How Do You Recognize a Good Man?

Kristina Thornton

Friday night freedom hangs in the air as she follows him through the packed street. Shouts and laughs surround them. Legs in stumbling short skirts and puffy peacock chests. It could be Benidorm but it’s Barnsley.

He says he knows her. She’s seen his smile at work, at the call-centre.

Until he galloped in, she was alone, outside Wetherspoons, where she’d been left. The weekly ritual had just been completed. Accusations about how she’s dressed, her hair and who she’s talking to. Every move she makes is wrong, then desertion.

This is new, though, a familiar stranger insisting on escorting her home.

They saunter to the taxi rank at the quieter end of town. He gives her his jacket. His aftershave fills her nostrils. It feels darker, colder, later. She checks for her phone in her handbag. She clutches her keys. As they bump along the road, any conversation stops. She notes the time, focuses on the driver’s ID and clocks a couple arguing in the street. She glances at him. He’s looking at his hands. She wills the traffic lights to turn to green. She feels her shoulders fall as the car pulls up outside her flat. His head jerks up as he notices her loud exhale.

‘Don’t worry, I’ll get it,’ he says. She starts to protest, but he interrupts her. ‘I’m not going to ask for your number. I’m not asking for anything from you,’ he holds up his hands. ‘Katie, please remember this – there are good men.’

She closes and locks the front door, then watches the taxi leave. The Friday night deserter tries to call. She stretches her key-holding hand, while studying the stinging, jagged indentations, from the metal pressing into her flesh. How do you recognise a good man?

Two of Kristina Thornton’s stories were published in National Flash Fiction Day’s The Write-In 2021. She has also been longlisted twice in the Retreat West Monthly Micro Fiction Competition in March and June 2021.

Kristina is a freelance Broadcast Journalist at the BBC who has just started writing her first novel.