Eneida P. Alcalde


Eneida moved to the United States as a child fleeing the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. Her background as a Chilean-Puerto Rican immigrant fuels her writing, which seeks to ask questions, explore mysteries, and elevate the underrepresented. Her stories and poems have appeared in outlets such as The Potomac Journal, Stoneboat Literary Journal, As/Us, and Label me Latina/o. You can learn more about her atwww.eneidapatricia.com and follow her adventures on Instagram @epalcalde.

Good Times

The bells jingle on the doorknob as the coffee shop’s front door opens. Jackie looks up from her newspaper, disappointed to not see her brother. Instead, she sees a gray-haired man, pale as the winter morning, walk inside. Jackie shifts her attention back to the paper, hoping Roldan arrives soon for their regular Monday meeting at the Good Times Café.

After reading another article, Jackie inspects the single-room coffee shop. From her vantage point in the back corner, she sees two middle-aged women sitting by the front window, talking in low voices over steaming mugs of coffee. Next to them, the gray-haired man sits at his own table, swirling his hot drink with a spoon. They are the only other customers besides Jackie—all other tables, a mismatched collection of round and squarish tabletops, are empty. Jackie twists around in her seat and checks the metal-frame clock hanging on the back wall. Roldan is twenty minutes late.

Jackie turns back around. Across from her, on the opposite wall, two baristas arrange an assortment of pastries in the bar counter’s bakery display case, readying themselves for the inevitable rush of college kids. Jackie exhales. The longer she waits, the more likely her students will walk in before class, searching for their morning dose of caffeine. Dreading small talk, she folds the newspaper in half and leaves it on the table next to the empty coffee mug. Resigned to another day of teaching Wall-Street wannabes, she pulls on her black trench coat, wishing for the thousandth time she had taken the gig at the liberal arts college. Money would have been tighter, but she might have kept her soul intact.

Jackie walks in between the vacant tables to the front door, slipping on her leather gloves. The baristas waves goodbye from the counter as she passes. Jackie lifts her chin in response. The doorknob jingles before she reaches it. Roldan strolls in. He meets her gaze.

“Sorry I’m late.” He takes off his wire-rimmed glasses and wipes the lenses with the alpaca scarf she knitted for his birthday. The lenses are fogged from the change in temperature.

Jackie flashes a stiff grin. “I read the newspaper.”

He puts his glasses back on and blinks. “Um, Bobby wouldn’t eat. There was ice on the roads. There was a ton of traffic too.”

Jackie plucks the gloves off her fingers, one by one. “It’s fine. A croissant and another coffee would be nice.”

Roldan frowns. “Nice to see you too.”

Jackie returns to the table in the back corner. She slips out of her coat and hangs it from the back of her chair. As she sits, she observes Roldan shuffling to the counter in his tacky-mustard-yellow-construction-style boots and oversized puffer jacket. She wonders if he has taken another job with night hours. Maybe that’s why he’s late again.

He soon comes over with their breakfast. He places her coffee and the croissant on the table along with his bagel and orange juice. She grabs the mug with both hands and sips the hot coffee, black and sugarless as she prefers it.

She sets down the mug. “I have class in less than half an hour.”

“Ah, man. I’m sorry.” Roldan hangs his jacket from the chair. “I didn’t mean to be so—”

“So, what’s new?”

He presses his lips and sits across from her. “I got a new job.”

“Oh? Doing what?”

“Teaching English at the community center. The one downtown that serves immigrants and refugees.”

Jackie raises her eyebrows. “You think you’ll keep it?”

“Uh, yeah. It’s better than cleaning the mall’s bathrooms. I’m done with that shit.” Roldan smirks as he opens a packet of cream cheese. He digs in with a butter knife and grabs a slice of his toasted bagel. “I’ll work with refugees even if they hate me.”

Jackie watches as he slathers the cream thick on his bagel like frosting on cake. Noticing his yellow-stained nails, she shakes her head. He smokes too much. “I’ll never understand how you stooped so low to clean toilets for a living. And the refugees, they don’t hate you.”

Roldan squeezes his thick eyebrows together. “The bathrooms paid the bills. That’s important for me and my kid. You get that, right?” He licks cream cheese off the knife and narrows his eyes on her. “And the refugees, you have no clue, Professor. They hate us.”

Jackie glares at him as she picks a flake off her croissant. “You’re right. I have no clue. I’m just another clueless academic who never fought in some stupid war.”

Roldan rolls his eyes as he bites into his bagel.

Jackie leans toward him. “These people fled what you fought. They want to learn English. They want better lives. I can’t believe you buy into such bullshit.”

Roldan offers a tight smile as he chews. He swallows. “It’s not that simple.”

Jackie leans back into her chair and grabs her mug. “It is that simple. How can you teach refugees when you think they hate you? You don’t make any sense.”

“It’s not like you love your students.”

Jackie sips her coffee. “It’s not the same.”

Roldan’s lips curl. “Why not?”

“I teach entitled brats who only care about becoming filthy rich... Like the wolves who profit from war.”

Roldan shakes his head. “The lib lords at Berkeley brainwashed you after all.”

Jackie clenches her jaw and feels an uncomfortable dryness in her mouth. “Fuck your false equivalencies.”

Roldan shrugs. “Fuck your high horse, Professor.” He chugs his juice.

Jackie scowls at her barely touched croissant. She hears Roldan exhale and looks up.

Roldan averts his eyes away, then glances back at her. “I’m not here to fight you. I just wanted to tell you that I finally have a decent job.”

Jackie feels the corners of her mouth soften. “Dr. Chewowski signed off on it?”

“The shrink gave me a doctor’s letter.”

Jackie searches his dark stare, looking for truth, and notices the purplish tint underlining his eyes. The gray strays in his black hair and stubble make him seem older than her even though he’s younger by three years. She sighs: “At thirty-three you should have a stable job.”

Roldan half-smiles. “Bobby’s happy about it.”

Jackie thinks of her six-year-old nephew and smiles. “You told him?”

“Yeah. And I promised him a beach trip this summer with the money I can now save.”

“Maybe I can join you.”

“You’re always welcome to join us. We’re family.”

The alarm on Jackie’s phone vibrates and buzzes. She digs for it in her coat pocket and clicks it off. “Time to teach.”

“Sorry for keeping you waiting.”

“What’s done is done.” She gets up and slips on her coat. “I hope you change your mind about the refugees. They’re people. Some fathers, like you.”

“We’ll see.”

“You need to do better than see. Bobby needs you to keep the job.” Jackie pulls fifty dollars from her coat’s inner pocket. She hands the money to Roldan. “Don’t buy cigarettes.”

“I won’t.” He takes the cash and stuffs it into his jean pocket. “See you next week.”

She touches his shoulder and squeezes, then walks away.

When she reaches the door, she peeks over her shoulder at Roldan. His back is to her as he stares at the corner line where the café’s drab blue walls meet. Against the blue, he reminds her of a fish inside a fishbowl. Maybe this new job will help him break through the glass walls.

Jackie opens the door. Its bells jingle as she steps out.


A week later, Jackie sits at her usual back-corner table at Good Times, chewing on a Kalamata olive from her Greek salad, listening to the buzz of conversation around her. Almost every table is filled with customers at lunch—not a surprise given the café’s proximity to campus. She pushes out the olive’s pit with her tongue onto her fork and places it on her plate.

Roldan comes in. A pair of Jackie’s students enter behind him, wearing backpacks. She plays with her salad to avoid eye contact.

“Hey,” Roldan says as he reaches the table.

She looks up, amused to see him in a black coat, wearing a tie and slacks. “Nice outfit.”

“Gotta keep it professional.” He points to the clock on the wall behind her. “Only ten minutes late.”

“That’s a first.”

He sits across from her. “Maybe next Monday I’ll cut it down to five.”

“We’ll see.” Jackie slides the menu across the tabletop.

He reads it over as he takes off his coat, pulling one arm out at a time.

A server stops at their table. Jackie sees Mimi on her plastic nametag and wonders if Mimi’s eyes are really mint green, like her work shirt, or if she’s wearing color contacts.

“Hello,” Mimi says to Roldan with a smile on her glossed lips. “Would you like a drink while you look over the menu?”

“Actually, I know what I want.” He hands Mimi the menu. “A BLT and Coke, please.”

Mimi grabs the menu and tucks it under her slim arm. “Salad or fries with your BLT?”

Roldan parts his lips and scans Mimi, up and down. “Fries, of course.”

Mimi’s fair cheeks blush pink. “I’ll go place the order.”

Roldan watches Mimi walk away.

Jackie follows his gaze, noticing Mimi’s small waist and curved hips. “I thought you were keeping it professional?”

“Jackie, Jackie. Always thinking the worst.” He runs a hand over his black-gray hair—smooth like a doll’s. “I can’t help my ravishing good looks.”

“Spare me.” Jackie sips her water. As she sets down the glass, Mimi returns with Roldan’s Coke. She places it in front of him.

Roldan winks at her. “Thanks, Mimi.”

Mimi’s cheeks turn redder. She mumbles, “Of course,” and leaves them.

Jackie clears her throat. “New rule: No flirting around my campus.”

“C’mon, it’s innocent.”

“You do have a track record.”

Roldan sticks the straw in his soda. “Fine.”

Jackie pokes a cucumber slice with her fork. “So, tell me about your first week at work.”

“It was all right. I taught sixty-six students across five classes. Most are women.”

“Women? From where?” Jackie eats the cucumber, enjoying its coolness on her tongue.

“Different places. Syria. Afghanistan. Iraq. One from Somalia. The rest from Mexico and other countries around there. Guatemala, Honduras, I think.”

“What did you teach?”

Roldan slurps soda through the straw. “I’m an English teacher. You can figure it out.”

“Really, I’m curious. Nonprofits are always desperate. Last I knew, you were a janitor. Now you teach English.”

“I was a janitor with an associate’s degree.”

Jackie rolls her eyes. “Community college is the least you could have done as a veteran.”

Roldan laughs. “You’re such an ass, you know that?”

Jackie blinks her eyes rapidly and cocks her head, doing her best little girl impression. “It’s because I love you.”

“Sometimes I wonder about that...”

“Seriously? I took care of Bobby while you were in rehab. I’m his favorite aunt.”

Roldan chuckles. “You’re his only aunt.”

Jackie smirks. “Touché. So, what did you teach?”

“What you’d expect. Introductions. Simple words like hello, goodbye. Vowels.”

Mimi returns with Roldan’s meal. “Your BLT,” she says, setting down the plate in front of him. “Anything else for now?”

Roldan eyes her with a coy expression.

Jackie answers: “That’s all.” Mimi nods and moves to another table of customers.

Roldan bites into his BLT, smiling as he chews.

Jackie leans back into her chair, knowing Roldan enjoys getting a rise out of her. She watches him take another bite of his sandwich. Mayonnaise squeezes out onto the sides of his lips. He wipes his mouth with a napkin.

Jackie stabs a tomato with her fork. “So, no problems the first week?”

Roldan crumples the soiled napkin in his fist. “There’s one guy. It’s hard to be around him. Creeps me out. But I didn’t freak out, if that’s what you’re asking.”

Jackie narrows her eyes on his. She sets down her fork.

Roldan’s eyes harden. “Don’t give me that look.”

Jackie leans forward. “Sorry, but, what’s the issue with this guy?”

Roldan sticks a fry in his mouth and looks out at the café. Jackie also looks out. The place is packed. Four of her students sit two tables over, eating their lunches. One of them flips through the economics textbook from her class as he eats.

She turns back to Roldan. He stares at his Coke, elbow propped on the table, face resting on his hand. Perspiration covers his forehead. “Roldan, I’m your sister. You can talk to me.”

He meets her gaze and looks away.

Jackie lowers her voice. “Dr. Chewowski said you shouldn’t keep your fears bottled inside. Said you should talk with someone you trust.” She reaches out and touches his arm. “This is why we meet, isn’t it?”

He opens his mouth to respond, but then closes his lips.

Jackie sighs. “I know we have our differences. I know I can be stubborn. It’s why some of my students don’t like me.”

Roldan’s eyebrows raise. “Some?”

“Whatever. The point is you’ve come so far... Years without incident. So tell me.”

Roldan dabs his forehead with the napkin. “All right, all right.” He rests his hands on the table and begins tapping with his thumbs, a nervous tick Jackie knows well. “He brought back a memory I don’t want to remember.”

Jackie’s eyes widen. “But you know he’s just a guy in your class. A guy who wants to learn words like hello and goodbye. He has nothing to do with your memories of Iraq.”

Roldan curls his hands into fists, controlling his thumbs. “I know. Don’t worry.”

“You should schedule an appointment with Dr. Chewowski to talk it out.”

Roldan shakes his head no. “I’m tired of visiting the shrink. Just want a normal life.”

“You’re almost there. Step by step.”

Roldan sneers. “How would you know, Professor?”

Jackie takes a breath. She knows when not to provoke him, a veteran with PTSD. “I know because you now have a stable job and you haven’t had a drink in a long time.”

Roldan’s face relaxes. “Three hundred and ninety-one days without a drop of alcohol.”

“Like I said, you’re almost there.” From the corner of her eye, Jackie sees her students exit the café. She glances back at the clock. Ten minutes until her afternoon class. “I have to go.”

“You go. I’ll get lunch.”

“You sure?”

“It’s about time I pick up the tab. Go teach your class.” Roldan pulls out his wallet from his pants pocket and sets it on the table.

Jackie stands and puts on her coat. She moves toward him and rests her hand on his shoulder. “See you next week.”

“See you.” He picks up the remaining half of his sandwich and takes a bite.

Jackie walks away to the front door.


Later that afternoon, Jackie checks the time on her phone. “You have ten minutes to finish,” she says to her class. A few students moan in response.

Jackie observes the group of twenty students from her desk at the front of the classroom. The students sit four per table, heads down, working on their exams. By this point into the semester, she knows they know she will stick to the scheduled time for the test, just as she always starts and ends class on time. Professor Mega Stricthand she has overheard some whisper behind her back, a play on her last name, Vega-Strickland. After five years at the business school, Jackie remains unfazed. She is paid to teach, not worry about students liking her.

Jackie runs her thumb over the locked phone screen, which features an old photo of her family. In the picture, she’s a six-year-old with pigtails holding Roldan, a toddler, by the hand. Mom and Dad pose behind them. Dad displays his Midwestern-easy smile with his arm around Mom’s narrow shoulders. Mom’s Puerto Rican roots show through her dyed platinum hair and the thick eyebrows and lashes she passed on to her kids.

Jackie thinks of the car accident—she was twenty-one and in college when her parents died. Roldan was eighteen, about to graduate high school. More than fifteen years have passed, but she remembers the voice of the police officer as if he had called yesterday with the news. She swipes open the phone and flicks through the family photos she’s saved on it. One of Roldan’s pops up. He’s in his cookie dough fatigues.

A student’s timid voice interrupts her thoughts. “Professor Vega-Strickland?”

Jackie sees a lanky blonde boy standing in front of her, holding his exam. “Yes?”

“Will there be a curve?”

“Am I known for giving curves?”


“There’s your answer.”

The student places his test with the others on Jackie’s desk and leaves the room, head lowered. Jackie checks her phone’s timer, one minute to go. She looks out. There are no students left. She picks up the test forms in front of her and wraps a rubber band around the stack.

Finished with teaching for the day, Jackie gets up and locks the classroom’s door. She turns off the lights and sits back in the desk chair enjoying the privacy of the dark room. She stares out the window and sees a few students walk by wearing heavy coats. The orange-red sun sets on the horizon beyond the classroom buildings across the street, casting a deep pink light.

Jackie switches on her phone and sifts through more photos. She comes across another one of Roldan, about two years after he came back from the “sandbox,” his nickname for Iraq. He stands next to Kay who holds baby Bobby in her arms.

“Loser,” Jackie says out loud. The word resonates in the empty room.

Feeling the length of the day, she clicks off the phone and folds her arms on the desk. She rests her head on top and closes her eyes. An image of Roldan drunk on his couch flashes: his face red and swollen, and his dark hair wet. A half-empty bottle of whiskey and dozens of cigarette butts scattered by his feet. This is how she found him the night after Kay left him for an older man who promised her a better life with a gaudy gold diamond ring.

Jackie lifts her head, wishing she hadn’t screamed at him. But she was exasperated with his poor life choices: first the army and then Kay, an uneducated floozy who got the best of him. She stares out at the classroom, now pitch dark. Memories of that night three years ago flick by as vivid as a movie: Roldan’s blank-stare-reaction after Jackie yelled Kay’s name. His arm throwing the bottle of whiskey like a baseball, missing Jackie’s face by inches. The bottle shattering against the wall. Alcohol splattering everywhere. The stench of whiskey saturating the air. Roldan chasing after her as she ran to Bobby’s room. Roldan ramming against the locked door trying to break in. Bobby, two-years-old, whimpering in her arms.

Jackie fumbles for the packet of tissues in her cardigan’s pocket. Her trembling hand finds the pack. She takes a tissue and wipes her wet cheeks with it, similar to how she wiped Bobby’s face as they waited for the police to arrive.

She grabs another tissue, blows her nose, and gets up. She moves in the direction of the light switch, arms extended in the darkness. Jackie soon feels the plaster wall with her fingertips and finds the plastic knob. She presses it. The fluorescent ceiling lights turn on. Jackie squints her eyes, adjusting to the harsh brightness.

Her cell phone vibrates and buzzes on her desk.

“Hello,” she says after picking it up.

“The guy. He’s following me,” Roldan says, his words rushed.

Jackie sticks the phone between her ear and shoulder. “What are you talking about?”

“The guy in my class.”

“You’re overreacting, I’m sure.” Jackie stuffs the stack of exams into her briefcase.

“He knows I’m a veteran.”

“How would he know that?”

“Something about the way he looks at me. He hardly talks. And today, he followed me to my car.”

Jackie’s stomach stiffens. “Maybe he lives near the center.”


“You need to make an appointment with Dr. Chewowski.” Jackie waits for him to reply, but he stays silent. “Will you do that?”

“Yeah, I’ll go see the shrink,” he says in a strained voice.

“Roldan. She’s your therapist. The guy’s not talking because he doesn’t understand English.”

“But he followed me.”

“You don’t know that.” Jackie struggles to keep her voice steady. “Don’t do anything stupid. You need me to come over?”

“Nah. I’m all right.”

“Make the appointment.”

“Okay, okay, I will.”

“You better. I’ll see you on Monday at Good Times.”

“See you next week,” he says. She hears the phone click off.

On her drive home, Jackie reconsiders stopping by Roldan’s, but traffic is heavy and he lives at least thirty minutes away from her apartment. Struggling to keep her eyes open, she promises herself to call Dr. Chewowski tomorrow to confirm he’s scheduled an appointment.

Twenty minutes later, Jackie pulls into her parking spot in her condo’s underground garage. She grabs her briefcase from the passenger seat and steps out of her Camry, locking the car with the key fob. Her black flats clack against the concrete floor as she walks to the elevators.

Once inside her apartment, Jackie kicks off her flats and places her briefcase on the first thing she sees: the kitchen island’s black-granite countertop. She hangs her coat on the wall rack by the entrance and rummages through its pockets for her phone. Not finding it, she moves to the counter, opens her briefcase, and peeks inside. The phone is not there. She left it in the car.

 Her stomach rumbles. The phone will have to wait. She grabs a premade salad from the fridge, and pours herself a glass of Shiraz. She heads to the living room next to the open kitchen, wine glass and salad in hand. Jackie sits in the middle of the couch and sets her salad and wine glass on the glass-topped coffee table in front of her. She grabs the remote and turns on the TV. The news appears, featuring a panel of talking heads. She presses mute on the control, not in the mood to listen to idiots spout off nonsense.

After she finishes her salad and wine, Jackie turns off the TV and saunters down the hall to her bedroom. She slips into pajamas and slides into her queen-sized bed, comforted by the soft duvet. She turns off the bedside lamp and buries her head under the pillow, shutting her eyes.

Minutes tick by. Jackie sits up, unable to sleep, and looks around the room, illuminated only by the night light next to the bed. She sees the plush toy tiger Bobby gave her on her other pillow. Jackie grabs the tiger, remembering its name: Timmy Tiger.

Jackie lays her head on its soft belly. She took custody of Bobby when Roldan lost his shit. She would do it again in a heartbeat if it happened again. Jackie mumbles a prayer even though she doesn’t believe in God, wishing for Roldan to keep off the bottle—to keep his job.

Jackie yawns and closes her eyes. Soon she falls asleep.


The next morning, Jackie beeps the car door open and grabs her phone from the cup holder. It’s cold to the touch from staying out overnight. She walks back to the elevators, still in her pajamas and slippers. As the elevator heads up to her floor, Jackie checks her phone. She sees a text from Roldan, sent the previous night: “Meet at Good Times tomorrow. 12?”

Jackie leans against the elevator’s hand rail. Today was supposed to be a work from home day with no classes or meetings scheduled. She scowls as she texts back: “See you at 12. Don’t be late.” Roldan texts back with a thumbs up emoji.

When she returns to the apartment, she pours herself a cup of coffee and dials Dr. Chewowski’s office. She props her elbows on the kitchen island’s countertop, resting on it.

After a few rings, the receptionist answers. “Good morning, Dr. Helen Chewowski’s office. This is Stephen. How may I help you?”

“Hi, this is Jackie Vega-Strickland. My brother’s a patient of Dr. Chewowski. I was wondering if he has an appointment soon?”

“I’m sorry. I’m not authorized to reveal information on our clients.”

“He’s my brother. I have power of attorney.”

“Your name again?”

“Professor Jackie Vega-Strickland.”

“Let me check his files.”

He places her on hold. Jazz music plays. Jackie drinks her coffee. The music shuts off.

“Professor?” Stephens asks.

“I’m here.”

“I see you listed as his power of attorney. His next appointment is on March 25th.”

Jackie clenches her teeth. March is more than a month away.

“Is there anything else I can assist you with?”

Jackie’s hands tremble. She sets down the mug. “Actually, do you have a copy of the letter Dr. Chewowski gave Roldan for his current employment?”

“Are you referring to a fitness-for-duty exam?”

“I think I am.”

“Let me check his records.”

Jackie hears the sound of sifting paper and pictures Stephen leafing through files.

“Hmm,” Stephen says. “I can’t find any documentation of a recent medical exam. I can look more carefully and call back later.”

Jackie rubs her temple.


Jackie swallows. “Yes... Yes, please call back if you find anything.”

“Of course. Anything else for today?”

“That’s all. Thank you, Stephen.”

Jackie hangs up. She calls Roldan and gets voicemail. She calls a second time, just in case, but gets voicemail again. She texts, but he doesn’t respond. He must be teaching.

Jackie rolls her neck from side to side to relieve tension. She checks the time on her phone. It is 9:05am; three hours before lunch. She clasps her hands and glimpses the pile of student tests on the counter. She picks up the stack, grabs a pen from her briefcase, and walks to the couch. Jackie sits down and begins to grade, hoping it will help the time pass before she can confront Roldan.

At 11:55am, Jackie walks into Good Times Café, wearing jeans and her favorite Berkeley sweatshirt. She heads to the counter and picks up a newspaper. It will keep her busy while she waits for Roldan. Jackie sits in her usual spot in the back corner.

Mimi soon approaches. “Hello, what would you like to drink today?”

“Water, no ice.” Jackie skims the menu and sees that melt sandwiches are on special for lunch. “And I’d like a grilled cheese and tomato melt on rye.”

“Anything else?”

“That’s all.”

Thirty minutes later, Roldan has yet to arrive. Jackie calls him, looking out at the packed restaurant, every table filled. His phone rings, but there’s no answer.

Jackie hangs up and stares at the crumbs on her plate from the sandwich melt she ate. She decides to order a chai tea and gestures to Mimi. Mimi comes over. Jackie places her order.

Fifteen more minutes pass. Jackie overhears a group of her students at a nearby table, chatting about their plans for spring break. Jackie pretends to not hear their conversation, keeping her eyes glued on the newspaper even though she’s no longer reading it. She sips the last of her tea and calls Roldan, giving him one more chance to answer before she leaves.

The door swings open. A momentary hush fills the café. Jackie clicks off the phone. Roldan stumbles inside. His white collared shirt is unbuttoned at the top, untucked at the waist. His tie hangs loose and crooked from his neck. As he nears her table, Jackie notices that his glasses are smeared and his black hair unkempt, the bangs covering his face.

She watches him struggle to sit across from her, almost missing the chair.

He takes off his glasses and wipes the lenses with a napkin. He puts them back on and slumps against the wall with his eyes closed.

Jackie scrunches her nose. The stench of alcohol hits her. “I can’t believe you came here like this. You reek of liquor.”

He gives a loose smile and opens his eyes. “I, uh, I… lost the jwob.”

Jackie clenches her fists. “Why am I not surprised?"

He lays his head down on the table, facing the blue wall.

Jackie reaches out, jabs his shoulder. “Let’s go to my car. I’ll take you home.”

“Jwob no more.”

A flush creeps up Jackie’s neck. Behind him, she sees customers peek over. She leans forward and says into his ear: “You lied about Dr. Chewowski. She never signed off.”

Roldan sits up, wobbling, and shrugs. He lifts his hand and points his index finger at her, copying the motion of a shooting gun. He slumps against the wall, glaring past her at the corner.

Sirens blare from the street. The café’s walls light up red and blue.

Five cops in navy blue uniforms rush in, one after another, guns out, yelling commands. People scream and flee. A few stragglers cower behind the counter. A cop escorts the stragglers out, leaving four cops inside. Jackie spots Mimi amongst the stragglers. Mimi glances at Jackie before stepping outside.

The remaining cops point their guns at Jackie and Roldan. Jackie contemplates professing her innocence, but then remembers all of the police shootings on the news—and the other feature her Mom passed on: her cinnamon-toned skin. She sits still, consumed by anger and fear.

“You two in the back corner. Hands up!” the tallest cop says.

Roldan exhales and raises his hands. Jackie follows his lead.

“Place your hands on your heads.”

Jackie mirrors Roldan as he places his hands on his head.

“Lady in the blue sweatshirt. What’s your name?”

Jackie’s eyes blur. “Professor Vega-Strickland.”

“Professor. I am Officer Dean. When I order you to walk away from the table, you’ll walk toward me keeping your hands on your head. Is that clear?”

“Yes.” Jackie’s voice is a whisper.

“I didn’t hear you. Is that clear?”

“Yes,” Jackie says louder.

“Good. Stand up and walk to me with your hands on your head.”

Jackie gets up and walks forward in the direction of the cop, her arms shaking.

“Stop,” Officer Dean says when Jackie is a few feet from him.

Jackie stops, feeling her throat tighten.  

“My colleague’s going to pat you down. You will keep your hands on your head as she does this. You will not resist.”

Jackie meets Officer Dean’s blue stare.

A muscular female cop, shoulders broad and imposing, approaches Jackie. Without a word, the cop shoves Jackie against the wall, face first, and forces her legs apart. Jackie bites her tongue to suppress a scream as the cop pats her down.

“All clear,” the female cop says. “You can lower your hands.”

Jackie lowers her arms, sore and cramped.

The female cop grips Jackie by the upper arm and escorts her to the front door. Jackie looks over her shoulder before stepping outside. The cops maintain their guns pointed at Roldan as he sits with his hands on his head.

Once Jackie steps out of the café, she bends low to the sidewalk to hold back her cries.

“There now,” the cop says. “You’re all clear.”

Still stooped over, Jackie glances up at the cop. “What do you want with my brother?” she asks, out of breath.

Before the cop can answer, Jackie hears Officer Dean shouting orders from inside. She can’t make out what he says. She hears Roldan scream.

The female cop grasps Jackie’s arm and pulls Jackie further away from the café. “My name’s Allie by the way.”

Jackie stays quiet. She lets Allie guide her to the police car parked on the street in front of Good Times—by it there are two more parked cop cars. The cars’ red and blue lights flash.

Jackie rests against the side of the car, wiping her eyes. She observes the coffee shop’s exterior: red brick walls, white-trim windows, a yellow front door. She glances left to right. The café’s patrons stand all around. Jackie spots her students by a lamppost, the same group who had been discussing their plans for spring break.

Jackie narrows her eyes on Allie. “You didn’t answer. What do you want with Roldan?”

Allie presses her lips together, crossing her arms over her chest. “He’s the prime suspect in an assault downtown.”

Jackie rubs her eyes. “Was anybody killed?”

“Nope... but a father of three kids is in the hospital with multiple cracked ribs, a broken nose, a collapsed lung.”

Jackie’s breaths quicken. “You’re kidding, right?”

Allie peers at her. “We got it all on tape.”

The café’s door opens. A flurry of whispers resonates from the crowd of onlookers as the cops drag Roldan out. His hands are bound together in handcuffs behind his back, and his head is slumped forward. His black hair hangs loose, hiding his face.

Jackie sprints to him.

“Wait!” Allie screams after her.

As Jackie nears Roldan, Officer Dean steps in front of her, blocking her.

Jackie steps to the right of him trying to get past. Officer Dean extends his arm, grabbing her across the shoulders.

“You can visit him at the police station.”

Jackie watches as two other cops escort Roldan to the police car. “I need to talk to him now. I’m the authorized guardian for his son.” She feels the cop’s arm loosen and meets his blue gaze. “My nephew is six years old. Please.”

The cop squints at her. “You have one minute. If you need more time, you’ll have to come to the police station.” He releases his grip.

Jackie follows Officer Dean to the cop car. He opens the rear door. Roldan sits inside, head lowered and shoulders slouched.

She touches his arm. “We have less than a minute to talk.”

Roldan tilts his face sideways to face her. Jackie’s mouth opens. His eye is puffy and closed shut—black and blue with a bit of blood smeared on his cheek.

“I resisted arrest. Sorr—”

She frowns, remembering his lies. “It’s too late for sorry.”

Roldan snaps his mouth shut.

“I’m picking Bobby up from school. He’ll stay with me until you figure out this mess.”

Roldan’s mouth contorts. His chest rises as he takes in a long breath. “Take care of him.”

Jackie’s neck tenses. “You know I will.”

She waits for Roldan to speak, but he stays quiet. Unsure of what else to say, she closes the door on him. Jackie glowers at Officer Dean who stands next to her. “He’s all yours.”

She walks away, her feet dragging with each step. She feels a light tap on her back.

“So sorry,” a female says.

Jackie stops and turns around. Mimi stares back, her eyes glitter like emeralds under the afternoon sun. Behind Mimi stand Jackie’s students with sullen expressions.

Jackie feels tears clinging to the corners of her eyes. She blinks to flick them away.

“Sorry, Professor,” one of the students says as he steps forward.

“I have to go.” Jackie starts to turn, but stops. She glances at Mimi and her students. “Thanks for your concern.”

She resumes walking to her car. She crosses the street and glimpses her Camry parked at the end of the block. She takes out the fob from her sweatshirt’s pocket.

“Need a ride?” a familiar voice asks.

Jackie looks behind her and sees Mimi approach. She thinks about saying no, wanting alone time to compose herself before reaching Bobby’s school, but she hears the fob clinking against the keys on her key chain. Her hands shake.

“I could use a ride. An accident is the last thing I need.”

Mimi points to a red Ford Fiesta parked in front of Jackie’s Camry. “That’s my car.”

A few minutes later, Mimi speeds toward Bobby’s school, found in the outskirts of the city. Jackie sits in the passenger seat, staring out the side window, glimpsing buildings, trees, cars, and pedestrians—all of it a haze—remembering details of her parents’ crash: Dad fell asleep at the wheel after picking Mom up from her nighttime gig as a waitress. Their car veered onto the other side of the road. A semi-truck hit them head on.

Jackie rests her head back against the seat. She closes her eyes to hold in her sobs. The profound ache erupting in her chest is all too familiar.


© The Acentos Review 2018