Flash Fiction: Her Math Problem (918 words)

Seven months and Jig was back, sitting on Alasdair’s back porch like she had never left. She was a little taller now – her toes brushed the dirt beneath the porch as she swung her feet – but her face was just as round, her dark hair still braided to one side, like she couldn’t figure out how to make it run straight down her back.

Alasdair stepped hesitantly out his back door. The way she’d disappeared, with a mystery and a threat hard on her tail, he’d never expected to see her sitting there again. Sometimes on market street, he looked for her, checked the center of any trouble for her little head zipping through, but he never thought he’d see her so still.

“I’ve been tryin’ to do some math,” she said. No hello, no miss me?, no d’you remember me? Somehow, it made her sitting there seem more normal.

Alasdair looked at the back of her head for one more second, then settled on the porch beside her.

“Anyone ever teach you to do math?” he asked.

Jig nodded. “My da. But that was a different kind.”

“All right.” Alasdair looked ahead, trying to decide if what she said made sense. “What’s your math problem?”

“How many times should you keep tryin’ something before you figure it’s never gonna work?” Jig asked.

Alasdair considered it. “Something dangerous?”

Jig nodded, and kept nodding, eyebrows raised.

“Once,” Alasdair said.

She gave him a sideways look.

“All right, twice,” he amended. “If you’re very, very careful.”

Jig let out a long breath. “I thought I did it one time too many.”

Alasdair looked at her more closely. Then he caught her by the shoulder and turned her toward him. There was a long purple bruise sliding down one side of her nose, reaching stubby fingers toward her eye. She pulled herself out of his hold, holding one arm stiffly by her side.

“Are you still running?” Alasdair asked quietly.

“Oh, yeah.” Jig nodded.

“From who?” he asked.

Jig thought for a minute. “There’s a tall guy with a scar.” She ran her finger from her hairline down to her chin, curving around her eye. “I think his name is Deckard. And his friend. He’s shorter, a little, and he’s got a blue knife. They work for Boss.” She shifted in her seat, turned and looked away for half a second, then pulled herself back. “I think Boss wants to kill me.”

“Why?” Alasdair asked, stunned.

She looked at him seriously. “Because I made ‘im mad.”

Alasdair hesitated. He recognized the look, knew she didn’t want him to ask more, but that was barely an answer.

Jig watched him and slowly collected a firmer response. “I did somethin’ dumb,” she told him slowly. Then she looked him directly in the eye. “But it wasn’t as dumb as what he told me to do.”

Alasdair’s stomach twisted, a little.

“Why did you come back here?” he asked.

A smile took hold at the corners of her mouth, but she didn’t quite let it out. “You ever play Hide’n’Find?” she asked.

“Yeah.” Alasdair looked at her uncertainly.

“You know how to win?” She couldn’t help but grin. “Just tiptoe back in someplace the Finder already checked. And you don’t have to hold your breath, or keep too quiet. You just sit.”

“Smart,” Alasdair said.

Jig shrugged, still smiling. “And I was thinkin’ if I came back here, I had friends back here.”

“Smarter,” Alasdair said.

“And I have a plan,” she said.

Alasdair settled forward on his knees. “Let’s hear it.”

She gave him a grumpy look that didn’t quite hide her smile. “You were s’pposed to say smartest.”

Alasdair’s mouth twisted up at one corner. He held back a snort somehow. “Let’s hear the plan first.”

“I need you to help me tell them I’m dead,” she told him.

At first, he thought it was a joke. There was a glint in her eye, and she looked excited. But she was holding his eyes, and her body was perfectly still, and that smile on her face was steady, not coiled waiting to break when she revealed her joke.

“How…” Alasdair asked.

“Tomorrow, after work, I need you to stop in at Fevir’s tap, tell someone that you found a little girl in an alley, and she wasn’t breathin’ anymore,” Jig explained. “Don’t say what alley. Don’t say what girl. Don’t tell Fevir. Don’t say you knew me.”

“All right,” Alasdair said. “What are you going to do?”

Jig shrugged, and looked a little nervous. She took in a breath that filled her whole chest. “Somethin’ dumb. Get somebody around here mad. And then I’m gonna hide, until everybody believes you.”

“And then you’re going to come back here,” Alasdair said.

Jig looked at him sideways, eyebrows pulling together.

“I’ve got an aunt,” he said. “She likes to play games. In three weeks, she’s leaving town and never coming back. I can get her to call you her daughter and take you with her, and no one in this town will have ever have to see your face again. And that’ll finish it.” He looked at her carefully. “Jig will be dead.”

Jig considered his plan. Slowly, she stuck out her hand for him to shake.

He took it firmly, his entire hand engulfing hers.

“I’m gonna miss you,” she said.

He wasn’t sure, but it sounded like the first time she’d ever strung that sentence together.

“I’m going to remember you,” he said.

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