It was early January, and the coldest air of the year had just moved down from the Arctic Circle. Dottie and her daughter, Meg, had been living on the street for nearly a week.
It was a bizarre set of circumstances that had led them to this point. Her controlling and abusive husband was to blame for the most part. He had driven her away with the last beating; she had escaped into the night with her seven-year-old under her coat. Somehow they had managed to survive for the past six days on the $92 which she had in her purse when they left, but now the money was gone, and she was desperate. She was young and naïve; she didn’t know anything about shelters for battered women.
She had been contemplating her next move for about forty-eight hours, but the frigid air was forcing her hand. Dottie had to do something, and she had to do it now, or both of them would most certainly die on the street tonight.
The young woman had found a steel bar in a back alley, the back alley where she and Meg had been sleeping at night covered by the wool blanket that she had bought the night of their escape. The cold piece of metal was about the size of a gun barrel, she thought. She was now contemplating the inconceivable. She could feel her heart beating in her chest as she approached a convenience store on the snowy street corner. She was shivering. Oh my Lord, it was so cold!
She stepped inside the store and glanced upwards, towards the corner where the security camera was. She gracefully stepped to the side of the store that the camera was obviously not positioned to observe. She then stuck the end of the bar out of the opening of her coat, and yelled at the man behind the counter, “Hey, mister, keep your hands where I can see them.” The teenage clerk put his hands in the air.
“Okay, now I want you to quickly fill a bag with all the money in the register,” she yelled again, trying to sound as tough as she possibly could. The man pulled a bag out from underneath the counter and opened the cash register. He then started to pull the bills out and feed them into the bag.
“Ma’am, I just want you to know, you don’t have to do this,” the clerk said as softly as he could as to still be heard by the thief.
“Just be quiet and bring me the bag,” Dottie yelled. “You don’t know anything about what I’ve been through.”
The clerk placed the last of the money in the bag and calmly and deliberately stepped from behind the counter and started down the aisle in which Dottie was anxiously waiting. “I believe I know more about you than you think I do, Dottie,” the greasy haired, pimply faced youth spoke to her.
“What? How’d you know my name? Is my husband here?” Dottie asked, breathlessly astonished.
“No, it’s just you and I, Dottie. I know that little Meg is standing right outside the door,” he said, motioning towards the silhouette of the freezing, hungry child. “I also know what drove you to this. I know that he hits you, Dottie. I know that sometimes he hits you so hard it feels like his fist is going right through you,” he said gently. “It’s been five years now, my friend, it’s about time that you are safe.”
“What am I supposed to do? I’ve got no more money, and I can’t get a job dressed the way I am. I’ve never worked before…” Dottie was starting to sob.
“I know that you have been sheltered. In today’s world there are things you can do, places you can go, people that can help,” the young man whispered. “Let’s bring Meg inside, and I’ll make some phone calls.”
Then he took Dottie and Meg to the back of the building, gave each of them a blanket and cup of milk, and dialed the number of a shelter for battered women on the other side of town. “I’ve got somebody coming to pick you up. It’s the end of the longest winter of your life, Dottie.” he said.
At that moment, she glanced at the clerk’s nametag – “Angel”, Funny, he didn’t look like an “Angel”, she thought…without really thinking.
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