t stop crying and fall apart until finally, for once in her life, she needed me.


None of that happened. Instead I came to a vision of the perfect household. Quiet baby. Doting husband. My daughter sitting there, like a queen, nursing every few hours without even letting the baby cry for it. I told her it’s good for the baby to cry, keeps them from getting spoiled, but the little snip told me you can’t spoil a newborn. I bet her mother-in-law filled her head with that nonsense.


If I didn’t know better, I’d swear she invited me here to rub my nose in her perfection. She’s always had to outdo me, tried to be better than me. She refused to nurse from my breast, yet she won’t even pump her milk into a bottle for anyone else to feed the baby. Hell, she holds onto that baby as if she’ll never let her go. As if I never told her about all the times I tried to hold her like that, but she pushed me away.


Well, I’ll show her, I thought, watching her nurse.


I waited until they went upstairs for a nap. Then I pretended I’d forgotten something—I forget what—and asked her husband to go get it from the store. She’s got him so trained to get her water and plump her pillows that he never even balked. Pathetic.


Then I went upstairs. She was sleeping with the baby in her bed, can you believe it? That made it easier to justify what I was doing. If they ever find me, I’ll just tell them I was doing it for the baby’s own good. God knew her mother would’ve rolled over on top of her, smothered her.


By now my daughter has probably been crying for hours, wondering why she deserved this. I hope someone tells her it’s not about what she deserves. I look at my granddaughter, sleeping in her infant carrier on the floor of my car. Five hundred miles from home, and all the kid does is sleep. She must have gotten her sleep genes from her father, because her mother sure never had them. She does fine with the formula, too. It’s better for her anyway. When she’s old enough, I’ll tell her she’s with me because I deserved a second chance a hell of a lot more than her mother deserved her.