Five days after her boyfriend beat her until she nearly blacked out, Jada put on her favorite dress and went outdoors into the fading evening light. The dress was a medium shade of green, cut high at the neckline and flowing to her ankles. Neither tight nor revealing, it fit her just enough to hint at her curvy figure, although turning a man’s head wasn’t the reason Jada wore it. Not that day or any other day.
Wearing the dress reminded her of home, a small southern town where she recalled the softness of grass beneath her bare feet, cicadas singing from the trees and the random glow of fireflies, stars dotting the night sky, crickets lulling her to sleep. That was years ago, however, before she caught a bus to Atlanta in search of something she never found.
Roger spotted her as she turned the corner and headed his way. He had dated much prettier women, but Jada was cute, especially dressed in her modest attire. That she didn’t have all her goodies on display made him take closer notice. There was something else he noticed about her too — a look of need and vulnerability masquerading as strength. Perhaps she needed a date, he thought, or simply a night of uncommitted sex.
“Hey, pretty lady,” he said.
Jada smiled but didn’t otherwise respond. She instead walked past him and went inside the liquor store. Roger continued smoking his cigarette as he waited for his order at the nearby takeout. He flicked the butt into the parking lot just as Jada stepped onto the walkway. Her gait was brisker, her eyes staring straight ahead.
“Slow down,” he said. “Can’t I at least get a hello?”
She stopped and looked at him. Roger was a decent-looking man, but Jada had known plenty of decent-looking men, even very handsome men, and as such was no longer impressed by physical appearance alone. Still, her parents had raised her to be mannerly and polite.
“Hey,” she said.
“You buy enough to share? I get off at nine.”
“It’ll be gone by then.”
“So I’ll bring some more. What’re you drinking?”
Jada’s boyfriend had been in jail for the last five days, the downstairs neighbor having grown tired of the fighting and called the police. She initially refused to press charges, but when she saw the look in the officer’s eyes — a look she’d seen many times over the years — Jada folded her arms across her chest and slowly nodded.
Despite the officer’s presence, her boyfriend vowed to return upon his release. Jada believed him. Unlike all the others, Curtis would not leave.
Standing beneath the setting sun, she thought about the empty apartment that awaited her around the corner. With the electricity disconnected, she would have to forego the company of television or music, drinking alone in silence with only darkness to hug her.
“I drink vodka,” she said. “Bring a bag of ice, and some candles too.”
Amidst the flickering flames of three small candles, they drank in half-light and shadow, talking and laughing into the early morning hours. By the time the bottle was empty, Jada had forgotten about the beating, the one earlier that week as well as all the others before it. Not until Roger’s question did it all come flashing back.
“So what’re you gonna do?” he said, “when your man comes home?”
“This isn’t home. It’s just a place where I stay.”
“Yeah, but I’m saying. What’re you gonna do when buddy gets out? You plan on still seeing him?”
Jada twirled her glass, softly clinking the half-melted ice. Running her hand over her thigh, she smoothed the wrinkles from her dress.
Mama had been dead for nearly ten years; Daddy had passed away only a few months ago. Her sister, the one who’d stayed — visiting and nursing all the way until the end — was willed the house. Not that it mattered. Jada had no money to move back home, so broke she couldn’t even afford a one-way bus ticket. Turning Roger’s question over inside her head, she stared into his eyes across dying flames.
“Why?” she said. “You want to take me away from all of this misery?”
“I at least want to see you again. I like you.”
“You’re sweet,” she said, and swallowed the last of her drink.
She gave him her phone number without expectation.
“I’ll call you,” Roger said.
Jada knew he wouldn’t. She saw it in his eyes, heard it in his voice, the resemblance to so many men who flickered in and out of her life. She leaned in close and kissed his cheek.
“Thanks for the company. It was real nice.”
“We’ll do it again soon. I promise.”
“Drive home safe,” she said.
She shut the door and walked across the room. One candle had extinguished itself in a pool of melted wax. The other two flames jumped violently back and forth, puffing a broken ribbon of black smoke as their wicks neared their end. Leaning over the rickety table, Jada blew a soft breath, casting the room, the apartment, herself into darkness.
Kevin Luttery normally writes novels yet also enjoys the challenge of writing flash fiction. He’s previously published twice with Every Day Fiction as well as various other magazines and newspapers.