Alma is a lost soul, a woman stuck in an abusive relationship with no end in sight. Out from this gloom comes Mr. Eres’ sweet shop, and she finds her salvation from her life through a most unexpected quarter.
The night was dark and dreary, much like Alma Johnson’s life.
She was a young woman of twenty with a very pretty face and drab clothes. Her shift as the janitor of one of the commercial buildings was over, and as the clocks around the city struck midnight she headed for home. Above her the gloomy sky was covered in clouds. The air smelled like rain, and she didn’t have an umbrella to cover herself. She would have called a taxi but the street was devoid of all but a few private vehicles. These zoomed past her pathetic figure and she shuffled her way toward home. Every shop was dark and only a few offices were lit for her fellow janitors.
A sad smile crept across her lips at the use of such a word for where she lived. It wasn’t a home, it was a prison. She was stuck there with that monster of a man, dominated and frightened by him and his large fists. Every day she thought about leaving him, but how could she?
Every penny she earned went to the rent, food and his alcohol, so nothing was saved up. Even if she could find the courage to abandon him and find another apartment on her own, she was sure he’d follow. He may have been a drunk, but he was smart. He’d track her down and drag her back. She’d be given the beating of a lifetime, or maybe one to end her life.
Alma paused along the sidewalk as she pondered about that last morbid thought. She’d never considered ending her life, but the thought wouldn’t go away. It stuck inside her as another car zoomed past. It would be so easy to jump out in front of one of these vehicles. They couldn’t stop in time, not with it being so dark outside. All she needed to do was take that first step out into the road and-
Her plans for suicide were interrupted when something caught her eye. She glanced down the street at a shop she swore was dark just a few moments before. It was some sort of fancy place stuck between two bakeries, and she couldn’t fathom why anyone would be managing a business at this hour.
As she stood there pondering whether to move on or investigate, the rain she smelled turned into the rain she felt. The heavens opened up and water poured down from the sky. Fortunately there was an awning in front of the lit store, and she scurried beneath that bit of protection. Another car passed by, but the thought of committing suicide was gone. She would be a slave to her abusive husband, at least for now.
Instead of reminding herself what a horrible life she had, Alma turned around and gazed at the small shop. The lights gave her a feeling of comfort against the darkness of the night, and she was able to look through the high windows into the shop. There were shelves upon shelves of colorful sweets, and an aroma of fresh bread wafted past her nose. She wanted to go inside and look at this little marvel wedged between two plain bakeries, and was pleased to see the sign on the door read that they were open.
Alma moved up the stairs and peeked through the glass entrance. There was somebody behind the counter on one of those narrow ladders attached to the shelving. He was filling the bread boxes, and judging by the gray hair he was quite aged. Surely he could do her no harm if she just wanted to step in and take a look around. She pushed open the door and winced when a little bell jingled above her. There went her attempt at playing ninja and sneaking into the shelves. The old man behind the counter glanced over his shoulder and smiled at his customer.
“Good morning,” he greeted. Alma had to remember it was past midnight, and thus morning.
At seeing his face, though, a bright flash of light swept across her vision. She clutched her forehead and shook the brightness from her eyes. Then she looked again at him. Nothing but an elderly gentleman smiling at her, but she swore there was something familiar about that smile.
“G-good morning,” she mumbled in return. She turned away from him hoping and expecting the man to return to his duties, but instead he climbed down the ladder.
“You look in need of some help,” he commented to her. He walked around the counter toward her while she emphatically shook her head. Suddenly coming in here wasn’t such a good idea. She didn’t want a stranger to know her secret.
“N-no, I’m fine.” Alma tried to retreat out of the shop, but the old man was faster than she expected. His hand whipped out and grabbed her sleeve-covered arm. She flinched when those bony fingers dug into her skin, and tried to pull from his grasp. He held tight and stepped up beside her. She shrank away from those kind but firm eyes. “Please, I just want to leave.”
“May I ask how you acquired such severe wounds?” he asked her. The sudden question both surprised and startled her. There was no way he could have noticed those bruises, she was always careful to hide them beneath her sleeve.
“I, um, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Alma tried again to free herself, but he took his free hand and pulled up her sleeve. She flinched and looked away from him. She didn’t want to see those wounds any more than she had to, which was far too often.
When she heard an intake of breath, she cast a curious glance back. The man’s eyes were on the myriad of bruises which lined her arm. There were old, half-healed bruises beneath the most recent ones. Hardly a bit of flesh was not purple, blue or black, and even her bones ached. The stranger set his free hand gently on the bruises, but even with his soft touch there was still pain. She winced and attempted to pull her arm toward her, but his grip was made of iron. When he spoke his voice was low and calm, but beneath the soft tone she could hear a tremor of anger.
“These are very severe. I don’t believe I’ve seen worse.” His eyes snapped up to her pale face. “Have you told anyone about these?” She furiously shook her head and her own eyes filled with fear.
“No, and please don’t. I’m fine, really. I just-I’m just clumsy. I fell down the stairs and-”
“There’s no need for lies here. They won’t be believed, anyway,” he interrupted her. “Now will you tell me why your spouse did this?” She blinked her eyes at his question.
“How…how did you know it was him?” she wondered. He nodded at her left hand, and then gently glided his hands over the wounds.
“These wounds are large enough for a man’s fingers, and you wear a wedding ring,” he explained. “Now why did he do this to you? Does he give you a reason?” Her shoulders slumped down and tears sprang to her eyes. She managed to keep a calm, tired, and an even tone to her voice.
“Are you going to call the police?” she asked him. Alma was surprised when he shook his head.
“No, I won’t call them, but I may if you don’t answer my question.”
“Please, I just want to leave. I won’t bother you anymore, Mr.-”
“Eres. This is my shop.” He swept his free hand over the area.
“Mr. Eres, please let me leave. I need to get back home,” Alma insisted. She put her hand atop his and was surprised at the heat beneath that old skin. It was like the warmth of a blanket in winter; soft, comfortable and deeply wanted. She didn’t know why, but the sensation swept away her arguments and she found herself willing to tell him. “He-my husband-he says I disobey him. He wants me to do everything he says, and when I don’t…” She glanced down at her arm and the gentleman understood her meaning. He gently cupped her elbow in his hand and led her toward the counter. Her extreme pallor was worrisome, and there was a stool on the other side which he offered to her. She was glad to take it.
“That is very wrong of him,” the old man mildly replied. He leaned down and caught her eyes. “Would you like some cocoa? You are nearly soaked through.”
“Oh? Oh, yes please, if it isn’t too much trouble.” She’d completely forgotten about the rain outside. The water drops still fell from the sky and she would have a terribly cold time getting the rest of the way home.
He led her over to a stool in front of the long counter, and then retreated into the back. Alma glanced over to the front doors. Now was her time to escape. She had slid one leg off the stool and touched the floor with the tip of her toes when she heard a crashing noise come from the backroom. Her heart pounded and she looked from one entrance to the other. When the old man didn’t appear to give an explanation for the crash, she rushed off the seat and into the backroom.