One-off: Flash Fiction for Today
I see him through the bars, his face withered in only six months. The warden takes the package I brought; a bucket of Chupa Chups, his mother’s spare rosary beads, a pile of letters from his family.
I raise my arms and am patted down, a woman’s hands snaking over me. “Name?”
“Relationship to the prisoner?” Her voice is deep and I wonder if it’s one she just uses inside these bars, these walls.
“Friend,” I reply.
She looks me up and down, an eye tweak to show she doesn’t believe me.
She brings me to a table, points to a plastic chair. “Sit here.”
Others follow the same path, the pat down, the questions, the chair screech. The temperature in the room rises, expectation tightening my skin. The prisoners are brought in, all in grey jumpsuits, all in an orderly line. He’s in the middle, head hung like a coat hanger. One by one they unlock their handcuffs, a sound that if you close your eyes resembles glasses clinking. Like at that wedding where we met. That dull as shit wedding where I was at the singles table and he was the best man. High on champagne, we went into the city, followed the lights to a tattoo parlour. He got a rose and I got a dove, in hidden places we kissed later.
“Hey,” he says, letters slow as if dragged through snow.
“I got you some things, gave it to one of them.” I nod towards the warden, his belly more pregnant than stomach.
There’s a hum in the room, thoughts, and secrets finding ears to swarm to. “How you doing?”
“Okay,” he replies. “It’s getting better.”
I know about the phone calls, slurred words to his mother through broken teeth, swollen lips, cracked ribs.
“That’s good,” I say.
He puts his hands on the table, nails non-existent, skin picked raw. “Have you talked to anyone yet?”
I knew this was coming. “I’ve talked to some lawyers, but nobody wants to re-open the case.”
“But I didn’t do anything.” He moves in closer, nails digging into the wood, breath moth-stale. “And you’re my alibi.”
“They don’t believe me.” I lean in. “They know about the night of the wedding. Our… relationship.”
“That!” His voice is higher now. “That was nothing.”
I squirm away from his admission.
“Just tell them it was a one-off. A shag. Surely one of those lawyers knows what a one nighter is.” He’s more him now. I can see the cockiness return, the swagger I fell for.
I nod and say of course I will. Then I talk about other things. His sister, his mum who’s still in the hospital. I tell him his dogs are alright, I’m looking after them. He winces when the bell goes; falls back into his coat hanger self.
“You’ll come again? Keep trying the lawyers?” he asks as the handcuffs go back on.
“Sure,” I say.
Outside the air feels different. I walk to the car and remember that night, the jewellery store after the tattoo parlour. The brick I threw in, the jewels he doesn’t remember taking wrapped in tinfoil at the back of my freezer. One-off, he says. More like ten years for one night.